22/09/2018

BUFFALO BILL'S WILD WEST SHOW (AMIGA)

I’m sure a lot of you are looking forward to Red Dead Redemption 2. Ah, the lure of the untamed West, rifle-fire echoing down a lonesome canyon, hours spent parking your horse on top of dead animals so you could harvest their skin without having to see the associated cutscene for the seven thousandth time. No, wait, that was the first Red Dead Redemption. While we all wait for Rockstar’s latest git-along-little-dogie-em-up, here’s another slice of Wild West action that’ll make you really appreciate modern videogames: it’s Tynesoft’s 1989 Amiga game Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, also known as Buffalo Bill's Rodeo Games!



Here’s William Frederick Cody himself, or Buffalo Bill to his friends. I image most people will still at least recognise the name Buffalo Bill, and that’s hardly surprising because he was one of the most famous people in the world around the turn of the twentieth century. A legend of the Old West, Buffalo Bill rode for the Pony Express, fought in the America Civil War and shot a bewildering amount of buffalo, hence the name. So well-know was he that both King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II took a break from that minor kerfuffle called the First World War to pay their condolences when he died. Bill’s fame came in large part from his travelling Wild West Show, a mixture of sharp-shooters, battle re-enactments and (presumably) grisly mountains of dead buffalo, a show which toured Europe and the USA. That’s what this game is inspired by, so grab your shootin’ irons and get ready for yet another entry in the interminable genre of home-computer multi-event sports titles!


That’s right, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is a multi-event sports game, although at least the Wild West Show theme provides a pretty sensible reason to offer up a selection of cowboy-themed minigames. Event names like Bronco Riding and Steer Wrestling immediately conjure images of joysticks knackered beyond repair by intense waggling, but hopefully the shooting games will be less taxing on the hardware.


First up is Knife Throwing, as presented by a Native American chap who smiles fondly at a hovering knife. Perhaps the knife was a gift from a long-ago lover, or perhaps he admires the intricate detail on the sheathe. Intricate is the word, and you can’t fault Buffalo Bill’s pixel work on these splash screen – it’s all very crisp and well-drawn. I’d go so far as to say it’s the game’s best feature. I’d have said that before I’d played any of the minigames, to be honest. I’ve played enough home computer multi-event sports games to know what’s coming.


Yep, that’s about what I expected. Some poor woman is strapped to a revolving wheel, and you’re tasked with throwing knives near – but not at – her. Knives that land closer to the woman score more points, and you control the action with either the mouse or a joystick. I went with the mouse, hoping it would give me greater control, but alas the crosshair wobbles around the screen in a manner that suggests the knife-thrower is standing atop a partially-filled waterbed. So, you move the cursor to roughly the right spot, holding the jiggling crosshair as near to the woman as you dare, then you press fire to throw the knife. There’s a fair old delay between pressing the button and the knife landing, so while there is some skill involved the sullen hand of Luck weighs heavy around your shoulder during this event.


You get eight knives to throw and score points with so, erm, do that. Try not to get distracted by the horse or the gopher that sometimes pops out of the ground. Once you’ve thrown your knives it’s on to the next event… okay, fine. I know you’re all wondering what happens if you hit the woman with a knife, you jackals.


The screen runs red with blood and the knife-throwing competition immediately ends, as you'd bloody well hope it would. Sadly there is no “panicked call to the insurance company” minigame.


Here’s a gun. I assume it’s a Colt Single Action Army, what with this being a Wild West game and all. Mind you, everything I know about revolvers I learned from Revolver Ocelot, so I wouldn’t take my word for it. Do you think gun nerds ever get confused as to why “ocelot” keeps popping up in the autocomplete when they’re looking up Colt SAAs online?


The first part of this event has the shooting part down but not so much the “trick” bit. It’s a fairly standard videogame shooting gallery, where cardboard cut-outs of various people appear and you have to assess their threat levels before blowing the appropriate targets away. I must confess I had some trouble on that front. The identifying part, I mean. Some of the targets easily discounted, of course: gunning down little kids and unarmed women is almost always frowned upon in these kinds of games.


But then there are scenarios like this, where a man with his hands on his holsters and a look of steely determination in the two pixels that make up his eyes lurches out at me. He’s clearly getting ready to draw, so I fired first and whoops, I guess the tiny star on his chest means he’s the sheriff and now I’m wanted for killing a lawman. There are also targets that appear facing away from you and you’re presumably penalised for being the kind of coward that would shoot a man in the back, even though logically that’s the best place to shoot someone.


Your actual targets are anyone with a gun in their hand who’s looking right at you, and they make up a surprisingly small proportion of the potential targets. The trick to this trick shooting is not falling asleep while waiting for a viable target to appear.


The second half is a bottle shooting challenge where your cowpoke assistant throws glass bottles across the screen in a variety of trajectories and you have to shoot them out of the air. The same crosshair wobble from the knife-throwing game is in effect here, and while it didn’t matter much (or at all) in the target shooting round, here the precision required to hit the bottles is such that it’s frustrating to have your crosshair right over the bottle, only for it to suddenly jerk out of the way. Other than that – and the need to reload your gun by hitting the right mouse button – it’s just pointing, and indeed clicking.
The music helps keep things interesting. It’s an aggressively jolly version of the folk song “Shortnin’ Bread,” which isn’t very interesting in and of itself but it did remind me to listen to The Cramps tearing through their version of Shortnin’ Bread, so it gets points for that.


Event number three is Bronco Riding. If this title screen is to believed, the act of bronco riding fills a cowboy with a sense of transcendental bliss. That’s what I’m reading into his expression, anyway. Also I know he’s wearing a cowboy hat but I can’t see it as anything but a massive afro.
Right, here we go. Ridin’ a bucking bronco. So, how does this wor…


Aaand I’m down. It wasn’t so much a display of bronco riding as it was a fast-acting horse catapult. I know the timer at the top-right says I lasted six seconds, but I did not. The timer in this game runs really fast, and in reality I lasted about one second. In my defence, the game does not exactly ease you into the event gently.


The horse goes all-out to evict the cowboy as soon as the event starts, but I tried again and this time I was prepared for the gameplay, which involves nothing more than holding the joystick in the direction of the arrows that pop up on screen. Obviously the arrows are constantly changing direction, so a successful bronco ride is a test of reactions. It’s okay, I suppose. Not particularly exciting, but enlivened by the rather fun graphics of the horse thrashing around as I’m sure we all would if some moustachioed lunatic with a name like Jeb or Cletus jumped onto our backs. Or maybe you wouldn’t. I don’t know what kind of stuff you’re into.


On to the second disk and the fourth event with Stage Coach Rescue. We’re rescuing it from that Native American chap sitting on top. The law of the Old West is harsh, and there can be no mercy for fare-dodgers.


Up until now Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show has been relatively inoffensive, but the stage coach chase sees it dip into some deeply frustrating territory. It’s a two-part event, and your first mission is to catch up to the stagecoach. You can move your horse up and down to avoid the energy-sapping crates that are thrown from the top of the stagecoach, but to actually reach the stagecoach you have to waggle the joystick left and right. You have to waggle it a lot. A ludicrous amount, considering you also have to concentrate on not getting whacked by flying luggage. I would recommend wearing some kind of wrist brace, or possible strapping your controller to a high-powered reciprocating saw.


You’re goddamn right I am, this is the most physical effort I’ve expended since an ill-advised attempt to run for a bus in 2013. After many attempts – and starting the game again so I could turn the difficulty down from medium to easy, which didn’t seem to make any difference – I finally managed to catch the carriage and climb aboard.


Now comes the difficult part of the event. It’s a mano-a-mano fist-fight now, in a fairly typical style for a computer game of this vintage. You can throw punches at your opponent’s head, or you can crouch down and try to punch him square in the dick, which would be a fitting punishment for making me do all that joystick waggling. You can also hold fire and backwards to block, a technique that is only useful to precognitive psychics who know what attacks are coming because there’s no chance you’ll be able to react in real time.
I never managed to clear this event. It was just too damn hard. Between the fact that you’ll almost certainly be missing some energy from the first half of the stage, the sluggish movements of your cowboy and the strict time limit, emerging victorious was beyond me. If my time spent looking up gameplay videos of this section is anything to go by, it’s completely beyond everybody else, too.


Time to pick on weaker, more vulnerable target with some calf roping. Is that cowboy holding the end of his lasso in his teeth? Well, I suppose dentistry was hard to come by in the Wild West.


Oh good, this is a much more gentle gameplay experience than the last event. You chase down the calf by moving the joystick in the four main directions. Catching up to the calf isn’t difficult in itself, but you have to be at a specific distance to the side of the calf for a successful lasso throw: too close or too far away and you’ll miss, and you’re only given one chance to throw your rope. Plus, the track is littered with obstacles like hay bales and barrels, and touching one will also cause you to fail. Thus the event becomes a test of patience, where you wait for the right moment to strike, when man, cow and rope are perfectly aligned. I kinda like it, and I think if you fleshed this event out a bit, maybe with multiple cows to rope or different courses, it could be fairly entertaining.
Oh, and I’m sorry to disappoint you but that meter at the bottom of the screen doesn’t say “danceometer.” It’s “distanceometer,” because you can run out of track if you don’t catch the calf in time. I wish it was a danceometer. You fill it up and all the cowboys in the stand jump down and perform a rousing version of “Oklahoma!” or something. The calf slips away in the confusion, escaping to a life running free on the plains, everybody wins.


The final event is Steer Wrestling and not, as this picture suggests, Riding a Bull Like a Motorcycle and Drop-Kicking a Horse.


Steer wrestling is a mixture of previous events’ controls schemes, with the first part being much like calf roping: get your horse alongside the bull without crashing into anything. Once you’re in position, press fire you jump from your horse and grab the bull by the, well, you know. You can retry the events as many times as you like, so I’d recommend jumping when you’re nowhere near the bull at least once because it’s pretty funny watching the cowboy swan-dive into the mud.


Okay, so you’ve got a grip on the furious, thrashing bull and you’re probably thinking “maybe this wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, I should have stuck with gold prospecting or whistling along the lonesome trail or whatever else it is that cowboys do.” Tough, you’re here now and you’ve got a steer to wrestle. That means more joystick waggling. Here’s what the resulting struggle ’twixt man and beast looks like.


That bull is not pleased about this turn of events. Excellent work here on the artist’s part, managing to capture a look of pure black hatred in the steer’s eyes. The cowboy might have wrestled it to the ground, but he’s going to have to let go at some point and then, well, there’s probably a reason that this is the last event.


With all events cleared the game abruptly ends, and you’re back to the main menu where you can reflect on what you’ve just experienced. I’ll tell you what I experienced – the horrible sensation of having multiple songs stuck in my head at once, thanks to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show having a soundtrack containing extremely jaunty versions of tracks like “Oh Susanna” and the William Tell Overture, every one of which reminds me of watching old Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
As for the gameplay, it’s a mixture of the passable and the annoying. The shooting events are okay, although too basic to hold your interest, the cattle-grabbing games are a bit more enjoyable but still very limited and the stagecoach chase is a festering lesion on Satan’s ballbag. Okay, that’s going a bit far but it definitely isn’t fun. I’m sticking by my assertion that the graphics are by far the best part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but apart from the visual flair on display it’s just yet another entry in the long, long list of underwhelming home computer multi event sports games – and it didn’t make me want to say yee-haw even once.


One last thing – I checked the high score tables to see how well I’d done (answer: not very) and saw that the developers had populated the board with “comedy” names, including members of the Addams Family, characters from the Rik Mayall / Adrian Edmondson shows The Young Ones and Filthy, Rich and Catflap and the set pictured above, which are all characters from the “beloved” and definitely not for children British comic Viz. Roger Mellie, Buster Gonad, Billy the Fish, the gang’s all here. Of course, this is a sign that I should get around to covering the Viz computer game at some point. I might have to put a content warning on that one.

18/09/2018

FANCY WORLD: EARTH OF CRISIS (ARCADE)

I’m tired of this dismal planet, this grubby orb of shame and regret. We need a better world, a brighter world - dare I say it, a fancy world. I’d love to tell you that Korean developer Unico can offer that world with their 1996 arcade game Fancy World: Earth of Crisis, but this is merely a sub-par arcade platformer and will do little to help forge the world we deserve.

If there’s one thing I associate with the word “fancy” it’s rainbow-coloured balloons spelling out words so please don’t ask me to plan you a fancy wedding, you’ll regret it. The fact that this is also an Earth of Crisis is rather underplayed by the title screen. Accentuate the positives, I get it, but it’s the crisis I’ll be battling against rather than the fanciness. So what is the crisis at hand?


Oh, you know, the usual. A mad scientist with a vaguely Colonel Sanders vibe appears with nefarious plans in mind and a Trebor Extra-Strong Mint glued over his eye. “You are my obey orders,” he says. Look, his doctorate is in Mad Science, not English, okay? The villain never actually explains what these orders are, but until we obey them he’s going to hold the Earth hostage.


I mean that literally. He’s holding a gun to the Earth’s head, having presumably created an unfathomably huge space cannon that he built in the shape of a revolver because what’s the point of being a global tyrant if you don’t have panache? The world looks understandably worried, so it’s up to our plucky heroes to saves the day by doing… something? I’ll be honest, I never really figured out what’s going on in this one, folks.


To save the Earth one must travel the Earth, visiting each of these world in the hopes that somehow this will make the bad guy halt his evil plan. Each flag is a world consisting of five stages and sometimes a boss battle. Do you think each world will feature a stereotypical version of whatever country they take place in?


Well, the first country is “England” and the background is a big picture of Tower Bridge so yes, that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s always Tower Bridge or Parliament, isn’t it? C’mon, devs, give us a game set outside a Lidl in Hull or something.
Oh, right, the gameplay. You’re in control of the blue-haired, cat-eared Amazon princess type at the top-left of the screenshot above, and it’s her job to clear each stage of monsters. I say monsters, this stage is filled with chickens. Large chickens, I grant you, chickens wearing shoes, but hardly monstrous chickens. They still need dealing with, though, and Fancy World fits neatly into that genre of single-screen arcade action games that I think of as “Bubble Bobble Games.” There are dozens of the things, from the aforementioned Bubble Bobble to Snow Bros. and lesser known examples like Funky Jet or Diet Go Go. They’ve all got their own unique quirks, most often relating to how you defeat the monsters, so what’s Fancy World’s gimmick?


It, erm, doesn’t have one. No climbing on bubbles, no rolling the enemies up in snowballs, no nothing. You attack by throwing energy balls horizontally at the enemies; hit them three times and they’re defeated. That’s it. Fancy World is about as basic as this type of game gets, and as I jump between the platforms and tap the fire button to throw my projectiles I’m already starting to regret covering this game.


We must hope that the enemy designs will keep us entertained until the gameplay sparks into life and hey, these dogs are pretty neat. They’ve got a projectile attack where they dig up bones and flick them towards you, that’s fun. Not sure why they’re wearing dungarees, but I suppose a fancy world deserves fancy dogs.


After clearing five stages of very straightforward dog-and-chicken-bothering action, the first world is complete. Your reward is a picture of a woman in a vinyl suit who gives off a “circus ringmaster” aura, surrounded by floating bubbles filled with a bloke in a headband poking himself in the eye. Th-thanks? I guess?


World two has windmills, so it must be The Netherlands, famed as the home of superhero mice and blue hedgehogs, a character design that’ll never catch on. Speaking of character designs, I’m not sure why the developers decided to have the main character’s default expression be one of open-mouthed petulance, but I think it works quite well. She's as fed up of this bullshit as I am. The gameplay remains the same, but you probably guessed that already.


I did manage to grab a couple of power-ups along the way. Fancy World gives you lots of items to collect, most of them being points-scoring items ranging from small coins to, erm, big coins. There are some food items to gather up too, and even some negative items like the bottle of whiskey that reverses your controls. I’ve never understood games that equating being drunk with reversed controls – if anything, being drunk in a videogame should just add a bunch of input delay to your actions, or possibly take control away from the player entirely and force their character to visit a kebab shop.
One of the power-ups I found was a special item that, when used, freezes all enemies on-screen, which is helpful but not as good as the power-up that changes your orb projectiles into a massive laser beam that defeats all monsters in a single hit.


At the end of every second world waits a boss, beginning with the best boss of them all: a flying jack o’lantern! I didn’t know Holland was renowned for its pumpkins, and this isn’t the most interesting pumpkin design I’ve ever seen, sure, but I’ll take what I can get.
Unfortunately the boss fight is crap. Up until this point Fancy World has been a real breeze of a game, with your bulky, fast-firing projectiles easily clearing out the monsters as long as you manage to reach the low levels of concentration required to not jump directly into an enemy projectile. Then the boss shows up and fills the entire screen with exploding orbs that are difficult to avoid and protect the boss from your orbs. It all feels like a bit of a random mess, frankly.


Oh, so you get a picture of an anime girl after every stage, huh? Seems to be a bit of a theme with the Korean arcade games I’ve played recently. This one looks as though she’s real sad about the kung-fu ass-kicking she’s about to deliver. Perhaps she’s being forced to beat up a kitten against her will.


Things pick up a bit in Australia, with a batch of new creatures that move a little faster and have more readily available projectile attacks. They’re an eclectic bunch. You’ve got deadly snakes, because of course you have, it’s Australia. Actually, I’m surprised that the enemies aren’t more heavily inspired by the stages that they inhabit. You get the odd one or two that fit the geography but it could have been laid on much more thickly – imagine being chased around the Netherlands stage by a possessed clog, or facing off against a kangaroo with an improvised explosive device stuffed down its pouch. Instead we get green spear-wielding creatures that my brain keeps telling me are rabbits even though they clearly are not, and fly-winged ladies with sprites copied from the main character who sometimes stop and bend over, flashing their arse at the player. It’s not an attack or anything, they’re just rude. Oh, and some unfortunate “bone-through-the-nose aboriginal savage” enemies that aren’t pictured here, blergh.


After Australia is Greece, and the same enemy types are repeating now, which is very disappointing. The stages themselves are getting a bit more complicated, mostly through the addition of double-thickness platforms. You can drop down “through” the single-thickness platforms but not the double-thickness ones, meaning you have to pay a bit more attention to where you’re going.
No idea what the bells are all about, though. Perhaps the villain's grand plan is to turn the Earth into the universe’s biggest fruit machine.


This world’s boss is a pound-shop version of Air Man from Mega Man 2, an ambulatory fan that has two moves: slide from left to right, and slide from right to left. This is dangerous, because your character dies in one hit and takes a surprisingly long time to jump between the levels of the stage, so you’d get crushed a lot even if the stage wasn’t stuffed with murderous chickens. Hey, maybe the villain is Colonel Sanders. It’d explain all the chickens.
All of Fancy World’s boss battle suffer from the same problem, in that the developers clearly couldn’t come up with any interesting mechanics for the boss fights so they overcompensated by filling the arena with hordes of annoying enemies. The chickens add nothing beyond nuisance value, but fortunately about half-way through the fight the boss suddenly stopped being able to hit me if I was standing on the bottom-most floor. A glitch? Probably, but I’ll take it.


Onward to Brazil, where the chicken quotient is further increased with the addition of fire-breathing chickens. Or maybe the developers had just read that dinosaurs had feathers and so it stands to reason that dragons would also have feathers. Just ask the Aztecs, they know all about feathered serpents. Also, Christ the Redeemer looks on with disappointment but also, you would assume, with the compassion needed to forgive Fancy World for being so uninteresting.


Next up is the USA. The USA’s most famous landmark is “dirt” and the most dangerous enemies here are blokes with guns. Cruel burn on the USA from Unico, there. There are also invisible children, or possibly invisible dogs. This is a world where either species is free to wear dungarees, after all.
There are lots of enemies about and the platforms are small and fiddly to negotiate, so it seems like a good time to mention that not only is Fancy World boring on a core level, it doesn’t play very well. You’re in control of a real lummox of character, with movements that feel just heavy enough to make getting around a chore, especially the delay between pressing jump and actually jumping. I also struggled with getting off platforms, because you have no momentum when you walk off a platform and fall down. Rather than continuing to move forward slightly as you fall, you drop vertically downwards like someone filled your shoes with bricks, further increasing the leaden sensation of your character’s movements.


Moving upwards is equally annoying thanks to the often vague platform boundaries. See the screenshot above for an example – I’m sure it’s not just me that thinks our heroine should land on the platform below her but no, she’s not far enough to the left and she’ll fall straight back through. This happens a lot in Fancy World, and it’s bad enough when you’re moving around a fairly empty stage – as soon as there are a few enemies and projectiles around, simply getting from one platform to the next becomes far more of a chore than it should be.


The boss is a big pair of legs with a powerful cannon dangling below. Small wonder it has such a mischievous grin. It also has the ability to, you guessed it, spawn dozens of enemies. Just landing a hit on this bloody thing is a real accomplishment, because those enemies are more than willing to lay their life on the line for their leader and keep diving in front of your attacks.


As we reach Easter Island, the small amount of steam that Fancy World had generated has well and truly run out, along with my patience and the oversized mug of coffee I was using to keep myself awake while wading through the swarms of recoloured enemies. It’s all just so charmless, without the precise controls and more in-depth gameplay mechanics of similar games to keep it interesting.


Even the between-world anime girls have reached a nadir, with this one having a spinal configuration that I can’t explain but which has left me feeling rather uncomfortable. Seeing her did encourage me to stand up and stretch before getting back to my regular “hunching over my computer” activities, so that’s good, I suppose?


I’m skipping the completely uninteresting preceding stage to get straight to this world’s boss, a double-headed dragon that offers a tiny oasis of fun in an otherwise barren desert of killer chickens. It’s actually cute, can you believe, wobbling its twin heads around and breathing fireballs in a manner that feels like a sensible, decent, god-fearing videogame boss battle… but then loads of enemies spawn in and ruin the whole thing. You were so close, Fancy World, so close.


Here’s Canada. It’s cold, boring and empty, and this stage isn’t much fun either. I’m kidding, Canadian readers, you’re all right by me.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would have liked the ice platforms in this world to be slippery. Your character controls like crap anyway, but if they controlled like a different kind of crap for a while, that’d be something at least.


The final world takes place in the clouds. There are red lines on the clouds so you can see where the platforms actually begin and end, a feature that is welcome but which should have probably tipped the developers off that their platform-creating system needed a complete overhaul. All the different kinds of enemies are here. This is heaven, and I have chased them up to the celestial cloudscape so I can kill them all over again. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it, because if I don’t some up with something the crushing tedium will send me to sleep. I’m sorry for covering this one, folks – it’s easily the most boring game I’ve played in a long time. What the hell was I thinking? “Oh well, I’ve played most of it now, I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with something to say about Fancy World?” Pure hubris. I deserve everything I get.


If you were looking forward to seeing the final boss of Fancy World, perhaps in the vain hope that it might be interesting enough to redeem the rest of the game – tough shit. There is no final boss. You just fight all the previous bosses a second time. They are not any more enjoyable this time around. I’m very tired now. So tired.


Hang on, so that wasn’t a metaphor for the Earth being held hostage that we saw in the intro? It was actually a small creature shaped like the Earth? And I saved it? Is this thing the Fancy World of the title, a special little fancy boy? I don’t have the energy to crack this code, I’m afraid. As our heroine relaxes on the beach, I reckon I need a similar recuperative experience – although I don’t like the beach, so I’ll probably just go to bed with the Nightmare on Elm Street DVD box set. It’s getting to that time of year…
Fancy World: Earth of Crisis is a videogame. That much is clear. However, it’s a generic videogame, a Tesco Value videogame, the supermarket own-brand equivalent of Bubble Bobble or similar and as such it has washed over me in a grey wave of mediocrity. It’s nowhere near bad enough to get worked up about, although it isn’t great either: the poor controls and repetitive gameplay see to that. It’s just really boring. It was nice to see a pumpkin as a boss, but as mental nourishment goes that was less a three-course-meal and more chewed gum from under a bus seat. Next time I will try to pick a more interesting game to cover. On of those ZX Spectrum railway management games, possibly.

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