Overseas readers may not know this, but here in Britain 2016 will see the introduction of the Factual Animal Knowledge Exam, a mandatory government test that will decide your fitness for preservation in one of the secret "Arks" being constructed to withstand the inevitable global apocalypse. Demonstrate your knowledge about the breeding habits of the European Otter (mating takes place in water and produces between one and four pups) and your ancestors will live on to do battle with the Post-Nuclear Mega-Spiders, forget how many legs a dog has and, well, at least you'll get a nice view of the rocket launches. With this in mind, it's about time I brushed up on my nature knowledge, and to that end I'll be browsing through Unicorn Software's 1986 Amiga animalcyclopedia Animal Kingdom!
It's nice that the Animal Kingdom is signposted so prominently, it makes it a lot easier to find. Also, that tree in the centre looks strangely mobile, as though it was wading through the river and had to suddenly stop when a human walked by, lest it give away the secret ability of all trees: to walk around when they think no-one's looking. That's Pixar's Trees, coming to a theatre near you when they finally decide to let the Toy Story franchise die.
Here's the main menu, featuring a roughly 50-50 split between selectable options and a picture of a lion wearing an oddly religious-looking hat. Odd, at least, until you remember that the lion is famously referred to as the Pope of the Jungle.
I'll be starting with the "All About Animals" category because I want to learn all about animals and because it's at the top, although before I do I should mention that each selection changes to read "good choice!" when you click on it. Don't patronise me, Animal Kingdom.
Strap yourself in for yet more scorching-hot category-selecting action! We've got animals of the plains, cold weather animals, prehistoric animals and someone even made a valiant but ultimately doomed attempt to spell "crustacean." "Crustations" sound like something a podiatrist would have to remove from your feet using a powerful medical laser, so let's not start there.
Plains animals! Animals of the Plains! Some eat plants, some eat meat. Plains are flat bits of land. Okay, I think I've got it. Let's see some animals, then. Plains animals.
Bang, there you go. A rhinoceros. This kind of thing makes up 99% of Animal Kingdom - a picture of an animal drawn to a wildly varying level of competence, (the rhino falls somewhere in the middle,) accompanied by a few short sentences of animal facts. I feel like there's some deep universal truth to be learned from the rhino having evolved thick skin and a bloody great horn on its face only for it to be beset by biting flies, but I don't have time to ponder it very deeply - not when I have so many animals to look at!
"Hey, what colour are zebras?"
"I dunno, black and grey?"
"Yeah... yeah, that sounds about right."
It's not just animals of the plains, either: as you've seen, there's a whole host of environments to explore, each including six different animals. Now I'm going to show you every single one of them, so sit back and no, wait, come back, I'm kidding. It won't be all of them, I promise, mostly because a bunch of them are too boring to comment on. Still, there are some... interesting interpretations included in Animal Kingdom.
For example, this goldfish proves that the artist was not greatly concerned with capturing a scientifically accurate representation of each animal. I like that the goldfish gets more cartoony as you go from left to right, though, ending in a face that seems destined to grace a kid's bath toy from Poundland. WATER EXCITE FISH, not suitable for children under three, may contain small parts.
I hope to one day attain the same level of serenity as this cow. It looks like it's reached bovine nirvana, the effect only slightly spoiled by the fact it's mouth and nostrils look like a smaller, much less spiritually content, face.
Okay, two things: this description was obviously written by someone who has never heard a seagull, because anyone who had couldn't possibly mistake their hideous screeching cries for laughter unless they happened to live near a retirement home for extremely easily-amused cartoon witches. Secondly, that's not a seagull. Look at its body and tail, it's clearly a fish that has donned a crude seagull disguise in a brave attempt to infiltrate the ranks of its airborne nemeses.
The majestic and powerful Bald Eagle, a symbol of the USA so potent and well-recognised that it's one of the few things you're legally allowed to airbrush onto the side of a monster truck. It's strange, then, that this one is posing in front of a French flag. Maybe that's why it looks slightly disappointed.
That bat is pictured flying near a moonlit castle. Therefore, I have to assume it's actually a transformed vampire, flying through the still night air in search of virgin blood or, failing that, a tasty mosquito. Dear Unicorn Software, please update this description to reflect the true vampiric nature of this creature. No, simply find-and-replacing "bat" for "vampire" is not sufficient. Vampires do not live in caves. Not civilized vampires, anyway.
I know what happened with this one - the artist sat down to draw a snail and said to themselves "why would I need to look up a reference picture for a snail? I know what a snail looks like, it's a spiral with a bit of goo sticking out of the open end. Piece of piss." Alas, such overconfidence has led to this upsetting representation of a snail with an upside-down shell and a vibrant cyan colour scheme that should really be reserved for dangerously sugar-packed ice lollies and chemical toilets.
A barnacle chilli? That sounds disgusting!
Aww, just look at this lil' guy, the least threatening T. Rex since Barney the Dinosaur. Apparently it was the fiercest of all dinasaurs (sic). If this is the fiercest dinosaur in the universe posited by Animal Kingdom's artwork, then the dinosaurs must have been died out because they were too naive and innocent to initiate the act of mating. Maybe the designers mistook The Flintstones for a documentary.
See? All the dinosaurs in Animal Kingdom look like this. Terrible lizard? Yeah, terribly adorable. That said, I have to wonder why eggs is written in italics at the end there, giving it the same slightly unsettling quality as poor-used quotation marks would. Oh yeah, I'm just getting out of this "water" to "lay" some "eggs," if you know what I mean. Hang on, that's not unsettling, it just makes it sound like the dinosaur is about to go for a dump. Hmm.
As it is not technically a dinosaur, the pteranodon avoids the cutesy feel of its land-based peers by instead looking like the deadly stealth fighter that forms the aerial component of Satan's biomechanical Hell-Army. I can imagine that the pteranodon's cries would sound like laughter. Cruel, mocking laughter.
Here's an example of some of the better artwork in the game, with a seal that is recognisably a seal even if its flippers are a little wonky. Maybe I'm just cutting it some slack because it's a circus seal and I feel sorry for it, as I feel sorry for anything forced to spend time around clowns. There's also a walrus in Animal Kingdom, and if you can draw a decent seal then surely a walrus shouldn't be too much of a stretch, right? They're just seals with big teeth.
This walrus is great. Absolutely wonderful. A+ walrus draughtsmanship. I've never felt the desire to get a tattoo before but clearly that was just because I'd never found the right inspiration. Now I've just got to decide whether I want this walrus inked on my upper thigh or all over my chest, where my nipples can be coloured black to stand it for its bright, shiny eyes.
Okay, that's enough of the random animal pictures. Let's take a look at the other options from Animal Kingdom's main menu, because Unicorn Software did make some attempt to make this a game. We'll begin with Animal Spells, but before you run off to get your hemlock and your dribbly candles I'll warn you that it's not about magic spells that turn you into an animal.
Instead, you have to name the animal pictured, an elephant in this case. I named him Steve. Steve the elephant. It sounds like a good name for an elephant to me, a strong, reliable name, a name for someone who's scared of mice and never forgets anything.
Oh, right, you want the species name. It's a good job I've just read through the entire collection of animals included on the disk, then, because it could have been frustrating if I kept entering "snake" when it wanted "boa constrictor."
Sometimes the game says "you are smart!" when you get the answer correct. Thanks, Animal Kingdom. I sometime worry about my intellectual capacities, so it's always nice to hear such encouraging words. You really do hear it, too, because the whole game is narrated by a robotic text-to-speech voice. This makes it easy to pretend that Stephen Hawking is telling me I'm smart. Has Stephen Hawking ever told you that you're smart? It feels pretty great, let me tell you.
The next game is Animalgrams, where the name of an animal is all jumbled up and you have to un-jumble it and type it in. A relentless thrill-ride it is not. But what could this anagram possibly be? I'm stumped. I suppose I'd better click that hint button, that might help.
In Who Am I, you have to click on the appropriate animal given the information provided. However, this isn't always as easy as it sounds thanks to a lack of specificity in the clues. For example, here the hint is "I am sometimes hunted by man." Erm, I'm fairly sure that all the animals pictured here are hunted by man. That's what mankind does. If it moves around and can theoretically be eaten, we'll hunt it . The only animals in the game that humans have never hunted are the dinosaurs, and that's only down to temporal inconvenience.
The reverse is also true, and sometimes the clues are far too obvious. "I have antlers," it says. Get Poirot on the phone, lads, we've got a mystery to solve!
The next game is What's Different, where you're tasked with picking out the animal that should not be in the group pictured. Which one doesn't belong? It's the eel. Just look at its face, it knows it doesn't belong. It's never belonged anywhere, that's why it's spent its entire life drifting from town to town, never putting down roots because people won't accept an eel moving into their neighbourhood.
Lastly there's Memory Game, which is a memory game. You look at a selection of six animal pictures, then they're covered up and you have to remember where you saw the animals. That's the "memory" part of the memory game, you see. I'm still a little hazy about where the "game" part comes in.
That's it for Animal Kingdom, then, a collection of sub-par animal clip-art, spelling errors and laughably basic minigames. I will give Unicorn Software credit for managing to spin the small amount of animal pictures they'd drawn into one picture book and five different "events," but that's about all the credit I'm willing to offer.
You might be thinking "do you not feel bad about mocking a piece of kid's educational software from 1986 made by a very small team of people?" and I might have felt at least a little guilty if I hadn't looked Animal Kingdom up on LemonAmiga and seen that this title supposedly had an original retail price of $49.95. That can't be right, can it? Fifty dollars! I obviously wasn't harsh enough.