Today’s game is all about the pulse-pounding excitement of motorcycle daredevilry, so hold onto your flared jumpsuits and prepare to slip some surly bonds with Martech Software’s 1984 Commodore 64 game Eddie Kidd Jump Challenge!
I may have oversold the amount of excitement in this one. Still, the creators of this game showed impressive dedication in finding the single most unappealing colour perceptible by human eyes, a sickly shade of brown that somehow manages to bring to mind both vomit and faeces.
Sticking with that colour, huh? That’s a shame. Also, 4 CARS. More than three cars, less than five. I guess that’s how many cars I’ll have to jump over on my motorbike. I’ll be honest, I’m a little disappointed. You’re working on a virtual canvas here, chaps, you could have had Eddie Kidd jumping over anything. Pools of maneating sharks, a vast fissure hidden deep in a Himalayan valley whose depths contain a portal to the dimension of the Elder Ones, a very long baguette, the possibilities were endless but you went with cars. A missed opportunity, to be sure.
Here’s Eddie now, ready to begin his run-up. I should probably mention that Eddie Kidd was a real-life motorcycle daredevil in the Evel Knievel mould. Hang on, Eddie Kidd, Evel Knievel, EK… I think I’ve stumbled onto something here. Quick, someone find me footage of Eartha Kitt jumping a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon or something. Two is a coincidence, three is a pattern.
The first thing you might notice here is that Eddie is bloody huge. That is definitely a big ol’ sprite for a C64 to be pushing around in 1984. It’s not quite Atari 2600 levels of blockiness but it’s getting down that way, although I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. At least you can clearly tell what it’s supposed to be a sprite of.
I held down the fire button and off went Eddie, accelerating to the tremendous speed of really quite slow. Seriously, he’d reach the ramp faster if he got off his bike and walked.
Clearly I’m missing some part of the gameplay here, but it’s too late to figure it out now because Eddie has reached the top of the ramp and away he goes! He’s airborne, the screaming of the crowd audible even of the roar of his engine, his heart soaring as light and free as the bike that’s carrying him over the row of cars.
Well, the first two cars, anyway. Then it all rather fell apart. Eddie’s back wheel clipped the roof of the third car and that was the end of that. Down he goes, landing in a crumpled heap amongst the shattered remains of his dreams and also his bones.
You get this message when you mess up a jump. Did it make you laugh? Because I definitely laughed at it. I think it was the stark brutality of the message that tickled me. I can imagine Eddie asking one of his technical crew how bad his injuries look and one of them replying with this phrase.
Okay, now stop laughing, because you’re a terrible person. In 1996, the real Eddie Kidd attempted a relatively routine jump – you know, for a motorcycle daredevil – but it went badly wrong and he was left paralysed and with brain damage. This did not stop him from completing a marathon, which officially makes Eddie Kidd a full-on badass. Finding this out definitely made me feel kinda bad for being amused by crashing in this game.
So imagine how bad I felt when I also laughed at this animation of Eddie hobbling away from a tumble. And he’s okay, folks! Sure, the impact has fused his legs into one solid unit so he can only walk by thrusting his crotch and allowing the weight of his enormous steel testicles to drag him forwards, but he’ll be fine.
I wasn’t going to leave Eddie Kidd Jump Challenge as a loser, so I went back in and devoted myself to actually jumping over some cars. I managed to solve the speed problem that caused my first jump to fail, because I discovered that the function keys work as a gear shifter, and you need to press them to change gears and gain enough speed to clear the jump.
Of course, this meant that once I had figured out how to go fast I went too fast, overshot the jump entirely and managed to land in another crumpled heap much, much further down the track.
In order to complete a successful jump, you have to land both of the bike’s wheels on the flat part of the landing ramp on the other side, so the entire game revolves entirely around estimating exactly how much speed you need to land in the narrow zone between landing on the cars or landing beyond the ramp. That would be all well and good, but Eddie Kidd Jump Challenge lacks something very important to this endeavour: a speedometer. It’s very, very difficult to tell exactly how fast you’re going, and as I say the speed you have to be travelling to pull off a safe landing falls in a very narrow band. You’re guessing most of the time, and the only thing I found helped was listening to the pitch of the engine’s sound effects. As you can imagine, this is not the most reliable indicator of speed.
I cracked it eventually. I realised you can lean back and forwards on the bike, and leaning back does seem to slow you down a little and (much more importantly) it also allows you to pull sweet wheelies, but even these adjustment seem to have very little impact on whether you land safely or not. Your take-off speed is worth ninety-nine percent of your grade, if you get me. But I did land the jump, so what’s my reward?
Ah, yes, how foolish of me to expect anything different. And after five cars is six cars, correct? Okay then.
It turns out that jumping over these cars is the sum total of EKJC’s gameplay. Every time you clear a jump, another car is added to the row and you try again until you fail, then it’s straight back to four cars. When I first began playing I was holding out some hope that there’d be a bit more to it than this. It’s a Commodore 64 game, you can’t blame me for thinking it might turn out to be a multi-event sports title. And even though the gameplay is the same throughout, they could have at least mixed the backgrounds up a bit. Eddie Kidd once jumped over the Great Wall of China, for pity’s sake! Granted he did that almost a decade after this game was released, but as you appear to expect me to know exactly how fast a motorcycle is travelling with no speedometer I feel I should be allowed to expect you to be psychic too, game developers.
That’s it, that’s the entire game. Part of the reason I decided to cover EKJC is that even after years of covering old computer games I’m still amazed that something so slight was released as a full retail game. Not even a budget game, either: the C64 version cost £7.95 when it was released. Adjusting for inflation, that’d be about £25 in 2018. And you thought lootboxes represented terrible value for money.
What else can I say about Eddie Kidd Jump Challenge? Unsurprisingly, not much. When it was released it also came with a competition, and if you sent in proof that you’d managed to jump over more cars than anyone else you could win prizes like a colour TV or an MSX computer. It did appear on the MSX, and also on the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro. Those versions are slightly different. They don’t include the full glory of Eddie’s massive Duplo-looking sprite, but they do include such trivial, boring things as speed gauges and gear indicators. Would I have gained more enjoyment from playing those version? I think it’s fair to say I would have received exactly the same amount of enjoyment.
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