After visiting the Stone Age in the last article, I thought I'd take a trip to the more recent - but still distant - past by facing the gods of ancient Egypt in Gaelco's 1991 arcade game Big Karnak! Yes, I'm definitely playing it for that reason and not because the name Gaelco reminds me of perennial VGJunk "favourite" Jaleco. I honestly just want to stab some mummies.

Who or what is "Big Karnak"? Does it mean the great complex of ancient temples at Karnak itself, a place you could certainly describe as "big"? Is Big Karnak like Big Oil or Big Pharma, a cabal that control all the Karnaks? I think the most likely answer is that your character is called Karnak. He seems pretty big.

Here's Karnak now, enjoying an afternoon chariot ride with a young woman by his side. It would possibly be a bit presumptious of me to say she's called Cleopatra, but that's what I'm going to call her. Not that I'll have much chance to use her name, because this is the start of an arcade game and I'm sure something will be along to kidnap her any second now.

Yep, as soon has Karnak parked his chariot a winged giant in golden sandals and a purple skirt swoops down and carries Cleopatra away, because that's the kind of thing that happened a lot in ancient Egypt. It's the Egyptian equivalent of Zeus chaning into a variety of different shapes so he can put the moves on some mortal woman, I'm sure. For his part, Karnak does nothing to stop the abduction: despite having a sword in hand he just stands there. One look at his body language tells you he's saying "erm, excuse me..?" in a timid voice.
You know what this intro reminds me of? Ghosts 'n Goblins. A shirtless hero and his lady love are enjoying a nice day out - a graveyard picnic in Ghosts 'n Goblins and a chariot ride in Big Karnak - before a winged being flies down and kidnaps the woman. I really hope I don't have to play through this one twice to see the true ending.

Once the action begins, and it's the standard hack-and-slash, jump-over-a-pit-sometimes action. I'm reminded of another Capcom game: Black Tiger. There's something about the scale of the sprites and the relatively high tempo that made the comparison an obvious one to my mind.
And hey, look, a mummy! I know I said I wanted to stab some mummies, but I wasn't expecting them to be the very first enemy in the game. You may have shot your ancient Egyptian bolt here, Gaelco.

Thus Karnak boldly strides across the desert, hitting lots of different things with his sword. Mummies, skeletons (AKA naked mummies), cobras, all shall fall beneath his blade, apart from the snakes that I jumped over. Early impressions are good: aside from a slight delay between pressing the jump button and Karnak achieving lift-off, everything works well. The sword has enough range to avoid the frustration of having to get right up to enemies to hurt them and Karnak swings it fast enough that "Human Blender" is probably the job title on his business cards. Jumping delay aside, Karnak feels quite nimble. A lot of the backgrounds have different levels that you can jump between for a choice of different routes. That's all fine, but at first it all felt very samey, a little too much of a reheated hack-and-slash stew. Then I got to these monkeys.

They sit in the treetops and throw coconuts at you. With a well-timed sweep of your sword, you can hit their coconuts right back at them, knocking them out of the tree and rewarding you with both the satisfaction of an enemy well dealt with and a comedy "sproing!" sound effect. It was a section that gave me hope, hope that Big Karnak wasn't going to be entirely the same as every other hop-n-chop adventure but with a Pharaoh-coloured coat of paint. We'll see how that pans out as I progress.

Here's an illustration of the different height levels in the first stage. You can climb up onto this wall, which lets you bypass most of the mummies, but you have to jump over a few spike-pits and avoid this wall-mounted snake - not necessarily an easier route, but a different one. I'm glad I came up here, mind you. Gives the cobra something to do. He must get bored, stuffed into that little crevice.

A boss approaches! It's a huge skeleton. A skeleton with a ponytail, it seems. How does that work? When your head's a skull, you really have to get over your insecurities around your baldness. It's not as though you're going to fool anyone by glueing a horse's tail to your bone box.
Anyway, the boss is fun enough without being particularly challenging - the range of his attacks is obvious and consistent, and I probably wouldn't have died if I hadn't spent the fight trying to push him into one of those spike-pits. I thought it would be worth a try, but apparently not. If the boss does manage to hit you, he can kick you down into the snake pit at the bottom of the screen, which is a fun little touch but not enough of a threat to stop me from winning the fight by smashing his shin bones into dust whenever he jumped at me.

Karnak's reward for beating the skeleton is a glowing dumbbell. Just one dumbbell, though, which means my workouts are going to take twice as long. Also, is Karnak doing an anime-schoolgirl-style peace sign? The next stage better start with him running into the area with a piece of toast hanging out of his mouth, shouting about how he's late.

Not surprisingly, that isn't how the second stage begins, but I didn't expect it to start with a boss fight either. The pyramid Karnak wants to enter is guarded by this big purple fellow, and somewhere between stage one and two Karnak has managed to lose his sword. Not to worry, because he knows ancient Egyptian kung-fu and can even do flying kicks. Maybe that was what the dumbbell symbolised: martial arts training. I don't need a sword when I can punch people to death, just like how I don't need a shirt as long as I have gold bicep bands.
Now, those of you who have played a lot of eighties arcade game might find this boss rather familiar. That's because, as has been noted in several places around the internet, the boss looks an awful lot like Data East mascot Karnov, especially as he appears in Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja. How similar?

Well, it's quite obviously ripped from the same sprite so "extremely similar" would be a good way to describe it. Cheeky as hell might be another.

Beyond Karnov's Egyptian ancestor is a great pyramid filled with enemies and traps that must be conquered. Your kidnapped lady friend isn't in here, so you might be wondering why Karnak didn't just walk around it rather than facing the were-panthers and statues that shoot lightning bolts that lurk within, but the game does give you a reason: there's a boomerang inside, a weapon of such mighty power than it alone can secure victory in Karnak's quest. Wait a minute, that doesn't sound right. A boomerang?

A powerful weapon or not, this screen that appears before the pyramid stage implies that I won't be able to continue if I don't collect it, so I have very little choice in the matter. This screen is an odd touch, a map of the pyramid that pops up before you enter the stage and which you can peruse at your leisure, like an information booth in a shopping centre. Collect the boomerang, watch out for traps, Marks & Spencer is located on the second floor, next to the canopic jar storeroom.
I would suggest you read the information thoroughly, because it not only tells you where you're supposed to be going but it also informs you how to activate a necessary staircase and tells you the secret password required to advance into the depths of the pyramid. What a helpful screen.

The tagline on Big Karnak's arcade flyer is "You live an odyssey in Egypt... if the Gods allow you," and seeing Horus and Anubis pottering around the pyramid as normal, non-boss enemies means that the gods won't allow me, but also that they're not in as much of a position to stop me as you might have expected. Anubis attacks by throwing bricks at Karnak, for example. Anubis is the god of the dead, having him chuck rocks at my face is a trifle underwhelming. Surely brick-slinging should be performed by Ptah, god of craftsmen and architects?
At least Horus fights using magical bolts and teleportation, but both these gods are easily defeated by the weapon Karnak picked up at the end of the last stage. Yes, the dumbbell. Turns out it's actually a magical rattle that creates a short-range shield thing when shaken, a shield which both harms enemies and negates their projectiles. This is bad news for Horus and Anubis, because projectiles are really all they have. I wonder which god gets to look after Anubis once I batter him to death with my magic rattle?

Here's something that took me a moment to figure out, probably because it wasn't mentioned on the helpful information screen. To get down to the lower levels of the pyramid, you have to shin down this rope. Just make sure you jump onto the rope. Walking off the platform into the rope does not have the desired effect, unless you're trying to fall far enough to get Karnak's shins to burst out of his own shoulders.
Once you've managed to grab the rope, there follows an interesting mini-boss of sorts as you pummel the dangling lizard. I wish I hadn't used the phrase "pummel the dangling lizard" there. It doesn't sound very heroic, or legal in public. The fight's cool, though: the lizard climbs towards you, but you can push it back by attacking downwards with your rattle, and sometimes rocks fall from the ceiling, forcing you to stop attacking to avoid them by leaning left and right on the rope. It's a fun section, it definitely feels very swashbuckle-y, long enough to be a challenge but not long enough to drag on. Above all it's interesting, something outside the usual gameplay mechanics for this type of game. This is true of most things in this stage - on a basic level you're still just walking around and hitting enemies, but things like the rope climbing and the "secret" password give it it's own unique feel.

Here's where you need to enter the password, on the stone just below where Karnak is standing. The password is GAELCO, but to enter it you only need to spin the two halves of the block so GAE and LCO line up together. If you skipped the hint screen at the start of the stage or just didn't pay attention to it, you might still be able to figure it out, possibly. Me? I knew the password but my feelings of superiority were challenged by Satan's sudden appearance. He kicked my arse, if I'm honest. I think it's because he didn't mess around throwing bricks at me, he just burned me alive with his hellfire breath.

More rope fighting, this time against a big snake and it's smaller - but still impressively large, as snakes go - minions. Big Karnak does not use bosses sparingly, and there's three on this stage alone. This one's a lot like the fight against the lizard, except instead of dodging rocks you have to keep forcing the snakes back into their holes so you can concentrate on damaging the leader.

Beyond the nest of snakes and just past a mouth in the wall that vomits a stream of six-foot eyeballs at you - I didn't manage to get a good screenshot of that bit, so you'll just have to take my word for it - is the pyramid's final boss. What else would guard the pyramid but a mummy? See, this is why I was wary of the decision to have mummies all over the place right from the word go, now this mummy's appearance has lost a lot of impact even if he is much bigger than all the other mummies. He's not just big, he can also shoot fire out of his hands, a battle strategy that seems singularly unsuitable for a dried-out corpse wearing flammable strips of cloth to be using. It's like a vampire throwing garlic powder around his castle while he opens all the curtains.
The multiple levels work really well in this fight, allowing for a lot of enemies the feature in the battle without it becoming too overwhelming, and fighting the boss itself strikes a good balance of difficulty and simplicity. The strangest thing about this and almost every other boss in Big Karnak is that while they do have a health bar, it doesn't seem to work as you'd think - it takes a lot of hits to get the first bit of damage in, but once you've started hurting them they take damage faster and faster. Very strange, although hardly important gameplay-wise.

This boomerang, on the other hand? Now that's important. Or so I'm told. My sword and rattle seemed to be working out for me fairly well but okay, I'll trust you. Boomerang it is.

The boomerang immediately proves it's worth at the beginning for stage three, where an eagle flaps dementedly about the place, dropping a never-ending stream of eggs on Karnak's head from it's poor, battered cloaca. I wouldn't be able to hit the eagle without the boomerang, which can even be thrown diagonally, so a big thank you to both that mummy for being entombed with it and the information kiosk for letting me know about it.
Killing the eagle brings the ship on the right a little closer, so I can simply jump across and continue my quest.

Oh dear, I wasn't expecting a pack of angry dogs to disembark. Ha ha, disem-bark, because they're dogs. That'll keep me smiling even as they tear me to shreds.

After making it past the dogs, boomeranging a few pirates and climbing up the rat-infested rigging, Karnak faces off against another boss. From here out Big Karnak does become something of a boss rush, and while that's usually something I'd complain about this is the best kind of boss rush - the kind where I haven't already fought all the bosses before. For instance, this one's new, a woman with an anchor who rolls exploding barrels at you. I think I'll call her Nefertiti Kong. At first it seems like a difficult fight, but after a little trial-and-error I found there was a "sweet spot" that you can stand in where continually throwing boomerangs will destroy all the barrels before they reach you, with one occasionally slipping through to hurt the boss. The boomerang has already proven its worth, and yet I still felt safer when I had the sword. Could I not use both? Link manages it, and he's a weird mute kid who grew up in the forest.

After dispatching Nefertiti Kong and making it off the ship, Karnak is soon thrust into mortal combat with some shrubbery. The boomerang does little to harm this overgrown pot plant, but there's a trick to the fight - hitting the plant's "head" will make it burrow underground for a moment, allowing you to attack the crumbling statue behind it. Hit that statue enough times and the wall collapses, burying the boss and allowing you to continue.
Of course, it's not quite that straightforward. A carpet of tiny snakes is constantly growing under your feet, so you have to pause every now and then to clear them out, a process that has finally cured me of the notion that taping razor-blades to a boomerang would be a low-effort way to mow the lawn. The goddess Isis serenely hovers behind you, watching the battle unfold. Not really, she kept stabbing me in the back with her spear.

Big Karnak's cavalcade of bosses continues with an oversized octopus. It's a very similar fight to the last one, the barrels replaced by rolling tentacles the octopus can launch and regrow at will, but it's far superior to that battle thanks to the octopus' frankly amazing facial expression. Never mind that it's not even close to an octopus' real anatomy - why does it have eyebrows? To keep the sweat out of its eyes when it's in the sea? - it's got such a wonderful look of slightly-confused contempt that I didn't mind when it killed me over and over again. It looks like elderly British man who's just been asked about his sexual preferences by someone doing a door-to-door survey, and I'm glad I had this opportunity to throw boomerangs at him.

It would have taken a lot to top that octopus, and sadly Big Karnak couldn't manage it. I'm not complaining about the robot sheep skull that fires smaller sheep skulls at you while you throw your boomerang at its ruby-studded eye - that might be something that's above complaining about - but it's not quite as fantastic as the previous boss. It also dies a lot more quickly, which was nice. My boomerang-throwing thumb was staring to get tired.

It really is all bosses all the time now, with the latest assault on Karnak coming from a pterodactyl and its many, many accomplices. So many accomplices: smaller pterodactyls, little dragons and, in an inversion of the usual "Egyptian deity" template, frogs with the heads of men. They look unhappy with the situation, as well they might. No-one wants to worship man-headed frogs. They can take comfort from being involved in the hardest part of the game, however - the sheer amount of deadly things on screen means that you'll struggle to both avoid taking damage and to even hit the big pterodactyl. There's so much cannon fodder between you and the boss that it's difficult to land a blow, but eventually the tide of enemies will thin out a bit and you'll make it through.

At last - I was going to say "at long last" but this is a pretty short game - Karnak faces off against Osiris, lord of the underworld and abductor of women who were just trying to enjoy a nice, peaceful chariot ride to the pyramids.
What follows is rather strange battle. Aside from that first big skeleton, it's probably the easiest boss in the game. All Osiris does is fly back and forth at the top of the screen, dropping slow-moving and easily-avoided nets. However, the catch is that if you are entangled in the net, you're killed instantly and, unlike every other boss, Osiris gets all his health back if you use a continue. Normally, I wouldn't simply offer "don't die" as my advice, but in this case it's fair enough because it's not difficult to avoid death. Just keep firing upwards and concentrate on dodging the nets rather than on hitting Osiris and you'll soon triumph.

Osiris almost had the last laugh by bursting into flames when he died. His flaming body fell from the sky and killed Karnak: the heart in the screenshot above is Karnak's soul, floating away to be weighed against the feather of truth. Until I put another credit in, anyway.

Karnak has slain just about every god except Ra and rescued Cleopatra. The statues in the background nod their approval. They never liked Osiris anyway. Big Karnak is over!

Her imprisonment has taken a toll on Cleopatra, and now her head has twisted around to face the wrong way. Or her left arm is on backwards, her anatomy has become a little difficult to interpret. She seems happy enough, mind, and I'm quite pleased that the ending is a roll-call of all the enemies in the game. I always like to see that in an ending, and Big Karnak was no different.

That said, I liked it a lot better once this monkey had scrolled of the screen. Did his nipples have to be quite so prominent? He's looking right at me. He knows I've seen his nipples, and he likes it.
The roll call also taught me that the pirate boss with the exploding barrels was Nut, goddess of the sky. I suppose that explains why your fight her right up in the crow's nest.

That's Big Karnak, a simple hack-and-slash arcade game with an Egyptian theme that tried a few different things and, on the whole, succeeded in having those things be interesting. I enjoyed playing it, I know that, mostly thanks to the extra little flourishes that break up the usual formula: the rope-fighting, the choice of paths, the mysteries of the pyramids and that octopus, that fabulous, grumpy octopus. It's not perfect - the jumping controls are stiff, it's very short and it would have been nice to have a bit of regular action between the later bosses, but as action-packed arcade games go I can recommend this one, especially if you like people with animal heads instead of human heads. It's got plenty of those. Just try not to think about that monkey's leering face waiting just over your shoulder as you play.



Gasp as the crude people of the Stone Age are brought to life in vibrant colour on your television screen! Marvel as primitive man bends the power of the dinosaurs to his whims! Recoil in disgust as you imagine what a caveman's feet must look like after driving their foot-powered cars around for a while! Yes, it's The Flintstones - specifically, Taito's 1994 SNES yabba-dabba-doo-em-up The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock!

Even back in 1994 The Flintstones was hardly a hip, fresh license that all the kids were clamouring to have a videogame based around, but at least they probably knew what The Flintstones was - but how many of this games target audience was going to get the Treasure of the Sierra Madre reference in the subtitle? Personally, I would have gone with For Whom the Brick Tolls or Rubble Indemnity.

The game begins with a glimpse into the sinister Masonic rituals of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, rituals that I'm sure mostly revolve around drinking beer and playing cards. All I know is that whenever I see a men's club like this I automatically hear the Stonecutters song from The Simpsons, and I know I'm not the only one.

The set-up for this game is that Grand Poobah, the leader of the Water Buffaloes, is retiring. Instead of naming his successor or holding fair and open elections to fill the positon, the Poobah tells the Water Buffaloes that whoever amongst them finds the treasure of Sierra Madrock will be the new Poobah. Whether this is part of the Order's ancient traditions or just the outgoing Poobah's chance to see his brothers fight amongst themselves is never explained.
Also not explained is why Fred Flintstone is so keen to be the next Poobah. He strikes me as the kind of man who would want to avoid that level of responsibility. Maybe the Grand Poobah gets free Bronto Burgers at the drive-thru. Whatever his reasons, Fred sets out to find the treasure, and Barney Rubble tags along, doing most of the work while Fred takes all the credit because, let's be honest, Fred Flintstone is kind of a dick.

If you're thinking that a Flintstones game on the SNES is going to be a platformer, you'd be half right. Well, maybe a third right. There is definitely platforming involved, of the familiar 16-bit variety. Here, Fred is leaping over some stampeding dino-cattle, and you can stand on their backs. It's like that bit in the first stage of Sunset Riders, only not as much fun because the controls in this game are a little slippery and the soundtrack isn't nearly as good. Fred and Barney have the usual set of platforming skills - they can run, they can jump, and they can attack enemies using their clubs - but the only thing even slightly out of the ordinary in their movesets is that if you hold jump they float in air for a while, whirling their legs, much like Yoshi does in Yoshi's Island.
The platforming stages are very short, rarely lasting more than a minute, but that's because The Treasure of Sierra Madrock isn't just a platformer...

It's really a board game! You control both Fred and Barney separately as they roll the dice and make their way around the board, with each panel you land on leading to a different result. Small stone dots are the platform stages, and they're the most common of the bunch, but there are also shops, places to play minigames, "boss" arenas and a sports stadium. I wonder if The Flintstones' sports carry on the series' tradition of using dinosaur labour to recreate aspects of the modern world? I just want to see a small, fat dinosaur being used as an American football, dryly croaking "it's a living!" as the quarterback throws it through the air.

So, the platforming bits. They're okay. I'd give them a C, maybe a C minus thanks to the slightly woolly feel of the controls. The trouble isn't so much with the mechanics of the game, but rather that there is not a single iota of innovation in the level design, not one part of any hop-n-bop stage that hasn't been done - and done better - in a hundred other platforming games. See-saw platforms, balancing on logs, riding moving ledges, all of which you'll swear you've played before in some other game. The brevity of these stages is their saving grace, however, and because you can blast through most of them so quickly they rarely outstay their welcome.

Without having much idea what I was supposed to be doing, I sent Barney to the space on the board with the big dragon skull on it. That triggered a boss fight against a giant ape, which seemed like it would put me on the right track, because what's more likely to clear a stage in a videogame than defeating the boss? Sadly, The Treasure of Sierra Madrock doesn't work that way, and my time spent learning the patterns of the boss' attacks - he makes coconuts fall from the sky and then throws a coconut right at you, over and over again until you've clubbed him enough times - was all for naught. Well, I learned the valuable lesson that I have no reason to fight these bosses, I suppose. That could come in useful.

Your real goal is to catch up to the Water Buffaloes member who's pottering around the board. Fred has not forgotten that his loyal brothers are also searching for the treasure, and the bonds of fraternity are no barrier to Fred's overwhelming desire to become the next Grant Poobah.

He has no qualms about smashing their heads in to further his ambitions, for example. That's our hero, folks: a primitive man who is quick to anger and prone to violence, a man who will use the bodies of his fallen friends as stepping-stones on the way to glory, a man whose most striking characteristic is his unending selfishness. The look on his face as he tries to wedge a tree branch into the ear canal of a man he once called brother tells you all you need to know.

Having landed on the same square as a Buffalo, Fred and Barney realise that he has a map to the treasure. Desperate to avoid having his skull caved in, Brother Rockhead here challenges Fred and Barney to a race, with the winner taking the map. That'll be what the sports stadium is for, then.

It's Super Flintstones Kart! Hold down the Y button to run around the Mode 7 track, jumping over mud-puddles and trying your damnedest not to bump into Brother Rockhead, because if you do he sends you spinning away, usually into the long grass that'll slow you right down. The race is won and lost in the first few seconds: if you can get past Rockhead at the first corner then you'll coast to victory, but collide with him at the start and he'll build a lead that's extremely difficult to claw back. Still, it's not a massively difficult race, thanks no doubt to all the time Fred has spent pushing a car made of rocks around with nothing but his leg power. Regular running must be a breeze for him.

Once I'd won the race and claimed the treasure map, I sent Barney back to the stadium, thinking it would be a free space now that I'd cleared it. Instead he was entered into a time-trial race around the same course, a race I failed on my first attempt because the game neglected to add any time to the clock when I passed the second lap's checkpoint, making the whole thing impossible and leading to the rather aggravating situation of being told I'd run out of time when I still had 26 seconds on the clock. I guess there's no dinosaur that you can stuff into a watch case to provide accurate time-keeping.

I did eventually beat the time trial, and the reward was well worth the effort as victory granted Fred and Barney the ability to double-jump. Bafflingly, their double-jumps are powered by money, and each time you perform one you lose one "clam". In The Flintstones universe actual clams are used as money because dollars are sometimes called clams, you see. Quite how having a unit of currency fall out from under you - if I was being crude I'd make the point that Fred looks like he's passing a clam he'd swallowed earlier when this happens - makes you jump higher is a mystery, but it does and it can be annoying when you're haemorrhaging cash because you keep double jumping by accident.

I could be using those clams to buy a delicious, health-restoring glass of cactus juice! Although probably not, because I entered the cafe as Barney. For some reason, be it a quirk of fate or my own dislike of Fred Flintstone seeping through, Barney always seemed to have more health but no money whereas Fred was minted but constantly teetering on the edge of death. This made a lot of the later platforming stages more difficult to complete with Barney, because he didn't have the funds to live the extravagantly expensive life of the double-jumper. It also meant I didn't get to see the minigames for ages because Barney always seemed to land on those squares and it costs ten clams to enter. It makes sense to me, though. Barney seems like the kind of person who places little value on material wealth. He doesn't even want to be the Grand Poobah, he's only tagging along to help Fred out.

Anyway, once you've claimed the map the exit opens up and you can leave the first board. The remainder of the stages play out in the same manner - travel around the board completing short platforming stages as you hunt down the Water Buffalo in each area so you can beat him in a race and take whatever useful item they have for yourself. I wonder if all the boards will be build around the usual videogame themes?

Well, here we are in a fiery area called Magmarock so gee I guess so.

Predictably enough, the platforming parts of Magmarock are based around not touching lava, or whatever this brown lava analogue is supposed to be. Boiling mud? Really hot gravy? Whatever it is, just don't fall into it and you'll do fine. My main piece of advice would be that you can climb up the long, thin stalagmites. It took me a while to realise this, but then again I was distracted by trying to figure out exactly what animal's hide Fred's clothes are made of. They're not striped like a tiger, but leopards aren't orange. My current leading theory is that it's an orang-utan pelt that's covered in stains.

Oh no, it's Wilma! My loving and supportive wife who has put up with my years of madcap antics with patience and good humour! Whatever shall I do?
If Fred or Barney bumps into their respective wife, all that happens is that they get dragged along for a few spaces. Both times this happened to me while I was playing the game they dragged me closer to my destination. Betty and Wilma are the true heroes of The Flintstones.

I caught up with Quartz, this stage's Water Buffalo. Fred says he's going to beat him. Fred is forever making these threats and wild boasts, and always with the same smile on his lips. This has the effect of making Fred seem like a bit of a psychopath, especially when he sends Barney out to do his dirty work.

Okay, now it really is Super Flintstones Kart. All that's missing is the ability to throw turtle shells at your opponent, something that would fit right into the Flintstones universe. In practise it's no different to the foot race, and the same rules apply: get in front of the other racer quickly and victory becomes a formality.

As surely as day follows night and a trip to A&E follows my attempts to juggle knives, so is the fire stage followed by an ice world. This is Snowrock, and the compass you need to progress is encased in ice. A friendly eskimo says he'll free it for you, but only if you bring him a hammer and chisel. And who has the hammer and chisel? Why, one of your fellow Water Buffaloes, of course. You'd better get out there and find him, Fred.

The centrepiece of this board is the icy crossroads at the centre, where entering one of the paths will spit you out at a seemingly random destination. For all the grief I've given him, I'll concede that Fred must be pretty tough if he came to the Arctic without any shoes.

Of course, no shoes means no grip, and as you'd expect your character slides along the frozen platforms at a rate that cannot be explained by the presence of ice alone - there must have been some buttering of feet involved. It's hardly game-breaking, though, because by now you'll have gotten used to the large amounts of momentum Fred and Barney have even when they're not running on ice. As I've said, the platforming in The Treasure of Sierra Madrock is generic to the point of parody, but there are some strange quirks to the way your character moves that take some time to get the hang of. One is that when you're jumping up to another platform you often seem to "pop" onto it even if your feet never touch it. My favourite, however, is that if you're running at full speed and press attack your character stops dead, swings their club and then immediately starts running at top speed again. Fairly amusing, granted, but hardly how you'd expect that set of actions to work.

I finally managed to get Fred to land on the Amusement Park square, so now I have the pleasure of sampling a variety of minigames and hopefully gaining a few extra lives. I mean, I already had nineteen lives at this point but a couple more wouldn't go amiss.
The first game, pictured above, revolves around keeping these cheeky monkeys away from your coconuts by bashing the see-saws with your club. This cause the coconuts to fly up and whack the monkeys, sending them back up the tree. I can only imagine Fred shouts something along the lines of "oh, you want my coconuts, do you? Well here, have 'em!" as he does this. Any coconuts left unmolested when the time runs out will grant you a prize.

The second game is bagatelle, and you fire a rolled-up millipede onto the peg board and wait - for an agonizingly long time, it seems - for it to plink into one of the holes. You get the prize pictured above the hole. Nice and straightforward, this one.

Exciting card-flipping, pair-matching action in game three, which is probably the game with the best chance of a big reward, although it is dependant on luck. Fortunately I was very, well, fortunate when I tried it, and I'm not sure how the "Nx" multipliers work but once I'd finished I had thirty-two lives.

Finally, I hope you'll all join me in sniggering at the title "Balls o' Fun". The easiest of the four games, all you have to do is throw your ball that the power-ups as they scroll across the screen. Your balls always move in a predictable way, so you should be able to hit the ones you want without any trouble. Well, unless you're still laughing at it being called "Balls o' Fun", that might throw your aim off a little.

Snowrock's item-harvesting race is ice-skating, and while it's nice that it's thematically tied to the stage it does just work exactly the same as the running race... although it seemed a lot easier. In fact, this game doesn't so much have a difficulty curve as it does a difficulty plateau with the odd hillock of challenge placed atop it, and to me it felt like there was a much wider range in difficulty between stages on the same board than there was between the first board and the later ones.

After collecting the compass, it is immediately stolen by a pteranodon, leaving Fred and Barney stranded in the jungle world of, erm, Junglerock. So we've had Bedrock, Magamarock, Snowrock and now Junglerock. That's some real imaginative work on the names there, Taito.

Junglerock is the least interesting of the five boards, mostly because it looks a lot like the first one and also because there's only one way around the board. The platforming stages have a lot more water to fall into. That's their primary gimmick, and it's not a difficult one to get around so long as you don't play like me, taking blind running leaps through the treetops in an effort to get to the end of this dull videogame before I lose the will to continue.

The mandatory boss fight against the compass-stealing pteranodon gives you something to do, I suppose, but it's very similar to the fight against the giant ape, only you have to wait around longer for the pteranodon to swoop down into clubbing range. I was in much more danger from the relentless timer than the flying rocks, but after my first attempt - an attempt where I "accidentally" drowned Fred - I got Barney to do the hard work. As always, Barney prevailed and the two cavemen could enter the final stage.

It's called Caverock. It's in a cave. There are rocks. I know I shouldn't have expected anything more interesting, but that's still disappointing. Caverock is nothing more than a long, single path of platforming stages, and if you decided to play The Treasure of Sierra Madrock I would recommend you do so on an emulator so you can save-state your way to rolling three (the highest number) on the dice every time. You will miss out on very little by doing this.

Caverock's levels are extremely reminiscent of the underground levels in Super Mario World. The same colour palette, the same murky water, the same moving slabs of rock that you have to progress past by squeezing through gaps. Well, if you're going to copy something, you might as well copy the best.

After far too many stages of "action" gameplay that would have felt stale before the SNES was even on the shelves, Fred and Barney emerge into the sunlight, blinking and exhausted. Fred is so staggeringly dense that Barney has to tell him that the treasure chest has treasure in it. Had Barney not come along, Fred's adventure would have ended three feet away from the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo Lodge's front doors, his head trapped in a postbox or simply sitting in the dirt mumbling to himself. Wilma is either a bona fide saint or Fred is secretly the heir to an enormous fortune.

Oh look, it took the whole game but Fred said "yabba dabba doo." Kudos to Taito for not having him spout his catchphrase every five seconds.
The treasure of Sierra Madrock is finally in our heroes' possession, but what is it?

Wait, I know this one: it's either the diamonds from Reservoir Dogs or Marsellus Wallace's soul, right?

It's the Poobah's medal. There you go, Fred, you're the Grand Poobah. Are you happy now? On the next episode of The Flintstones, the power goes to Fred's head and he falls out with Barney until Wilma and Betty make them come to their senses. Actually, I think that's every episode of The Flintstones.

Here come Betty and Wilma now, justifiably furious that their husbands - men with young children, don't forget - risked their lives just so they could be head honcho of a gentleman's club.
How can I sum up The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock? Fittingly enough for a game so thoroughly familiar, I can describe it in the same way as a great many other SNES platformers - it's okay, but just okay. If it was a pizza, it'd be cheese and tomato. Once you've got a handle on the weirder elements of the gameplay mechanics, the action is passable, even if it is completely lacking in imagination. Scrap that pizza analogy, this game is the Coldplay of SNES platformers - competent enough on a technical level but with no bite, no hook, nothing to elevate it above mediocrity.

It falls to the board game elements to lift this one, and I'd say that they do lift it, even if it's only a little. It gives the game a little more replayability, for one thing, and you're unlikely to play the same set of stages each time you load up the game, so on that front it's a success. A warm round of applause for whoever decided that clearing a stage means you don't have to repeat it if you land on it again, a wonderful feature without which the game would have become far more wearisome than it ended up being. Having a (small) choice of paths in the earlier stages is nice. All in all, a tick for the board game column, a solid two-player mode and some nice graphics mean that The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock could have been something well worth playing... if only the bits that you actually play were more fun. Am I going to finish this article by saying it's a yabba dabba don't? It's sure looks like it. How unfortunate.

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