It might seem strange to use my first review as a retro review, but then again some of the best games of all time are in the past and not on current generation consoles and systems. This is not one of those games. What it is, however, is a game that is very close to my heart and that's why I have chosen to review it first rather than ripping into some modern polygonal assault on my senses with highly risible plot and controls, for all the wrongs reasons.
This game, is simple, which is its best feature, forming quite a shield to hide behind from criticism.
The game is nothing more than a one-screen, one-level, platforming affair. Black background, repeated sprites and repetitive algorithms for opponent AI, until you at least get to level 9 where upon the game starts to repeat, with incremental difficulties. Each level contains a number of eggs and corn, and it's your task as the fat pink dress wearing, alliteratively named, Hen House Harry (whose parents must have been some new age naming pricks but at least it's better than some of the shit being used today) to travel each level, collecting all the eggs to progress while avoiding pitfalls, chickens and the curiously named, Mother Duck, upon reaching level 9 and beyond. There's 8 different levels featuring lifts, platforms, bonus "corn" (or just pink triangles) pickups, ladders and a countdown timer. Once reaching level 9, the levels go back to the first but each cycle of levels gets harder, with Mother Duck getting faster, more chickens turning up and things becoming more hectic as the windows of opportunity for success get smaller... and your patience too.
Curiously, for the game, you can select which gaming speed you'd like to play. With 1 – Stroke victim reflexes in a swimming pool of jelly, to 6 – hyperactive cocaine freak that just hard-lined 14 energy drinks straight into his eyeballs, which also comes with its own warning referencing what little humour the game has. Up to 4 people can play but there are problems with this issue too. Lives in later levels are earned far too quickly and only upon death does the next player gets to play. Leading to the possibility of one person playing for 20minutes with nobody else getting a go, then suddenly dying in game for the next person to play, who messes up within seconds and waits another 20 minutes before they can play again. But then we are looking at an age of teething problems that had yet to be solved by today’s standards.
Controls are simple enough, up down left right to move and the button to jump, nothing more and it doesn't really need more. Jumping has to be done either upwards or to the side, there's no "in air guidance" so once you've left the floor you're committed to that path until you land, bounce off a wall or hit a chicken and lose the life. Walking off a platform will condemn you to fall straight down to the next platform or the black pit of life loss, usually with an amusing digitised squeal cycle of sound to accompany the amusing mistake that's made. Collision detection within the game is rather lenient on the side of the player and their fat-git character though jumping over chickens is not possible unless leaping from a higher starting point than the chicken.
For a game with little variety it should be duly noted that the game does everything it sets out to do, simple controls, simple layouts, simple systems in a simple construct that plays neatly and crisply either using a joystick or the keyboard itself (I prefer the keyboard). It certainly lives up to the arcade ethos of gaming to be quick, usually intuitive and for the most part, fun.
After a while the game begins to grate and the reward of seeing the next level is killed when you see the first level layout for the 4th or 5th time and eventually you're just running the game for points that nobody else cares about because your friends will have gotten up and sodded off half a game ago and ignored their goes in favour of actually doing something useful, like drinking bleach (my preferred lemonade to give to kids). Soon the new challenges of more chickens will wear thing and the draw of the game will end some 20-30 minutes into the game being played. It certainly feels less complex than multiple screened games from the same era. Perhaps with more features and functions beyond the lifts, platforms and pitfalls, the game could have had a better lasting appeal, especially when compared to other games on the same machine such as Monty on the Run and Dizzy, which had a much longer lasting appeal.
So this is where the personal preference comes into things, this is the earliest game I can remember playing and even now thanks to emulators until I find a working C64 and tape/cartridge, still find myself playing it rather than booting up the current gen consoles, until the urge to see something beyond 8bit takes control. Worth playing while you make a cup of tea but I wouldn't expect it to hold people longer than the time it takes to drink it.
Remember, the faster you drink, the quicker you can stop playing, so let's see those burned throats.