Monday, 22 October 2012

Bubble and Squeak (Amiga) - Guest Post


Bubble and Squeak Amiga Title Screen
It's Charlie Brown and Hobbes! No, wait, Calvin... or Dennis and... uh...

Whoever these guys are, that's not a comforting image. Bubble is barely concealing a state of panic, sweat pouring down his head and Squeak would like to let you know that nobody will ever see this child alive again, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Still looks miles better than the foul cover illustrations on both the Amiga or Mega Drive versions (external links).

Once upon a time, Bubble was trying to get to sleep when a crazy blue creature suddenly materialised in his wardrobe. He introduced himself as Squeak, and told a terrible tale of how his home planet was overrun by baddies. They decide to travel to Squeak's planet through a hole in one of Bubble's socks and set things right.

Our adventure begins... in Stardust Caverns One.

It's platforming action time!

There's Bubble and... where's Squeak gone? We're off to a great start. First level, and I've already lost half the duo.

I can't seem to switch characters or hold down a button to locate him. I hope he's okay. Maybe he's waiting for me at the exit.

Bubble's a smart lad. He didn't rush into this madness without a means of defense. Using the power of... something... he can throw magic stars across the level and smite the enemy worms in satisfying fiery explosions.

KAPOW! Exploded worms drop giant spinning money!

There's Squeak! Hiya, Squeak! Wait, are you... BORED?

You're the damned protagonist! You basically kidnapped me and you're BORED?!

He doesn't seem to want to follow me. I just assumed I'd walk into him and he'd start following me like in Donkey Kong Country.

Hold on a sec while I waggle the joystick about until something happens. There's only so many controls this game can have!

I'm using the one-button joystick control config, so it's hold down and press fire to toggle between 'COME ON' and 'WAIT HERE' commands (with neato voice samples). The game also supports two-button joysticks and CD32 pads, which is nice.

And stop staring at my butt, Squeak.

These blasted baseball ducks! If Bubble chucks a magic star, they hit it right back in my chops! Sic 'em, Squeak!

Nope, Squeak just walks right on through them, leaving me to get hit. We need to work on our teamwork, pal.

He's indestructible, but Squeak can't run as fast or jump as high as Calvin and he can't attack anything. All he wants to do is follow me.

You can kinda see why he reminded me of the Barneys from Half-Life.

Why does Squeak simply stand there when he's not following me? Can't he do something useful? He could mime an action when you approach a puzzle where we need to work together (like Abu in Aladdin or that squirrel from Spirou).

Why is it that every time I take a screenshot, the guys look half asleep?

When he's following me, Squeak tries to bunch up directly against Bubble's back. He sure can jump like anything when he feels like it. It takes some finesse to get Squeak up this series of platforms without having him fall down the centre. Even though he's following me, the camera doesn't track Squeak at all, which is odd.

These flashing pole things were the exit in James Pond 2 as well. What are they supposed to be?

Next level, The Strawberry Lagoon.

Okie doke, we're in a submarine in a shoot-'em-up level now.

Both Bubble and Squeak look like they're enjoying being behind the controls of an infinite-torpedoes death machine. Unfortunately, I'm not having nearly as much fun.

Almost all of the usual idiot 90's shmup things are present and correct: inaccurate hitboxes, scenery that's impossible to negotiate unless you've played the level before and know what to expect, benign looking scenery that suddenly drops instant-death acid on you when you pass underneath it, no auto-fire and no hit points.

Strange there's no score or lives display in here.

It's an evil cat boss! You must be one of those folks who've been giving my buddy Squeak and his blue pals trouble. I'll show you how Earth children deal with problems! Missiles away!

It's odd fighting a boss without a music change. It's as if the fight doesn't count. This cat's definitely playing to win. He glides right up to me and fires a torpedo at point blank range, killing me in one. There are plenty of extra lives in here (I'm restarting right next to one, in fact), so I'm not going anywhere until this cat is toast.

Take that you nasty cat!

He's starts crying as his submarine sinks down to the ocean floor. I feel really bad now... the cat's gonna drown, all alone. We see bubbles rise from the bottom of the screen. And then they stop.

AND SQUEAK DOES NOT EVEN BLINK. FOR HE IS DEAD INSIDE.

Stardust Caverns Two.

For defeating the cat, my reward is absolutely nothing. No congratulatory screen, no bonus score, no extra lives, no continues, nothing. When I complete a regular level, at least I get bonus points for gems and coins.

My super psychic sense is telling me that these submarine levels are secret goals like the Chaos Emeralds from Sonic The Hedgehog. We need to collect hidden tokens to get access to The *blank* Lagoon, where we then need to defeat cats (probably nine of them) to Save The Day™.

So as well as the immediate problems of surviving the journey from A to B, we must complete missable, near impossible shoot-'em-up levels.

Cheer up, lads. It could be worse.

I don't exactly see how, but it could be worse.

Here's a lark. We started off on the bottom platform and we have to go head to the top right. I can make the jumps easily, but I need to use the lift to take Squeak with me.

I tell Squeak to 'WAIT HERE' on the lift, jump up, shoot a star to the left to get the lift to rise up. I move to the right and yell 'COME ON'.

Can you guess what happens?!

If you said this:

You'd be right.

If you said this about a dozen times, award yourself a cake!

Squeak automatically jumps when he reaches the end of a ledge. If Squeak follows Bubble to the far end of the screen, he'll jump over the first gap and fall down the second. If both Bubble and Squeak are on the lift simultaneously, Squeak will try to stand behind Bubble, either falling or jumping off the side.

The way to solve this puzzle is to make sure Squeak never follows you while the lift is in motion. Only when Bubble is safely placed on the far platform with his back to where you want Squeak to stand is it safe to call him towards you.

Thank the heavens there's no time limit.

This game is remarkably slick. It's not a whirlwind of ballistic motion like Wiz 'n' Liz, but it sure as hell doesn't stutter like Harlequin.

The original release of Bubble and Squeak was A1200 only, so it uses the magic powers of the AGA chipset to render two independently scrolling layers and a whole bunch of smoothly-animated sprites in 256 glorious colours.

The CD32 version looks the same as this A1200 version, but has CD-quality arrangements of the music. There's a Genesis version too, which looks to be exactly the same again, but with new music.

How are things going in A500 land?

That's a lot of black. That's the blackest thing I've ever seen.

Apart from the missing background layer it's still the exact same game as far as I can tell, which is admirable for a backport. This unforgiving blackness has made the game seem awfully bleak. The overly twee, chilled out music isn't helping either. It's as if the entire universe has been swallowed up and Bubble and Squeak are making a vain effort to outrun its destruction.

A wanderer, whose planet lies in ruins, desperately searching the universe for anyone who will heed his calls for help. Having exhausted every other alternative, the last hope for his race rests with an Earth child he tricked into helping him.

A young boy, trapped on an alien planet, surrounded by hostile animals with no hope of returning home. His only companion, the imbecile who brought him to this wretched wasteland, whose only emotion is an empty, tranquil malice.

Lets get back to normal!

When there's no (in)convenient lift nearby to get Squeak to the next area, you can use the last resort and have Bubble kick him up the arse and send him flying through the air.

Don't think about why there's Squeak-sized arches mounted on the walls.

WOO LOOK IT'S SUPER FAST GOSH ITS JUST LIKE SONIC JUST LIKE SONIC JUST LIKE SONIC GIVE THE GAME 99% ITS JUST LIKE SONIC.

And how is my super vulnerable main character doing, off-screen? I'm sure he's just fine.

Another shmup level! I tried to steer Squeak away from the secret level token, but it was blocking the way so we had to pick it up.

The warping background is making me feel kinda queasy.

The Neverglades One.

Colours! Wow! This place actually sort of looks like a place!

I've gotta wonder how it is that Squeak and I keep getting separated. We're both in the sub in the Lagoon levels, but in the actual game we always start off miles apart.

That rocket there looks interesting. But it's not really. It eats my gems and gives me points and that's it.

Hey Squeak, what's that you've found? A gumball machine?

He sure seems eager; this is the first time I've seen Squeak enthusiastic about anything! How could I say no!

Alright, how do I use this thing? Three coins gets me a delicious sweetie ball. A nifty kick into the air and Squeak gulps it right down!

What amazing reward can I expect from my partner in crime?

No, Squeak. No.

Oh, he was offering to let me jump on his back! Together we can run faster, jump higher and blow bubbles! Squeak's a bonafide Yoshi rip-off!

Shame the music didn't change to match.

And pressing down-fire (the 'WAIT HERE' command) makes Bubble dismount and we lose all the new powers permanently. That was fun while it lasted.

Squeak's dense bonce makes a great platform, if you can get him in the exact place you need him.

It sure would be convenient if another player could plug another joystick into the other joystick port and control Squeak directly...

This level was rather short, but it was nice to finally be rid of those Stardust Caverns.

Stardust Caverns Three. Damn it. There's no reason behind these level theme choices! Can't we stick to one type of level, fight a boss, and move on? Please?

Crikey. The water on this level's rising fast. In ten seconds, it's risen about a Bubble's-worth in height and it's not stopping.

Go, go, go with gusto, guys!

No matter how rushed we are, there's always time for some synchronised lift jumping from the duo.

This is a dance display we like to call "STAY PUT ON THE GOD DAMN LIFT, YOU BLUE ASS.".

After carefully placing Squeak on the lift, Bubble has to make his own way to a switch at the top of the level, jumping back and forth across the lift's path.

I misjudged when the baseball duck would turn around and got one of my own magic stars smack in the face. All Squeak can do is stare blankly as I fall past, helpless.

I was thinking that maybe the characters should react more to each other's actions. Maybe Squeak could cover his eyes when Bubble gets hit or something, but I'm starting to think his blank stare is a complex series of emotions all in itself.

Down I go... past all the switches I flicked and puzzles I solved...

Blub.

The lifts aren't coming back, are they?

Game over.

"Gee I'm sorry we didn't rescue your family, Squeak. Can we still be friends?"
"Shove off, you little git."

One more go.

Stardust Caverns Four. It's another ruddy level with fast rising water. And it's HUGE.

First, we bound up to the top of the level using GUM POWER! Blast every enemy in your path, guys! There's no time to waste and we need the money!

At the top, Bubble has to dismount so he can kick Squeak around the arches to knock down this very tiny block. Once it's down, we can make the jump... almost.

We need... more GUM POWER!

I'm starting to see a flaw in my plan.

Geronimo!

We should have sorted out the exact change before doing this, really.

Kaboosh! And not a second too soon!

I don't honestly see how I could have done that any faster. That was some slick platforming and I only just made it.

Next level!

Here's a section where you have to kick Squeak and jump through his path in order to get into the right place to stop him at the other side.

This game is asking way too much of the player at once.

Let's see what this game has:

Standard platformer stuff: enemies, moving platforms. Check.

More obnoxious platformer stuff: blind jumps across gaps you can only just make. Check.

Add puzzle elements, like lifts you have to activate and timing challenges where you have to activate switches in order and quickly move from one place to another.

Then make it so that the level floods gradually as you go, so if you fall down slightly you have to recover from the fall as well as repeating any puzzles along the way. In most cases, this means you get one attempt at the level at the most.

Then add a character that you have to escort around the level and you can't control. Make it so that when he dies, you lose. Sure, he's invulnerable to enemy damage, but he's not invulnerable to drowning.

Then add a special ability that you can only gain from pre-set points. Make it so that you need to gain the ability at certain points to jump gaps, and lose it again to carry items and fit in narrow spaces. Make it so that you have to kill enemies to get coins to activate the ability. Make it so that the coins disappear if you leave them long enough, and make it so that flying enemies drop their coins over spikes or lava where you can't get at the them. Make it so that defeated enemies don't reappear when you go off-screen.

And then make it so that you can forfeit the special ability by accidentally pulling down on the joystick.

Finish it off with a finite number of lives.

The end.

This is supposed to be for kids?

Blimey.

Bubble and Squeak is fun when you're given time to experiment with your abilities safely and explore the level at your own pace. That just never happens.

If you shrunk the levels down to a few screens at most and replaced Squeak with a key, you'd get Donkey Kong GB, which is a magnificent game. If you took out the escorting, you'd get B.C. Kid. If you made it co-op and took out the rising water, you'd get Portal 2.

Play those games instead.

1 comment:

Semi-Random Game Box