After today’s game, I can unfurl the long parchment scroll on which I have written all the occupations I’ve ever experienced via videogames – it starts at “accountant” and ends with “zookeeper” - and somewhere in the middle I can add “large-scale outdoor advertising engineer.” That’s right, get your paste pots ready because here’s Tasksets’s 1984 Commodore 64 billboard-em-up Poster Paster!
Looking at that character on the title screen, you might be forgiven for thinking that Poster Paster is offering Super Mario yet another chance to pad out his CV, but despite the moustache and overalls that’s not everyone’s favourite journeyman plumber. That’s the character you’ll be playing as, and his name is Bill Stickers. You know, like the old gag where there’s a sign saying “bill stickers will be prosecuted” and some wag writes “Bill Stickers is innocent!” underneath? It’s a fun joke, I like it. Plus the titular character looks like he should be called Bill, don’t you think? Bill, or possibly Dave. Frank, at a stretch. Anyway, I don’t have a registration card to fill in so I suppose I’ll get straight into the game.
Poster Paster really is an employment simulator of sorts, and you have one simple task to accomplish: hang a poster in the provided frame. Bill has all the tools of the trade at his disposal, including a moveable ladder, a bucket of paste and a brush. Oh, and the poster itself, which comes in segments and is stored in the rack you can see on the left of the screen.
The gameplay loop is simple enough, then. Grab a piece of the poster, move the ladder to the correct position, climb up and slap the poster piece in the right place. Obviously it’s not as easy as I’m making it sound.
For starters, Bill is under constant assault from strange wandering creatures that will kill him if they bump into his legs. They run across the screen, occasionally moving “up” or “down” in a manner that seems random but which I am convinced was purposefully designed to cause as much annoyance as possible. You can avoid the creatures by walking around them or climbing onto your ladder, or you can kill them by flicking a wad of paste off your brush. That gets rid of them in one hit, and given the linearity of each stage having a projectile attack is extremely useful, quickly becoming you best form of defence.
Having managed to pick up one piece of the poster, it occurs to me that I don’t know which part of the poster this is. Oh well, I’ll just chuck it up there and see what happens.
What happened was that, thanks to some poor ladder alignment, I managed to paste the poster in completely the wrong spot. That piece of the poster then returns to the rack, so you have to wander over there again, throwing paste at any monsters in your way, pick up another piece, drag it back to the frame, fiddle with the ladder and try hanging it again. Now, Bill is clearly a highly-trained professional but I have to question his decision to put the posters so far away from the frame. Oh, I know they’re only a few steps away but once you get a few stages into the game they might as well be at the bottom of the bloody Marianas Trench, as we shall see.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Half of the poster is done, and thankfully I’ve figured out that the trick to ladder placement is that the ladder needs to go further to the right than you’d expect.
No, further right than that. It’s kinda counter-intuitive, honestly, but what do I know about hanging billboards? I tried putting up some wallpaper once. Now all the walls in my house just get painted when it’s time to decorate.
There we go, all done. It’s a Commodore 64 logo! Not the “main” C64 logo, though. I forget exactly where it’s from, but I think it appeared on early C64 models, which makes sense because Poster Paster was released in 1984. Oh god, this game’s the same age as me. No wonder it’s so creaky and difficult to get along with, and we’ll get on to that presently. For now, though, let's take a moment to bask in the satisfaction of a job well done before moving on to the next stage.
That’s the basic gameplay loop of Poster Paster, then. It’s fairly straightforward and it’s unique, I’ll give it that. Full credit to Taskset for creating an interesting gameplay concept out of billboards. Turns out you just needed to take the job itself and add in roaming gremlinoids. I’m still not sure what’s going on with those monsters, actually. You’d think Bill’s work would be interrupted by the common enemies of the billboard technician – you know, high winds, roving gangs of delinquent teens, sub-Banksy graffiti artists who think that spray-painting “Whos watching who??” on a Sky TV advert will really wake up the masses, that kind of thing. Instead, you’re attacked by walking watering cans and the little blobs like the one on the left that looks like Horace grew a pair of antennae and a sense of humour. Maybe they represent Bill’s DTs, billboard pasters are famously a hard-drinking bunch.
Ah ha, I see, Bill’s hanging a poster of Possum Passion, the heart-wrenching movie about one woman’s forbidden love for a wild marsupial. It was going to be called The Shape of Trash but then that fish-man movie came out and put paid to that.
Naturally things get more complicated as the game goes on. Bigger posters with more pieces, for starters. I’m getting a handle on how everything works, and I dare say I’d be enjoying the game if it wasn’t for one small, teeny-tiny, almost insignificant detail: the controls are terrible.
Moving Bill around on his own is fine. So is firing paste-bullets, because you just tap the fire button. After that, everything rather falls apart. Take the poster pieces, for instance. To pick one up you walk over and press fire, but you’re going to want a specific poster piece and so you have to take the very tip of your brush – the pixel at the end of its sprite, I mean – and place it directly over the poster piece you want. As you can see the individual poster pieces are very small, so trying to pick up a poster involves place one pixel over a four-by-four group of pixels and that’s exactly as annoying as it sounds. At first it’s frustrating, but once you get further into the game and start filling in even larger posters, with the slightest error in positioning causing you to lose your poster, it quickly becomes torturous.
Grabbing a poster is nothing compared to moving the ladder, though. You can push it left or right, yeah? And it often requires a lot of small adjustments to get it into place. But to move the ladder you have to stand “underneath” it and press up on the joystick, which causes Bill to grab the ladder and then you can move it around. It’s simple in theory but in practise it’ll make you hiss the phrase “fucking ladders” through gritted teeth more often than a support group for extremely superstitious people. The biggest, most aggravating problem is that there’s no way of knowing whether or not you’re holding the ladder. There’s no visual clue, Bill’s sprite doesn’t change, the ladder doesn’t change colour, nothing. So, you end up spending ninety percent of the game standing underneath the ladder, wiggling back and forth to try to discern whether you’ve grabbed the bloody thing, but you haven’t so you accidentally start climbing the ladder, all of this while an endless swarm of monsters nibbles at your ankles. It’s a problem that could have been completely avoided by including a separate “grab the ladder” button, but of course a Commodore 64 joystick only has one button so you’re out of luck there. Personally, I found that the ladder-wrangling aspect ruined the whole game for me because it’s like trying to thread a needle, except the thread is the tentacle of a furious octopus and the eye of the needle is an orifice on another, equally furious octopus.
It’s a shame that the gameplay shakes out so infuriatingly, because Poster Paster has some fun ideas. The basic concept is unique and there’s definitely potential in there, and the game has an endearingly daft sense of humour. For instance, in the fifth stage you’re in direct competition with another poster paster, in a race to see who can finish their poster first. Your opponent has both advantages and disadvantages when compared to Bill: being nothing more than a severed head on a spring, your challenger lacks the arms required to carry the posters but being able to leap around on a spring means they don’t need to spend ages faffing around with a ladder. It’s an evenly matched battle, and when the posters are completed…
...you can see they’re a pair of guns. Because it was a duel, you see. Now that’s my kind of silly visual joke, it reminds me of something you’d see in an old Pink Panther cartoon.
Or there’s the next stage, where building a poster that reads “I love Macintosh” might seem like a strange thing for a Commodore 64 game to include. I certainly did at first, thinking of it as akin to a NES game with a “Master System Rulez OK!” message in the background… until I realised that the gimmick of this stage is that people are pouring water out of those windows above the poster and in that situation you would love a macintosh. The waterproof coat. Ho ho ho, nicely played, Poster Paster.
And hey, it’s nice that Poster Paster tries to mix the mechanics up a little as you progress. In this case, the water soaks the billboard so you can’t paste posters on that segment until it dries out. On the subject of drying out, you also have to keep an eye on the consistency of your goo, if you’ll pardon that particular turn of phrase. Remember those monster shaped like watering cans? If they make it all the way across the screen, they’ll water down your paste and in a worst-case scenario your paste will become so runny it won’t work. There’s a scale which you can see at the top of the screen that runs from “water” at one end, through states that sound like rejected Seven Dwarves like runny, lumpy and thick, all the way to “solid” at the other end. Flicking projectiles at enemies dries out your paste, so there’s a balancing act in keeping your paste at a usable consistency. Well, in theory there is: I think I only had to worry about it once because I dried my paste out trying to clear away the enemies, but all that meant was that I had hide on the ladder for a while until a watering can waddled across the screen.
I’ve reached stage seven, and unfortunately that’s where I have to draw the line. You know I like to finish any game I cover here at VGJunk wherever possible, but that’s just it, finishing Poster Paster wasn’t possible. Not for me. Not without months of practise and a new prescription for heart medication, anyway. At this point Poster Paster combines all its bullshit elements into one concentrated orb of super-bullshit. The poster pasting action is mostly the same, although this is a pretty big poster. Monsters appear in greater numbers than before, with some new additions like the pairs of hand which I believe mix up your poster pieces if they reach the rack so you don’t know which part you’re picking up. On top of that, there’s a button at the left of the screen. Monsters can activate that button, and if they do your ladder shrinks by half its size. If you’re standing near the top of the ladder you lose a life, losing a life means losing any progress you’ve made on the poster and losing all my progress because some bumbling creature walked near a button came dangerously close to making me angry at Poster Paster. I almost never get genuinely angry at videogames, so when I’m using the kind of language that’d make a Sopranos script look like Enid Blyton I know it’s time to stop.
My name is not Andy. Why does the high score table say “Andy”? Stop trying to steal my thunder, Andy.
Poster Paster is yet another eighties home computer game that’s ruined by awkward controls and a difficulty level so punishing Dante would have stuck it somewhere around the eight circle of Hell. You know, if he played C64 games. But there’s still a lot to like about Poster Paster, such as the concept itself, its sense of humour and the fact you have a projectile weapon that can fall into “Lumpy” status. It’s still marginally less frustrating than trying to hang wallpaper yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend that you actually play it.
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