I suppose it's time for a game about rescuing a princess, because it's been a while since I covered one of the fifty percent of retro games with that plot (the other half being "rescuing your girlfriend", naturally). At least this time the nobility hasn't left it up to the common man to solve their problems, and instead a brave young heir to the throne charges into the fray. His name is Prince, and he is clumsy. It's Codemasters' 1990 Commodore 64 I'm-sure-I've-seen-this-before-em-up Prince Clumsy!
That's hardly a name to inspire confidence, is it? He's no Mega Man, not even a Super Mario, just some bumbling posho who has suddenly been thrust into into a life-or-death situation that his governesses and public school education could not possibly have prepared him for. Mind you, if "clumsiness" is the extent of his acrobatic failings then he'll still be way more fun to control than many, many C64 characters.
I do like that one of the control options is listed as "Rob Keys," though, presumably the preferred control system of Robert Toone, who handled the game's conversion from the ZX Spectrum.
And we're off! Off to the, erm, graveyard. Well, that's interesting, you don't see many games that start with a knight killing zombies in a graveyard. That's what you're looking at here - Prince Clumsy is the blue-ish armour-clad knight and that purple-and-grey lump is a zombie or ghoul or what-have-you. Some kind of revenant, anyway. Thankfully Prince Clumsy stopped off at Stabby Pete's Bulk Barn of Bargain Blades before he set out, and with an unlimited supply of throwing daggers at his disposal he can make short work of any enemies in his way. Oh, hang on, I looked again and realised that's not a zombie attacking our hero but rather the Grim Reaper himself, or at the very least one of Death's lackeys. Death's like Santa, he has an army of helpers who dress like him to help even out his workload. I realised it was the / a Grim Reaper because I eventually figured out it was carrying a scythe, and at this point I feel I should mention the graphics look a lot better - more distinct, certainly - in motion.
Aside from stabbing Death himself right in the bony mush, Prince Clumsy also features some platforming, which is hardly surprising considering it's an action platformer. It's what I'd call "light" platforming, where the most complicated it gets is jumping from one moving platform to another. There are no obstacle courses or anything like that, but these early jumps did reveal a very welcome surprise: Prince Clumsy is not clumsy at all! In fact, his jumping skills are smooth and responsive, and although there's a brief learning curve while you figure out that it's often more effective to jump straight up into the air and then guide the prince left or right as he falls rather than jumping diagonally, overall it makes for a far more playable game than a lot of the computer platformers from this era that I've experienced in the past. My only complaint about the controls, and this in no way reflects on the creators of Prince Clumsy but is rather an example of how years of playing videogames have trained my expectations, is that you have to press down on the joystick to enter a doorway. That took some getting used to.
Hey look, a treasure chest! But it doesn't have treasure in it, only points. Maybe the real treasure is the experience. I feel like I've really grown as a person after jumping over this small stream, much as Prince Clumsy's thighs must have grown if they're constantly propelling him into the air while he wears full plate armour.
On the next screen is a closed portcullis. Well, it starts open when you enter the screen, but as soon as you do it slams shut as if to really hammer home the fact that it's trying to block the path of the Prince specifically. I assumed that to get past the portcullis I'd need a key, because there's a space for keys on the status bar, although I'll admit I thought I started with a key because that number up there could just as easily be a grey "1" with a black outline as it could a tall, blocky 0. So I looked around for keys, which didn't take long because this is the fourth screen of the game, but I couldn't find anyway. Then I killed a bunch of enemies in the hope that their final act on this mortal coil would be to regurgitate a key, but no such luck. I had reached something of an impasse, then, until my terrible gaming "skills" solved the problem for me: as I was trying to come back over the river in the previous screen, I cocked up my jump and fell into the water. Turns out it's a not a river at all but a small puddle that's mysteriously floating over the opening to a cave below.
See, I'm going to say that's not good game design. In Prince Clumsy's defence, there is a sign next to the river with an arrow pointing downwards, but for me and I suspect many others who played this game, one small and difficult-to-see arrow was not enough to overcome the ingrained notions that falling in videogame water is A Bad Thing, especially when you're wearing a metal suit. And of course, now that we've seen some water that doesn't kill the Prince, later in the game there are identical patches of water that are immediately fatal if you fall into them. I just want consistency, that's all.
The underground caverns are home to these floating faces. They're fairly creepy, appearing out of nowhere and floating towards you wearing an expression of someone who's furious but trying to hide it behind a smile. Still, just like regular, non-floating faces you can stop them with a dagger to the eye socket.
There's the key. The massive, man-sized key. Go on, Prince, use that key like a sword. Pretend this is a Kingdom Hearts game. It'd be nice to have a Kingdom Hearts game with a storyline that doesn't make you feel like your brain is dribbling out of your ears in super-slow motion.
Past the portcullis and halfway up a large and sturdy tree, Prince Clumsy is attacked by a skeleton. Okay, "attacked" might be too strong a word. "Pranced at" by a skeleton. "Transported to a realm of wonder through the power of dance" by a skeleton. Yeah, that feels more accurate. The skeleton's just trying to have a good time, but I had recently collected a power-up that changed my throwing daggers into throwing axes and I've got to test them out on something. Sorry skeleton. I hope the fact that your un-death provided me with valuable axe-related data is a comfort to the loved ones you leave behind, and the results of this data are that axes are only different from the daggers in that they travel in a near-imperceptible arc. They still kill everything in one hit, just like the daggers and every other weapon in the game.
Oh look, deadly water. If only I'd had some kind of warning. Weirdly, Prince Clumsy doesn't drown or even fall of the bottom of the screen if he touches the water, he does the same "comical" death animation as when he runs out of health - he falls over and his helmet rattles around on his head for a couple of seconds, so rather than drowning I guess he's just severely allergic to water.
I saw that ball-and-chain on the floor over there and I thought I'd found a new weapon to collect, but no, it hurts (and stuns) you if you touch it. It's not spinning around or anything, so our hero probably just trips over it. Because, you know, he's not called Prince Graceful.
Maybe that should be his name, though - as I've said, he actually controls well and he's fairly nimble, which is handy because the most efficient way to play Prince Clumsy is as quickly as possible. In common with huge swathes of the home computer action game genre, enemies in Prince Clumsy aren't waiting on each screen when you enter, but instead they quickly and relentlessly tear through the fragile veil of our existence and pour onto the screen from all angles. Endlessly they come, their numbers ever replenished even if you stand in a corner and kill thousands of them, so don't do that. It's the medieval equivalent of trying to get telemarketers to leave you alone by politely asking them to stop calling. Instead, the best strategy is to run and jump through the screens as quickly as you can, because if you're fast enough you can get to the next screen before all the enemies have finished spawning in from whatever hellish dimension they call home. So run, leap and scamper to victory, all the while holding down the fire button to lay down a blanket of pointy death in front of you. It's not an elegant system of generating threats, although in Prince Clumsy monsters don't tend to spawn right inside you like in so many other C64 and Spectrum games, and it's never as much fun as facing well-designed enemies that have had some thought and attention put into their placement, but the action is fast and smooth enough that Prince Clumsy just about stays on the right side of enjoyable.
Prince Clumsy arrives at a small village constructed entirely from grey pebbles and driftwood. It's a little painful to look at, so it's a shame it makes up half the backgrounds for the rest of the game. It's extra unfortunate because all the grey enemies blend right into it, but thankfully I managed to get a screenshot where the ghost on the right is standing in front of the blackness. I wanted to show it off because looking at it's head I think it might be the ghost of a pterodactyl.
There are also a lot of indoor areas. They are infested with giant spiders, which is fine by me because it keeps the giant fly population down. I like that bold design choice of having your dining table and chairs resting on another, larger table that floats in the middle of the room. It's a good conversation piece for your dinner parties, plus if you're good enough you can pull off a really impressive version of the old "yank the tablecloth away but leave everything standing" trick.
Just beyond the village is a platforming section composed of rickety wooden bridge pieces and floating rocks. I suspect this is the village's lame attempt at a tourist attraction. If you liked The World's Largest Concrete Bollard and the Museum of Unusual Carrier Bags, you'll love Shit Bridge Void!
Below the bridges: a deadly expanse of roiling hellfire and a gargoyle that looks like it's struggling with the whole "flying" concept. Don't worry, I put the gargoyle out of its misery by throwing a lance at it. Yes, my weapon has changed to a lance now. What kind of dumbass knight throws a lance? They're for horseback pokin', not on-foot throwin'. Maybe he's called "Prince Clumsy" because he always picks the most cumbersome weapon for the task at hand.
If you unfocus your eyes and stare at this screenshot for long enough, eventually you'll see a three-dimensional image of your optician saying "I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that you keep looking at this."
The rest of the game takes place in and around a large castle, and unlike the disparate elements that made up the rest of the game it has a sense of architecture to it that's quite nice, and as you gradually make your way to the top by walking along the outside and travelling through the inner rooms you do get something of an idea that it's a real, sensible building.
As sensible as any building that uses occasional tables as a staircase can be, anyway. Forget about that, though, and check out those tiny draculas! Oh my stars, they are adorable, scurrying hither and thither, worrying about how they're going to reach a virgin's neck without a stepladder. They could have stood on a table but oh no, we just had to use all of those instead of a staircase, didn't we? I wonder if they turn into teeny-tiny bats? I do hope so. Of course, now I'm wondering if they're undead children and that's rather taken some of the fun out of the tiny draculas but still, they're great.
Once I reached the top of the castle, I was faced with this dilemma - jump off the parapets and collect this mysterious item, or continue along the correct path and avoid having to traverse the entire castle again? C'mon, you already know the answer. I'm a maverick, a risk-taker, and Prince Clumsy doesn't suffer from fall damage so that stick is going to be mine, goddammit.
Turns out that the stick is a magic wand, which replaces whatever weapon you had before and launches multicoloured sparks in eight directions around you when you use it. There are no voice samples in Prince Clumsy, which is a shame because I'm certain the developers wanted the enemies to go "ooh" and "aah" every time you used it. Was collecting the magic wand worth the hassle of going through the castle again? I'm not sure. When I had the wand I did notice I was dying a lot less thanks to always being surrounded by a swarm of deadly asterisks, but the wand was located so close to the end of the game that any benefit that came from it was negligible. If there had been a boss or two to fight along the way then sure, giving them the old izzy-wizzy-let's-get-busy would have been very handy, but there are no bosses in the game and most of the time the Prince has booked it through the room before the regular monsters are solid enough for his hexes to harm them anyway.
Maybe they're not tables. Maybe they're very solid and very helpful ghosts.
There's the princess, locked inside her cell, patiently awaiting rescue. I've even got the key I need to release her, but first I've got to jump up on to the roof and make my way around. I may have magic powers, but apparently Stonewallius Crumbleo is not a spell in the Prince's repertoire.
Once more I am asked to put my faith in the notion that leaping from the castle's battlements is a good and productive course of action. Okay, sure. What other choice do I have? The princess isn't going to rescue herself, more's the pity.
Like the hand of a protective, caring god, the castle extends a rocky appendage to catch the Prince as he falls. Or he lands on a balcony. Look, I'm just trying to inject a little poetry into this not-particularly exciting Commodore 64 platformer, all right? Somebody has to. No, I'm lying, nobody has to but I'm going to do it anyway.
It may look as though the Prince is trapped up here (unless he's willing to jump off the castle again) but this is the true path to the princess. You see that wall to his left? The wall that looks the same as all the other solid, impassable walls in the game? Yeah, you can walk straight through that and it brings you out right in front of the princess. No, I can't really defend it as a design decision. I only found it by accident as I wiggled the joystick around, unsure about whether I wanted to commit to another trip through the castle by jumping over the edge.
"Hello, your majesty! It is I, your other majesty! I assume we're either brother and sister or we're betrothed or something. Pack your bags and walk through this wall, then it's just a simple hop off the side of the castle and we're home free! There might be some monsters out there but don't worry, I've got a magic wand! What do you mean, you'll take your chances in the dungeon?"
So her sister was the villain all along. Huh. Might have been nice had that been mentioned previously or if the evil sister had shown up at all. The princess is also a lot smaller than the Prince. Maybe they call him Prince Clumsy because he's nine feet tall and built like Stallone and Schwarzenegger sitting on each other's shoulders inside a trenchcoat. He's not clumsy, per se, it's just the world isn't built to his scale.
In conclusion, Prince Clumsy is Ghosts 'n' Goblins. I mean come on, just look at it! It wants to be Ghosts 'n' Goblins so badly that I was genuinely surprised when the princess wasn't an illusion and a trap designed by Satan. It feels like each copy of the game should have been bundled with a free pair of heart-patterned boxer shorts. It's not exactly like Ghosts 'n' Goblins - it isn't nearly as difficult thanks to the Prince having a health bar, for one - but I think it's fair to say that it's closer to being an unlicensed port of Capcom's classic than it is to being its own game. It's fun on its own merits, with good controls and speedy action, but it's just Ghosts 'n' Goblins. Play Ghosts 'n' Goblins instead, because Codemasters sure as hell wanted you to.
P.S. Prince Clumsy was also released on the Amiga under the name The Sword and the Rose, just in case you thought it looked familiar but couldn't place it.