16/12/2015

WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN? / HUMPTY DUMPTY MYSTERY (C64)

Have you ever wanted to be a detective, using nothing but your keen powers of observation and highly-developed sense of logic to sift through the clues and identify the guilty? Okay, good. First things first, develop a problem with your personality, because all the famous detectives have one. Sherlock Holmes is a cokehead, Batman lives in a cave and dresses as a bat, and Columbo never takes off that bloody coat. I'd suggest developing a trait that no-one's seen in a detective before, like a compulsion to stop detecting every half-hour so you can drink a bucket of paint. Inspector Dulux, they'll call you. Once you've done that, you can start practising for a long and fruitful career in summoning a group of people into a room and then revealing who the killer is by playing these two games: released as a double-pack in 1984, it's Widgit Software's Commodore 64 titles Who Killed Cock Robin and Humpty Dumpty Mystery!



We'll start with Who Killed Cock Robin, because Humpty Dumpty was involved with the king's men and so we'll save that added layer of royal intrigue to enjoy later. There goes Cock Robin now, flying towards a tree laden with Christmas baubles, or possibly cartoon bombs. Maybe these bombs are what killed Cock Robin, because he suddenly falls from the sky having been murdered in a brutal farmyard slaying. But who killed Cock Robin?


Well, that's cleared that up. Another case closed for Detective VGJunk, and the sparrow is remanded in custody to await his trail for birdicide. Time to move on to Humpty Dumpty Mystery, then.


Oh, never mind, apparently the sparrow's confession isn't trustworthy enough to secure a conviction. I guess forensics couldn't find the smoking arrow. No reason is given as to why the sparrow might make a false confession, with the options being that he's either protecting someone or he's mentally unstable. Either way, he will be charged with wasting police time and I can get on with the business of finding the real killer.


I need to establish who killed Cock Robin, when they killed him and where. Erm, I don't know about the former but the other two answers are "about three seconds ago" and "right next to that tree, I just saw it happen." No-one is asking why Cock Robin was slain, I notice. You'd think establishing a motive would be an important part of this process, but no-one seems interested. Maybe he had it coming.
Okay, first things first - selecting a difficulty level, with higher difficulties having more possibilities that need to be eliminated. I always like to start on the default difficulty where possible, so let's go with four because it's roughly in the middle.


Here's a clue to get you started. "Not an early bird," hmm? Right then, I'll look for the ones who haven't caught any worms.



Here are the suspects: the blockiest bunch of birds you're ever likely to see outside of a Duplo aviary set. You have to guess which one of these birds committed the murder by typing in the corresponding number. I'm going with the swan, because we've already established that we don't trust the sparrow's confession and while the faces of the crow and eagle to have a hint of true psychopathy about them I reckon that makes them a little too obvious. No, it must be the swan, the aloof, regal swan, the only bird with the superiority complex required to think it can get away with murder. They can break a man's arm with a flap of their wings, you know, so just imagine what they could do to a tiny robin.


Next, make you guess as to where the murder took place. Oh, those were supposed to be apples growing on that tree from the title screen. I did meant to select the orchard, because that's where we saw Cock Robin die, but I accidentally pressed 1 so let's hope he was actually killed in the field and then his lifeless corpse was thrown into the orchard in a clumsy attempt to hide the body.


Finally, pick a time of death. I wish I had some forensic data to help me out here; body temperature when the body was found, how far rigor mortis had set in, that kind of thing. I wanted CSI: Farthing Wood, but instead it's just down to a random (at this point) choice. Let's go for 9PM, nobody murders birds in the afternoon and everyone's in bed at 3AM.


The data has been analysed, the suspect has been questioned and the location meticulously searched, and the results are in - one out of my three guesses was correct, and thus we stumble upon the central concept of the game. You're not told which of your guesses were incorrect - maybe the swan had an alibi, or Cock Robin was captured on CCTV while putting twenty quid on the night's football in Ladbrokes at nine o'clock - so you repeat the process using guesswork and logic to find the three correct pieces of the puzzle.


You're given an extremely generous ten chances to get it right - detective work moves at a much more relaxed pace out here in the countryside than it does back on the mean streets of the big city - and between each round you can pick a number to receive a clue, like so. Some are more useful than others. "Has a keen eye"? That'll be the eagle, then. "Right Angled Time" and "Has Many Trees" do a lot to narrow things down, too. Now I know the eagle is the culprit, and that it didn't take place in the field, so means my original guess of 9PM must have been the one I got right in the first place.


And there you have it. The eagle has landed... in prison, and he's looking at 25 to life. He's a jail bird now. I'm glad he's locked away so he can't tear my eyes out with his talon in retribution for that pun.
That's it for Who Killed Cock Robin in the "gameplay" stakes. It's a passing diversion that might have kept young children of the early Eighties entertained for half an hour or so, although I am factoring in the ten minutes it takes for the tape to load into that.


Oh, okay, let's have another go, this time with six of each variable to contend with. Now they're animals, and it's a bloody good job it has their names written right there because I would struggle to identify some of these from their picture alone. The snake and the badger are recognisable, just about, but the cat looks like it's holding a piece of model railway track in its mouth and the "dog" picture could just as easily be a very unfortunate puddle on a bathroom floor.


There are six new places, too. I have no idea why the farmyard is full of little martini glasses with flags sticking out of them, or why the tree in the lane appears to be exploding. Oh, hang on, it must be one of those bomb-trees from the opening screen, of course.


It turns out it was the cat, in the churchyard, with the candlestick. At noon, I mean. Later, at trial, the cat revealed he had perpetrated the crime because he wanted to leave Cock Robin's body on the kitchen floor as a present for his master. He then licked his own arsehole and was charged with contempt of court.


On to Humpty Dumpty Mystery now, and the real mystery is what kind of benevolent god could allow such a twisted, malformed egg-man to exist? Another mystery: does Humpty have trousers made especially for him, or does he simply paint his legs black? Yet more mystery - this game has more goddamn mystery than an X-Files box set - who are these bizarre, place men with fezes and Hitler moustaches, and what is the significance of the symbol on their hats that looks like the underside of a plane? They must be the king's men, performing their solemn duty to keep watch on Humpty Dumpty so that he can never again go on a bloody rampage through the peaceful world of men. It's a stressful job, as the ranks of the king's men are constantly depleted by the ravenous attentions of Humpty's insatiable appetite - why do you think we eat soldiers with a boiled egg, hmm? - and eventually one of these man had to, ah ha ha, crack.



HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED, the headline screams. Humpty doesn't seem that traumatized by the ordeal, mind you, Are you really telling me that all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again when the worst of the damage seems to just be a large crack? Maybe not the horses, glueing eggshell together is a job too delicate for hooves, but surely the king's men could have put him together again if they had wanted to. This isn't the action of one rogue soldier, then. Everyone hates Humpty. Also, if you're an egg, don't sit on a wall, or at least wear a crash helmet.


Here are the king's men, lined up in alphabetical order. One of them is called Donks. I hope he gets a lot of promotions, everyone will love to hear the tales of General Donks or Major Donks. Donks. That'll be my nickname for Donkey Kong from now on, good ol' Donks and his little chimp friend Dids.


You might have realised by now that Humpty Dumpty Mystery is a variant of the classic board game Guess Who? To find the egg-smashing culprit, you must eliminate the others by asking a series of yes-or-no questions based on their appearance. For instance here I asked "Did He Have a Red Hat?" and no, he did not have a red hat so anyone wearing a red hat is eliminated.


And so you go on, asking questions and occasionally being stumped by the text parser. I just wanted to find out whether Humpty's assailant had a moustache or not, but I could not get the answers I was after until later, when I realised the word I should have been using was "lips". It also took a bit of trial-and-error to figure out "badge" for the thing on their hats and "jacket" for their clothes, but I got there in the end. That was the most challenging part of the game: as in Who Killed Cock Robin you get ten attempts but it's even easier here, and I always managed to narrow my suspects down to a shortlist of one after three or four questions. That's not really a complaint, because these games were specifically designed for children in the 5-10 range, but merely a heads-up that if for some reason you do decide to play this game then be warned that it's not going to fill an entire rainy afternoon.


'Twas Clump who did the deed! I should have known. A red jacket, a blue hat and a toothbrush moustache? That's the portrait of a killer if ever I've seen one, although I'm not sure why I'm seeing twelve copies of Clump's face now that I've identified him. I've either spent too long on this case and gone in so deep that my obsession with catching Clump means that I see him at every turn, or this is a big sheet of posters to inform and warn the public about Clump. Wanted dead or alive for the crime of egg-shoving, that kind of thing.


With the crimes against him avenged, Humpty Dumpty is back in fine health, presuming his legs are supposed to be doing that. It doesn't look like a very comfortable seating arrangement. Speaking of seats, Humpty has once again perched himself atop a wall, having learned nothing from his ordeal.


But wait, there's more! You can also select Humpty game two from the title screen, and how could I resist after Humpty game one was so thrilling? I'll admit, I was drawn in by this mysterious image of a silhouetted king's man, although I'm seeing someone else in that shadowy outline...


There, that's better.


Humpty game two starts in much the same way as Humpty game one, with the attempted murder of a large sentient egg, an egg with two passions in life - sitting in high places and the feel of brick against his backside. Again, one of the king's men is responsible, but this time there was a witness! Unfortunately, the ranks of the king's men are filled from a very small pool of families that have engaged in generation after generation of inbreeding, and so all the king's men look very similar.


It was this guy. He did it. He's not ashamed, he'd do it again in a heartbeat. Someone had to put an end to Humpty's tyranny.


I hope you burned the miscreant's face into your memory, because now he's gone and you have to remember what he looked like. Was his hat blue or red? Did he have a 'tache, or were his pursed and extremely red lips on display for all to see? All the king's men have tiny, creepy eyes like you might see painted on the disturbing idol worshipped by a race of semi-human maniacs, but what colour were these particular eyes? Enter all the details that you can remember and keep guessing the ones you don't. It is not a complex process.


There's even less to capture the imagination in this one than there is in Humpty game one or Who Killed Cock Robin, and it's the last part of this C64 double feature. So, how has a thirty-year-old bundle of children's guessing games held up? Do you really need me to answer that? There's nothing to hold your interest in any of the games once you've played them a single time, they're extremely easy even for the suggested age range and the graphics are, well, let's call them rustic, shall we? Crudley hewn from great slabs of pixels with only simple tools, etcetera. Still, there is a certain amount of charm to it and the games work correctly, which sounds like damning with faint praise but I'm always happy when a retro game isn't horribly broken. Was it worth writing all these words about? I dunno, I had fun doing it and isn't that really all that matters? Yes, yes it is.

4 comments:

  1. Maybe not the horses, glueing eggshell together is a job too delicate for hooves

    Good on you, the obvious joke would have involved the glue factory that race-losing horses are taken to, but you took the high road here.

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  2. I knew it was that bastard eagle from the get-go.

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  3. My god, my school had this - I think our copy was on the BBC Micro. Thanks for reminding me of it - very funny writing as always :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. My god, my school had this - I think our copy was on the BBC Micro. Thanks for reminding me of it - very funny writing as always :)

    ReplyDelete

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