23/11/2017

THE MOVIE MONSTER GAME (COMMODORE 64)

Hey, did you all see that trailer for the Rampage movie? That’s something that’s definitely happening, huh? Congratulations to the one Rampage superfan who’s been waiting since 1986 for this big screen adaptation. I assume such a person exists, anyway, because surely there must be someone out there who was clamouring for a movie version of a thirty-year-old arcade game with no plot. I look forward to hearing that Andy Serkis has been hired to perform the motion capture for a Q*Bert film. Anyway, it is completely by accident that today’s game is also themed around movies and giant monsters smashing up buildings, but I’ll take the synergy: it’s Epyx’s 1986 Commodore 64 demolition-em-up The Movie Monster Game!


On the title screen, the specific movie monster in question is Godzilla himself. The actual, fully licensed Godzilla, if that credit to Toho at the bottom is any indication. Scoring the King of the Monsters for your game is quite the get, and it hints that Epyx had quite a lot of faith in The Movie Monster Game. That said, I feel like 1986 was around Godzilla’s lowest point as a famous monster of filmland – I mean, the Big G was still world-famous and instantly recognisable, but it was after his heyday and before any attempts at “modernising” the character by pairing him with Matthew Broderick were made. I’m sure there are Godzilla aficionados out there ready to tell me that I’m wrong, but I suspect Epyx got the rights for less than you might expect.


Here we are at the game’s menu screen, which is designed to look like the front of a cinema, as well it might be. The Movie Monster Game doesn’t feature a “story” mode or even set levels: instead you create your own scenario by altering the three options shown above. You pick the monster you wish to play as, which major city will be facing a large clean-up bill and the type of mission you’ll be engaging in. We’ll get to each variation as we go, but let’s begin by trying to escape from San Francisco while playing as Godzilla. Sorry, Godzilla (c). I do like the way it says “starring” Godzilla, because really, isn’t that what every movie that features Godzilla should say? Like, Bryan Cranston may be a fine actor but he’s not the thing that’s drawing people to a Godzilla movie, right?


Before the action can get started, we’re treated to a scene that reveals just how hard Epyx are leaning into this whole “you’re starring in a monster movie” conceit. Pretty damn hard, that’s how, and it’s a really nice touch to have trailers that run before the feature presentation, some of them advertising other Epyx titles like Winter Games. It’s an even nicer touch that you can skip all this at the press of a button because when you’ve seen it once you don’t need to see it again. I do appreciate the effort, though.


Something you might want to sit through, however, are the text descriptions / mission briefings that fill you in on what you’re supposed to be doing. They are completely unnecessary, of course – each game type is fairly self-explanatory, and there’s not much nuance to kaiju-ing your way downtown. However, by slotting various pre-written possibilities together, the game creates a specific backstory for each possible combination of monster, place and game mode and it gives MMG an awful lot of charm. “Charm” is a word I seem to use a lot here at VGJunk, and in this case (as well as others) I mostly mean it in the “the people who made this game seemed to have a strong, genuine affection for both the product they were making and the sources they were taking inspiration from.” A little harsh to pass comment on Godzilla’s walnut-sized brain, though. I’ve never thought of Godzilla as an especially dense monster.


We’re into the action, and what’s the first thing that you notice? Why, it’s Godzilla, of course. Even after all this build-up I was still a little wary that MMG wasn’t actually going to let me play as Godzilla, but here he is in all his browner-than-usual glory. If you’re playing the game rather than just looking at it, the next thing you’ll notice is that Godzilla is incredibly slow. Glacially, ponderously, exposition-in-a-Metal-Gear-Solid-cutscene slow. In a way, this is to be expected. It’s difficult to sell the bulk and power of Godzilla if he runs around like a scaly Usain Bolt. However, Epyx seem to have gone a bit too far in dialling back Godzilla’ speed. This is especially problematic because I chose the “Escape” scenario, the victory condition for which is to reach the edge of the map without dying. I hope Godzilla packed a lunch and maybe some anti-blister cream, because we’re in for a long walk.


The authorities aren’t just going to let Godzilla run away, of course. Tanks, military jeeps and attack planes will swarm around our big lizard friend, shooting him and causing damage that’s light but almost constant. Humanity's plan is to annoy Godzilla to death, basically. Godzilla can fight back against the human threat in a number of ways, the most expedient being to trample over the vehicles on the ground. The problem with that is, as mentioned, Godzilla walks like an arthritic pensioner and he definitely doesn’t move as fast as a jeep, so catching your prey can be a problem. That’s where the special powers come in. You’ve got three at your disposal, which can be cycled through using the space bar: Scream, Atomise (Up) and Fire Breath. Fire Breath, that iconic Godzilla attack, is fairly self-explanatory: pulverise things in front of you with your atomic breath. It’s much more useful for destroying buildings than hitting vehicles, though, because Godzilla even breathes slowly. Atomise (Up) is specifically for destroying aeroplanes, causing them to disintegrate as they fly above you. The most interesting power is Scream, which paralyses the human forces on the ground for a few seconds, allowing you to lumber over to them and introduce them to your size ten thousand feet. Each attack can be useful, but perhaps the most powerful skill that (most of) the monsters possess is the ability to slowly regain their “endurance” if they stand around without being attacked for long enough. If you do manage to get a calm moment where you’re not being bombarded with ground-to-air missiles, I suggest you take advantage of it.


The humans are a mere distraction, however. The real point of any game where you play as a giant monster is destruction, and destroying things is definitely something you can do in The Movie Monster Game. For example, here Godzilla is about to destroy Epyx’s headquarters, the ungrateful swine. While trashing the city is an exciting prospect, I’m sad to say that the carnage itself is rather underwhelming. Buildings don’t crumble or explode but rather gently sink into the ground in a not-particularly-satisfying way. Vehicles simply disappear when you step on them, and you can’t even punt them down the street like a football. Outside of your special moves, the only way to destroy buildings is to walk face-first into them a couple of times, and with no tail-swipes or rending claws at his disposal knocking down skyscrapers makes Godzilla look like a drunkard repeatedly trying and failing to get his keys in the door after a night on the lash.  All in all, you’d think a game about playing as a giant monster would be all about spectacle, but MMG offers disappointingly little on that front.


While I was repeatedly bashing my enormous nuclear dinosaur against the Golden Gate Bridge, I forgot to pay attention to my health bar and sadly Godzilla was slain… for now. As the “movie’s” epilogue reminds us, Godzilla can never be truly defeated and will one day rise again, which reminds me that I should get around to watching Shin Godzilla at some point.


Oh, and I also tried out the “Find Landmark” scenario while I was playing as Godzilla. In this game mode, you have to find a radio transmitter that’s annoying Godzilla. It’s hidden in one of the city’s buildings, and the closer you are the more the “Proximity” bar will be filled for all the fun of a citywide, monster-based version of “Hot or Cold.” Honestly, most of the fun I got from this game mode came from imagining the small print on the radio transmitter. “1,000 mile range, wide frequency spectrum, warning: may annoy Godzilla.”


Okay, that’s enough Godzilla for now. It’s time for a new movie monster, one that isn’t officially licensed but who does have the extra mobility that comes from having eight legs. It’s Tarantus, the Hideous Giant Spider! Colossal insect – yes, yes, I know spiders aren’t insects – is a classic movie monster category, so it’s only natural that at least one would appear in this game. I spent a long time looking at Tarantus’ face before I realised it reminded me of Modulok from He-Man – it probably took me so long to figure this out because they don’t really look all that similar.


Here’s Tarantus terrorising beautiful downtown Moscow. You’ll notice Moscow looks a lot like San Francisco and, spoilers, it also looks a lot like New York and London and all the other cities in the game. Each city does contain four or five “real” landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Tower of London, but apart from those they’re all very similar-looking. Flat and grey, mostly.
At least Tarantus is cool. Enormous spiders usually are, especially when they’re destroying cities, although I’ll admit that seeing Tarantus spitting webs at the tower bocks is making me rather upset that Earth Defense Force 5 isn’t out yet. And while Tarantus might not have the same star power as Godzilla it’s a damn sight faster, making Tarantus a much better choice for the “Escape” game mode. Each monster does have their own set of stats, but don’t let that get you too excited because they’re still all very similar. They might move faster or recover health at a different rate, but they all have essentially the same special attacks and they all destroy buildings by ramming into them.


Speaking of destroying buildings, there’s a game mode called “Berserk” (special guest appearance from the Incredible Hulk’s fist) where the entire goal is to smash up as much property as possible. This seems like a good opportunity to take the giant robot Mechatron out for a spin, although seeing a picture of New York that prominently features the World Trade Center as I set out to destroy buildings has a rather different feel now than it did in 1986.


I really like Mechatron’s intro, because it makes him sound like a wild party dude who just happens to also be a fifty-foot robot. I’m imagining the Iron Giant, if the Iron Giant took inspiration from Motley Crue rather than Superman.


I must say, the game’s artists did a good job of making Mechatron look like a giant robot without having him look like any specific giant robot. There’s a little Transformers influence in there, and the red-white-and-blue colour scheme provides a soup├žon of Gundam, yet Mechatron is its own thing. He mostly reminds me of the Zords from early series of Power Rangers, so maybe that’s where Epyx took their inspiration from, or perhaps Mechatron is meant to resemble an old tin toy robot. Yeah, that’s probably a more likely starting point than Kagaku Sentai Dynaman or whatever.


Next up is a thinly-veiled Mothra clone with surprisingly adorable eyes – it’s Sphectra, the enormous flying… well, the game calls Sphectra a “wasp” so I guess it’s Mothra but far angrier and more terrifying. A moth the size of cruise liner is still just a moth, after all. A giant wasp, though, now that’s a much more menacing prospect. Hopefully mankind has a colossal jam jar that they can half-fill with gallons and gallons of sugar water, luring the helpless Sphectra to a watery grave. Until then, Sphectra can fly around the city, destroying the Tokyo Tower because that’s what giant monsters do. It’s like posing for a jokey photo where you’re propping up the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you’re on an Italian holiday. You can fly, as well. Sphectra’s got a special command that makes him take off or land. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what flying really accomplished. In fact, half the time I couldn’t even tell if I was flying, because the lack of shadows make it nigh-impossible to determine your altitude.


Okay, Sphectra’s definitely not flying here. Paddling, maybe, but not flying. Is this the massive jam jar weapon? Ye gods, I never expected them to get it up and running so quickly.Never mind, it’s just a river. Water’s another thing you’ll have to worry about when trying to rack up the points. Some monsters move through water much more quickly than others, and apparently Mechatron can’t go into the water at all (although I don’t think I actually tested that) so if you’re playing a mode like Escape on a map with lots of water then maybe take the big wasp rather than the robot.
This isn’t Escape mode, though. It’s “Hunger,” in which the insatiable desires of the monsters are… not insatiable? No, they’re definitely satiable. It’s weird, I’m just so used to monsters being insatiable. Anyway, you have to fill your hunger meter by eating things, and by “things” I mean “innocent humans.” Each monster has their own tastes and will be filled up more quickly by eating certain vehicles or people. Sphectra seemed especially partial to boats, which is why I’m splashing around in this river. It’s like a sushi restaurant conveyor belt, only wet.


The penultimate monster is The Glog, and isn’t it a charming lump of congealed phlegm? Just look at that fantastic expression of contempt on The Glog’s face as it turns away, disgusted, from Notre Dame cathedral. Maybe he was expecting the gargoyles to sing him a song about how someone out there could love The Glog even though he looks like a cabbage that’s been repeatedly trodden on.
So clearly The Glog is MMG’s equivalent of The Blob, and do you have any idea how hard it is to not type his name as The Glob? Very hard, that’s how. It’s because “glob” is a real word and “glog” isn’t, unless it’s the onomatopoeia for the swallowing sound you make when you realise you left your child at the supermarket.


I had more success than usual when playing as The Glog, because while he doesn’t have a special power like fire breath or spider webs, he does regain his health faster than the other monsters and that’s a godsend. The Movie Monster Game has a very strange relationship between the visible enemies that you can see trying to kill you and the things that actually cause you damage, in that there doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two. Perhaps even more than the slow movement and general repetitiveness of walking into the buildings, the thing that drags MMG’s gameplay down is that you’re almost always taking damage no matter what you're doing, and often it comes from off the screen. There are no visible projectiles, either, so it’s not like you could dodge attacks even if you were fast enough. Damage happens whether enemies are around or not, and there’s nothing much you can do about it, giving The Movie Monster Game an unsatisfying, prickly feeling, the sensation that the game doesn’t really want you to be playing it.



And yet I am extremely glad that I played MMG, because the final monster is a sweet guy with a sweet bow tie and sailor hat. His name is Mister Meringue and you’re goddamn right he’s a knock-off of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.


I’ll be honest, this means a lot to me. As a kid I was obsessed with Ghostbusters and especially the cartoon and toy line, as my poor mother will attest after being forced to watch the “good versus evil baseball match” episode roughly seventy thousand times by a young VGJunk. I had the action figures, the comics, the VHS releases, the lot. True story, when I was first diagnosed with short-sightedness I asked my mum for red glasses so I could be like Egon from the cartoon. Sadly, that style was not available on the NHS at the turn of the nineties – it was huge tortoiseshell monstrosities for me – and it’s sad but also very fortunate that I didn’t know what hairspray was at that age because you can bet your ass I’d have tried to go to school after giving myself cartoon Egon’s bizarre tubular hairstyle. I loved Ghostbusters, is my point, and if I’d have known back then that there was a computer game that let me play as a barely-altered Stay-Puft clone I would have moved heaven and Earth to get a copy. It’s still giving me a warm, happy feeling even today as I watch Mr. Meringue clobber his way through the city as Gozer intended, without Bill Murray’s interference.


In truth there’s almost no difference between Mr. Meringue and Godzilla bar the visuals, but that doesn’t matter to me. I found a cheat for infinite health and spent a very enjoyable ten minutes destroying London’s most famous landmarks with the powerful and sticky hands of Mr. Meringue. If I’m ever thrust into a situation where my thoughts determine the form of mankind’s destructor, don’t be surprised in Mr. Meringue shows up. I feel a kinship with these giant marshmallow monsters: after all, we’re both tubby, pallid creatures that never asked to be created and who have an unhealthy relationship with sugar.
But wait, there’s more. This is the “search” mission type. It works much like the “find the radio transmitter” mode, with two major differences. One is that the locator only pings occasionally and isn’t visible all the time, and the other is that your monster is looking for their lost child.


That’s right, to finish this stage you have to find your tiny baby Stay-Puft analogue, and it is as adorable and precious as you would imagine. “Come along, my child. Let us leave this human world, and I will tell you tales of the time I was a parade float and how I totally kicked that Pillsbury jerk’s arse one time.”


The end-of-stage screen even shows that the humans forgave Mr. Meringue because they realised his actions were motivated by a love for his child. Awww.


That’s about it for The Movie Monster Game, and even if there was more I can't not end this article on the “Stay-Puft Is World’s Greatest Dad” angle.
MMG is a game that has a lot of really interesting, fun ideas… but sadly none of those ideas are related to the gameplay. The setting of the game, the ambience, the framework: those are all great, from the monster designs to the Madlibs-style texts for each “movie.” The developers also tried hard to squeeze as much gameplay as possible out of a very limited “walk around the city and smash buildings” set-up with the various game modes. The monsters are all nicely animated and full of character. I might start a cult devoted to Mr. Meringue.


It is a real shame, then, that the gameplay simply isn’t much cop. The extreme slowness of the “action” is the most obvious problem. It’s lethargic to the point where it becomes almost impossible to pay attention to for more than a few minutes, a feel that’s exacerbated by the constant draining of your health bar by enemies that aren’t even on the screen half the bloody time. The stages all look very similar and the gameplay modes are not as different as they’d like you to think, so The Movie Monster Game quickly becomes repetitive. Ironically, this is the only thing MMG does quickly. The Movie Monster Game is fine for ten minutes spent Godzilla-ing your way through some major global landmarks and Mr. Meringue is worth the price of admission alone but honestly, it's 2017, you should just play an EDF game instead.

17/11/2017

SOME ANIMATION FRAMES FROM SUPER STREET FIGHTER 2 (SNES)

The title of this article sums it up, really. I’ve been thinking abut Super Street Fighter II for the SNES recently and how it’s probably the fighting game I’ve spent most time playing, and consequently the most time looking at. That’s fine by me, I like looking at Super Street Fighter II. It’s a good-looking game. For a long time, it was probably the best looking fighting game I’d played, although I’ll grant that’s down to both personal circumstance and aesthetic preference. The Street Fighter II series’ cartoonish but not too wild style always appealed to me far more than its competitors’ did. I’ve never much liked digitised graphics and I’ve always thought the Mortal Kombat games are kinda ugly. It felt like most other fighters were either aping Mortal Kombat’s visual style, or they were trying to copy SFII and simply not being as good at it as Capcom. The outliers are SNK’s fighting games like Fatal Fury. They do look great, of course, but between the lack of nearby arcades and the scarcity of SNK’s home console (I’ve still never met anyone who owned a Neo Geo during its “heyday”) those games only existed as pictures in magazines to me. So, Super Street Fighter II stands as a graphical high-point of the 16-bit era to me, even if other people would probably disagree. I thought it might be nice to look back at a few of my favourite animation frames from Super Street Fighter II, which now I’ve written it out twice seems like a strange topic for an article but hey, I’ve already taken a bunch of screenshots so I guess I’m going with it.


Let’s begin with Balrog and his mighty uppercut. Looks painful, doesn’t it? It makes sense that a character “inspired” by Mike Tyson would possess a devastating uppercut. I’d say that Balrog’s early appearances have something of the classical about them, though. They’re... statuesque, almost. This could almost be a 16-bit version of an illustration from a Victorian book, a pixellated take on The Gentleman’s Guide to Pugilism Under the New Queensberry Rules, Third Edition. That’s something I noticed when looking back on Balrog’s Street Fighter 2 sprites – they don’t seem to quite match up with his characterisation as a dirty, below-the-belt fighter. There’s something old-school about Balrog’s poses, perhaps because of the way his idle stance has his gloves up by his chest. Later Street Fighter games would introduce Dudley as the fair-fighting, honourable boxer of the cast, but Balrog definitely has a touch of the old-school about him at this point in the Street Fighter series. Well, until you use his jumping headbutt move, anyway. It’s not that old boxers were averse to nutting people, it’s just that they didn’t usually leap into the air while doing it.


Sticking with the theme of “classics,” Fei Long’s Bruce Lee impersonation is about as classic as they come. When creating Fei Long, Capcom may have shamelessly copied Lee’s looks and movements with little alteration besides Fei Long being able to set his own legs on fire by, I dunno, thinking really hard about kicking someone, but they did such a good job it’s hard to begrudge them. I think this simple punching animation captures it best. It’s all well and good having amazing animations for the big, flashy, oh-god-why-did-I-set-my-own-leg-on-fire moves, but this punch perfectly captures the Bruce Lee mannerisms and once you’ve got the basics right the rest will follow.


I’ll be honest, this frame of Blanka’s jumping medium kick it what got me thinking about writing this article in the first place. I think about this pose a lot, actually. Look, sometimes things get stuck in your head and you can’t explain why. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and it certainly doesn’t indicate that I should visit a healthcare professional. That’d be an interesting appointment. “What seems to be the problem? Well, I can’t stop thinking about this jungle-dwelling beastman and his mid-air poses. He’s just so goddamn jaunty, but if you cover his legs and just look at him from the waist up he looks he’s responding to a shocking accusation in an exaggerated manner.” Go on, try it and tell me you can’t imagine Blanka saying “You saw me creeping to the chambermaid’s quarters in the dead of night? How dare you! The very thought!” Actually, what’s the status on Blanka being able to talk at the moment? Is Dan Hibiki still the only one who can understand him? You know, it doesn’t matter. As Blanka didn’t appear in Street Fighter V I’m just going to assume he’s living with his mum and enjoying a peaceful, contented life.


Get down from there, Dee Jay. It’s unfair to take one frame from an animation – in this case, it’s Dee Jay’s forward jump – and single it out as looking goofy, but I’m going to do it anyway. Please know that this all comes from a place of love. Part of this one’s charm is that it’s one of the few frames of Dee Jay where he’s not grinning like the Joker on a visit to a puppy parade. He looks anguished, almost, as though he’s realised that turning side-on to his opponent and flipping completely upside down might not have been his smartest tactical move. He knows he’s going to feel a dragon punch slamming directly into the top of his bonce any second now. In a way, the anticipation is worse than the actual impact of the highly-trained martial artist’s flaming fist slamming into your head. What am I talking about, no it isn’t.


In a game with all the aforementioned flaming dragon punches and jaw-shattering uppercuts, it’s perhaps surprising that the most painful-looking thing is Dhalsim’s knockdown pose. I know he’s able to contort and stretch his body into any position he likes, but I don’t have those powers so seeing Dhalsim’s leg bent that way is enough to cause a sympathetic aching in my hips. It’s a nice companion piece to the actual aching in my hips that comes from being old.


Dhalsim’s knockback animation, with his chin being thrown so far backwards that he could nibble his own backside, that one’s fun too. Admittedly part of my appreciation for it is that I mentally append a rubbery “boioioing” sound effect to it.


Running Dhalsim’s hips a close second for “Most Painful SSF2 Visual” is Chun-Li’s hard kick. There has to be an easier way to fight crime than this. Chun-Li is a cop, and it’s going to be easier for the criminals she arrests to exercise their right to remain silent when she boots them so hard in the chin that their jaw lands forty feet away. I think it’s the way her feet are pointing in completely opposing directions that gets to me with this one. Like, I’m sure that it’s technically possible for a human body to get itself into this pose, but at the same time I’m wary of mentioning it in case someone reading this tries it at home and their legs fall off.
Seriously though, this move is excellently animated and the way the animation snaps makes it look like one of the most powerful moves in the whole game.


Also powerful: Zangief’s arse. It’s not often you get to describe hulking Russian wrestlers as “coquettish” but that’s the vibe I’m getting from this out-of-context image. Zangief wants you to look at his arse. And why not? It’s a backside to be proud of, powerful and abundant like the landscape of Mother Russia herself.


The Street Fighter cast are a colourful bunch of characters, drawn from all walks of life and imbued with a gamut of crazy abilities, and that’s what makes Sagat’s throw so great. No messing about, no magical powers or rigorous waterfall meditation sessions; just pick your opponent up and throw them over there. It is only by coincidence that in this example Sagat is throwing E. Honda, by the way, but we have the added bonus of it looking like Sagat’s picked Honda up by his nipple. That’d explain Honda’s expression. But it’s Sagat we’re looking at in this one, and as I watch the mighty emperor of Muay Thai hoist his opponent onto his back like Santa carrying a sack of presents, it’s difficult not to appreciate his straightforwardness.


Here’s T. Hawk riding his invisible bicycle. Ring ring ring goes the little invisible bell.


You know, even back when I first played Super Street Fighter II I thought Cammy’s costume was a bit much. Maybe it was because the girls I knew in high school were forever complaining about having to wear leotards during PE lessons. Wearing a leotard hoiked so far up her backside that her buttcheeks would have to use the telephone if they wanted to talk to each other? I’d heard enough stories about gymnastics class to know that Cammy must be in considerable discomfort. All that said, I still think Cammy looks kinda cool in her victory poses. No-nonsense, tough, the faint sense that she’s desperate to get home and put on some tracksuit bottoms. This is just a job to her, whereas everyone else seems to enjoy the bloodsports a little too much.


Here’s one I only noticed the other day: Ken goes a bit cross-eyed when he’s uppercutting people. Presumably this means Ryu also goes a bit cross-eyed when performing the same move. Perhaps these punches require a level of zen disassociation from the material world so complete that there’s no need for your eyes to focus, or maybe his underwear has suddenly ridden up just like Cammy’s leotard.


Here’s M. Bison, feared overlord of a vast criminal network. He’s posing. Of course he is. Half the work of being a fear overlord is posing, usually with menace. The other fifty percent is made up of overblown speeches and murdering the families of those who oppose you. But here’s the thing: is M. Bison posing, or is he in the middle of stomping on someone’s head? Surprise, it’s both, and in a cunning bit of recycling Bison’s post-victory stance and his head stomp move re-use the same sprite. Fair enough, it’s a good sprite, although I’d appreciate it if you take a moment to consider that the most evil character in the Street Fighter franchise’s go-to move is to jump on people’s heads. I guess the M stands for Mario.


Guile has a kick that somehow possesses anti-gravity properties, causing him to hover upside-down for a moment whenever he executes it. This is fantastic, don’t you think? I know I and my younger brothers loved it as a kid, with us encouraging each other to do “the upside-down kick” every time we played a Street Fighter game. It’s just such a weird move for a Guile to have when the rest of his attacks are mostly “classic” street fighting punches and kicks. I’m glad they retained it for later Street Fighters, even though it does look even weirder when a three-dimensional model’s doing it.
Then, while I was getting the screenshots for this article, I had a revelation. Guile’s got his upside-down kick, right? And he’s also got a crouching leg sweep, too.


They use the same sprite, just flipped. I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon a secret that has rocked my universe just a tiny bit.


Where else could I end but with Ryu himself? Ah, I can already hear the faint and distant arguments of years past. It is pronounced “rye-oo” or “ree-oo” or what? Do he and Ken fight in exactly the same way? Will anyone ever defeat Sheng Long? All questions that have since been answered, but none of that detracts from the iconic look of Ryu’s idle stance. And it is iconic, in an age where that word is overused, because I think it could and perhaps does stand as an icon for fighting games in general. If you took a silhouette of this sprite and used it as the logo for a category of games or something, then most people who play videogames would immediately know what to expect. As for me, just looking at it is making me feel nostalgic. I know that to some degree the entirety of VGJunk is a paean to nostalgia, but this is of a deeper kind, one that’s tied up in childhood memories of happy multiplayer games with friends and play-fighting with my brothers while shouting “hadooooken” at each other. I think that’s why I fancied writing this daft article about Super Street Fighter II’s sprites – sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that videogames can be a real force for positivity and camaraderie.

14/11/2017

FANKY PUNKY / FUNKY PUNKY (ZX SPECTRUM)

For today’s game, we’re heading into the hallowed halls of academia – well, kind of. From what I remember of my university days it’s a fairly accurate recreation of the higher education experience, but it’s definitely more about trying to avoid being turned into a skeleton than it is about receiving a diploma. I present to you Genesis Soft’s 1987 ZX Spectrum hangover-em-up Fanky Punky!

Okay, so it’s supposed to be called Funky Punky – that’s how the game’s referred to in the manual and on some of the cover art – but here on the loading screen it clearly says “Fanky Punky.” This is down to language issues, because Genesis Soft were a Spanish publisher and Fanky Punky is a Spanish game. Genesis Soft were also responsible for the ZX Spectrum game starring raunchy and sometimes topless Italian pop star Sabrina Salerno. Yes, the one where you could beat up priests with your boobs. I imagine that will give us an indication of how good Fanky Punky is likely to be.
On this loading screen, we get our first glimpse of Fanky Punky’s (almost) eponymous star. His name is Funky Punky, Funk to his friends, The Funkster to his close friends. He kinda looks like Rodney Dangerfield, an appropriate resemblance because I can’t imagine Funky Punky gets any respect either. Funky is a man of simple pleasures: he likes knockoff Adordis trainers from down the market, listening to his favourite tunes on his boombox and getting monumentally, liver-pulverisingly drunk.


Here’s the game’s premise: last night, Funky got absolutely mortal. If my student days are anything to go by, it was via either Tesco’s finest, cheapest wine (just thinking of the name “Marques de Leon” is making me feel a little queasy) or some kind of dangerously irresponsible offer on vodka shots. Unfortunately for our newly-pickled hero, he has an exam this morning! He’s got to get up, grab his stuff, get out of the house, drive to college and take his exam, all while his hangover is so severe that it might well kill him.


Off we go, then. Early indications are that Fanky Punky is an extremely generic Spectrum platformer. It’s got flip-screen scrolling, enemies kill Funky at the slightest contact and Funky himself controls like a lobotomised Womble. Okay, that last part might be a bit harsh, Funky’s movements are at least consistent, as in he has a consistent delay between you pressing jump and Funky actually jumping. You’ll want to try to avoid jumping as much as possible, because this game’s control scheme is O and P on the keyboard move you left and right respectively, while jump is M. Yeah, sure, why not, that seems sensible.
Not that I had much chance to practise jumping in these first couple of screens. Most of the airspace was patrolled by these floating orbs, and if you touch them, you die. From what I could glean by reading the (Spanish, don’t forget) manual, all the enemies Funky faces are actually manifestations of his hangover. Funky needs urgent medical attention to deal with his drinking problem, which is a bit dark so I’m going to pretend he’s being attacked by the spheres from Phantasm instead. You play a good game, boy! Shame it isn’t Fanky Punky.


It’s one of those “dodge the enemies” type games, then. Funky doesn’t have any offensive capabilities, and even if he did it’s not like he could could beat up the DTs, is it? So, it’s another home computer platformer from the eighties in which precise movements are required to sneak past enemies that move along predictable paths. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that genre in concept and I suppose Funky doesn’t control that badly except when negotiating staircases, which he absolutely cannot handle without repeatedly falling off.
I managed to get over to the right of the screen and grab that doughnut, though, and it’s a good job I did because Funky has an energy bar that depletes over time and must be refilled by collecting highly nutritious foodstuffs like doughnuts and, erm, cigarettes.


How times change, eh? You couldn’t get away with presenting cigs as a health-restoring item these days, and that’s as it should be. However, it’s clear that Fanky Punky’s creators did understand the incontrovertible truth that having a cigarette after a night on the sauce will make you feel better. Well, until you start coughing your guts up, anyway. They keep the energy bar topped up, though, and that’s important. You might notice that there’s also another time limit based on, you know, time. I’m not sure the game really needed two time limits, chaps.
Oh, and there’s a skeleton wandering around Funky’s halls of residence, too. This feels like it’s going beyond a mere hangover, Funky. What the hell were you drinking last night, meths?


When Funky dies – which he will, frequently, because the enemies move quickly and have big hitboxes – he also turns into a skeleton. That’s cool by me, turning into a skeleton is in the top tier of videogame death animations, along with “exploding into an expanding ring of energy spheres” and “turning to look directly at the player and whispering ‘why have you done this to me, your incompetence has doomed the planet.’”


The point of this first area is to find the back-to-school essentials that Funky needs for his exam: a pen, a calculator and the key for his motorcycle, which he absolutely should not be driving on public roads, the selfish bastard. There’s also a clock to find, which shows you the remaining time until the exam. You can skip that one, it’s not like you’ve got time to dawdle and knowing there’s a time limit at all is more than enough motivation to get moving.


I found the pen in the basement, where there are more skeletons (this time of the ‘medical teaching aid’ variety) and a computer with “OK” on the screen, clearly referencing Radiohead’s classic 1997 album because Genesis Soft were just that forward-thinking. Or maybe Radiohead got the “OK Computer” name from this obscure Spanish ZX Spectrum game. It kinda feels like something Radiohead would do.


Having found all the items he needs, Funky leaves the house and floats through the air towards his moped. Not really, he’s jumping, it’s just that he doesn’t have any jumping animations. The key’s in the ignition, and it’s time for this dangerously hung-over young man to endanger some other road users.


That means we have to go through this half-baked minigame where you steer the moped as it moves along the road, trying to to crash into the cars. There’s really nothing else to it, you just move up, down, left and right. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think it would have been more interesting if they’d factored Funky’s liquored-up nature into the gameplay by making him swerve across the road randomly or have the cars appear as marching elephants. At least that would be something, you know? As it stands, all you’ve got is an exceptionally dull “move the cursor” segment that comes with the added frustration of any collision resulting in an instant game over. Funky had multiple lives when he was at home, but now that’s he’s on the open road? Tough shit, make one mistake and start again. I don’t understand why it works this way. I know a serious road traffic accident is going to be difficult to come back from but being turned into a fleshless skeleton didn’t stop Funky, so why should this?


A couple of minutes later, Funky arrives at the university. It’s a lot like his house, except all you need to do is find the exam room by slowly – but not too slowly, because of the two separate time limits – avoiding the enemies and climbing the rickety staircases. In this case the monster is neither a skeleton not a sphere but a flapping, swooping monstrosity that looks like a bat trying to escape from a burrito. It reminds me of the titular bat-winged character from fellow weirdo Spanish ZX Spectrum game Bloody, which was also released by… Genesis Soft. Man, I love that there are so many home computer games from non-British European countries. They’re enjoyable in the same way as fiction set in parallel universes: similar enough to what I’m used to that the differences are fascinating. Of course, the horror of forgetting you have an exam and having to rush to get there, still reeking of last night’s booze, that’s a universal fear.


There’s not much to say about the school portion of the game, honestly. Just move between the rooms looking for the exam, and hope that you don’t waste too much time investigating dead ends. Fanky Punky is a slow-paced game, but the time limit doesn’t take that into consideration. But what about the gameplay itself? Well, this is definitely a ZX Spectrum platformer. That’s all it is, it’s almost comical in its adherence to the form. Slow character movement with no momentum or flair, floaty jumps and plenty of pixel-perfect positioning required to progress. It’s not bad, per se. The problem is that it’s not really anything. No, strike that, it’s boring, that’s what it is, although it is redeemed somewhat (as ZX Spectrum platformers often are) by the unusual premise, strange creatures and use of nicotine as a health food. The only major problem I had with the gameplay was that the enemies don’t reset to a specific "starting point" on the screen when you leave the room or die, which can lead to certain situations where you die when jumping up to a new room, only for the game to start Funky’s next life in the same place that he died while the enemy is still there, trapping you in a loop that quickly drains all your lives.


After one last smoke to settle his nerves and the terrifying knowledge that last night’s alcohol is definitely going to start affecting his bowels at some point during this exam, Funky has reached his destination. Congratulations, Funky! I look forward to seeing you next year, when you have to repeat all your classes, you irresponsible fool.


Oh. Oh. The game’s not over. You have to actually take the exam. I wasn’t expecting that. Okay then, I’ll be back to finish this article in a few years when I’ve learned Spanish, I guess.
No, wait, I’m going to tough it out using my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary and Google Translate. Also save states, because if you get a single answer wrong it’s game over. I’m fairly certain that is not how university examinations work. “I’m sorry, Mr. Einstein, your thesis is truly astounding and will shape the future of modern physics, but you misspelled “necessary” as ‘neccessary’ and therefore all I can offer you is this application form for Greggs.”
The exam, then. It’s a series of yes or no questions, with the unusual twist that the game keeps giving you answers until the “yes” answer appears. With this first question, I managed to figure out that “quelonio” means the animal class Chelonia – that is, turtles and tortoises – and obviously “tortuga” is “tortoise” so yes, tortuga es quelonia. But then I couldn’t figure out how to get the game to accept my answer. Can you guess what my problem was? That’s right, I kept pressing Y for “yes” instead of “S” for “si” and I’m sure there’s a lesson about cultural hegemony in there.


Some questions required less translation than others.
So goes the exam, covering a variety of topics from geography to physics, which makes me wonder what course Funky is actually studying for. A PhD in Pub Trivia, perhaps. Also, why the hell did I need to find a pen and a calculator for this oral exam that (mercifully) contains contains no maths? Truly, academia is a mysterious thing.


I got all the questions right, and Fanky Punky stopped. I was going to say “ended” but that might imply there was some kind of ending, which there wasn’t. A brief scene of Funky graduating might have been nice, and I was definitely expecting one, possibly with an Animal House-style “Funky died three hours later in a drunken motor scooter accident” final frame. Instead you get the high score table and that’s it, game over.
Is Fanky Punky worth playing today? No, not really. It’s a very slight game that takes its unexciting gameplay and slaps a layer of potential frustration over it via the double timers and the potential death-loops. Am I glad I played it? Yes, I am. It’s a unique set up, if nothing else, and the exam was actually favourite part of the entire thing because I am an insecure dork who likes to be made to feel intelligent by beating a trivia quiz. Or maybe it’s just that I like trivia games, so maybe I’ll cover another one soon. Until then, I shall retire to my chambers and bask in my newfound knowledge that the Spanish for “bone” is “hueso.” I’m a real renaissance man now, god damn it.

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