For today’s game, we’re heading into the hallowed halls of academia – well, kind of. From what I remember of my university days it’s a fairly accurate recreation of the higher education experience, but it’s definitely more about trying to avoid being turned into a skeleton than it is about receiving a diploma. I present to you Genesis Soft’s 1987 ZX Spectrum hangover-em-up Fanky Punky!
Okay, so it’s supposed to be called Funky Punky – that’s how the game’s referred to in the manual and on some of the cover art – but here on the loading screen it clearly says “Fanky Punky.” This is down to language issues, because Genesis Soft were a Spanish publisher and Fanky Punky is a Spanish game. Genesis Soft were also responsible for the ZX Spectrum game starring raunchy and sometimes topless Italian pop star Sabrina Salerno. Yes, the one where you could beat up priests with your boobs. I imagine that will give us an indication of how good Fanky Punky is likely to be.
On this loading screen, we get our first glimpse of Fanky Punky’s (almost) eponymous star. His name is Funky Punky, Funk to his friends, The Funkster to his close friends. He kinda looks like Rodney Dangerfield, an appropriate resemblance because I can’t imagine Funky Punky gets any respect either. Funky is a man of simple pleasures: he likes knockoff Adordis trainers from down the market, listening to his favourite tunes on his boombox and getting monumentally, liver-pulverisingly drunk.
Here’s the game’s premise: last night, Funky got absolutely mortal. If my student days are anything to go by, it was via either Tesco’s finest, cheapest wine (just thinking of the name “Marques de Leon” is making me feel a little queasy) or some kind of dangerously irresponsible offer on vodka shots. Unfortunately for our newly-pickled hero, he has an exam this morning! He’s got to get up, grab his stuff, get out of the house, drive to college and take his exam, all while his hangover is so severe that it might well kill him.
Off we go, then. Early indications are that Fanky Punky is an extremely generic Spectrum platformer. It’s got flip-screen scrolling, enemies kill Funky at the slightest contact and Funky himself controls like a lobotomised Womble. Okay, that last part might be a bit harsh, Funky’s movements are at least consistent, as in he has a consistent delay between you pressing jump and Funky actually jumping. You’ll want to try to avoid jumping as much as possible, because this game’s control scheme is O and P on the keyboard move you left and right respectively, while jump is M. Yeah, sure, why not, that seems sensible.
Not that I had much chance to practise jumping in these first couple of screens. Most of the airspace was patrolled by these floating orbs, and if you touch them, you die. From what I could glean by reading the (Spanish, don’t forget) manual, all the enemies Funky faces are actually manifestations of his hangover. Funky needs urgent medical attention to deal with his drinking problem, which is a bit dark so I’m going to pretend he’s being attacked by the spheres from Phantasm instead. You play a good game, boy! Shame it isn’t Fanky Punky.
It’s one of those “dodge the enemies” type games, then. Funky doesn’t have any offensive capabilities, and even if he did it’s not like he could could beat up the DTs, is it? So, it’s another home computer platformer from the eighties in which precise movements are required to sneak past enemies that move along predictable paths. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that genre in concept and I suppose Funky doesn’t control that badly except when negotiating staircases, which he absolutely cannot handle without repeatedly falling off.
I managed to get over to the right of the screen and grab that doughnut, though, and it’s a good job I did because Funky has an energy bar that depletes over time and must be refilled by collecting highly nutritious foodstuffs like doughnuts and, erm, cigarettes.
How times change, eh? You couldn’t get away with presenting cigs as a health-restoring item these days, and that’s as it should be. However, it’s clear that Fanky Punky’s creators did understand the incontrovertible truth that having a cigarette after a night on the sauce will make you feel better. Well, until you start coughing your guts up, anyway. They keep the energy bar topped up, though, and that’s important. You might notice that there’s also another time limit based on, you know, time. I’m not sure the game really needed two time limits, chaps.
Oh, and there’s a skeleton wandering around Funky’s halls of residence, too. This feels like it’s going beyond a mere hangover, Funky. What the hell were you drinking last night, meths?
When Funky dies – which he will, frequently, because the enemies move quickly and have big hitboxes – he also turns into a skeleton. That’s cool by me, turning into a skeleton is in the top tier of videogame death animations, along with “exploding into an expanding ring of energy spheres” and “turning to look directly at the player and whispering ‘why have you done this to me, your incompetence has doomed the planet.’”
The point of this first area is to find the back-to-school essentials that Funky needs for his exam: a pen, a calculator and the key for his motorcycle, which he absolutely should not be driving on public roads, the selfish bastard. There’s also a clock to find, which shows you the remaining time until the exam. You can skip that one, it’s not like you’ve got time to dawdle and knowing there’s a time limit at all is more than enough motivation to get moving.
I found the pen in the basement, where there are more skeletons (this time of the ‘medical teaching aid’ variety) and a computer with “OK” on the screen, clearly referencing Radiohead’s classic 1997 album because Genesis Soft were just that forward-thinking. Or maybe Radiohead got the “OK Computer” name from this obscure Spanish ZX Spectrum game. It kinda feels like something Radiohead would do.
Having found all the items he needs, Funky leaves the house and floats through the air towards his moped. Not really, he’s jumping, it’s just that he doesn’t have any jumping animations. The key’s in the ignition, and it’s time for this dangerously hung-over young man to endanger some other road users.
That means we have to go through this half-baked minigame where you steer the moped as it moves along the road, trying to to crash into the cars. There’s really nothing else to it, you just move up, down, left and right. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think it would have been more interesting if they’d factored Funky’s liquored-up nature into the gameplay by making him swerve across the road randomly or have the cars appear as marching elephants. At least that would be something, you know? As it stands, all you’ve got is an exceptionally dull “move the cursor” segment that comes with the added frustration of any collision resulting in an instant game over. Funky had multiple lives when he was at home, but now that’s he’s on the open road? Tough shit, make one mistake and start again. I don’t understand why it works this way. I know a serious road traffic accident is going to be difficult to come back from but being turned into a fleshless skeleton didn’t stop Funky, so why should this?
A couple of minutes later, Funky arrives at the university. It’s a lot like his house, except all you need to do is find the exam room by slowly – but not too slowly, because of the two separate time limits – avoiding the enemies and climbing the rickety staircases. In this case the monster is neither a skeleton not a sphere but a flapping, swooping monstrosity that looks like a bat trying to escape from a burrito. It reminds me of the titular bat-winged character from fellow weirdo Spanish ZX Spectrum game Bloody, which was also released by… Genesis Soft. Man, I love that there are so many home computer games from non-British European countries. They’re enjoyable in the same way as fiction set in parallel universes: similar enough to what I’m used to that the differences are fascinating. Of course, the horror of forgetting you have an exam and having to rush to get there, still reeking of last night’s booze, that’s a universal fear.
There’s not much to say about the school portion of the game, honestly. Just move between the rooms looking for the exam, and hope that you don’t waste too much time investigating dead ends. Fanky Punky is a slow-paced game, but the time limit doesn’t take that into consideration. But what about the gameplay itself? Well, this is definitely a ZX Spectrum platformer. That’s all it is, it’s almost comical in its adherence to the form. Slow character movement with no momentum or flair, floaty jumps and plenty of pixel-perfect positioning required to progress. It’s not bad, per se. The problem is that it’s not really anything. No, strike that, it’s boring, that’s what it is, although it is redeemed somewhat (as ZX Spectrum platformers often are) by the unusual premise, strange creatures and use of nicotine as a health food. The only major problem I had with the gameplay was that the enemies don’t reset to a specific "starting point" on the screen when you leave the room or die, which can lead to certain situations where you die when jumping up to a new room, only for the game to start Funky’s next life in the same place that he died while the enemy is still there, trapping you in a loop that quickly drains all your lives.
After one last smoke to settle his nerves and the terrifying knowledge that last night’s alcohol is definitely going to start affecting his bowels at some point during this exam, Funky has reached his destination. Congratulations, Funky! I look forward to seeing you next year, when you have to repeat all your classes, you irresponsible fool.
Oh. Oh. The game’s not over. You have to actually take the exam. I wasn’t expecting that. Okay then, I’ll be back to finish this article in a few years when I’ve learned Spanish, I guess.
No, wait, I’m going to tough it out using my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary and Google Translate. Also save states, because if you get a single answer wrong it’s game over. I’m fairly certain that is not how university examinations work. “I’m sorry, Mr. Einstein, your thesis is truly astounding and will shape the future of modern physics, but you misspelled “necessary” as ‘neccessary’ and therefore all I can offer you is this application form for Greggs.”
The exam, then. It’s a series of yes or no questions, with the unusual twist that the game keeps giving you answers until the “yes” answer appears. With this first question, I managed to figure out that “quelonio” means the animal class Chelonia – that is, turtles and tortoises – and obviously “tortuga” is “tortoise” so yes, tortuga es quelonia. But then I couldn’t figure out how to get the game to accept my answer. Can you guess what my problem was? That’s right, I kept pressing Y for “yes” instead of “S” for “si” and I’m sure there’s a lesson about cultural hegemony in there.
Some questions required less translation than others.
So goes the exam, covering a variety of topics from geography to physics, which makes me wonder what course Funky is actually studying for. A PhD in Pub Trivia, perhaps. Also, why the hell did I need to find a pen and a calculator for this oral exam that (mercifully) contains contains no maths? Truly, academia is a mysterious thing.
I got all the questions right, and Fanky Punky stopped. I was going to say “ended” but that might imply there was some kind of ending, which there wasn’t. A brief scene of Funky graduating might have been nice, and I was definitely expecting one, possibly with an Animal House-style “Funky died three hours later in a drunken motor scooter accident” final frame. Instead you get the high score table and that’s it, game over.
Is Fanky Punky worth playing today? No, not really. It’s a very slight game that takes its unexciting gameplay and slaps a layer of potential frustration over it via the double timers and the potential death-loops. Am I glad I played it? Yes, I am. It’s a unique set up, if nothing else, and the exam was actually favourite part of the entire thing because I am an insecure dork who likes to be made to feel intelligent by beating a trivia quiz. Or maybe it’s just that I like trivia games, so maybe I’ll cover another one soon. Until then, I shall retire to my chambers and bask in my newfound knowledge that the Spanish for “bone” is “hueso.” I’m a real renaissance man now, god damn it.
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