Posted on April 6th, 2010 3 comments
Among the many reasons I love the 8- and 16-bit European game industry: British Telecom owned a game publisher for four years — and a pretty good one, too.
Said publisher was purchased by Microprose in 1988, delaying the release of Rick Dangerous by about half a year while everything was being figured out post-sale. This gave the developers at Core Design time to port this game to six different computer systems, every major one of the day — PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC. It’s a testament to Core’s skill that every one of them control so well and “feel” the same despite the radically different hardware involved. (This was Core’s first game chronologically; Rick co-designer Simon Phipps went on to spend five years designing Harry Potter games for EA.)
It’s hard to say why I like Rick so much. It’s a very formulaic platformer, and one that relies a lot more on memorizing stage layouts than having serious action-game skill. Rick dies all the time from unseen traps or unnoticed blowdart turrets, and the only way to see the ending is by trial and error, memorizing each stage until you can pull off every jump and crawl and ladder-grab perfectly. Zzap!64 and Amiga Power both slammed the game for this in their reviews, and I can’t blame them.
But there’s something else Rick has, something difficult to lay one’s finger upon. I’d pin it down to “console-style response,” I think. It controls great on every platform, with none of the odd little unfair delays that were sort of part and parcel of computer games back then. It’s not that other 8-bit titles didn’t have responsive controls and quick gameplay, but something about Rick makes it feel far more console-y than a lot of other European computer releases of the time. Try it for yourself — any platform will do — and see if you agree with me.
And if you’re going to try it out, why not use Rick Dangerous 128+, a brand-new version released last Christmas for the Amstrad? The French coders behind it claim it’s the best 8-bit version of Rick ever released, and I’ll have to agree — it’s got all the extra content from the Amiga and ST versions (about a third of the game was cut to fit into the 8-bitters), it’s quick and colorful, and the enemies make the cutest shriek of horror when you fill them full of lead. You’ll want to use the WinAPE emulator to play it.