I first heard the order decades ago, but the time has finally come. I can resist no longer. I will, in fact, Do The Bartman. Except this is Imagineering and Acclaim’s 1992 NES game The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, and it’s all about Bart Simpson’s Batman-spoof alter-ego Bartman. However, the Bartman persona does not appear in the video for the hit 1990 single “Do The Bartman.” I could have sworn that he did, but I guess time makes fools of us all. Obviously I watched the “Do The Bartman” video again and two things stand out: one is that “here’s a group that needs no introduction – your children” is a pretty good joke, and also Bart complains about being grounded for putting mothballs in his family’s food. Jesus Christ, Bart, you’re lucky to be confined to your room and not a psychiatric unit.Where was I? Oh yeah, videogames.

That’s Bartman on the right, Radioactive Man on the left and Fallout Boy at the bottom. Radioactive Man’s sidekick, not the pop-punk band. It’s an all-star superhero team-up, the Simpsons equivalent of Batman joining forces with whatever superhero Radioactive Man is a parody of. A combination of Superman and the Incredible Hulk, I suppose. The Incredible Man! No, hang on, that doesn’t work.

The game’s intro sets the scene – Bart’s reading a Radioactive Man comic in his treehouse but he’s not enjoying it much. The comic’s nearly over, but Radioactive Man hasn’t made an appearance yet!  Yes yes, that’s all very interesting but I can’t stop looking at the front cover of said comic and thinking about how much Radioactive Man looks like he’s got the head of a duck.

Then Fallout Boy shows up and tells Bart that Radioactive Man has been stripped of his powers by the evil Brain-O the Magnificent, which is why Radioactive Man hasn’t, you know, shown up in the comic book yet? So that’s not a Radioactive Man comic but a factual description of Radioactive Man’s life that happens to be in graphic novel format? I’m confused. Bart also seem a bit confused, but then he gets over his confusion, turns into his Bartman person and the game’s ready to begin. Look, just go with it, okay?

Chapter One: Bartman decides not to bother saving the day and pulls his duvet back over his head. Or that’s his cape, I guess. Anyway, to save Radioactive Man, Bart must defeat three supervillains by making his way through their lairs and eventually besting them in mortal combat. First up is the Swamp Hag and where would you go if you were looking for a Swamp Hag? That's right, the junkyard!

Here we go, then. Bartman Meets Radioactive Man is a platformer, and I can tell you now it does almost nothing to differentiate itself from the vast ocean of other, very similar NES platformers. Well, in terms of gameplay, anyway. Being a Simpsons game gives it a certain appeal, because everyone loves The Simpsons. That might not be as true now as it used to be, but you’ve got to remember that this game was released in 1992, when The Simpsons was huge, a genuine cultural phenomenon. Without wanting to sound too cynical, that’s the only reason that this game exists in the first place.

Three steps to the right, and Bart Simpson kicks a dog in the face. What a way to start the game. What a hero. Speaking of, considering we’re playing as Bartman and fighting actual supervillains, it’s very noticeable that Bartman doesn’t have any superpowers. At the beginning of the game he can walk, jump and kick. You might be thinking “hey, technically that’s the extent of Batman’s super powers," but unlike good old Bruce Wayne, Bartman doesn’t have any gadgets, not even a simple slingshot.

The hardest part of writing VGJunk is coming up with different ways to say “hey look, its a platformer, just like all those other platformers.” You jump over obstacles and either kick enemies out of the way (if they’re dog-sized or larger) or avoid them entirely (the recommended tactic when facing rats, because they’re too small to kick). Some pit are bottomless, some have springboards at the bottom like the ones between these tyre stacks, so you can bounce back up. One thing Bartman Meets Radioactive Man’s designers were very fond of including are projectile spitters that fire something dangerous vertically upwards, like these screws popping out of the tires stacks. Sometimes they’re gearwheels, sometimes they’re blobs of lava, but they all work identically and you’ll be spending a lot of time in this game (im)patiently waiting for these traps to settle down enough for you to pass.

At last, Bartman has a superpower. I picked up an item that caused the cryptic message “20 EYES” to appear at the top of the screen. This means I can now press the B button and Bart will fire laser beams out of his eyes. They don’t travel all the way across the screen but they have a lot more range than the stubby limbs of a ten-year-old child and so they’re very useful for eliminating these roaming hunchbacks. If you’re trying to figure out whether these enemies are supposed to a specific Simpsons character, I’d save your energy. At first I thought they might be Kearney, but aside from Bart, Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy I don’t think there are any Simpsons characters in this game so what we’re facing here really is just your basic, everyday junkyard mutant.

So goes the first stage. And goes, and goes, dragging on for much longer than you might expect for the very first area in the game. It all consists of jumping over the same tyre piles and columns of broken televisions, and it’s about as exciting as I’m making it sound. At least it gives you ample opportunity to get used to BMRM’s slightly fussy jumping controls, which feel unusual at first because Bart jumps much more vertically than most NES platform heroes, and you have to make very sure you’re actually moving left or right when you jump because it takes a brief moment for Bart to get moving and if you leap from a standing start you’ll miss ninety percent of the jumps in this game.
That’s all something you’ll get used to as you play, though. Is it fun? No, not really. Personally I judge platformers (consciously or not) on how much pleasure you get from simply moving around, and dragging Bartman’s lumpen carcass from junk pile to garbage mound has the unmistakeable whiff of a chore about it.

One area that mixes things up is the bonus area set in the “Limbo Zone.” If nothing else, the stark “Kirby dots” inspired background makes a nice visual change. The Limbo Zone is a place to stock up on items like extra lives by riding around on the rain of space debris. All the chunks move in the same direction, but when you jump on one of these platforms all the platforms start moving in a different direction. Basically you’re trying to steer an asteroid storm with your feet and it’s by far the most interesting bit of gameplay in BMRM. Naturally it only appears a couple of times and doesn’t last very long, because the developers needed that cartridge space so they could fill it with as much painfully generic platforming as possible.

Having escaped the Limbo Zone and reached the end of the obnoxiously long first stage, it’s into the sewers for a second stage that’s also obnoxious but for a different reason. This time it’s because the sewer pipes are a maze. Not a complicated maze, I’ll grant you, but every screen looks the bloody same and that can make getting your bearings difficult. As for the gameplay… well, if you’re generous enough to call waiting around for slow-moving platforms and equally lethargic dripping water hazards gameplay, then you’ve got a kinder spirit than me.

Also lurking in the sewers: lycra-clad villains who have no problem shooting a child in the head with their laser rifles. Who are these fiends? We may never know. They’re certainly not famous Simpsons characters, because as mentioned aside from Bart and Radioactive Man there aren’t any famous Simpsons characters in this game. This abscene of many of The Simpsons' supporting cast is noticeable if you go back and play most old – early nineties, I mean – Simpsons games. For one thing, back then Bart was assumed to be the show’s main character, so you almost always end up playing as him. I presume that if these games were being released a few years further into The Simpsons’ lifecycle then Homer would be the main character in most of them. In BMRM’s specific case, it’s a shame that it was released well before the “Radioactive Man” episode of the show aired. You know, the one where the Radioactive Man movie is being filmed in Springfield. The goggles, they do nothing, etcetera. I’d find it much more engaging if I was playing as Milhouse, trying to recreate stunts from the movie. Of course, I’m not enough of a maniac to suggest that releasing a Simpsons game with Milhouse as the main character would be a good idea, but it’d be more interesting than this.

Bartman Meets Radioactive Man’s commitment to platformer gameplay elements that were worn-out tropes even in 1992 continues with the never-popular side-scrolling shooter segment. Oh well, at least it’s nice to see Bartman demonstrating some kind of superpower, although now I’m going to be thinking “why doesn’t Bartman use his solidly-established ability to fly to skip all the platforming stages?” “Because that’d make the game really boring,” I hear you cry, but the jokes on you because this game’s already really boring.
The shooter section plays well enough, I suppose. Bartman can collect “cold” power ups (I think they’re supposed to be like Superman’s ice breath) and spit them at the waves of monsters, but you don’t really need to bother and you’ll do just as well by avoiding them.

Okay, I’ve just about caught up with the Swamp Hag, and I might have been hasty when I said there are no other famous Simpsons characters in this game because I think those things that are falling from the sky are supposed to be Blinky, the three-eyed radioactive fish. Yes, I’m aware that they look a lot more like piles of excrement, but bodily waste definitely shouldn’t have that many eyeballs in it unless you’re a character from Bloodborne.
It took me a while to figure this out, but the idea here is that you use the freeze power on the fish as they fall, turning them into frozen platforms that you can use to climb up to the treetops.

That’s where the Swamp Hag is hiding, throwing mutant fish on the heads of any who would dare to enter her dominion. Freeze her with the ice power and then jump up there and kick her to death while pondering that as far as Matt Groening characters go, she looks more like Lrrr from Futurama than any Simpsons character.

One boss down, and Radioactive Man has regained his powers of flight. However, he’s still trapped in the Phantom Zone – sorry, Limbo Zone – so I suppose I’d better track down the next villain. Their name is Dr. Julius Crab, and apparently they have a water-logged lair. This is going to be a swimming stage, isn’t it?

Fantastic. I love swimming stages in otherwise land-based platformers, said the world’s most dangerous lunatic as they were remanded to a secure hospital. This is one of the less aggravating examples of the type, to be fair, and mercifully it’s about half the length of the junkyard stage. Bartman swims fairly responsively, and you can avoid most of the dangers of the stage – the naval mines, the octopus tentacles, the clams that fire fish upwards at regular intervals – by slowly swimming along the ocean floor like an unhurried sea cucumber with a day off work.

There’s a piece of “El Barto” graffiti painted on the bottom of this ship, and it’s nice to see some kind of Simpsons reference in a game that feels very divorced from the source material. It would be easy to replace a couple of sprites in this one and have it be completely unrecognisable as a Simpsons game. I know that’s true of a great many licensed NES platformers, but The Simpsons has its own strong visual style that’s been completely ignored in favour of a generic underwater level.

And then BMRM goes and dangles a morsel of something interesting in your face with a stage set in a dark underwater labyrinth. The only light is the torch beam of a deadly sniper, and if you swim across their crosshair you’ll take damage, so you’ve got to use the illuminated patch to determine where the walls of the maze are while avoiding the incoming fire, and you know what? It’s actually quite good fun! I know, I was surprised too. The potential for it to be a frustrating mess was very high, but fortunately the designers realised they they needed to compensate for Bartman’s lack of vision by having less enemies than usual floating around and not placing so many traps on the “floors.” It’s hardly amazing, but it’s so much more engaging than the rest of the game thus far that rather than making BMRM feels like a better game it just makes the rest of the stages seem worse by comparison. Whoops.

It’s also a very brief diversion, and afterwards it’s back to more platforming and more waiting around for slow-moving platforms, because there’s nothing the kids love more in their videogames than the sensation of waiting for a lift that’s stopping at every goddamn floor. At least this one’s enlivened by these octopus creatures that throw fish skeletons at you. They have Nelson Muntz’s face, and I’d much rather be learning about how Nelson got fused with an octopus than turning water jets off by standing on switches, but the simple fact of their existence is cheering me up.
I’m also cheered by this world being far, far shorter than the first. The stretch from the start of the game to the Swamp Hag makes up roughly fifty percent of the game, with the remaining three bosses and their stages crammed into the second half, and it’s an interesting sensation to play through a game where the developers so obviously lost interest after the first couple of levels. Maybe BMRM was rushed out to meet a specific release date. That’d explain why everything after the Swamp Hag battle feels like it was scribbled down on the back of an envelope during the bus ride to work.

Here’s Dr. Julius Crab, mad scientist and potential ancestor to Dr. Zoidberg. Attending medical school must be a family tradition. There’s also a normal, unnamed crab scuttling around in the boss arena, serving as an annoyance who’ll bump into your ankles while you’re trying to fight Dr. Crab. It’s not particularly well communicated by the game itself, but Bartman’s punch attack completely changes during this fight. Pressing attack makes him raise his hand, and what you’re supposed to do is wait for Dr. Crab to jump at your head, catch him in mid-air and then throw the criminal crustacean against the right hand wall. Do that three times and the doctor will get smashed into the next room where you repeat the fight.
There’s the core of a decent boss battle here, but three things conspire to make it a pain in the arse. The first is that unless you already know what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s difficult to figure out how to beat Dr. Crab because standing underneath a videogame boss while it does a jumping attack is the exact opposite of what games have been training me to do for the past thirty years. Then there’s the extremely precise positioning required to catch the boss as he falls: a pixel or two out position and you’ll miss the grab. Finally there’s the small crab, which is only there as a distraction and you just know the developers threw it in at the last minute because they’d made the boss fight too easy without it. However, even taking all these flaws into consideration I declare this battle a triumph because you’re fighting a crab that’s also a mad scientist.

We’ve reached the final set of stages. It starts out with the usual lava area. You’ve seen one lava zone, you’ve seen them all. Don’t fall in the lava, watch out for the volcanic vents that spit out fireballs. The main difference from previous stages is that any wall that isn’t grey will hurt Bartman if he touches it.

That part doesn’t last long, though, and most of this world is made up of this underground village. I don’t think there are any more screens than the previous area, but it takes a lot longer because it’s a maze composed of various doors that teleport you to a different location when you walk through them. Now, this is entirely down to personal preferences but I’m going to declare this the worst stage in the game because I hate screen-warping maze layouts in platform games. You might think they’re fine and that’s okay, I’m not having a go at your videogame preferences but for some reason I cannot stand this type of stage. Is it because my memory is terrible and I’m constantly getting lost? Possibly. Okay, probably. But it’s not just that, because if I’m playing a game specifically based around exploring a maze then I’m fine. My contempt for this kind of gameplay is something of a mystery to me, but as soon as I realised what was going on I reached for a walkthrough because I simply was not willing to figure it out for myself. Look, I’ve never claimed to be a videogame expert.

Having the walkthrough meant I quickly reached Lava Man, the boss of the lava world and unimaginative name inventor. Unlike Dr. Crab, the mechanics of this fight are easy to discern: freeze the water droplets with your ice power when they’re falling towards Lava Man’s head. All Lava Man can do to prevent this is throw two easily-dodged lava balls towards your general position. No wonder he looks so shame-faced down there. “Colossal Lava Beast Cooled Off By Ten-Year-Old Boy” screams the newspaper headline, Lava Man is kicked out of the League of Villainy and has to move back in with his parents, the only work he can find is having water poured on him in a sauna. He’s a disgrace to hulking lava monsters everywhere.

With all his powers restored, Radioactive Man is freed from his cosmic prison and, erm, is it just me or is there something wrong with his proportions? I think it’s the way his right arm reaches down to his ankles, that’s definitely making him look kinda weird. I suppose these are the issues you might face if you get your powers from a concentrated blast of radioactivity.
Now that he’s back in the game, Radioactive Man enlists Bartman’s help in taking down his arch nemesis: the terrifying and squishy Brain-O the Magnificent! I wonder what theme Brain-O’s stage is going to have? Biological horror, as our two heroes make their way through a living body in search of the brain? A deadly cyberscape controlled by a brain-powered supercomputer, perhaps? And will I actually get to play as Radioactive Man?

The answer to all these questions and more is no. Just… no. No stage, no playing as Radioactive Man, no nothing except for the fight against Brain-O that you’re immediately thrown into. For a moment I was disappointed, but then I remembered that I wanted nothing more than for Bartman Meets Radioactive Man to be over, so let’s get on with it.
To damage Brain-O, you have to shoot it with your eye beams. Of course, the metal parts of Brain-O’s tanks are immune to your eye beams, so you have to fire, have the laser ricochet off the hull and up towards Radioactive Man. Then the laser bounces off Radioactive Man and back down onto Brain-O’s glass dome. It’s all about timing your shots so that Radioactive Man is in the right place to catch the ricochet, and not getting run over by the massive brain-tank. Fortunately Brain-O is so big that it can’t crush you if you crouch right in the left-hand corner, so aside from remembering to jump over the projectiles Brain-O fires at you this boss fight is simple enough to deal with.

Radioactive Man offers his thanks, we get to see this image of Bartman one final time and I still think it kinda makes him look like a slug with a child’s head, and Bartman Meets Radioactive Man is over. What are my thoughts? That it’s weird that there was such a focus on the Bartman persona considering that at the time it had appeared in one scene of one episode of The Simpsons. Oh, about the game? Well, it commits the cardinal videogame sin of being boring. For the most part the stages are dull, with no invention or wit to any of the land-based platforming sections, and traversing them isn’t made any more interesting by Bart’s sluggish, leaden controls. There are far too many blind jumps to lower platforms that may or may not have enemies on them, the same enemies and hazards are recycled ad nauseam – the vertical projectile spitters in particular – and for something based on one of the greatest comedies of all time there’s absolutely no attempt to make the game funny.

Bartman Meets Radioactive Man shakes out as yet another standard NES platformer, then. Certainly not bad enough to get upset about, and it even had one or two relatively enjoyable sections amid the tedium… but it’s an absolute no-brainer to say that rather than playing this you should go and watch the Radioactive Man episode of the show again. Yes, I know you’ve already seen it dozens of times but trust me, it’s still funny.



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.



A long time ago – but somewhere in the North of England rather than a galaxy far, far away – I was a young kid with a SNES. I played a lot of games on that SNES. Some of them were great, some were bad, and there were some that I wanted to love but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. The difficulty level, usually. Today’s article is all about one of those games, so join me for a cathartic run-through of Sculptured Software and Lucasarts’ 1992 rebel-scum-em-up Super Star Wars!

Ah yes, that famed and fabled war amongst the stars. I don’t need to tell you about Star Wars, you already know about Star Wars. Good versus evil in space, magic powers, laser swords, thousands of inhabitable planets that all have precisely one type of weather, fish-men in positions of military authority. I love Star Wars, because of course I do. Not as much as I loved it when I was a child, because back then my love was more of an all-consuming obsession, but I’d still describe myself as a Star Wars fan. So, these days playing a Star Wars game feels like it might be a fun diversion, but in the early nineties Star Wars and videogames made up ninety-nine percent of my being so receiving a SNES retelling of the original Star Wars movie felt like a gift from the gods. And it was, in that most gifts from gods turn out not to be as wonderful as they first seem. We’ll get to that, though.

As this is an adaptation of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope or whatever the movie’s official title is these days, it naturally begins with the famous Star Wars text crawl. It seems an attempt was made to use the SNES’ Mode 7 technology to recreate the text crawl’s fade into the distance, but as you can see it hasn’t worked out all that well. It’s the wrong colour, for starters, but more problematic is the blocky, jagged look that makes the text extremely difficult to read. It’s a good job everybody already knows the plot of Star Wars, huh? It all begins with young Luke Skywalker, distracting himself from the dull grind of being a desert farmer by running around the dunes and blasting the local wildlife with a laser gun.

Ah yes, just as I remember from the movie. Super Star Wars is a licensed SNES game based on a science fiction movie, so there are very few forms its gameplay was likely to have taken and it ends up being the most obvious of them all: a side-scrolling action-platformer where Luke gallivants across the desert wastes of Tatooine, blasting alien creatures and avoiding pits. He’s got a good blaster at his side and he’s going to be getting a lot of use out of it, because the second the game begins you’re swarmed from all sides by an endlessly respawning torrent of pissed-off critters.

We’re only a few screens in, and I’ve already been thoroughly reminded why I never enjoyed Super Star Wars as much as I wanted to when I was younger – the difficulty level. Enemies are always flying in from every possible angle, hopping into your character and pushing them around the screen, and simply getting anywhere feels like a chore. Maybe “difficulty” isn’t the right word, actually. It’s more like a constant feeling of pressure. You never get a moment’s respite, no chance to get your bearings, and it ends up being extremely wearying. It feels like there are a lot of way these problems could have been avoided, too. If enemies had to attack you rather than damaging you via collisions, that’d go a long way to making things more enjoyable. Or there’s the fact that for a game you’d probably describe as a run-n-gun, you can’t run and gun at the same time, forcing you to stand still while you fire and in Super Star Wars standing still quickly leads to death. Your health is constantly being chipped away, but the enemies do at least drop a lot of health-restoring hearts when killed.

The rest of the first stage plays out as you’d expect. Run from left to right, using your blaster to dispatch a host of famous Star Wars creatures such as scorpions, womprats, worms and large scorpions. If you’re lucky, you’ll pick up an upgrade for your blaster that makes it do more damage. Even for the first stage of a licensed SNES platformer it’s pretty dull, but playing as Luke Skywalker and hearing the iconic Star Wars music was just about enough to keep me going.

There’s a boss at the end of the stage, and this one is a famous Star Wars creature! It’s the Sarlacc, the huge, pit-dwelling monster that eats Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi after he’s knocked into said pit by a blind Han Solo. Yeah, Boba Fett might not actually be the incredibly skilled warrior that he’s portrayed as. Let’s chalk Boba’s lame death up to the machinations of The Force and focus on this fight against the Sarlacc. In short, it sucks. Most of the boss fights in Super Star Wars suck, but this one stands out as being particularly bad, possibly because it’s the first one in the game.
How it works is that the Sarlacc pops up out of the sand and either beats you with its tentacles if it’s close, or spits boulders at Luke if it’s further away. The problem is that if it does pop out of the sand right next to you, you’re trapped in the corner and are forced to take a large amount of unavoidable damage from its whirling appendages and I don’t think there’s a way to consistently bait the Sarlacc into appearing further away from the player. In the end, the fight is reduced to a race to the bottom of your respective health bars and there’s little strategy worth employing besides hammering the fire button as fast as you can. Not the greatest of starts, but at least the Sarlacc actually appears in a Star Wars movie.

After an opening stage that was pointless aside from establishing Luke’s lust for killing, we’ve reached some plot as he encounters C3PO in the desert. Luke’s clearly trying his best to ignore Threepio by pretending to stare into the distance with his binoculars, but eventually he succumbs to the golden droid’s nagging and off they go to rescue R2-D2 from the Jawas.

Oh look, it’s a vehicle section. The Mode 7 gets broken out again, although much more successfully than during the opening text crawl, as Luke drives his landspeeder towards the Jawa’s sandcrawler. As has already been established Luke is consumed by a terrible yearning for death, so instead of simply driving over to Crazy Jarbulark’s Used Droid Emporium and handing over some credits in exchange for R2-D2, Luke will only head to the sandcrawler once he’s sated his bloodlust by killing twenty Jawas.

Okay, sure, why not. The landspeeder has laser cannons, the Jawas speed around on little hover-pods and you just have to aim at them and shoot while avoiding the health-draining chasms that litter the landscape. It’s less straightforward than you might expect thanks to the unusual controls, though. The d-pad moves your landspeeder forwards, backwards and side-to-side but it doesn’t turn – to do that, you have to use the ship’s boosters. That lets you rotate, but it also consumes booster fuel. It’s an odd control scheme that takes a little getting used to, and you speeder feels very slippery as it slides across the sand like a greased… a greased… you know, when I was ten I would have been able to summon a list of fifty slippery aliens from the Star Wars universe but all that knowledge is gone now, lost to time. Anyway, what I’m saying is that the landspeeder section is fast-paced and responsive enough that it’s still fun even if it does feel a bit like Fast and Furious: Tatooine Drift at points.

Now we’re at the Sandcrawler itself. The Jawas are understandably reluctant to do business with Luke after the shooting gallery of the previous stage, so you have to break into the sandcrawler by climbing along its exterior, using your blaster to take out the multitude of turrets while hopping across the many moving platforms. I managed to collect another blaster upgrade that makes it fire homing missiles, which is helpful, but my childhood memories were accurate – I remember this stage as being where Super Star Wars begins to grate, and so it proved. The relentless barrage of respawning enemies wasn’t so bad in the first stage, because you could plod along slowly and collect lots of health-restoring hearts. However, when you’re being swarmed by opponents while trying to traverse a series of small moving platforms, where getting hit can easily see you falling right off the sandcrawler and having climb up the entire bloody thing again, the limitations of the game’s “platformer” stages becomes apparent.

Inside the sandcrawler is more of the same. It’s all enclosed metal corridors so at least you can’t fall right back to the start of the stage, but there are a lot more spike pits to contend with, so swings and roundabouts. It’s more enjoyable than the more wide-open stages, mostly because you don’t have to deal with the slightly awkward jumping controls as much – you have to press up on the d-pad while jumping to perform a “big” jump when simply holding the button down for longer seems like it would have a been a better solution.

This stage is completely redeemed by the inclusion of these Gonk droids. Who could fail to love the Gonk droids, those waddling mechanical marvels? Gonks are power droids, so they’re basically walking batteries, but at some point in the history of the Star Wars universe their creator must of thought “hey, my new power droid is useful and everything but what it really needs to stand out from the crowd is the ability to make a weird honking sound like a depressed goose every minute or so.”

The boss of the sandcrawler is Lava Beast Jawenko. Why is there a river of lava at the bottom of the sandcrawler? Who the hell knows, maybe it runs on geothermal power. I would have assumed it was molten metal – the Jawas are scrap dealers, after all – but that specifically says “lava” so one of the Jawas is going to be in deep trouble when his superiors when they find out he parked the sandcrawler on top of an active volcano.
This thing looks like a bad Metroid boss, huh? It’s not much fun to fight, either, because all it does is spit streams of lava at you. It’s very similar to the fight against the Sarlacc, with the added annoyance of, ha ha, the floor being lava. Just keep blasting away and jumping, you might get lucky.

Now that I’ve found R2-D2, I have to find Obi-Wan Kenobi who will then help me find Princess Leia. Oh, and I’ll need to find a pilot as well. Luke Skywalker should consider opening a private detective agency if this Jedi Knight thing doesn’t pan out.

You remember how in the first Star Wars, part of Luke’s characterisation was his yearning to escape the crushing tedium of Tatooine and explore the galaxy? I’m beginning to have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the gameplay was more engaging. It’s okay for what it is, or it might be if it wasn’t for the obnoxious amount of enemies, but it certainly never comes to close to stepping into “really good” territory. Super Star Wars' action feels closest to games like Contra III and Metal Slug, but it never feels as much fun to play as those games, largely because it lacks the same sense of speed or (a rather nebulous concept, I know) flow. There’s a lot of stopping and starting as you can’t fire while moving, plus if you want to crouch and fire you have to stop, duck and then shoot because otherwise you just shoot diagonally downwards, blasting a patch of dirt three inches from Luke’s toes.
The platforming doesn’t do much to spice things up, either. It hovers somewhere between perfunctory and frustrating, never getting bad enough to make me angry but definitely worthy of the occasional dissatisfied grunt.

Obi-Wan Kenobi has been located. Or Ben Kenobi, if you prefer. You know, with these people supposedly in hiding from the Empire, you think they’d change their surnames when creating new identities. Anyway, in the cutscene he’s referring to Artoo as “little fellow,” or at least I hope he is. It’d be a bit rude if he was talking about Luke. I think this makes Super Star Wars the only game I’ve covered so far at VGJunk to include Alec Guinness, so it’s got that going for it.

Oh good, more desert. This is the Land of the Banthas, apparently, and I’m sure you’ve already noticed the most important feature of this stage: Luke has a lightsaber now! That’s right, Obi-Wan chucked him the lightsaber and said “get out there and test it out on a few Tusken Raiders, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it in no time.” The last time Obi-Wan tried training properly someone it’d didn’t turn out so great, so his laid-back new teaching style makes sense.

Naturally the lightsaber gives you a powerful but short-ranged melee attack. That’s fine, but more useful is the jumping spin attack pictured above. No longer will you have to shoot the enemies and then jump to the platform they’re standing on, now you can simply leap through them like Sonic the Hedgehog. You can switch between your lightsaber or blaster at the press of a button, which you’ll want to do when fighting these banthas because it’s a lot easier to defeat them by shooting them from the other side of the screen than by waving a glowstick in their faces. That’s right, Super Star Wars gives you a lightsaber and then immediately makes you fight a series of enemies where you’re better off shooting them. Way to really sell the power of the Jedi, chaps.

I’ll skip the fight against the giant mutant womprat (a large rat with bat ears) and another landspeeder section (shoot more Jawas) so we can get to Mos Eisley. It’s a famously wretched hive of scum and villainy, so Luke should feel right at home here after slaughtering most of the planet’s Jawa population.
Mos Eisley is where we first encounter Stormtroopers, so it’s only taken around fifty percent of the game but at last we get to fight the Empire itself. This really lifted my spirits, and not just because I’m finally out of the desert: shooting Stormtroopers just feels more Star Wars-y than the previous segments of the game. The Stormtroopers mix things up a bit by having their own blasters and even entrenched machine-gun nests, but they still act like most other enemies, in that they constantly appear at all sides of the screen and try to overwhelm you through sheer numbers. Mostly they just... fall out of the sky, with no effort made to make their arrival look natural. That’s what’s going with the Stormtrooper on the left. He might look like he’s squatting to relieve himself – perhaps his nerves got to him – but that’s just what they look like when they drop from the sky.

You can also ride on some barrels like a turn-of-the-century Canadian lumberjack. It sounds a bit daft at first but the more I think about it the more riding a rolling log sounds like something that absolutely would happen in a Star Wars movie.

After scrapping through the mean streets of Tatooine, which are my favourite stage of the game so far by a long way and not just because there wasn’t a lame boss at the end, I managed to meet Chewbacca! Everyone loves good ol’ Chewie, right? I can’t wait for him to get his own movie where he potters around the galaxy running a space haulage business and going out for Friday night drinks with Lando and Nien Nunb. I’m not kidding, I would love that movie.

Even better, you actually get to play as Chewbacca.  I mean, you get a choice but obviously I’m going to pick Chewbacca over Luke here. The main difference between them is that Chewie doesn’t have a lightsaber (or any melee attack at all, sadly) but he can take a bit more damage.

This stage takes place in the famous Mos Eisley cantina, with your chosen character absolutely tearing through the bar's patrons for no real reason that I could discern beyond the general skeeviness of the place.
I’m really glad there’s a cantina level, because like most youthful dorks I was absolutely fascinated by the array of weirdo aliens that inhabit this location. Aliens that look like plague doctors, like hammerhead sharks, like drawings of the Devil from a Chick tract, they’re all here, and the cantina is probably responsible for triggering more feverish nerd imagining than any other scene in science fiction. Okay, besides  Leia’s slave costume.

You get to shoot most of those aliens. Rodians, Duros, you name it Chewbacca’s ready to blast it. The whole stage is nothing more than a flat plane where monsters jump out at you and get shot, but the most important question is “does the cantina band music play while you’re doing this?” and the answer is yes, of course it does, and it’s great. There’s one element of Super Star Wars I can praise without hesitation, and that’s the sound. It’s full of fantastic, accurate sound effects from blaster bolts to Chewie’s roar, and all the music is the Star Wars soundtrack only, you know, on the SNES.
My biggest problem with this stage? You don’t get to play as Obi-Wan. Let’s not forget that Obi-Wan is a character who responded to a little bar-room argy-bargy by slicing a guy’s arm clean off with no warning. He seems like the ideal candidate for clearing out the cantina.

The bosses continue to be kinda rubbish, with this one being yet another large creature that traps you in a corner and swings its appendages at you. Apparently it’s based on one of the pieces from the holographic chess game they play aboard the Millennium Falcon, but the fact that it’s named “boss monster” really makes it feel like the developers were shrugging their shoulders with this one.

Han Solo has been recruited, which means we get to play as everyone’s favourite roguish smuggler. There’s not much to recommend him over Luke or Chewie, honestly, besides him being Han Solo. He’s good at shooting things, as Han Solo should be, but then so are all the other characters and while I don’t regret playing as Han during this “escape from Mos Eisley” stage I can’t help but feel that not having the characters be more different was a missed opportunity.

Finally, a boss that’s a bit different! Not fun, necessarily, but a nice change of pace as you dodge the  Imperial equivalent of an SUV, avoiding its lasers and rolling around so you can get a better angle to shoot its variety of destructible segments such as the gun turrets and the engines. Like all the bosses in Super Star Wars, it does feel like there’s too much unavoidable bullshit going on and there’s no “correct” way to fight this thing. It’s never a satisfying feeling when a boss encounter comes down to luck.

Our rag-tag group of plucky heroes, space samurais and walking carpets have made it aboard the Death Star, where they must rescue Princess Leia from Darth Vader. Thinking about it now, it’s kinda weird that Darth Vader never realised that Leia was his daughter, what with him having magic mind powers and all. I assume this was all explained in some spin-off story. Leia unknowingly used the Force to block Vader’s abilities, or Vader did know and letting her get rescued was all part of a larger plan, or Yoda was hiding inside that torture droid and helping her out.
Gameplay here is a lot like it was on Tatooine, with platforms to negotiate and pits to avoid. Make sure you stay on the platforms. If you got down to floor level, those tiny mouse droids suddenly active their Murder All Humans (Also Wookies) subroutines and ram you into the pits, pushing your character sideways with greater force than a Sarlacc slap or a TIE fighter collision.

By the way, there are TIE fighters on this stage. They fly past with no warning every now and then, slamming into you and causing damage / knocking you down to the ground where the mouse droids can feast upon your broken corpse. The TIE fighters are a royal pain in the arse. This game was hard enough with huge, screen-obscuring spaceships flying towards you every twenty seconds, it’s like trying to play while your younger brother flicks rubber bands towards your face.

“Please put down your lightsaber. You have twenty seconds to comply.”

While Luke’s busy fighting ED-209, Han is searching the detention block for Princess Leia while avoiding the weaponised Roombas that patrol the floors. Given that droids in the Star Wars universe are much more sentient than in most sci-fi properties, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the robot that has to clean the floors of the torture rooms.
This stage is another pretty decent one, thanks again to the more enclosed layout of narrow corridors meaning that enemies don’t have quite as many angles to spawn in from. You can also avoid a lot of them by climbing up platforms, which I would recommend doing wherever you can unless you need to farm some health drops.

As per the movie, Leia’s just chilling in her cell like the stone-cold badass that she is. I have no doubt that in an alternate telling of the story where Luke was murdered in a bar-room brawl before ever leaving Tatooine, Leia would still have escaped the Death Star, figured out this whole “Force” business on her own and defeated the Emperor.

It’s a real shame, then, that you don’t get to play as Leia for the next stage. I chose Chewbacca, which was a mistake because it’s a vertical climb up a lift shaft and Luke’s spinning lightsaber attack would have been very helpful for slicing past the hundreds of laser turrets lining the walls. In my defence, I forgot about this stage because I never managed to make it this far when I was a kid.

At the top is a fight against, erm, the tractor beam controls. Okay, weaponised user interfaces, that does sound like something the Empire would use. Given that their bases are ninety percent elevated walkways without railings, this seems very much in their wheelhouse.

Spoiler alert: then Obi-Wan dies. In retrospect, the line “I was the learner” feels really awkward. Who calls themselves a “learner” unless they haven’t passed their driving test yet? “I was the student” makes more sense, but I guess George Lucas was still George Lucas, even way back then. “Only a master of evil,” Obi-Wan retorts; big words for someone who’s been hiding in a cave for twenty years.

It’s on to the climactic final battle of both the movie and the game, as Luke climbs into his X-Wing and we get to enjoy another vehicle section. I was definitely ready for another vehicle section, and that’s not sarcasm. I had fun with the landspeeder section and anything to break up the not-great platforming would have been welcome. Thinking about it, one of Super Star Wars’ big failings is that you never get to pilot the Millennium Falcon. You think there’d be a stage between leaving Tatooine and reaching the Death Star where you do just that, but instead you have to wait until the end to get behind the joystick again.

It works a lot like the landspeeder stages, although the controls have been changed so that you can turn left and right using the joypad now. Other than that, it’s the same very slidey-feeling action as you zip over the Death Star’s surface, your goal once again being to destroy a set number of enemies. In this case you have to eliminate twenty TIEs and twenty towers. You might think the laser-firing, highly manoeuvrable spaceships would be the main threat, but I definitely had more trouble with the towers. That’s because I kept flying into them, though, and (I think) that results in instant death.
Overall this is a fun little stage, though. As with so many parts of any Star Wars game, I’m getting more fun from it that I might otherwise just because it is Star Wars. There will always be a ten-year-old part of me that thinks any opportunity to pilot an X-Wing is the coolest thing imaginable.

After that, it’s into the Death Star’s trench for the final attack on its vulnerable exhaust ports. Thanks for that, Mads Mikkelsen. The action switches to a first-person perspective, but you don’t have to worry about flying, per se. You control the crosshairs and just have to shoot things. Not TIE fighters, though. They fly into the trench but you can ignore them entirely. Instead, you have to focus on the orange plasma balls they fire at you. They’re the only things that can damage you, so concentrating solely on shooting those down is the only way to survive.

Eventually Darth Vader will turn up in his own personal TIE. Much like not flying the Falcon, it’s kinda strange that you never actually see Darth Vader face-to-Face in Super Star Wars. I know Luke never meets Vader in the movie, but Luke also doesn’t fight a giant mutant womprat so the developers clearly weren’t afraid to go outside the source material.
As for Vader’s ship, much like the other TIE fighters you can mostly ignore it and concentrate on shooting down the projectiles it fires. You might be tempted to use your proton torpedoes against Darth’s ship, but do not do this. You only get a very small supply, and if you accidentally use them all you can’t refill them. This means you can reach the exhaust port and have nothing to fire into it, causing the rebellion to fail in the most spectacularly embarrassing way possible and also forcing you to do the stage again.

Pew pew, I used The Force – that’s what I call cheat codes, you see – and now the Death Star will explode. The galaxy is saved until The Empire Strikes Back, I’ve put a childhood trauma to rest by finishing Super Star Wars and we can all sit back and enjoy the ending sequence.

Thanks, Han. Nice of you to not bothering turning up to distract Darth Vader, that would have been mighty useful during the final stage.

And so Super Star Wars concludes in much the same way as the movie: the Empire suffers what turns out to be a temporary setback, there are celebrations and everyone gets a medal apart from Chewbacca, who gets shafted. Please take consolation in the fact that you’re the best Star Wars character, Chewie. Let the teenage space farmer and the space pilot who keeps losing his ship have their moment.

I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about Super Star Wars. On one level, I know exactly what it is: a not especially enjoyable action-platformer that has some decent ideas and fun vehicle sections but is hampered by an obnoxious difficulty level, stiff, awkward gameplay and rubbish boss fights. Pretty much spot-on for a licensed SNES game from 1992, then. But I’m conflicted, because the Star Wars setting is definitely having an effect on me and I feel like maybe I’m cutting it some slack purely because it is Star Wars, but at the same time I also feel like I’m more disappointed and frustrated by it because it’s Star Wars and it all feels a bit of a waste. In conclusion, Super Star Wars is a game of many contrasts. Also non-canonical boss monsters and Imperial robots. And no boss fight in the trash compactor? One out of ten, practically unplayable.

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