Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Aaargh! (Amiga)

Oddly, I'd played this game long before I'd ever even heard of Rampage. It was among the boxes of pirated games that came with the second hand Amiga 500 I got one year as a kid, and for a couple of years, it was the only reference I had for games about being a big monster that wrecks stuff. Interestingly, it's also one of a few Amiga games that was also released on the Amiga-based Arcadia arcade hardware, making it an oddity in two ways: a European-developed arcade game, and one that was ported from a computer to the arcades (or possibly the other way round? Though since they're pretty much the same machine I don't think it really matters).

Is it good though? We'll get to that in a while. First, it might be more useful to compare it to its more famous American forebear. In terms of originality, at least, Aaargh! fares pretty well. It's got a slightly beat em up-like perspective so you can walk up and down as well as left and right, meaning the cities can have more interesting layouts than just a bunch of buildings all in a row. There's also a secondary goal alongside smashing everything, which is to find the roc's egg hidden in each stage, which takes you to a bossfight/bonus stage against the one of the two selectable monsters you didn't choose.

So anyway, the game sees you as one of two giant monsters (a giant lizard or a cyclops) destroying various human-built locations throughout history. The locations are pretty varied, and other than the first stage always being the jungle village, they seem to appear in random order, too, so even if you can't get far, you'll at least be able to see a lot of them with some perseverance. There's sterotypical east asian temples, desert cities carved into the sides of cliff faces, colonial American towns, and so on, and they all look pretty nice (though naturally, some are more colourful and detailed than others). No matter what location in time or space you end up, though, you always seem to be under attack from a human-directed trebuchet and giant prehistoric mosquitos.

To finish a stage, you either destroy every building, or you find and pick up the roc's egg. The first method will just take you to another stage full of stuff to smash, while the second will take you to the aforementioned bonus bossfight. The bonus bossfights aren't very good. There's no health bar or other indication of who's winning, and you and your opponent just flail at each other for a few seconds until inevitably, you fall over and your opponent wins. It doesn't really matter though, since losing these fights doesn't result in a game over anyway. The game's other big problem is the controls: since it's an Amiga game, that means the designers had to shoehorn multiple actions onto one fire button (I mean, the Amiga could totally use two button controllers, but for some reason most developers for it never bothered with a second button). So, if you tap the button, you breath fire. If you hold it and press left and right, you punch, up and you do an uppercut (for killing mosquitons) and down is for picking up items or humans off the ground.

These controls would be fine, were it not for two problems: firstly, you have four-way movement in this game, but because of how the controls work, you can't punch buildings while you're facing up or down, meaning you can only destroy them with fire. Fire that's limited, but you don't have any kind of onscreen meter or anything telling you how much you have left. (As an aside, one pretty cool thing you can do with your fire breath is set buildings ablaze, and they'll gradually fall apart and collapse while you go and do other stuff). The other problem is that sometimes, the controls just don't respond. I'm sure there's some kind of special knack to getting your monster to punch or whatever whenever you want them to, but as it is, sometimes you'll be holding the button and pressing the directions and your monster will just walk around, or breath fire instead of doing what you ask. It's this problem especially that's the game-killer.

So, Aaargh! is a game with some good ideas, and some bad ideas (why not have both monsters in the field looking for the egg simultaneously? That would make a lot more sense.), and some very bad execution. And it's the execution that prevents me from being able to recommend playing it, unresponsive controls of this degree are just unforgivable.

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