Monday, 17 December 2012

Superfrog (Amiga)

Superfrog title screen
Today I'm taking a look at classic Amiga platformer Superfrog, made by classic Amiga developer Team17. You may remember them from such games as Worms, Worms United, Worms 2, Worms Armageddon, Worms World Party, Worms 3D, Worms Blast, Worms Forts, Worms 4: Mayhem, Worms: Open Warfare, Worms: Open Warfare 2, Worms: A Space Oddity, Worms 2: Armageddon, Worms Reloaded, Worms: Battle Islands, Worms: Ultimate Mayhem, Worms: Revolution...

I have to admit, this isn't my first attempt at the game, as I used to play this when I was young. But I was even worse at games back then than I am now, so I probably didn't even make it past the first world.

I've always loved this version of the Team17 logo. It looks like an actual piece of artwork that someone could be proud of making, rather than just a stylish design. It's actually twice the resolution of the rest of the game too, for maximum lens flare definition.

The tale begins with a happy prince and his beautiful bride to be, once upon a time in the Magic Kingdom (no, not that Magic Kingdom). In fact this place is so damn magical that the trees stare at you while Greensleeves plays in the background, and the plants just won't stop dancing. I honestly don't know how they can stand it.

This intro was created by a cartoonist called Eric W. Schwartz who was known for making a lot of Tex Avery inspired animations on his Amiga, which you could get on floppy disk. I checked some out on youtube out of curiosity, and... well, the guy sure liked drawing squirrel girls.

Meanwhile, the jealous miserable hateful old witch is sick of having nothing to watch but these two dancing around the forest being happy all the time. In fact she hates happiness so damn much she's actually stuck up a 'no smiling' poster on her wall. Or maybe it's a 'no emoticons' poster... whatever, she turns off the crystal ball and decides to fly off and do something about it.

Whoa, she just tore one of those sentient smiling trees right out of the ground and crushed them with it. The poor dancing flowers too!

And now she's captured the princess to be and tied her up in a... uh, I can't actually tell, it looks like they forgot to finish drawing it. Anyway, she's on a roll here, so she zaps the prince as well for good measure, then flies off. You know, for someone who hates joy, she sure has a huge grin on her face right now.

The witch's parting shot turned the noble prince into a mopey frog, and now all he can do is sit around the River o' Despair, moping. Look at that poor tree, that ain't despair on his face, he knows what happened to the last tree and is terrified that he's going to be next.

But what's this, is that a bottle floating down the river?

Wow, it's a full bottle of Lucozade™! Now our hero will have the glucose energy to rescue the princess for sure! I don't think seen in-game advertising this shameless since Cool Spot. Funny how both games start with the product floating in water as trash.

The fizzy energising properties of Lucozade™ gives our hero a cape and gloves, and even cures his depression! Our hero strikes a pose and decides to head off to win back the maiden fair and get his princely form back!

Then he realises his cape isn't flapping, and glares at a guy sitting off camera reading a magazine until he switches the wind machine on. Seriously, they waited until the very end of the intro to stick in a fourth wall breaking joke.

Forest level! I'd forgotten that you actually start off as the last head on the lives bar, before falling into the level. That's a cool touch.

The game's a platformer (which you've probably noticed) and like Cool Spot (again), I've got to hunt down a certain number of tokens before it'll let me open the exit. In this case, I'm collecting gold coins. Which always looked more like lemon slices to me.

Excellent, I can confirm that jumping on enemies is a viable offensive technique, and not instant death for Superfrog. Though besides the super-jumping it doesn't seem like our hero actually has any super powers. And he's a frog, so really jumping should come equipped as standard.

That kind of crappy looking green S pick-up is actually a speed power-up, which is pretty much the last thing I want. The game's trying to trick me into playing it like Sonic the Hedgehog, but if I start racing down hills into enemies I'm just going to get my little froggy ass handed to me. 

Fuck! I bounced up on the spring, missed a ledge, then tried to land on the spring again to bounce back up. Unfortunately my aim was a little off, so when the screen scrolled down again I found myself falling onto an insta-kill spike instead. Well there's one life thrown away.

Why are there spikes all over the Magical Woods anyway? I guess the same reason why there's springs here too. And why those springs have some kind of paper or something lying on top. Because it's a MAGIC Woods and that means they can put whatever they want here.

Those damn smiling trees are back again. They're an affront to nature I tell you.

Right now I'm trying to take out these bees with my new green Spud weapon I picked up. It's a little weird to use though, because I have to hold down the fire button then aim with the joystick to point it in the right direction, and those bastards are never hovering where I can hit them. I tried it on the ground enemies too, but it was no good. Can't even jump on these hedgehogs, I'd just lose a hit-point.

Speaking of hedgehogs, I wonder how this art compares to a flashy console game like Sonic.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis/Mega Drive)
Well the trees aren't staring at me in this, so that's +1 to Sonic.

I think the biggest thing that makes Sonic come alive by comparison is the parallax scrolling. Superfrog's background is two tones of pastel blue locked to the scrolling of the foreground graphics, but this background has multiple layers of motion, and even some colour cycling water effects going on.

Super Mario World (SNES)
In fact I'll compare it to Mario too while I'm here. This actually looks very simple compared to Superfrog, and Sonic, but it shares the Sega game's bold use of colour, leaving the Amiga game looking a bit washed out and dull by comparison.

But honestly, Superfrog doesn't actually look that bad at all next to them, which surprises me a little.

And that's level one finished. Back in the day I would have immediately gone with 'collect' here so I could get to the next level, because honestly I don't give a damn about score. But recently someone told me about this...

If you choose gamble, you can win extra points in a fruit machine, with the top prize being... A LEVEL CODE. Seriously, you have to win the fruit machine after every single level if you want the level passwords. And there's no continues in this, if you want to keep playing after losing your lives, then you're going all the way back to the last level you managed to earn a code for.

But this time at least I managed to get three Lucozade™ cans in a row and earned myself a code.


A FEW LEVELS LATER.


I'm finally out of the Magic Woods, and on to World 2: The Witch's castle. Wow, he's actually going straight to the Witch's lair, I thought he'd be taking the scenic route and leaving it 'til last. Shame there's at least three worlds after this, so the princess is going to be in another castle.

You know it's just occurred to me that if you gave Superfrog a bandana he'd look identical to a Ninja Turtle.

Well, uh, okay maybe not exactly identical.

Damn this witch has a lot of fruit. Well, HAD a lot of fruit. It's my fruit now.

These are secret passages I'm jumping through right now by the way. The game's full of them, to the point where I've got into the habit of throwing myself at every wall just in case. It works well enough though, I suppose.


LATER.


I'm actually doing pretty well right now I think. I've got a nice row of lives, plenty of time, full hit-points, and my pointless score's almost into the millions. I don't really want to break my flow when I'm in the zone, but I just need to pause for a second.

Oh fuck. No... fuck no. No fuck no. FUCK!

Out of habit I'd pressed 'escape' instead of 'p'. Instant game over. It didn't even bother to ask if I was sure.

I'm missing a lot of level codes at this point, but fortunately I DO have the one for this level, though I've lost all my lives and pointless points. You want to know what's really weird? You can save the high score table to disk, but not the current game progress.

Right, I used my level code and now I'm back into the game. And I've already gotten him killed right at the start by hitting a ghost in mid air. I mean the ghost didn't kill him, but Superfrog falls like a rock when he takes damage, and right now he's over a pit of insta-kill spikes so that's the end of him.

I was like two pixels away from making it to the other side too.


LATER.


Don't you love it when you get right to the end of a corridor guarded by firebreathing wall faces and an invulnerable ghost, only to find that the door is locked and you need to go all the way back and find a lever to open it? Sigh.

I'm never going to make it to the bloody switch at this rate. I just jumped on a spring, and it fired me right up into a ghost. Which I don't think's very fair.

That wing power-up over there will let Superfrog hover a bit by flapping his cape, though it's still not much of a super power. They really should have just called this game 'Frog'. Or 'Super Lucozade'. Or 'The Frog Formally Known as Prince'.


ONE LEVEL LATER.


Hmm, another spring. How much do you want to bet there's going to be an enemy directly above it?

I didn't get the level code for this level, so I need to be insanely careful until I collect some more lives. There's no continues in this remember, so if I run out of lives I'm back to the password screen.

Anticipating an enemy hovering overhead, I pulled to the right as I bounced up off the spring. This turned out to be a BAD MOVE.

I'm getting the feeling I'm going to be seeing a lot of the level before this one.


LATER, AFTER FINALLY MAKING SOME PROGRESS.


Oh shit, the floor just gave way and dropped me down somewhere.

Wait, I know where I am! I'm right back at the fucking start of the level! Back to the spring then I guess.


A FEW RETRIES LATER.


Okay this is starting to get to me now. If you look at the red arrows, that's the trap door I fell through in the last screenshot. Now look at the white arrows showing you the path I have to travel to get all the way back up to the top.

I've lost track of how many times I've gotten this frog killed, had to replay the entire previous level, then got caught in this bloody loop again. And yeah, I do get a chance at the fruit machine each time, it just won't give me the code.


MUCH LATER.


I've done it! I got over the gap, I'm through, I'm out of here! I've... just been hit by a bat in the air.

This is why I had so much trouble with that trap door by the way. It's not that I kept screwing up a simple jump over and over, it's this bloody green slime covering the slopes. It's hard enough to jump off at the right point at the best of times, but if you get hit along the way...

... you're completely screwed. Nothing to do but watch him slide off to his doom.


To be entirely truthfully honest, I still like the game, though I might just be suffering from a mild case of nostalgia. It's not a particularly great experience, but it's likeable, it's slick, it looks good, and the music is awesome. I'm not sure why composer Allister Brimble thought it'd be a good idea to use frog samples in his songs, but I'm even more confused about how he managed to make it sound good. This game has a ridiculously catchy soundtrack, and it'll be haunting me long after I've forgotten level code fruit machines, slime ramps and floor traps.

I should probably mention that there's a PC port too, and it showed up on GOG.com recently. Though I haven't played it myself and I don't know how close it is to the Amiga version. Looks pretty identical though in screenshots.

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Semi-Random Game Box