Thursday, 31 August 2017

Vixen (Amiga)

Vixen Amiga title screen
Developer:Intelligent Design|Release Date:1988|Systems:C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga, DOS

This week on Super Adventures I'm writing about another obscure Amiga platformer. And I'm going to keep on doing it until you're all suitably grateful for the modern games we have now.

This one's called Vixen, unless you're in Germany, then it's known as She-Fox instead. According to Wikipedia, the reason for the change is that in German "vixen" is pronounced like wichsen, an obscene word meaning "to jerk off", and judging by the title screen I guess was a little too on the nose for them. Surely there's an actual German word for 'female fox' they could've used though?

Some people took issue with the game's cover as well due to the fact it has dancer and tabloid 'Page 3' model Corinne Russell wearing a skimpy leopard-skin bikini on it. The publisher apparently had to reissue the game with 'a less provocative cover'. Then Your Sinclair magazine went and put her on its cover and they got complaints as well. I'd show you a picture of it, but it's the same image as the title screen, except without the flesh-coloured hair and painted on clothes.

This was all happening in 1988 by the way, so the game's from the NES/Master System era, which I haven't visited in ages. It never came out for the consoles though, only home computers, and I'll be mostly playing the Amiga port. Not because I'm nostalgic for it exactly, but it is the version I remember playing as a kid... briefly.



Wow, it's not a good sign when the developers are this keen to hide their names. It's like a Magic Eye picture, except when I try to defocus my eyes all I see is mud.

This is a very Atari ST screen resolution they've used, 320x200, so I'm thinking I might know where this was ported from. The poor Amiga was always stuck with crappy ST ports back in the 80s.

Whoa, is the hero sprite rotoscoped? She definitely looks like it to me. Not bad considering this came out a year before Prince of Persia (but four years after its pioneering predecessor Karateka). That puts it two years after Castlevania if you're wondering which hero was wielding a whip first.

Two more things I've spotted: the background has a crazy two-colour gradient on it that I don't remember ever seeing elsewhere and it's got dinosaurs up on the HUD! So retro.

These enemies seem to be infinite and my timer's ticking down, so I started heading right and found a ball hanging from a chain, held by a... thing. I decided to whip the ball and it revealed this giant severed digitised fox head! Better than spiders I guess.

There's no way I could resist acquiring such treasure (mostly because it's in the way) so I jumped into it and found that collecting these things moves my fox head meter a little more to the right. So it's not an extra life or extra time then. The gems I get for smashing V stones aren't extra time either by the way, they're just points. Though I did get a clock out of one of them once!

A few more jumps and some additional balls and that's the first stage completed!

Wait, I didn't get a kill or a gem bonus? But I killed a whole bunch of creatures and collected all the gems on the level! How is 'all of them' not enough for a bonus? Was I supposed to collect them in order of colour or something?

I got a brief break from the theme music here while the game counted up all the nothing I've earned, but now it's started up again from the beginning for level 2. The funny thing is, the track's like four minutes long but you only ever get to hear the first minute or two of it unless you pause the game.

Here, have a YouTube link to listen to as you read: Vixen theme (Amiga).

Damn, death by mid-air whipping.

Now I know that using the whip in the air cancels my momentum, so I have to make sure I've got a safe place to land before take-off. I still don't know how I'm expected to smash that red V stone on the left though. If I'm too close to a target my attack just goes right through it.

I love the cute little dinosaur elephant on tank tracks by the way. The enemies might be lacking the rotoscoped animation of the hero, but they've got their own, uh, charm.

I tried not whipping mid-jump this time and that didn't work out for me either. Turns out that these creatures can all kill a person with a single touch, which isn't good for me as I only started with 10 lives/hit-points and the game's not exactly throwing them at me.

By the way, I didn't lower the frame rate to make my GIFs smaller or whatever, the game really is this slow. It almost works in its favour though as it makes it more... tactical. I've got time to plan how I want to screw up the next jump.

I filled the severed fox head meter and earned myself a bonus cave! Of course, I must first transform into a fox before entering the bonus level, as that's just how things are done around here.

According to manual, this all takes place on the world of Granath in a parallel universe many eons away and our hero, Vixen, is the last surviving human. She was found as a child by wily foxes who raised her and bestowed upon her the magic of the Fox Sages. These sages must really know their shit, seeing as she can transform her clothes and whip as well.

Sadly turning into a fox only happens in bonus caves and doesn't seem to give her any advantage in combat whatsoever, making it entirely irrelevant for gameplay. Though it likely helps make family reunions less awkward at least.

The bonus level has new music! I'm finally free from having to listen to the Vixen theme tune! I'm already starting to miss it though.

Here my goal is to run into the V stones to smash them and then press the button to claim the gems within. This is entirely different to the regular stages, where I had to press the button to smash the stones and then run into the gems to collect them. Well plus there's no enemies.

Unfortunately, there are still holes all over the floor, and I went and threw my fox into one of them by accident. This cost me the special bonus gem I'd collected, but not one of my precious lives thankfully.

Now I'm back to the original bullshit (and the original music). I'm really not a big fan of having to press up on the joystick to jump, especially when it doesn't bloody work.

Though I'm 90% sure that walking off the platform was actually my fault that time. Well, 80%.

Okay, that really was entirely my fault this time.

What I should've done here is taken a step backwards to take another shot at the two green bug... things. What I should've have done is run straight into them to get the tiny fox head. It was just so enticing; I was blinded by an all-consuming need to possess it.

It turned out to be an extra life by the way.

Damn, don't you hate it when you find yourself up against an unstoppable whip-proof dinosaur? Five times I whipped that one on the right and he still kept coming. It's a bit of a problem when they're coming from both sides and I can't jump over them.

It doesn't help that I'm finding myself whipping in the wrong direction sometimes. The hero's sprite faces forward towards the camera when she's not moving, so I can't tell which way she'll attack when I press the whip button.

Damn, game over'd by a pixel-perfect jump.

I've learned that taking a running leap isn't the best way to clear wide gaps. It's better to walk up to the edge, stop, and then jump from there. I guess I just wasn't close enough to the edge this time.

I've also learned that I've got no continues, but that's fine as I didn't much want to continue anyway. It's not like level 5 looks any different from level 1; it's all creepy jungle, all the time.

Well, except for when I'm in a cave.

I started again because... because I don't even know why, and I've managed to get a super-whip from the bonus cave this time! I've read that this thing is powerful enough to kill even the toughest dinosaur dead with a single hit, so I'll be able to sort out anything that comes after me now. Assuming I can reach the end of the cave alive.

Oh, I've also learned that the gem bonus it gives me at the end of each level depends on how many bonus level bonus gems I've got in my gem box. If Vixen dies she drops the super-whip and all her special gems, so it's basically a bonus for making it through a stage without dying.

Balls... I went and lost the super-whip and all my special gems! Man, I really hate the jumping in this sometimes.

Oh shit, I just learned that I can hold the whip button down! This is going to make things so much easier. I'll be able to turn around without accidentally throwing her down a hole to her death for one thing. Still gonna end up doing it though.

I got up to level 8 before running out of lives this time, not that you can tell by looking at the screen. It's got me starting to wonder what Vixen's actually doing here. Is she heading to a spaceship or a death ray or something, or is her plan to just carry on walking to the right until she's killed every living dinosaur on this world, like a one-woman extinction event?

Actually, I don't really care. I'm done with the game now and I don't see any reason why I'd ever have to play or think about it again. I'm finally free!

Oh wait, I should probably see what the other versions are like on other computers. So I only have to play it five more times and then I'll finally be free.


MEANWHILE, ON OTHER MACHINES...


Atari ST
The Atari ST version is basically identical to the Amiga game as far as I can tell, with the same slow gameplay, same music, same graphics... wait, hang on, have those Amiga screenshots always been that dark? Wow, I don't know what happened there. Well there you go, the Atari version is the Amiga version, except in daylight.

MS-DOS
The PC version, on the other hand, takes place in pitch black darkness. Also the key layout it gave me to use was 'A' 'Z' 'N' 'M' and 'space', and I couldn't get the music working. On the plus side, it runs pretty fast. In fact, I had to change my DOSbox settings to put the cycles way way down to make it slow enough to be playable. So it's the same as the Amiga game, except faster and worse.

Commodore 64
If the 16-bit systems struggle with the game you can imagine how it runs on 8-bit computers. Yep, that's right, it runs like a dream. The C64 version of the game is far slicker than the Atari and Amiga versions, it still has the in-game music, and I even managed to jump over a couple of the enemies somehow. On the downside, the character animation is noticeably worse and the extra speed only reveals how terrible the gameplay really is.

Here, have a YouTube link to the C64 version of the theme tune for comparison, seeing as that's the best part of the game.

ZX Spectrum
The ZX Spectrum version is all neon colours as you'd expect but it's comparable in speed to the C64 game and it has the good character animation. There's no in-game music this time, but it absolutely nails the theme on the title screen, to my great surprise (YouTube link). In fact, it sounds just like the Atari ST version, mostly because the 128K Spectrum has basically the same sound chip. 48K owners are apparently stuck listening to silence though.

Amstrad CPC
And finally, there's the Amstrad CPC version. It runs kinda slow, looks bad and has no in-game music. You'd be better off with the Speccy or C64 versions in my opinion.

Can I stop playing this bloody game now?


CONCLUSION

Alright, Vixen is an incredibly simple and repetitive game and it's not very good. Plus it doesn't help that the Amiga game is like a bad port of a bad Atari ST port of a Commodore 64 game (which is also bad). You get swarmed from both sides by weird dinosaur creatures, you crouch down and whip them, you jump over holes, that's the whole game. 24 identical levels of that, then it loops, presumably forever.

It does have a strange appeal to me though, possibly because it's so painfully slow and simple; you can get into it instantly with no practice or tutorial to whip infinite dinosaurs for 20 minutes and then quit without feeling like you've left something unfinished. In fact, it was any slower it'd be Shitty Platformer: Tactics, where you'd get to plan out every whip-strike and jump, and then watch as it all falls apart when an enemy walks in from off screen to stand right where you're about to land.

While I'm saying nice things about it, I should mention that the timer was never an issue; I always had more than enough time to finish each stage, though sadly never enough to get past the first couple of minutes of the songIt's not the most amazing video game theme to come out of the 80s, but it's pretty catchy and memorable, and the game can't help sabotaging this one thing it's got going for it by only playing the first half and continually interrupting one of the sound channels with its sound effects.

My final verdict is: someone with more nostalgia for it than me could probably find some fun in the game, but there are 40,000 or so better games you should play first.


I'm going easy on you with the next game clue this time. I feel like you deserve a break.

The comments box isn't just for game identification though as you can also share your opinions on Vixen or even my site!

9 comments:

  1. Hey, don't knock platformer: tactics games. Back when we were kids, my friends and I had a good time with playing Mortal Kombat as a beat-em-up: tactics game, because the computer we ran it on was so slow you could watch an uppercut unfold.

    Aaaand now I'm fired up about the idea. Majesty 1 is a rpg simulator that's full of win. Crypt of the NecroDancer did well by taking roguelikes, where players take minutes to plan important moves, and reducing that time to about 0.8 seconds. Hellion 7DRL is alright as a shoot-em-up turn-based-strategy. The Finnish Areena gladiator manager games were a bit before my time.

    Never could get into Football Manager, though.

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    Replies
    1. I wasn't knocking platformer: tactics games! Just Vixen. In fact I've just learned that Ronin has a demo so maybe I'll give that a go.

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    2. #¤%&, those things are real? Thanks for the heads-up.

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  2. Correct me if i'm wrong, but it seems that the "obscure" label is only a complimemt for music bands.

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    Replies
    1. Well it's definitely not a compliment in this case. The game earned notoriety and then threw it away by being entirely forgettable.

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  3. I don't think I've ever seen a more cheerful and excited drowning animation in a game. Vixen seems to love it!

    That bit where Vixen turns into a fox reminds me a bit of Foxx Fights Back. I don't think you've done that one yet; you could add it to the unofficial Fox Game Collection you've built up.

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  4. Well it feels like such a missed opportunity.
    Either make a game about a woman lost in an alien planet, or about a cavewoman fighting dinosaurs, or about a woman who turns into a literal vixen. Mixing up all of these ideas together just can't set up a decent atmosphere.

    Or, at least, don't make the cool shapeshifting be only a bonus stage irrelevant to the rest of the game!

    A shame, because I feel that as a kid I would have loved this game.

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