Monday, 8 May 2017

Wolfchild (Amiga)

Developer:Core Design|Release:1992|Systems:Amiga, Atari ST, Mega Drive, Sega CD, SNES, Master System, Game Gear

This week on Super Adventures I'm playing an Amiga platformer about a werewolf!

Wolfchild is one of those games Core Design came up in their pre-Tomb Raider era when the staff were still allowed to have ideas. I'm sure I must have played this before but it couldn't have been for long and it didn't leave much of an impression. I've been searching through the corner of my brain reserved for Amiga games and all I've dug up are some fuzzy screenshots of a wolf man on a boat... with jet engines.

One thing I know about it is that it's supposed to be a bit like Switchblade II (maybe because it was designed by Switchblade creator Simon Phipps), but that doesn't help me much as I don't remember playing that either. I do remember playing another Core Design title by Simon Phipps though... that bastard of a game Rick Dangerous. But Wolfchild was made in a more modern era, coming out halfway between Rick Dangerous and Tomb Raider, so I'm hopeful that he'd gotten bored of dart traps by then.



Hey it has a proper intro! I'm surprised.

This is what the image looks like on screen, but it's not what's being outputted by the system exactly, at it seems to be flickering between two gradients to give the appearance of more shades. So I blended two frames together to make it look right.

Though what it really needs to look right is a full moon behind the sinister mountaintop facility, which is what you get on the Sega CD version of the intro.

Cut to inside, where some bloke is sitting alone in the dark being miserable in front of a wall full of TVs showing static. I'd be sad too if I had the lab to myself all night and couldn't get the big screen working.

This looks like it's digitized art rather than something that's been hand pixelled. I was tempted to make it a GIF so that you could see the static flickering, but then it occurred to me that no one would ever want to see that.

Ah there's some proper pixel art for you, showing Vincent from that 80s Beauty and the Beast series taking in the shocking news about Ken from Street Fighter. Actually I get the feeling that the guy on TV is actually our hero in disguise. I could barely recognise him with his shirt on.

There's no subtitles but I don't need them as the newsreader's actually talking out of my speakers! Could this be the first Amiga game with full voice acting? I guess it's possible as long as there's no more dialogue after this, as I bet one line is all they could fit on their floppy disks.
"Olympic athlete Saul Morrow has refused to comment on the kidnapping of his scientist father Kal."
Ah, so that's why he's moping around right now. It also explains how he got his own mountaintop Bat Cave... kind of.

Whoa, sudden anime face.

He doesn't look much Ken any more now that I can see his full eyebrows, though he's still got some serious mullet going on. Then again even Superman had a mullet in 1992.

There's even better anime faces on the Sega CD version as it extends the news clip to go into more detail and give newsreader Max Schneider a close up.

Sega CD
He looks absolutely gutted by that photo they've got of him.

Though the Sega CD intro gives him more reasons to be sad as it turns out that not only was his dad kidnapped, but his mother and older brother were killed! The Chimera terrorist organisation led by Karl Draxx were behind the abduction, so Kal was kidnapped by Karl and now Saul has to go and rescue him. They should've called the news anchor Mal just to keep the pattern going.

Wow, Saul's running a Core System 1200 here. That must have twice the MHz as my Amiga 500.

A mere Olympic athlete has no hope of taking on Chimera's chimeras, so he has to become someone else, something else. He's going to let the computer diddle with his DNA and turn him into a super-human. Man plus.

He decides to activate Project Wolfchild, but it seems like had a few options here as he skips past Project Falcon, Project Octosapien and Project Mandrake. At first I thought he was an idiot for choosing to be a wolf when he could've been a dragon, but then I realised that drake has more than one meaning and he wouldn't have done so well if it'd turned him into Howard the Duck. Or if it'd turned him into an actual mandrake plant.

Nice work Saul, you successfully turned yourself into a werewolf and then exploded.

This transformation sequence goes on forever in game so I screwed with the timing. I also painted out the blue background to keep the file size down so I've really ruined this animation. I didn't paint out his nipples though, that one's not my fault.

Sega CD
The Sega CD has a different transformation animation but this is the most important part of it. It actually has a proper computer outline morph!

I also checked out the Atari ST port's intro and it's basically identical to the Amiga game. It even has the newsreader voice clip, though the sound hardware isn't up to reproducing the music properly so it's got an 8-bit sounding chiptune in its place.


INSERT DISK TWO.


Ah, there's that full moon I wanted.

Shame that the menu music isn't anything special and neither are my options. 'Music On/Off' is all it's given me and there's no sign that it has passwords or saves. They made sure to put a high score counter in though, so that was apparently the priority. Though those probably aren't saved either.

The Atari ST's menu is the same except instead of 'Music On/Off' it's 'Music/Sound FX'. Very retro.

SNES
The SNES version on the other hand has a music player! Though it's kind of strange to have a track called 'Intro' when as far I can tell it doesn't have one. None of the console ports do, aside from the Sega CD version. It does have a difficulty select though, which the Mega Drive version one-ups by also letting you choose how many lives you start with. The Master System and Game Gear versions trade all these options for an 'enter password' screen.

Hey I recognise this picture now, it's seems like it's been nicked from the Sega CD intro, during the wolf transformation. Though they've taken away the cross he was standing in front of and replaced it with the full moon.


STAGE 1: WOLFSHIP


Doing well so far. I've only been on this ship for three seconds and I've already got Saul's foot blown off.

Wait, hang on, why isn't he a werewolf any more? What was the point of going through that epic transformation sequence if he was just going to turn back when he went through the teleporter?

Straight away I'm faced with the fact that these enemies don't much want me on their airship and they're firing lasers at me to encourage me to leave/die.

Fortunately all their guns are horizontally locked, so what I've been doing is baiting them into taking a shot, then ducking to let it sail harmlessly over my head. Then while they're reloading I close the distance and send them airborne with a single rapid-fire punch each. As soon as they die they lose all their mass and float away in the breeze. Weird thing is, it doesn't seem like running right into them like this hurts me at all.

I love these shiny Amiga-style graphics by the way. Even the clouds look kind of metallic.

Plus that walk-cycle of his is in that middle ground between awesome and hilarious (those tiny feet aren't helping). Though I doubt I could run any better with giant metal rings under my armpits and shiny skin-tight leather trousers on. I'm not even sure what's keeping those rings on, are they bolted through his shoulders or something?

Oh, I just spotted a rod running across his back, so that explains things. I mean it explains why they stay on; nothing's going to explain why anyone thought it was a good look in the first place.

I kept walking along the deck but I've hit a dead end, containing a box with a ball sitting on it. So I collected the ball and for 200 points, then hit the box and got 400 points! I was kind of hoping for health, or nunchucks, or anything even slightly useful to me.

In a sensible 3D would I'd be able to walk around this tower, enter a door or drop into a hatch, but instead it seems that I'll have to jump up onto the ring around the masts (being careful to duck under enemy lasers as I go.

I love that this high-tech jet propelled flying ship actually has masts. No sails though.

Oh I see how this works now! I need to get a health pick up and get my health past a certain level to pull an Altered Beast and transform into my wolf form. It's kind of like Mario with his mushrooms or fire flowers, except without the ability to throw fireballs out of my hands.

I like how the sliding animation continues for a moment during the transformation. I guess it makes sense that the torso and the legs would be two separate sprites if only his top half is changed. Plus this means that his legs can be used for all the enemies as well.

Mega Drive/Genesis
I can shoot fireballs out of my hands! It's like getting the sword beam in Zelda while your health's maxed out. Shame that I can only have one energy blast flying across the screen at once.

Well this changes everything. I've been trying to bait enemies into taking a shot and missing to give me a window to get into punching range, but now I can just shoot the bastards with my wolf-blasts. It seems like this is the only advantage to being in wolf form, though at least I get an advantage. These poor bird chimeras on the other hand don't have energy blasts or even wings. They have to use jetpacks to get around... and their jetpacks don't work.

This is the Mega Drive/Genesis version you're looking at here, and so far the main differences I've noticed are that the sky's a bit more purple, the graphics have a bit more detail, it's running a bit faster and the music's sounds like it's coming from a Mega Drive. Oh plus I have a button to jump so I don't have to press up on the joystick. Otherwise this is the same game so far, with the same level layout and enemies.

SNES
Here's a shot of the SNES version from a little further up the masts, looking incredibly similar (except with more clouds and colours). This isn't exactly what you want though as SNES graphics end up horizontally stretched by the time they reach the TV screen. Sometimes when you compare a SNES and Mega Drive game the SNES sprites are drawn thinner to compensate for this, but that's not the case here. So the end result is Wide Saul.

Mega Drive on the left, SNES on the right.

When I reached the last of the masts I found that I'd ran out of places to go and discovered a problem with the game. The camera's been very well behaved so far but I can't pull it downwards by crouching so I'm in a blind jump situation here.

So I took a small step of faith and fell all the way back down to where I punched that box earlier. At least I know I don't have falling damage.

This time I took a proper leap off the mast and ended up nearly getting my fur singed. Who puts a jet engine directly in front of another part of the ship?

Fortunately the jets keep alternating between low and full burn, giving me chances to slip by. Though I nearly slipped right down the ramp, straight through the jet exhaust.

I landed on a crate below and destroyed it, so it turns out that's another power I have in my werewolf form. As I regular man I could've never hoped to have crushed that box. It was just a health pick up though and I'm at full health already (despite the half-empty health bar up there).

Dammit, I took a step forward from the crushed crate and got hit by a surprise exploding barrel! It's good to know that I can lose a hit point and still keep my wolf power though.

I just noticed something though: he doesn't flash when he's hit. Seems like I don't have any post-hit invulnerability, though there's always a second or two between enemy attacks so it's hard to know.

I've also noticed that this Donkey Kong wannabe is taking a few wolf-blasts to kill. I'm starting to suspect that he might be one of them mid-bosses.

Oh this guy immediately after him must be the mid-boss!

He's got a simple routine where he extends his snake turret to full height, fires a shot, moves down a bit, fires a shot, moves to the bottom, fires a shot and so on, so I could just take him down with wolf-blasts from a distance. Unfortunately that barrel-throwing asshole hurt me enough to turn me back human so now I'm stuck with punches.

Though punches are way faster and I can walk right into him without getting hurt, so this is actually working out better this way. You can see him harmlessly pushing me back in the screenshot.


MEANWHILE, ON THE MASTER SYSTEM.


Master System
Something's a little different about the Master System port but I can't quite put my finger on what.

It's no big shock that the 8-bit version is a different experience, but I'm surprised at how little they've changed. The level layout's basically identical, the graphics are very similar, the enemies are the same and even this boss has the same behaviour, despite his simplified look.

The main difference is that I'm moving around like an astronaut on the moon, with slow bouncy jumps. Everything seems to happen in slow motion, which doesn't make shooting this guy as the wolf any more bearable. 36 seconds it took to kill him from a distance... except I didn't because he turned me back at the last moment and I ran up and finished him off with a punch. A really weedy Master System punch with no range.

Game Gear
The Game Gear game is also slow and floaty, with crap punches. That's no big shock though, as a lot of the Master System ports I've come across have been the Game Gear game with the camera pulled back a bit. The two systems are basically identical on a hardware level aside from the Game Gear having a smaller screen and more colours.

But in this case they've gone crazy and given the Game Gear version different level design! It's like an alternate universe Wolfchild or an expansion.

Another boss? All I've done in this game is climb some masts and then fight mid-bosses.

Though the music change and the checkpoint pick-up makes me think that this guy's a real deal level boss. It's so weird to collect a restart point like it's a power up. I'm glad I did though as I didn't last long against this bird creature with the health I had left after turret snake guy.

Hey I just noticed that he's got the same shoulder rings that I have! If I'm Project Wolfchild does that mean that he's Birdchild? Well no he's probably more likely to be Project Falcon, but I'm still going to call him Birdchild. Seems like he got the better deal though as no matter how much I punch him he won't turn back human and quit shooting energy blasts at me.

SNES
Different versions have a slightly different looking bird boss, but the SNES port goes the extra mile and uses its sprite scaling hardware to have Birdchild swoop over and throw a grenade at the start of the fight. Show off.

I figured out the technique for beating Birdchild in the end though: stand behind him, punch him, punch him again, keep punching him. After a few seconds of this he exploded, setting fire to the bowsprit I was standing on and plunging me into the forest below.

It was a nice effect, but a really abrupt end to the level. I wasn't expecting the game to have a Sonic the Hedgehog-style score screen afterwards and then hand me a trophy, but it would've been nice to have a bit more 'YOU'VE COMPLETED STAGE ONE!' on screen to encourage me to pause for a second and reflect on the fact that I just kicked a boss's ass. Instead it might as well be saying 'uhuh, carry on then'.

SNES
The console versions do have this map between levels, which helps. It also shows that the airship's brought me to the Chimera terrorist group's secret island lair, so I'm actually exactly where I need to be and walking forwards through a series of levels will take me straight to Saul's kidnapped father! I'm really trying to think of an 'Island of Dr. Morrow/Moreau' joke right now but I've got nothing.

Also if I'd known that the next level was below me the whole time I'd have thrown myself off the airship at the start!


STAGE 2: DENSE JUNGLE


I knew they couldn't resist putting in a forest level for long.

Now I'm making my way through a maze of branches, using holes in the tree trunks to cross back and forth across the level. It's taking me all over the place so it's hard to know when I'm going the right way and when I'm heading down an alternate path that's going to take me to a couple of 200 point balls and maybe an EXTRA letter. The BONUS and EXTRA letters have been borrowed from Switchblade which borrowed them from Bubble Bobble and they don't quite fit in so well at this point. Plus I doubt I'll ever find a full set at this rate.

If you're wondering why the trees look so weird, that's because this is the Chimera's secret island and they couldn't resist screwing with their DNA. So now it's not just animal-head folks with guns I have to worry about, as there's evil plants out to get me too. You can see a couple of them in the screenshot, like the one to my left and the one above me to the right. Or maybe you can't see them, they're kind of subtle, bordering on invisible.

Master System
The different console versions (Game Gear aside) have been really similar to the Amiga game so far, but on stage two the Sega CD has decided to do its own thing and changed the level design. It still looks a lot like that screenshot of the Amiga game I just showed though, so here's a picture of the Master System game instead.

On most versions the second level began with a long drop that left me near some hovering platforms. If I made it onto the platforms that was awesome, I could skip half the level provided I wasn't knocked off by hover bots. But there was a permanent max health upgrade sitting underneath, tempting me to take the long way around, so here I am getting shot at by enemies and falling onto spikes with one extra notch on my health bar.

These bastards have upped their game since the last levels as now some of them can fire diagonally and others fire arcing shots, which makes it a lot trickier to get my fists to connect with them safely. It wasn't so bad when I still had my wolf-blasts... except it kind of was, that's why I lost them. I could really do with a health pick up right about now. Or any time really.

I made it back to the hovering platforms and rode them all the way to a full health power up! Shame the things are so damn rare. I've got 12 hit points now but I can only lose 4 before I'm de-powered again, and on the rare occasion that I actually find another health pick up it usually only gives me one or two hit points. Like this one here would've done, before it vanishes forever.

The enemies are starting to take more hits now, which is a bit annoying. That lizard guy took four of them! The fools made the mistake of getting close to me though, which meant less time before I got to fire off another wolf-blast.

There's different weapon types to collect by the way, though they haven't made a huge difference to anything. Just means I get a slightly different projectile for a bit until the ammo runs out.

After a lot of wandering around lost I've managed to throw away another life! But after that I managed to find the stage two boss who seems to be a giant Chimera chameleon who's too huge to even move. He just goes through a routine of teleporting from platform to platform, spitting something at me each time. He's absolutely predictable and it's incredibly easy to dodge his shots... but I'm impatient and I lost my wolf-blasts so I'm doing my standard technique of running straight up to him and tapping the punch button, hoping that I've got enough HP to outlast him.

It didn't work out.

I've discovered that I've got a grenade super-move though! Maybe next time through I'll figure out what I did to activate it. Though there won't be a next time as I've just got a Game Over and there's no continues. Nice text though.

The Mega Drive and SNES ports do have continues, but I didn't end up needing them here as the boss is actually piss easy if you know the trick. The arena layout changes a bit for the different versions, but I found a spot where his bullets couldn't hit me and then just stayed there, jumping up and hitting him when he teleported over. It took forever to kill him, but I got him in the end and it's not like there's a time limit.


STAGE 3: ANCIENT TEMPLE


Atari ST
And then stage three turned out to be a bug temple, full of traps and other bullshit (and bugs). Whenever I reach a section all bugged up like this I have to slow way down as it's usually rigged to drop bugs on my head, or have a bug shoot up out of the ground and spit shit at me, and there's no way to see it coming. Oh plus there's dart traps hidden in the walls and barrels rolling in from off screen, so the thing's turning into a bloody memory test.

What you're looking at here is the Atari ST version, though it may as well be the Amiga game as they're so similar. The Atari version runs slower, the music's not as good and the parallax backgrounds have been simplified, so I wouldn't recommend it, but it's still Wolfchild.

Mega Drive/Genesis
These traps aren't so bad, because I can actually see the bloody things! Though it would've been nice if the game could've given me a checkpoint or a health pick-up before sending me down a hallway filled with sawblades sticking out of the ground. Actually I can't be sure it didn't, as sometimes power ups will phase into existence while I'm punching thin air. So there's a thing I'm being encouraged to do. Plus I have to run into every wall in case it's a secret passage; seems like a 1 in 4 chance at this point.

I think I'm ready to come to a decision about whether I like this game or not, and I... actually do. Well I like the bit where I get to jump around as a wolfman at least. Shame about the level design and the enemies. I have a feeling that if they'd just made it entirely different I would've liked it a lot more, but I guess there's no way of knowing.

SNES
Whoa, the SNES version of stage three is entirely different and I'm liking it a lot more! It's still a bug temple but there's far fewer invisible threats and more checkpoints. They're still stingy with the bonus letters though, plus this is a cruel place to put a health extension! If I jump up there to get it I'm going to end up falling on the bug spikes.

Oh I can walk through spikes by the way. Took me way too long to figure that out, I lost a lot of hit points I didn't have to.


STAGE 4: CHIMERA BASE


SNES
I'm inside the Chimera base already so this game seems fairly short. That's fine with me though, as it means I can stop playing soon.

This stage has been pretty decent so far though really. It started off with me ascending on an elevator while spiky metal beams rained down to from the other direction, so that was different. Also kind of weird now that I think about it.

But now I'm back to fighting enemies again. It's not so bad when they're in front of me, but when I'm surrounded by them and they're firing shots in all directions I really struggle to get through the crossfire to reach a place I can hit them from. Next time I'm just going to drop a grenade and wipe the bastards out in one go, even though it'll mean having less to use in the next boss fight.


STAGE 5: INNER CORE


SNES
I've reached the centre of Draxx's sinister lair! And I don't much like it.

Things started going wrong for me right from the start when I lost my final life and used my first continue. I reappeared in human form with all my extra health points confiscated, so I quickly burned through a second set of lives, and another continue. And so on.

Now I'm down to zero lives and my continues have run dry so these five hit points are all I've got left. But I'm so close to the end now! I need to at least last long enough for the final boss to kick my ass.

SNES
Draxx is a werewolf too! Well his second form is at least. I'm a couple of punches away from beating the game here, if I just can avoid losing my final hit point.

Like that was ever going to happen. Still at least Kal's podium prison cell gave him a good view of his latest chimera project (Project Wolfadult?) wiping the floor with his only surviving son. I'd call that a successful test.

I got kicked back to the title screen but I could restart from the beginning on easy mode and give it another try; it'd probably only take me an hour to get back here. But nah.


CONCLUSION

Wolfchild feels like an Amiga game that wished really hard to become a real console platformer. It's not a particularly great one, but it looks good, it's slick, it's got solid controls and even the camera behaves itself (aside from the occasional blind jump issue); they've got the basics down and it's fun to jump around on platforms as a werewolf.

The problem I had is that the challenges it kept putting in my way tended to make it harder for me to find the joy in it. It started off all right, but then the enemies learned to fire diagonally and started to soak up damage, the level designer thought it'd be funny to add collapsing platforms over spikes, the ground got covered in nearly invisible plant traps and entirely invisible bug traps, crap started falling from the ceiling without warning and I became acutely aware that the game was being stingy with the checkpoints.

It's possible to be done with the whole game in less than an hour if you're not making mistakes, so it goes out of its way to make sure that you do. It becomes a memory test where you run through stages (or stage three at least) over and over and practice until you know what traps are coming... and then you run out of lives. It didn't help that I never once got all those EXTRA letters lit up, even when I got lost and ended up roaming into every corner of a level. It also likes to dole out hit points in 1 or 2 point containers, which isn't a big help when you start with a 12 hit point bar and you need 9 hit points to turn into a werewolf and get ranged attacks. Take a couple of hits and life gets much harder for you.

None of the versions give you saves, most ports don't have passwords, and finding out that the Amiga game doesn't even have continues was a bit of a surprise. Though finding out that the Mega Drive game does have them was even worse as it meant playing that bloody third stage again from the start! Fortunately the SNES version feels like it's been redesigned in response to criticism, so I didn't resent being allowed to restart in it. The lower resolution isn't doing it any favours and it doesn't have the intro, but from my limited experience with the different ports I think that overall the Super Nintendo wins this time.

I'm not sure I'd recommend Wolfchild to anyone, but I wouldn't want to talk you out of playing it either, if you think it looks interesting. It's not a bad game, in many ways it's above average, and I've noticed a lot of people speaking of it fondly. Plus I nearly beat the damn thing so I suppose I have to give it a Not Crap badge (for the SNES version at least.)



Here's a rare glimpse behind the scenes for you: I'm an idiot who accidentally wiped this post when I'd gotten halfway through writing up the conclusion. I was just a couple of paragraphs away from finishing it off and clicking 'Publish', it was basically done! So if I've come across as bitter and frustrated in my writing after having to repeat the same thing over again due to bad software design and my own stupid mistakes... then good. That means I've managed to replicate the tone of my original deleted Wolfchild write up pretty well.

Comments are welcome if you've got anything to say about the game, my writing or my website etc. I'll try not to accidentally wipe them as well.

12 comments:

  1. This game sort of reminds me of Bio Force Ape for some reason.

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  2. I loved the master system version! it was one of the few games that I played to the end when I was a kid XD

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  3. Why would you not choose Project Octosapien? Ken-Saul is an idiot.

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    Replies
    1. I dunno man, I think I ran into an Octosapien on stage 4: http://bit.ly/2quxVqc.

      It was rubbish.

      Delete
  4. Yeah, the forest level is a huge jump in difficulty, but if you can get past all the invisible ground traps it goes back to decent.
    And I always thought Saul looked more like Prince Adam, but to each his own.

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  5. I recommend "Star Wars - The Force Unleashed" for your next post. On any platform you want

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    1. I'll add it to my epic requests list but I wouldn't hold your breath.

      You will be getting a different Star Wars game soon though and I guess you probably already know when and why.

      Delete
    2. A different Star Wars game?! I'm intrigued. If you mean the release of "The last Jedi", then I'm eager to see what game you will choose.

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    3. The Last Jedi's coming out in December so you'd have to wait 7 months if I was timing it to tie in with that (and the game I've picked is really not worth waiting for).

      But the Star Wars franchise's 40th anniversary is coming up in just over a week so I figured I'd get my mystery game played and written up by then. With any luck.

      Delete
  6. I've noticed that you have never featured an Amstrad 6128 game on your site. In that case may I suggest "Star War Droids". I'm sure you will "love" this game...

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    Replies
    1. Whoa, I don't think I've ever heard of that one. It must be so bad that even the 'Every Star Wars Game Ever' lists skip it. Or maybe I just forgot.

      Delete

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