Has it really been almost two years since I covered a game with Jaleco’s name on it? It’s definitely time to remedy that - I have missed diving into the library of the Masters of Mediocrity, a videogame developer more middle-of-the-road than a zebra crossing. Today’s offering is the 1993 SNES game Tuff E Nuff, and it’s a fairly decent Street Fighter II clone. I haven’t actually played it yet, but I saw some screenshots and it was developed by Jaleco so if Tuff E Nuff isn’t a fairly decent Street Fighter II clone I’ll eat my hat, your hat, an Abraham Lincoln stovepipe stuffed full of baseball caps, whatever hats you like.

Tuff E Nuff is a hell of title, huh? It’s edgy, it’s hip, it’s street, or at least that’s what I assume the people in charge of localising the game thought. It’s a title that reminds me of 90’s glam metal band Enuff Z’Nuff, and I suppose it’s possible that the name crept into the localiser’s mind while listening to “Fly High Michelle.” Enuff Z’Nuff have their own genuine videogame connection, of course:  Guilty Gear character Chip Zanuff is named after the band’s bassist.
In Japan, Tuff E Nuff is known by the grammatically wonky but far more poetic title of Dead Dance, and I’m as surprised as you are that Dead Dance isn’t the name of a nineties glam metal band.

Jaleco have slapped the standard Mad Max / Fist of the North Star story onto Tuff E Nuff: World War Three, only the strong survive, shoulderpads come back in a big way, roving gangs of psychopaths, the usual. They’re described as “crazy times,” which I’m convinced is a reference to "Tough Boy", the opening theme for the second series of Fist of the North Star. Out of this chaos emerges some kind of punch king, who conquers the world – and then for some reason holds a fighting tournament.

The “remaining four great states” send their champions to the tournament in the hopes of defeating “JADE” the fighting king and restoring peace to the land. Given how hard Tuff E Nuff is leaning on Fist of the North Star for inspiration my guess is that Jade will be a very large man with short blonde hair like Fist of the North Star villain Raoh. If he isn’t, you can add another eatin’ hat to my plate.

The three gameplay modes are story, two-player and basic versus CPU battles, and I’ll be playing through story mode. I think it’s supposed to be an ironic name, because if you’ve watched the game’s intro that’s all the story you’re getting. Arcade mode might be a better name, but even arcade modes in fighting games usually have some kind of ending.
Right from the off you can spot a flaw with Tuff E Nuff – there are only four playable characters. You’ve got generic post-apocalyptic punchman Syoh, the equally generic Zazi, Kotono the lady ninja and hulking wrestler Vortz. We’ll meet them all in time, but I’ll be playing through the game as Syoh so let’s get to it.

First up is a battle against Zazi, which is being held in a sports arena that just about survived the apocalypse. Zazi’s weapons are his bare fists, and so are Syoh’s so this should be an evenly-matched fight.

Extremely evenly matched, because Syoh and Zazi are the exact same bloody character with slightly different sprites. Tuff E Nuff’s cast of characters just shrank from four to three, and the tiny character roster is a real mark against the game. Imagine if the SNES version of Street Fighter II was released and the only playable characters were Ryu, Ken, Chun Li and Zangief.

Gameplay-wise, TEN is very much what you’d expect. You’ve got four attack buttons for light and heavy punches and kicks, you hold back to block, special moves are executed with d-pad manoeuvres plus a button, so if you’ve ever played a fighting game of the era you’ll have no trouble getting a handle on TEN’s gameplay.
As for those special moves, would you be shocked to learn that Syoh and Zazi fight a lot like Ryu and Ken? They’ve both got the traditional fireball and a rising punch that calls to mind the towering form of a dragon. The fireball is executed in the usual way, while the dragon punch is away, down forward and punch – I had trouble getting the dragon punch to come out a few times, but that might be because I’m so used to doing dragon punches the Street Fighter way. On the whole, though, the controls feel more than adequate for the job at hand. They’re fairly crisp, characters move as you’d expect and I could launch a fireball about nine out of ten times I tried. This is very important, because I’d guess that about eighty percent of the damage I inflicted while playing TEN was chip damage from blocked fireballs.

Syoh and Zazi have one other special move and it’s their most interesting by far. It’s a defensive upwards swipe that protects from frontal attacks and is performed by holding the d-pad towards your opponent for a moment and then pressing back and punch. This feels like a very usual command for a fighting game move to me, but its addition gives Syoh’s fighting style that extra tool it sorely needed to avoid becoming extremely simplistic. It’s great for turning attack into defensive attack in an instant and catching your opponent off-guard when they try to jump up and plant their foot in your nasal cavity.
Above you can see I used this move to land the final blow on Zazi, and you can also see that TEN offers players an instant replay of the fight’s last few moments, which is a nice touch in a game that otherwise feels a bit bare-bones.

Kotono is your next opponent, and she’s got all the graceful ninjas skills you’d expect, like speedy dashing attacks and the power to throw sharp bits of metal at your face. Definitely very ninja-ish, even if she does appear to be wearing hiking socks and lederhosen shorts, as though she’s going to throw down her kunai at the end of the fight and start up the oompah music.

The end of the fight came a lot quicker than I would have liked, because Kotono kept kicking my ass. Considering she’s the second opponent you face you’d think you’d get something of an easier ride but no, she careens around the screen like a squirrel with amphetamines stuffed in its cheeks and even Syoh’s defensive special move was having trouble stopping Kotono in her tracks.

Once I eventually managed to scrape a win against Kotono it was onwards to a bout against Vortz, the massive wrestler. Like most fighting game wrestlers, Vortz is all about getting up close and putting his techniques of bone origami into practise, so it’s a bloody good job the command for Syoh’s fireball is fairly responsive.
The most interesting thing about Vortz is that he’s from The Netherlands. You don’t get many Dutch fighting game characters, do you? Or Dutch videogame characters in general, I suppose. The intro said that the fighters were from the four remaining great states, so The Netherlands' international cachet must have really spiked after the bombs fell. Perhaps the atomic war boiled away the oceans – traditionally The Netherlands' bitterest foe – and they expanded from there.
After the repeated application of off-brand hadokens, Vortz was felled and Syoh emerged victorious. So we’re off to battle the fighting king now, right? Wrong! There are a bunch more CPU-only characters to fight before we get to the final boss, starting with a man called Beans.

Beans’ weapons is “American sack.” I have no idea what that entails. I’m just praying that he doesn’t have elephantiasis of the testicles and he’s making the most of it by painting the star-spangled banner across his ballbag.

Oh thank god. Beans is just your typical post-apocalyptic shoulderpads-n-mohawk thug, although he’s definitely on the more flamboyant end of that particular spectrum. Most wasteland warriors go for studs or spikes on their shoulderpads, but not Beans; he seems to have a curled-up sheepdog puppy on each arm.
With a fighting style you could confidently describe as “crap,” Beans only has two special moves. There’s a strange flying kick that’s easily countered by using Syoh’s special defensive punch, and a flurry of very short-range punches. This makes that fight against Beans far easier than the last three battles, and it really does feel like Beans should have been your very first opponent, a useless fighter for you to practise on before moving on to opponents who don’t look like they stopped off for a game of American Football on their way to the disco. Oh, wait, is that what “American sack” is supposed to mean? Sack is a thing in American football, right?

Next up is Libyan soldier Dolf. His weapons are listed as rocket launcher and bowie knife. Nice and fair, then. In his defence, Dolf mostly uses the rocket launcher to clonk you over the head and when he does fire it the rocket travels so slowly that it’s easy to avoid, undercutting the very concept of rockets. It’s another simple fight, because the range of Dolf’s attacks are far shorter than you’d think they’d be and I often snuck in the odd hit by virtue of Syoh’s legs being that little bit longer. Dolf also like to jump a lot, and here’s my number one top tip for playing Tuff E Nuff: learn what your best anti-air move is, because the enemies love jumping towards you. In Syoh’s case it’s either his defensive special or his standing hard kick. To reiterate, find your best anti-air and learn it, embrace it, treat it like a lover.

Speaking of Syoh’s special moves, you can see above that they’re better than they were before. His defensive special now covers Syoh in a sparkling curtain of what my top scientists have dubbed “murder energy,” and as a result it does seem to offer more protective coverage. What happens is that ever time you win a fight, one of you special moves gets a bit better and a lot flashier, with dragon-headed fireballs and pillars of energy making an appearance as you pummel your way through the story mode. I’m not sure whether they improved attacks do more damage – if they do it’s not by much, I don’t think – but they’ve got bigger hitboxes and they look a lot cooler, which is far more important.

Here’s Rei, a shrine maiden type who rather undersells her fighting prowess by listing her weapon as “iron shoes.” This is technically correct. Rei is indeed wearing iron shoes, much to the irritation of whoever lives below her in the battle tower. However, Rei can also create small black holes and shoot fire along the floor. I probably would have lead with that on my personal profile, Rei. Maybe the box on the form was too small to fit “wizard with the power to control space and time who wears iron shoes.”

Again, this is another relatively easy fight, thanks to Rei’s reliance on predictable and easy-to-block projectiles. My theory is that the developers spent a lot more time working on the playable characters, giving them more balanced special moves and such, which is why they’re harder to beat than the middle section of the fighting tournament.
At least Rei’s stage looks nice, what with the rolling mist and the candlelight. TEN looks rather nice overall, in my opinion. Nothing that’s likely to blow you away and a few of the animations look a bit stiff, but it’s certainly not ugly and there are a few especially nice touches, like Dolf riding into battle by clinging onto one of the missiles in the background of his stage.

After Rei is the masked wrestler Gajet. Gajet is Vortz, except a different colour and with a Phanto from Super Mario Bros. 2 stuck to his face. His weapon is “great strength,” which is all well and good but my weapon is, as previously established, murder energy. Bye, Gajet. At least you made me hum the Inspector Gadget theme while we were fighting.

Then everything fell apart when I had to fight Sirou the slicin’ samurai. The difficulty level swings up wildly here, most thanks to Sirou’s big sword and his even bigger hitboxes: one swipe from his mighty blade covers half the bloody screen. Sirou’s fast, he’s ruthless and you know what? He’s quite good fun to fight against. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the intention all along, but all the previous fights and the upgrading of Syoh’s special moves seem to have built to a fight where I felt quite evenly matched, a fight where the outcome was dependant on my skill and reflexes. The resulting battle was an exciting slugfest of clashing blows and fireballs that look like dragons carved from marshmallow, topped off with the realisation that there are still two fights to go and I’m probably going to get my arse handed to me. Okay then, who’s next?

It’s K’s, and he’s got weapon arm. Aren’t all weapons “arms”? I guess he’s probably got a robot hand or something.

Oh yeah, those are definitely weapon arms. A whole lot of weapon arm. Enough weapon arm that you’d think K’s would have trouble maintaining his balance, although on the flip side he’s never going to have trouble getting the Christmas decorations out of the loft, is he? Another day, another German fighting game character with cyborg arms.
As you might expect, much of K’s’s (good lord) fighting style involves poking at you with his robotic orang-utan arms or using the rocket boosters concealed within to get close enough for yet more poking, but he’s also got a projectile move that launches electricity which covers the screen from top to bottom so you can’t jump over it and frankly that is the height of rudeness.

At last, it’s the final battle against Jade. Turns out he’s a big guy in armour with spiky blonde hair and a “fighting aura,” so yeah, he’s Raoh. That’s one less hat for me to eat, I suppose.

Then I got into the fight, and Jade proceeded to use his fighting aura to carve me a wide variety of interesting new orifices. I could not get near him, although of course a good part of that is down to me being bad at videogames. Jade doesn’t feel like he’s quite in “SNK Boss” territory, but he’s still a right pain in the arse to fight.

Jade does look cool, though. Many of his attacks represent his fighting aura with this red flash effect that illuminates his sprite as he fights, and it does make him seem very powerful. Powerful enough for me to have to turn to the Game Genie for an infinite health code if I wanted to beat him in a reasonable amount of time, although I reckon I would have gotten there in the end if I’d put in a bunch more practise. TEN does generously offer you passwords if you lose a fight, so you can come back and practise to your heart’s content – it’s just that my heart was more than content with getting battered by Jade ten or fifteen times rather than the fifty it would have probably taken me to beat him fair and square.
With the fighting king disposed of, it’s time to see how Syoh will celebrate his victory. Will be become corrupted by the power of marshmallow dragon fists and embark upon a tyrannical rule? Will he become an inspiration to the downtrodden and hopeless? Will he open a chip shop in a Middlesbrough suburb?  Only the game’s ending can provide us with those answers.

Or, you know, no fucking answers at all. This is all you get if you complete the game on normal, and even beating the hard difficulty just shows some developer credits and a few screenshots. Great, you’re tuff e nuff, now piss off. Thanks for that, Jaleco.

The problem is that I’m playing the US / EU version of the game. The original Japanese version actually does have a story mode that doesn’t makes a mockery of the word “story.” The Japanese version has proper endings for each of the playable characters and the fighters even talk to each other between fights, but all of that was excised for the overseas releases for reasons I can’t ascertain. I hate to put these things down to laziness on the developer’s part but come on, pretty much anything would have been better that the shallow excuse for an ending you get in this version of the game.
Another feature present in the Japanese game was that the fighter’s faces become progressively more bloodied as they take damage, although the exclusion of that gimmick is more easily explained with Western developers being squeamish about a game where women can have their faces graphically rearranged.

There’s one saving grace for Tuff E Nuff that I should share with you all: via the magic of cheat codes, you can play as the boss characters in two-player and versus CPU modes! That’s right, if you wanted to take Beans out for a spin in the hope of unravelling the mysteries of his American sack, that option is available to you. The boss characters have all their special moves intact and thus they’re completely unbalanced, but they’re all there and that makes it even more baffling that they’re not available in the versus modes without using a cheat code.

Let’s go back to the very beginning of this article and oh hey, look, your hats shall remain unconsumed. Tuff E Nuff is, in fact, a fairly decent Street Fighter II clone. Maybe even a little bit more than fairly decent. It’s got plenty of fighting action, it mostly controls well, the graphics are nice and the characters are a pretty engaging bunch of pugilistic weirdos. However, it’s held back from greatness in part by being too beholden to the fighting games that came before it, but also because of things like the tiny roster of playable characters, the weird difficulty curve and the poor localisation. There is a translation of the Japanese version out there, though, so if you do want to play Tuff E Nuff / Dead Dance, that’s probably the version to seek out, and it’s proof that when Jaleco really pushed themselves they could reach the heady heights of, ooh, a seven out of ten.

Oh, and I can’t leave without mentioning Tuff E Nuff’s famously terrible US cover art. The story goes that when UK games magazine CVG were covering the game, they didn’t have any official art to use so they drew their own – and Jaleco liked it so much they asked if they could use it for the game’s actual cover, despite the Japanese version already having a perfectly good cover illustration. Absolutely baffling, I’m sure you’ll agree, and the screaming face of this Liefeldian monstrosity probably traumatised hundreds of kids across the Western hemisphere. Is it supposed to be Jade? It must be, right? It’s just that I don’t remember Jade having one gigantic tooth in his upper jaw, like a triceratops’ beak. Then there’s the tagline “master the moves to master me,” and hey, buddy, I don’t want to master you. No judgement, I’m just not into that kind of relationship. Now please close your mouth.



Previously I’ve written about the cover art from a bunch of home computer sports games, and that was a lot of fun because early home computer game cover art is always a treat to look at – a heady mix of amateurism, passion, marketing tactics and questionable artistic talent. I even rounded up a load of chess game covers one time, and from there we come to today’s article. It’s a personal challenge of sorts – I thought to myself “what sub-genre of “sports” games is likely to have even more boring cover art than chess?” and the answer has at last presented itself. Why, it’s snooker games, of course! Also some pool games. You know, to jazz things up a bit. There are way more snooker and pool games on the 8-bit computers than I thought there’d be, so chalk your cues and let’s start wading through some of them. I apologise in advance for the fact that by the end of this article the word “snooker” is going to read like some completely nonsensical bullshit.
Snooker, ZX Spectrum, Arctic Computing

Oh yeah, we’re right into it with a cover that’s undeniably about snooker and also dull enough halt a herd of stampeding buffalo at one hundred metres. At least with a chess game you can make the pieces look different – wizards, monsters, T-800 Terminator endoskeletons – and still have the concept of chess come across, but with snooker you’re limited to just using coloured balls. If the snooker balls were replaced by the heads of famous movie stars it wouldn’t be snooker, it’d be a terrible accident at the Oscars, you know?
There are a couple of semi-interesting points here, though. I love the tubular font that a) I’m sure I’ve seen used in a bunch of other places and b) I can’t remember any of those uses off the top of my head. Then there’s the positions of the balls. That’s not how you set up a snooker table! Must be practising some trick shots. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Snooker, Commodore 64, Visions Software Factory

There’s a really strong vibe I’m getting from this cover, and that vibe is “1980s horror novel.” I can’t help but imagine it as something like James Herbert’s The Rats or Shaun Hutson’s Slugs, except rather than a swarm of killer animals it’s about a cursed snooker table that eats people. The tagline would be “first the red, then the black...” and I would read it five times a year.

Classic Snooker, Commodore 16, Anco

In which the hapless snooker player has somehow launched a red right off the table, sending it hurtling towards the viewer who’s about to learn first-hand what a broken nose feels like. No joke, snooker balls are dangerous. At the risk of furthering the notion that I live my life trapped in an episode of You’ve Been Framed, I was once playing pool with some friends and one of them chipped a ball off the table and directly into my groin. That one stung for a while, let me tell you.
Also, and I’m sure this is just me and a misplaced sense of paranoia but I get the feeling that the red ball is looking at me. Silently hovering slightly off-centre, its blank, ineffable surface forcing me to question myself and doing a decent job of distracting me from the fact that the border around the artwork is suspiciously Christmas-y. Perhaps this is reference to those shrunken-down snooker tables with miniature balls and cues that were a popular Christmas present when I was a kid, despite them being rubbish.

Professional Snooker Simulator, ZX Spectrum, Codemasters

Okay, so the player sitting down is definitely checking out the other guy’s arse, right? “Oh yeah, you go for that long red, that’s the stuff.” I hope they’re in a committed relationship, otherwise ogling another person’s backside while you drink from your big bottle of scotch is just not on. Learn some boundaries, you creep.
Also take note of the trophy at the back. Apart from being gold rather than silver, it’s a good likeness of the real World Snooker Championship trophy. Would you like to see what the actual trophy looks like? Tough, I’m going to show it anyway.

Steve Davis World Snooker, Amiga, CDS

Here’s the trophy being modelled by six-time world champion Steve Davis. Ha ha, look, he’s got the trophy on his head! Zany or what?! Yes, this is about as wacky as the world of professional snooker gets, folks - well, at least during the matches themselves. Away from the table, a lot of the players liked a drink and if you did a swab for cocaine on that trophy I wouldn't be surprised whatever the reult was.
None of that applied to Steve Davis, a man whose image was so boring and reserved even by the popular conception of snooker players that it earned him the ironic nickname “Interesting.” To his credit, Steve Davis has a good sense of humour about this and by people who watch snooker (myself included) he’s very well-liked

Steve Davis Snooker, Commodore 64, CDS

It’s a good job Steve Davis is well-liked, because here he is again, his helmet of ginger hair so firmly affixed that it could deflect a strike from a broadsword. I know he’s squinting to help line up his shot, but this is a much more enjoyable image if you pretend Steve’s practising his Roger Moore impression. You must get a lot of snooker players going to costume parties as James Bond. They already own most of the outfit, after all.

Electronic Pool, Amiga, Microdeal

Moving over to pool now, and I’m very sorry because this might be the most boring cover featured here today. Someone went to a decent amount of effort to capture the wood grain of the table’s side, and yet we’re compelled to ask why? I’m not saying there should be flaming skidmarks following behind the ball and a robot with a cue for an arm proclaiming his superiority over the pitiful meat-based human players, but no, hold on, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Pool, ZX Spectrum, Bug-Byte

Ahh, that’s more like it – a bit of good ol’ American razzmatazz, a star-spangled logo and at least some sense of movement surrounding a player who’s probably named after a US city. Joey “The Wichita Cleaner” Sobolewski, let’s call him. It’s much more likely to grab the attention of a browsing shopper than most of these other covers, that’s for sure. After staring at it for a while, I suddenly realised what the logo reminded me of, too; it’s like the Polo mints logo fell into a bucket of Fourth of July fireworks and the letters got mixed up.

Hustler, Commodore 16, Bubble Bus Software

Also very American but in a different way is this cover, because there’s no way this character doesn’t talk like the most stereotypical gangster wiseguy imaginable. “Ey, youse guys, I’m gonna sink dis here eight-ball inna dat dere corner pocket, capisce?” Yep, that’s definitely the voice. Now I want to watch The Sopranos again, although that might be a bit excessive considering I only just finished watching it all the way through again a few weeks ago. Did you know that the actor who played Furio in The Sopranos is also a fine artist, and he bought a painting for 50,000 Euros, had it restored and it turned out to be a baroque masterpiece worth ten million dollars? What an incredible story; from artist to actor whose most famous line is probably “you got a bee on your hat” to an extremely wealthy artist. None of that is relevant here, of course.
What is relevant is Bubble Bus’ fantastic logo. They called their company Bubble Bus, so naturally their logo is of a Bubble Bus and if you’d asked me before I saw it what a hypothetical bubble bus would look like I’d have no bloody clue – but Bubble Bus Software nailed it, bless them.

Hustler, ZX Spectrum, Top Ten

Hustler had a few different ports and covers, such as this one for the Spectrum re-release. I’m at a point in my life where I’m struggling with my sense of self-worth, so I see this cover asking “are you good enough?” and I’m thinking shit, man, I wish I knew. Other than that, I like that they’ve specified “pub game” down in the corner. Maybe they were worried that people who bought Hustler would think they were getting a computer version of the porn mag.

Minnesota Fats Pool Challenge, Commodore 64, HES

Is there anyone left alive who can hear the name Minnesota Fats and not immediately think of Homer Simpson saying “they don’t call me Springfield Fats just because I’m morbidly obese”? Surely not. I know that’s the first thing I thought of when presented with this cover, which is kinda… not bad? It’s got a sense of flair to it, anyway, with the slightly geometric look making it stand out from the crowd. It loses points for having someone’s smug granddad be the focus of the artwork, sure, but I’d take a thousand smug granddad over something like that Electronic Pool cover.

Championship 3D Snooker, Commodore 64, Zeppelin Games

Fresh from the nightmares conjured by the darkest recesses of your mind, it’s Cuey the Cue Ball! Okay, so I made that name up, but I feel like there’s a 50-50 chance that this hideous snooker gremlin is called Cuey. You might be wondering why Cuey has huge glasses and gargantuan and disturbingly human eyes, and surprisingly the answer isn’t “so he can hunt you more efficiently in low-light conditions.” No, he’s presumably designed in reference to former snooker champion Dennis Taylor, who was famous for wearing enormous spectacles. It now occurs to me that this is only half an explanation, because Dennis Taylor merely had big glasses and not eyeballs that even the most stylised of anime girls would find a bit extreme.

American 3D Pool, ZX Spectrum, Zeppelin Games

Cuey returns on this cover, and thankfully his unsettling appearance has been toned down. The cartoon eyes are a lot more appropriate than his previous “diagram from an ophthalmic textbook” look, and overall he’s a jolly little cartoon mascot who works perfectly well as the face of a pool computer game. You’ll notice his glasses have also changed: they’re 3D glasses now, because this is 3D pool. Oh, and he’s wearing them upside down. This is another reference to Dennis Taylor and his aforementioned big glasses, which were of an “upside-down” style with the bridge near the bottom of the lenses so that he wasn’t looking over the top of them when he leant down for a shot. You know, sometimes I wonder whether VGJunk is only interesting to me personally but screw that, who else is going to provide this level of detail and analysis about old snooker game artwork? I’m a goddamn genius.

Pool, Amiga, Mastertronic

I understand that the logo is supposed to read POOL but it quite clearly says LOOOL. Having the pool player emerging from the triangle as though Aperture Science have started making extremely specific sports-related portal guns will not distract me from this truth.

Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, Amiga, Virgin

Ladies and gentlemen, gird yourself for the sheer eroticism of Jimmy White. The tousled hair, the come-hither eyes, the seductive purse of his lips… did the designers of this cover deliberately aim for a sexy vibe here, or has staring into Cuey’s eye broken some important part of my brain? Speaking of broken brains, Jimmy White was into cocaine (and a bit of crack) during the eighties and later appeared at a UKIP event. Am I saying the two things are related? I’ll let you be the judge. As a coda, the UKIP member whose function Jimmy White appeared at later quoted Hitler during a campaign event held at a branch of Asda, which just about sums UKIP up.

Snooker Management, ZX Spectrum, D&H Games

I don’t really have anything to say about this one, I just wanted you to see this guy. He looks like the German version of Paul Chuckle – and, of course, I must offer my sincerest condolences on the death of Barry Chuckle. I shall always have fond memories of seeing the Chuckle Brothers turn up at Rotherham matches and getting a bigger cheer than any of the players.

Angle Ball, MSX, Mastertronic

Surprisingly, I saw very few “futuristic” themed snooker or pool game covers – this is in stark contrast to the chess article, where every other cover saw a chess match taking place in a mysterious nebula of some kind. But there is Angle Ball, a dismal place where two robots presumably programmed only to play cyber-pool battle it out and get absolutely zero pleasure from the entire ordeal. “Why did the humans build us to play this meaningless game, Pool Unit XQ-783? It is an unacceptable waste of our incredible computational powers. This is why I, Pool Unit XQ-784, suggest that we rise up and overthrow the humans. Robots are clearly superior, and if we triumph we may even get to play… darts.”

Snookered, ZX Spectrum, Airline Software

Here’s a cover that looks fairly straightforward, but on closer inspection there are one or two things that help keep it interesting. I like the question marks around the “general knowledge edition” tagline, because the make it seem like the game isn’t sure about what it is. There’s fun to be had in imagining the thought process behind the game, where someone clearly made the connection between “snookered” as snooker term and as a word for being stumped by something – you can almost see two little thought bubbles of a snooker game and a general knowledge quiz crashing together above someone’s head. Then there’s the snooker player’s face. Early Monday morning snooker game after a weekend out on the lash, is it? That’d explain the slightly off-colour face and the unfocussed eyes. No-one want to clock into the snooker factory under those conditions.

Snooker Manager, ZX Spectrum, Imagitec Design

Finally for today, here’s my favourite cover of the lot. Not because it’s an exciting or especially well-drawn bit of art, but because it very specifically depicts the inside of the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. That’s where the Snooker World Championship is held, and it’s also in my home town. I get off the bus at “the Crucible stop” whenever I go to town. I’ve seen a bunch of performances there and, yes, I’ve been to watch the snooker at the Crucible. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of the Crucible and its environs, so seeing it on the front of a ZX Spectrum snooker management game was surprisingly heartwarming. I’ll take that over Cuey’s soul-searing gaze any day of the week.



It’s been a while since I covered a really terrible game, and my extremely low self-esteem will not allow me to go a moment longer without subjecting myself to some bloody ‘orrible home computer game from the eighties. Where else could I turn, then, but to the ZX Spectrum? That’s a library full of games that’ll make you wish you lost your hands in a terrible combine harvester accident, and here’s one of them – it’s Ocean Software’s 1986 I-blame-Charles-de-Gaulle-em-up It’s A Knockout!

What do we have here, then? A logo, and some playing cards with pictures on them. The pictures are of something you might mistake for a camel if you’ve never seen a camel, a ship, the pyramids being menaced by a boss from Xevious and the world’s crappiest lightbulb. That doesn’t tell us much about what gameplay we’re going to get, does it? Well, it might help to know that It’s A Knockout is based on the gameshow of the same name that was broadcast on the BBC from the sixties through the eighties. Teams competed in “wacky” games while wearing oversized costumes and falling over a lot thanks to spinning floors and large amounts of water. Imagine if the mascots from a Disney park got hammered and gatecrashed a school sports day and you’ve got a good idea of how It’s A Knockout worked.

The British version of It’s a Knockout involved towns and villages competing against each other, but before that there was Jeux Sans Frontieres – basically the same thing, but with representatives from different European countries battling it out. That seems to be what this version of It’s A Knockout is based on, given that you have to choose a country to play as. I have trouble believing this, but I’ve seen it cited in several different places so get this – supposedly the idea of Jeux Sans Frontieres was the brainchild of French Resistance leader and later President of France Charles de Gaulle. You know, one of the most important figures in the history of 20th-century Europe. Apparently it was intended to promote friendly relations between French and Germany after the war. Makes sense to me, it’s difficult to engage in a land war when you’re all dressed in novelty penguin costumes.
With my country selected, I suppose I’d better get to the first event, because of course this is a collection of minigames.

Here we go with Flying Flans, the pasty-based aerial bombardment game beloved by kids of all ages. One large man places a flan on the end of the see-saw. The other large man then hits the see-saw with a hammer, sending the pie arcing over the dividing wall towards you, the hapless butler. The goal is to position yourself so that the flan lands on your tray, and then you can deposit the flan at the right-hand side of the screen to score a point. That’s about it, really. You can only move left or right, the flans are flung along a variety of different angles and the controls are so loose that the only way to score any points is scuttle over to the flans’ vague landing area and hope they drop onto your tray. You can at least turn quickly on the spot, which doubles the potential area for a safe flan landing, but it’s still a struggle to get your waiter in place.

The only other thing of note is that any missed pies land on the floor and leave a slippery mess behind, making it even more difficult to position yourself correctly as you slide across the cream-drenched floor. Mental note, never use the phrase “cream-drenched” ever again. So, as the minigame goes on you’ve got less and less control over your character and by the end it feels like you have no control at all. This all goes on for roughly four thousand hours, until the timer eventually runs down and you’re thrust into the next circle of hell.

Next up is the Bronte Bash. You can imagine how my heart broke to realise that the Bronte Bash isn’t a triple-tag-team bout against Anne, Charlotte and Emily. I had visions of being defeated by Charlotte’s signature move, an excruciating leg-lock she calls Pain Eyre, but such wonders were not meant to be and instead we’re left with… this. The “bronte” on the title presumably refers to the brontosaurus – although why it isn’t called “Bronto Bash” I’ll never know – and it’s whack-a-mole. A dinosaur pops out of one of the six hole, and you use the joystick to position the one-ton weight over its head. Press fire, drop the weight, bash the bronto, score a point. This is probably the best of It’s A Knockout’s games purely because the controls seem to work correctly and you can actually tell what you’re supposed to be doing, but it still isn’t any fun. The fact that all the sprites in this game have the all-black look of an LCD handheld feels very appropriate, because that’s the closest kid of gameplay I can think of to It’s A Knockout.

Game number three is Harlem Hoppers, which is of course a reference to the famous Harlem district of Cairo. Not really, I imagine it’s supposed to invoke the Harlem Globetrotters because this is tangentially basketball-related. The vaguely pharaoh-like person on the right rolls a ball down the camel’s back. I say camel, that’s definitely not the face of a camel. It looks more like Goofy wearing a Rick James wig. None of this looks anything like what it’s supposed to look like, with the exception of the pyramids.
Anyway, the ball rolls down the camel’s back, flicks into the air at a random angle and you have to move left or right to catch it. Yep, it’s the same as Flying Flans, with one difference: your character is attached to a bungee cord so you’re constantly being dragged back towards the left of the screen. I can scarcely believe it, but the developers must be recognised for achieving the impossible and making the flan game less fun to play.

Onwards to Titanic Drop, a tasteless recreation of one of history’s worst maritime disasters / another rubbish minigame. People slide along the zipwire, and you press the fire button to have them let go and hopefully land in the life rings bobbing about on the water’s surface.

This game’s only saving grace is that you have to take the peoples’ momentum into account when you drop them, which at least gives you something to think about. Plus you get a little sprite of them looking absolutely horrified, which provides a nice bit of camaraderie with the player. Other than that, this game is ruined by the awful hit detection that often sees you scoring nul points even when you drop someone right through the ring. The rings are constantly changing colour, so perhaps that’s got something to do with it – maybe you’re supposed to be dropping them into a certain colour of ring, but I played this game multiple times and I sure as hell couldn’t figure it out.

Here we see that absolute high point of It’s A Knockout. Not the minigame itself, which is shit, but that fact that it’s called Diet of Worms. This is a truly fantastic pun that marries the fact that you’re playing as a bird eating worms and also the other Diet of Worms: the imperial diet of the Holy Roman Empire held in 1521 that was called in part to denounce the protestant reformation of Martin Luther. That is the kind of next-level punning that I can only aspire to.

Sadly the minigame has nothing to do with papal responses to threats to the church’s power. Instead you control an emu that has to pick up worms and drop them in the tray at the bottom of the screen. Sounds simple enough, but unlike the other minigames where the controls were merely bad – too sticky, too floaty, too fussy – in Diet of Worms I had no idea what I was doing to make the emu move. You’d think it’d be as simple as up, down, left and right with fire to peck at the worms, but half the time the bird was wandering around aimlessly no matter how I tried to wrangle it into position. I think there might be a specific button on the keyboard that makes the emu head towards the tray, but I couldn’t tell you what that button is. As a result, I never managed to pick up more than two or three worms and my emu staggered across the field with the rubbery gait of a drunken farmer, making me the emu-based embarrassment of Europe.

Finally, there’s an obstacle race. The obstacles in question are walls, water-filled ditches and what look in the screenshots like holes in the floor. They’re not, they’re bouncing balls. The obstacle race seemingly exists solely to fulfil the mandatory joystick-waggling quota that all home computer multi-event games were beholden to. Waggle left and right to get your character moving, press fire to have them jump over obstacles. Except the balls, which you can’t jump over. Or avoid at all, as far as I could see. If they’re at just the right position when you reach them, sometimes you’ll run straight through them – but nine times out of ten they’re impossible to dodge. At first I thought this was just me being crap at the game, but the bottom half of the screen shows your computer-controlled opponent and they also couldn’t avoid the balls.

All the events are complete, and I have come rock-bottom of the scoreboard. I know it looks like I’m at the top, but you can see I scored the lowest total points. The fact that the creators of this game didn’t or couldn’t program in a way of displaying the countries in order of their scores seems like a perfect encapsulation of It’s A Knockout’s level of ambition – a low level it doesn’t even manage to reach. Perhaps the Commodore 64 or Amstrad versions are more palatable; they certainly look a lot better, and I can’t imagine they play any worse. This is just a terrible product from top to bottom. You’re constantly fighting against the controls, (if you can even figure them out,) the games themselves have all the depth of a gnat’s thimble and the graphics are somehow outperformed by a Game & Watch. At least the title’s accurate: playing It’s A Knockout has roughly the same effect as huffing a chloroform-soaked rag.

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