15/05/2018

DONKEY KONG CLONE COVERS

It’s nice that Donkey Kong is still around, you know? Still starring in games all these many years since his 1981 debut, still a big part of Nintendo’s pantheon of videogame legends despite pretty much the only update to his character being that he put on a tie, still taking you through his monkey rap. Here in 2018 it’s difficult to imagine just how phenomenally successful the original Donkey Kong was, but a good indicator is that Donkey Kong is one of the most cloned and copied videogames of all time, and that’s what we’ll be looking at today – a collection of cover art from some of the many, many Donkey Kong rip-offs. If you’re a big fan of poorly-drawn cartoon gorillas – and let’s be honest, who isn’t? - then you’re in for a treat.

Donkey King, Dragon 32


First up is a release for the relatively obscure Welsh home computer, the Dragon 32, and yes, it is called Donkey King. The developer should have gone the whole hog and swapped out the gorilla for the Heehaw Rex, King of the Mules, because it would have given the game its own identity and diverted Nintendo’s lawyers from what is one of the least subtle Donkey Kong clones on this list. It’s got everything you associate with Donkey Kong proudly displayed on the cover: gorillas, damsels, barrels, and by the standards of these covers it’s quite competently drawn, even if Donkey King’s expression suggests that throwing barrels at people doesn’t fill him with the pure sense of joy that it used to. It’s always a shame when your hobby starts to feel like work.

King Kong, Atari 2600


A quick detour into the console market with King Kong, an interesting title because it’s a DK knock-off with an official King Kong license. Universal sued Nintendo after Donkey Kong’s original release, claiming that it infringed on their King Kong copyright by being about a large ape that takes a kidnapped woman to the top of a building. It sounds like a relatively solid legal base, but Nintendo won the case because Universal had previously (and successfully) argued that King Kong was public domain while they were trying to get their 1976 King Kong movie off the ground. Thus soundly hoisted by their own legal petard, Universal ended up putting their name on this King Kong game.
As the biplanes buzz around and a player character who looks a lot like Indiana Jones attempts to scale the Empire State Building, an enigmatic emotion flashes across Kong’s face. It’s not a pleasant emotion either. In fact, it’s the expression of someone watching their parents dance at a family wedding.

Kong, ZX Spectrum


Naturally King Kong is a popular theme for these DK clones, with a lot of them leaning more heavily on the themes of the classic ape-meets-girl tale than even Nintendo’s original does. This cover for Kong is no exception. It’s an okay piece of artwork, I suppose, and I like the perspective on Kong’s… paws? Wait, apes don’t have paws, they have hands, right? Yeah, it’s definitely hands. Any time I see a joke about people having their internet history exposed, I breathe a sigh of relief because I know that if anyone does go snooping through my search history they’re just going to find things like “do apes have paws” and “DK Rap video high quality.”

Kong Strikes Back, ZX Spectrum


Kong Strikes Back isn’t technically a Donkey Kong clone, because it’s actually a rip-off of Mr. Do’s Wild Ride. Still, it’s got platforms, ladder-climbing and a giant ape, so I think it warrants inclusion here. As you can see, it takes place in a theme park full of roller coasters, because even colossal gorillas can’t resist the lure of the Nemesis Inferno. This Kong has a more friendly look about him; something about the cast of his face suggests a more playful nature, although because he’s forty feet tall and weighs about as much as the Sheffield-to-Cleethorpes passenger train “playful” still equates to “terrifying.” Surprisingly small hands (not paws) for a giant ape, mind you.

Monkey Kong, TRS-80


That’s more like it. Those are some appropriately enormous hands, although when combined with the especially long arms and that face this Kong looks more like an orang-utan than a gorilla. That’s fine too, of course. You’ll get no monkey prejudice from me, and I’m sure this Kong can hurl barrels with the best of them.
The blurb’s trying to sell Monkey Kong as an accurate recreation of Nintendo’s original, but I’m not buying it. Just look at the way the characters are posed. All I can see it a gigantic orang-utan that is under Mario and Pauline’s control. I think it’s the blank, dead eyes. He has no style, he has no grace, this Kong also has no free will and his held under the thrall of his captors.

Crazy Kong, Commodore 64


Yep, he looks pretty crazy, and absolutely furious that some idiot is running across his freshly-polished metal walkway in dark-soled shoes. The real craziness comes from this cover’s Mario stand-in, however. What the hell is going on with his skin? The red blotchiness implies that either he’s got a monkey allergy or this metal floor is actually one big cheesegrater and he keeps falling over. Then there’s nose and look, someone has to say it so I guess it’ll be me – it’s kinda phallic. Maybe that’s why this Kong is so crazy; you would be too if some dick-nosed weirdo with a suppurating rash and an ear growing out of his temple started causing you grief.

Killer Gorilla, BBC Micro


Or M.C. Escher’s Donkey Kong, if you like. I’ve spend ten minutes trying to figure out the perspective in this image and all I’ve gotten out of it is a headache, so let’s instead focus on the fact that this game’s Mario analogue realised he had to fight a giant ape and turned to his trusty battle-axe to get the job done. Oh, and his very tight shorts. I’m choosing to read this image as the damsel reaching down towards the hero and saying “Jesus Christ, Terry, give me the axe and I’ll sort this out.”

Killer Gorilla, BBC Micro


This alternate Killer Gorilla cover may lack the raw drama of a modern-day barbarian in yellow socks, but at least it takes place in a world where the laws of physical space aren’t complete absent and the hero has swapped his axe for a more DK-appropriate hammer. Also, hey, that gorilla is actually shaped like a gorilla! Just a shame about it’s unnerving face, really. I didn’t know gorillas could dislocate their jaws.

Kongo Kong, Commodore 64


Kongo Kong is intense. The mad, staring eyes of a killer, those are. That fact that he seems to have been partially consumed by a fur-lined parka only increases the power of the piece. The mid-eighties really were a boom time for artists who specialised in nightmarish monkey faces.

Kong’s Revenge, ZX Spectrum


A real bump up in artistic proficiency for this cover, where a very Tom of Finland-esque construction worker who made the embarrassing error of shrinking all his clothes in the wash shoots a gorilla right in the nostril.  That’s his revenge for Kong’s revenge, you see. Obviously the artist has gone for an injection of sex appeal with the scantily-clad damsel, but who chained her up? Surely not Kong, with those hands he doesn’t have the manual dexterity to operate those shackles. So it must be like King Kong, where Fay Wray was chained up to attract Kong in the first place… but they placed the bait at the top of a partially-constructed skyscraper populated by construction workers so buff they’d make He-Man feel self-conscious about walking around without a shirt on? There’s no logic to this giant gorilla story, I tell you.

Krazy Kong, ZX Spectrum


A more cartoonish Kong for this cover, with an ape who’s figured out that climbing up things just makes it easier for the planes to shoot you so he’s sticking to ground level. There’s not much else to say about this cover, except that it’s definitely the one on this list that most looks like an illustration for a kid’s bedtime story.

Krazy Kong 64, Commodore 64


That’s… not a gorilla. I don’t know what that is. A sasquatch, possibly. There’s a thought – I’m surprised there weren’t more Donkey Kong rip-offs that replaced the ape with a yeti or something. Perhaps it was just accepted that the true appeal of Donkey Kong isn’t the charming graphics or fun, precise gameplay but simply that it’s got a big monkey. Whatever this thing is supposed to be, the guy in the red shirt isn’t getting out of this alive.

Wally Kong, ZX Spectrum


“Wally” is a word used to describe a foolish person in British slang, by the way – see also the pioneering computer game Everyone’s a Wally. Of course, that's not to say that this particular ape isn’t called Wally. He might well be. He might have even been bullied at Giant Ape High School for his unusual name, causing him to try to forge a new identity by installing a prosthetic mouth that does not blend at all well with the rest of his features. His gob looks like a pair of ninety-nine pence plastic Halloween fangs made from no-doubt toxic materials in a Chinese tat factory. No wonder the damsel is turning away from Wally with such a disdainful air. “Ai ‘ont ‘oo ‘ook at ee?” says Wally, but she can’t understand him. Because of the mouth thing. Oh well, at least this Kong bothered to comb his hair.

Panic Kong, MSX


Speaking of apes that made an effort, the star of Panic Kong has slapped on a bit of nail polish. Unfortunately, he looks a lot more like a beaver than a gorilla thanks to his big buck teeth and the dots below his nose that imply whiskers. Maybe that’s why he’s holding a tree, he picked it up as a snack. He also looks like someone set a coffee cup down on each of his nipples. You’re a weird one, Panic Kong.

King Cuthbert, TRS-80


Here’s King Cuthbert, which I think is the same game as Donkey King but ported to the TRS-80 and given a makeover to star Cuthbert, a character who appeared in several other home computer games of the time. This is definitely my least favourite cover on this list, because although it’s well-drawn I find these weird, chipmunk-faced homunculi difficult to look at. Like, are they children?  I can’t tell. They’ve got child-like proportions, but Cuthbert’s face is a Cabbage Patch doll of an accountant and if they are supposed to be kids then the girl has a disturbingly ample bosom. No, it’s all wrong and I sincerely hope that gorilla is going to rise up and reclaim his crown from King Cuthbert the Freakish.

Congo, MSX


Of course there were some DK clones that replace the gorilla on a building site with other animals and settings, like the circus-themed Congo. It’s still the same barrel-dodging, girder-climbing action, except the animal is a bear and you play as a circus ringmaster, so you get an additional soupçon of animal cruelty thrown in. At least the cover’s good, clean cartoon fun, a refreshing palate cleanser after King Cuthbert. The only real issue is that the ringmaster doesn’t appear to be wearing any trousers.

Fast Eddie, Commodore 64


Or how about Fast Eddie, which is, well, it’s… this. Victorian beachgoer leaps over googly-eyed blue domes. There are ladders which look very specifically like the climbing frames you’d sometimes get to use in PE class, when it was raining out and the teacher decided you were doing "gymnastics." Eddie holds a heart above his head. It’s his heart, and you can’t take it from him. Not even the dome that’s managed to grow extra-long legs has any chance of catching Fast Eddie. At the bottom of the cover it says “A product of Sirius” and I would not be surprised to learn it mean that this game came down from the stars.

Killer Kong, ZX Spectrum


Moving into the final stretch now with Killer Kong, a cover that has gained some notoriety for being pretty goddamn weird. I appreciate the stark simplicity of the piece – nothing more than a picture of a gorilla who’s just farted and is waiting for the smell to reach you. However, I have seen this cover multiple times in the past and I am only just now realising that the gorilla is wearing a monocle. This pushes the Killer Kong cover to the realms of true art.

Krazy Kong, ZX Spectrum


“Okay, so I drew the cover for our new Kong game...”
“Oh, cool. How’s it looking?”
“Not great. The gorilla looks… weird.”
“Weird?”
“And very pink.”
“Well, just throw in a random drawing of a pyramid, that’s what I always do.”
“Do you think that’ll help?”
“Oh yeah, as long as you don’t make the pyramid too detailed.”
“Okay, got it, very simple pyramid. Thanks.”
“No problem.”

Kong, Commodore 64


For their addition to the world of DK clones, Anirog software decided to make their new game unforgettable by giving it a cover that must surely have caused nightmares in any child who saw it. Less a gorilla and more low-ranking demon who torments sinners who over-indulged in life by forever beating them with barrels of booze, Anirog’s Kong is has the unmistakeable air of a Ghanaian horror movie poster and honestly? I love it. I might have to watch Shakma again after this.
However, if you thought Anirog’s Kong offered the pinnacle of bonkers ape-game covers, you’d be… absolutely right. Not with this cover, mind you.

Kong, Commodore 64


That honour goes to this cover for Anirog’s Kong, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a masterpiece of absurdist art. My god, where can you start with this one? There’s Kong himself, with a face that’s just as terrifying as the last cover but in a completely different way – rather than “this monkey will eat my face” it’s an “I’ll wake up and this white-faced ape will be sitting at the end of my bed, silent but for the sound of its drool dripping on the floor” kind of horror. Especially unnerving is the contrast between the overall bulk of Kong and his minute physical features: a minuscule ear, a navel the size of a penny and the merest hint of a tiny, tiny nipple.
And then there’s the “hero,” who equally defies description. A Peppa Pig character dressed as Hugh Hefner is my best guess. What is with that nose? Is he a pig? A pig who gained a commission in the Royal Navy and ended up on an island of hideous mutant apes? And here’s another thing: I realise that those yellow shapes are supposed to be the staves of a barrel the hero has just smashed with him hammer. I know this. However, I can only see them as bananas, as though Kong is nothing but a colossal, banana-packed piñata and our hero has just bashed him open. This version of Pauline nonchalantly inspects her nails, impatient for this debacle to be over and done with.

And it is done. I can bear no more Kongs. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some of the many Donkey Kong clones out there, although I’m aware that “enjoyed” might not be the right word. Good night, and may your dreams be free of Anirog’s Kong.

11/05/2018

FACEMAKER (BBC MICRO)

After writing about Granny’s Garden a few weeks ago, I’ve been drawn to the nostalgic charms of the BBC Micro and its raft of wholesome educational content. It was a computer with noble ambitions, and today I am in no way going to honour those ambitions with a quick article about Gloria Callaway and ASK’s 1982 photofit-from-Hell-em-up Facemaker!


Let’s begin with the cover, because it’s a wonderful example of early-eighties tech-art: the grid, the glowing neon effect, the implication that Facemaker is such a powerful program that it can barely be restrained by your computer monitor. The actual face on the cover is… less appealing. “What is his name?” asks the cover, and I have no idea but if that moustache is anything to go by he’s related to Wario somehow. The face on the cover might look the villain from horror movie about murderous cyber-clowns, but this game is called Facemaker so surely I can make my own faces. Bigger, stronger faces, with eyes that can see in total darkness and mouths that can utter the secret names of the most ancient evils!


You might have expected Facemaker to be an art program where you use a mouse to draw faces, or perhaps to pick different facial features from a graphic interface. It’s neither of those things but it’s a lot more like the latter, because it’s a text-based system where the game asks you questions and generates a face from your responses. That really is the entirety of the game. It asks you to describe a face, then shows the face on the screen. Facemaker might be the flimsiest “game” I’ve ever covered, but back in 1982 the idea of making a picture appear on a screen by typing in words would have blown my mind and not just because that was two years before I was even born.


For my first attempt at face-making, I decided to try to recreate a famous person’s face, although I immediately fell into trouble when the first “famous” person I thought of was Steven Seagal. I’m not sure why. I must have seen a picture of him just before loading up Facemaker, or perhaps it’s because when you look at Seagal you think “my, that bloke has a lot of face” and that makes him a good candidate for Facemaker. Sadly, the instructions on-screen are telling me to think about Steven Seagal’s features as one might try to recall the features of a long-lost lover, so this has backfired terribly.


You don’t get to see the facial features while you’re selecting them. Instead, they’re described by either their size or their emotional state, and you type in the choice that best matches your artistic vision. Of course, having not played Facemaker before I don’t have any idea what these choices will look like so I’m mostly working on guesswork but I think describing Steven Seagal’s eyes as “small and mean” is fair enough, right?


Yes, those are definitely the eyes of the Putin-shilling star of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Relatedly, there was a Steven Seagal SNES game in the works that was never released with the hilariously appropriate title Steven Seagal is The Final Option, a name that was surely chosen when every other action movie start refused to participate.


And so it goes, with the player / artistic visionary (delete as appropriate) answering a facial questionnaire on such topics as mouth emotion and hair waviness. Being asked “is it fine or bulbous” is an exciting new brainteaser for me to ponder, but then that’s computer games for you, always providing new experiences.


The hair is where this digital Seagal falls apart. There simply aren’t enough hair options, and while the pure black of Facemaker’s colour palette is a fair approximation of Steven Seagal’s unconvincing dye-job there are no options for ponytails or any different hairstyles – it’s really only the length and curliness you can change. That’s why this face looks more like Sid the Sexist from Viz rather than Steven Seagal.
But wait! There are some facial hair options, and how could you possibly recreate Seagal without including his trademark fuzzy-felt goatee?


Oh, and don’t forget the glasses, although the main reason I’m including this screenshot is to show you the confused question mark creature that appears if you enter a response the game can’t parse, like typing in “prescription sunglasses that your nan uses when she’s driving” during the questions about Seagal’s glasses. Despite consisting of such a small amount of pixels, it has perfectly captured the look of someone who's laughing during a conversation they didn't fully hear and hoping it was a joke rather than a question.


And here’s the finished article. Good god. It is not a great likeness of Steven Seagal, although horrifyingly it does look like me before I started cutting my hair short. It's the bulbous nose that does it. Is this what it means to be hoisted by your own petard? I set out to draw Steven Seagal and ended up with a glimpse into a parallel universe, one where I played this villain in an early-eighties movie about future cops called something like “Star Police 2047” and this was my picture on the computer-generated wanted posters.


That’s about your lot for Facemaker, then. I fiddled around with it for a while and made a few more faces, like “the bloke who complains on Facebook that girls today don’t appreciate men who read books and collect swords” pictured above, and it’s clear that it’s a very limited program. For starters you can only make white people, and I mean white like a close-up of milk. This is probably for the best, because the BBC Micro’s colour palette doesn’t include any shades of brown and trying to make a “black” face with those limitations would look… not good. Plus you can only have “dark” or “fair” characters – that is, brunette or blonde – and all the bright red lips mean that Facemaker excels as a program for designing bootleg Halloween masks of the Joker and little else. But like I say, Facemaker is thirty-five years old, so I wasn’t expecting anything different.
I’m not going to let the "fun" stop here, though. Oh no, I’ve got a little game for us to play. I created a few more famous celebrity faces, and I want you to see if you can guess who they’re supposed to be before reading the answer below each image. Feel free to let me know how you did in the comments.


First up we’ve got this super picture that I heroically spent time looking at despite the risk to both my eyesight and my sanity. I must have an iron will, man. That’s right, it came out looking upsettingly like disgraced sex offender Rolf Harris but it’s actually supposed to be Robert Downey Jr.!


On a similar theme, here’s an actress famed for her beauty so it’s a shame I couldn’t manage to reduce the size of her chin to less than the Bruce Campbell proportions you see above. Fresh from facing Thanos, using Groot like a baseball bat to batter the alien hordes and pulling off the world’s first quintuple motorcycle backflip (I confess I haven’t seen the new Avengers movie yet) it’s Scarlett Johansson! I can only extend my deepest apologies to Miss Johansson.


Here comes a good old-fashioned lover boy, drawn with a casual flick of the wrist. I was under pressure to come up with a good likeness, and maybe I’m going slightly mad but I think this is the most recognisable of the bunch. Not exactly made in heaven, sure, but the miracle of eighties computer technology means that you don’t have to be stone cold crazy to figure out that this is Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.


I’m sorry to do this to you all but yes, this is US President and surely the unwitting star of an alien civilisation’s hidden-camera prank show, Donald “World’s Most Powerful Bigoted Grandad” Trump. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump is the only person whose Facemaker face ended up being more attractive than the real thing.


Do I have to think about Donald’s hair, Facemaker? Can I just, you know, not do that? Brighter minds than mine have tried and failed to figure out what’s going on there.


Finally, here’s a nice palette cleanser with one of the world’s most familiar faces, despite him not being a real person. He’s not French, either, despite what this picture might suggest. You’ve almost certainly spent some time hauling his chubby frame across a variety of fantastical worlds, destroying fungi and chucking dinosaurs down holes. Bingo, you’ve got it – it’s-a him, Super Mario!


It’s a shame that Facemaker doesn’t include any colour options or a flood-fill tool, because that’d mean I could easily make a Luigi, too. Hooked on the brothers. Indeed. Actually, hang on a sec…


Well, that’s Trump fixed. I’m sorry to conclude this article on such an unpleasant note, but I don’t think I can wrest any more entertainment from Facemaker. Only nightmares.

09/05/2018

WORLD GAMES (NES)

While the UK swelters in the kind of unseasonably hot weather than makes you worry about the survival of humanity, let’s take our minds off ecological disaster with some sports. Not physical sports, of course. It’s far too hot for that. Instead, it’s another compilation of sports minigames in Epyx and Rare’s 1989 NES version of World Games!

Here’s the world now, in all its glory. Yep, that’s a globe. All kinds of continents and what-have-you. Look, it’s a really boring title screen, okay?
As you might have surmised, World Games is part of Epyx’s famous “Games” series of multi-event sports titles, a series mostly known for its home computer iterations that began with 1984’s Summer Games and continued with such well-known releases as Winter Games and California Games. As far as I’m aware, World Games is expansive as the series’ premise ever got, which is a shame. We missed out on Universe Games, featuring such events as Algolian Laser Swords or The Death-Dance of Crenulex-7 – but World Games is what we got, so get ready to jump off things and throw logs around!


World Games features the usual choices between practising a single event or running through them all in sequence, with multiplayer madness being the obvious selling point. However, I’ll be playing alone, because most of the events in World Games are about one competitor taking on a challenge rather than a “versus” situation. Also because friends don’t make friends play thirty-year-old NES sports games. So, with my name and nationality entered – complete with a blast of your chosen country’s national anthem – it’s on to the sporting action.


But wait! First there’s some background information about the sport you’re about to attempt. It’s quite interesting the first time you play World Games but utterly redundant after that, so it’s nice that you can turn these screens off before you start playing.
As you can see, event number one is weightlifting, the second-most basic of all sports (after running, of course). We’re told that weightlifting is more than just a test of strength, and I can believe that. You need balance, and willpower, and a very strong girdle. Where it loses me is the assertion that weightlifting is a sport of strategy. Does it mean the strategy behind picking the weight of the barbell you’re going to attempt to lift? If that’s the case then the strategy aspect really doesn’t apply to me, as we shall see.


Naturally the goal here is to lift the heaviest set of weights that you can manage, and you begin by selecting the weight you want to attempt. Then you begin your lift by hang on, what the hell is that?


“VITA MINS” says the terrible creature, a balding golem of boiled ham, a muscular Phil Collins formed from Billy Bear meat and raw, unflinching terror. The blue pinpricks of distant starlight sunk deep into what must be considered his “face” see nothing but the sin of those who don’t supplement their nutritional intake with a variety of easy-to-swallow vitamin pills. His favourite vitamin is P – vitamin Pain, which the body needs in order to survive that which is coming. And it is coming.


That’s enough about the VITA MIN Man. More than enough, in fact. Back to the weightlifting, and get this – you don’t lift the weights by hammering the buttons as fast as possible to build your strength! I know, I was surprised too, and World Games actually requires no button mashing. Plenty of joystick (or joypad, in the case of the NES version) waggling, mind you. I know this because I’ve played enough multi-event sports games to learn that you should always read the manual beforehand. There’s bound to be some bizarre, unfathomable control schemes at work, and while World Games isn’t too bad on that front I’m definitely glad I looked up the manual. It would have taken me a long time to work out the weightlifting otherwise.
How it works is you press down on the d-pad to grab the bar, then up to start lifting, then down to “snatch” the weights, up again to hold the bar over your head and finally, once the judge’s lights have lit up, down again to put the weights down.


That’s the control scheme for the first three lifts – the “snatch” portion – anyway. Then you move on to the clean and jerk, which adds in a couple of extra ups and downs to the mix. Two things to discuss here: the first is that all this up and down means I’ve now got this song stuck in my head. The other is that the challenge here is all about the timing of your button presses, which was a surprise for a weightlifting challenge. The more weight on your, erm, weights, the tighter the timing required for a successful input. It’s also really bloody difficult, and I didn’t manage a successful lift of anything more than the second-lightest bar. The manual claims this event is all down to practise, but I tried it about fifty goddamn times and could never get a handle on the right timings. There’s a lack of feedback about what you’re doing wrong, I think that’s the issue, but at least it’s all very nicely animated, with smooth sprites that really look like they’re struggling even when I was cack-handedly trying to lift the empty bar just to get any kind of score.


Next it’s off to Germany for that famous(?) traditional(??) German activity of Barrel Jumping. You control an ice skater who gets their tracksuits at the same place that Little Mac buys his training gear, and you have to jump over some barrels. How many barrels? That’s up to you! How many do you dare face? After the weightlifting debacle, I thought it best to start with as few barrels as possible.


This event is thankfully much, much easier than the weightlifting, possibly because it feels much more like a “traditional” computer games sports event. You rhythmically waggle the joypad back and forth to build up speed, and then press a button to jump. It’s… well, it’s pretty much every computerised version of the long jump ever, except you’re wearing a romper suit and failure means a meeting with the unforgiving ice rather than the gentle embrace of a sandpit.


Headline: man’s coccyx shoots up body, replaces left lung.
The barrel jumping does exactly what it says on the tin, it controls smoothly, it’s not obnoxiously difficult and even if you do fail there’s much comedic potential in seeing your character spreadeagled across the barrels like they’re participating in a Donkey Kong-themed photoshoot. Thumbs up on the barrel jumping, then.


Now we’re off to sunny Mexico for the madman’s gamble that is Cliff Jumping, a “sport” for people whose mothers said “if all your friends were jumping off a cliff would you to that too?” one too many times. You select the height from which you’d like to hurl yourself off a cliff, although there seems little point in not jumping right from the top, and then you jump.


As you soar majestically through the azure sky, you have to nudge your character away from the cliff face – although not too far, because you get more points the closer you are to the cliff – and press down on the d-pad to position yourself in a diving stance rather than the belly-flop that’s going on in the screenshot above.


My first attempt did not go well. “Fault,” says the game, which is a hilariously euphemistic way of saying “you’ve just turned your spine into dry porridge, whoops.”
I did get the hang of the cliff diving quite quickly, and the risk-reward gameplay of skimming the cliff edge is pretty enjoyable once you get into it… but it’s not like there’s much here to hold your interest once you’ve gotten good at it. Not if you’re playing alone, at least


Next up: slalom skiing, which surprisingly didn’t feature in Epyx’s previous Winter Games. Ski between the flags as you travel down the hill, with a time penalty for missing a gate and the ever-present threat of slamming face-first into the trees or the barriers and thus ending your run prematurely.


Yeah, like that.
Another relatively uncomplicated event, this one, but yet again the controls are sharp and your characters movements are smooth. The manual says that holding the A button “increases your turning sensitivity,” but I couldn’t really see (or “feel”, I suppose) much difference. It’s all about predicting where you’re going next and making small movement to preserve your forward momentum, because turning too hard will slow you right down. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Slowing down and making sure you don’t miss any gates seemed to be a better strategy that prioritising speed. The hearts of the judges are as cold as the snow that is their dominion, and they will not be impressed by your devil-may-care attitude to proper gate navigation.


Canada’s contribution to this cavalcade of sporting excitement is the lumberjack log rolling event. Thanks, Canada. Watching a lot of cartoons as a kid made me think that flailing your legs to keep your balance on a floating log was going to be a bigger feature of adult life, but this is one of the few times it’s come up. The general idea is simple enough – don’t fall off the log or you’ll die – but sadly this is one of the least well-executed of World Game’s events. Supposedly it’s all about changing the direction of the log’s rotation and trying to second-guess the other lumberjack’s movements, but that never seemed to factor into it and all I could do to win was just keep moving the d-pad left and right until the opposing lumberjack fell off the log out of sheer boredom. And then, as I mentioned, presumably died.


The log rolling takes in shark-infested water, which makes you wonder how they got an insurer to sign off on it. This article would have been out a bit quicker if I hadn’t gotten distracted by reading about Canada’s native shark species. Maybe this one is a salmon shark.
Oh, and if you were expecting a joke about Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song I’m afraid that’s not possible… because the soundtrack for this event is a chiptune version of The Lumberjack Song. Unlicensed, I assume.


Yeehaw, cowpokes – the USA event is the rootin’, tootin’, potentially animal crueltyin’ rodeo! Pick a bull from the selection of five that have been conveniently sorted by how ornery they are and then try to stay atop the bull for eight seconds. The available bulls are called Bob, Ferdinand, Elmer, Tornado and Earthquake. I’m not sure about Bob, but I’m guessing that Ferdinand was named for the children’s story and Elmer because Elmer’s Glue has a bull on its logo. I was going to say Earthquake and Tornado were named after the famous WWF tag-team the Natural Disasters, but that was Typhoon, not Tornado. I hope you accept my shame-faced apology for this mistake.


I was surprised by how easy the bull riding turned out to be, and I managed to conquer the strongest bull on my second attempt. There are only three commands to deal with, which helps: hold down when the bull is spinning, hold the pad in the direction of movement when then the bull is kicking and hold the opposite direction when the bull comes to a sudden stop. It’s very straightforward, with the only complication being that it can be a little difficult to tell if the bull has started spinning or not. Still, it’s not difficult after even a very small amount of practise.


Moving a bit closer to my neck of the woods for the next event with the Scottish caber toss. Your goal? To throw a very large stick so that it travels end-over-end, although in World Games you also have to throw the caber as far as possible by waggling the d-pad to build up your running (okay, walking, it's a really big stick) speed before tossing the caber. Now, the problem with this is that in real caber tossing distance thrown is not important. It’s all about how straight you can make the caber travel, with the best result being that it lands on its top end and then falls away from the thrower in a straight line. This titbit of knowledge was stored somewhere in my brain, but naturally I went to check that I was right. That’s when I learned that people who throw cabers are called “tossers,” which made the Wikipedia page on the subject unintentionally and immaturely entertaining:


Not my proudest chuckle, but chuckle I most certainly did.
The trick with the caber toss is that you have to hold the A button to throw and release it when the caber is at the optimum angle, making this feel a lot like most javelin / discus / etc. events in other sports games, but I do appreciate the relative obscurity of the caber toss.


Plus, if you really mess up the caber will fall back and hammer your competitor into the ground like something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, which is great. If you nail a really good score on your first attempt, you might as well get some extra value out of World Games by making this happen on purpose.


The final event is Sumo Wrestling, and much like the log rolling I never managed to get a handle on it. I pressed various buttons on the joypad and things happened on screen, but how those two events were related never seemed to make much sense, even after I’d read the manual. It seems like the sumo follows the structure of most home computer fighting games of the time, in that each “joystick” direction performs a certain move, and like most home computer fighting games of the time it all feels terribly random.


Holding the A button seems to make your wrestler grab their opponent’s belt, thus theoretically opening up a whole new set of moves, but in my experience just tapping right and slapping the other wrestler across the ring yielded the best result in what is the weakest of all World Games’ events.


The most interesting thing about the sumo event is this sprite of a fallen wrestler that was seemingly traced from a photo of a plastic baby doll that’d been left on top of a hot radiator.


And that’s your lot. No ending or medal ceremony or anything like that, although perhaps that’s because I was playing on my own. Still, some kind of recognition would have been nice rather than being dumped straight back to the title screen. Oh well, at least I got to see that guy get buried by a caber.


It’s difficult to sum up World Games without saying “yeah, it’s okay” about fifty times. It’s just okay, you see. Better than a lot of multi-event sports games – easier to play, certainly – but I don’t think it’ll keep you hooked for long unless you’ve got an unhealthily competitive relationship with someone who really likes NES sports games. It suffers from the events being uneven in quality and I wish they’d leaned harder into the “weird” events, but it controls well and it’s nicely animated. World Games is definitely a game, in the world. That’s a cast-iron VGJunk guarantee.

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