Thursday, 18 June 2020

Brian the Lion Starring In: 'Rumble In The Jungle' (Amiga) - Guest Post

This week on Super Adventures, mecha-neko has returned to tell you a tale about a lion, called Brian.

Brian the Lion Amiga title screen
Developer:Reflections|Release Date:1994|Systems:Amiga 500, 1200, CD32

Ray and I have played more than a few mascots and almost-mascots for the Amiga, but it's time to show you the last, and best. Introducing Brian the Lion.

Hmm, that title screen doesn't give away much. Let's have a look at the box, courtesy of Mobygames.

Amiga box image from Mobygames

What a sassy feline! He's got the legs crossed and everything. His eyes have a got a bit of the old Mr. Nutz going on, and Ocean made Nutz steal them from Mr. The Hedgehog, who in turn stole them from... I don't know! I'm sure I've seen that pose somewhere before...

I'm equal parts fascinated and terrified. I think I've accidentally created the most hotly anticipated crosslegged crossover in history.

Oh, speaking of! Here's some Amiga history!

Our American readers may be surprised to learn that the Amiga series of computers were a huge success as a games machine in the UK and Europe. Many Amigas were sold in themed game bundles (external link) such as Cartoon Classics with Lemmings and Bart Vs. The Space Mutants, Screen Gems with Back to the Future and Nightbreed (yes that one), and the Batman Pack with, well, Batman.

I consider all of these to be mascots for the Amiga in a way, but it's the Amiga original characters that really ought to hold that spot: representing the Original Chip Set, you've got your Silly Putty, and G.I. Ant from the puzzle game Pushover (together with his pal Colin Curly from Quavers crisps spiralling all over the place) on The Wild, The Weird and The Wicked.

The Amiga 1200 was released in 1992 and, despite being well-equipped for Serious Work, still had its own themed packs exploding off the shelves with their own special mascots. Before Brian was born, the task of diverting parents' hard-earned from the clutches of the plumber and the hedgehog was entrusted to that universally beloved character... bloody Oscar. In the console world, Oscar was the captain of the good ship Amiga CD32 right to the very end, dancing a merry jig alongside the legendary Dangerous Streets as the burning wreckage of Commodore's dreams drifted out to sea.

Before the end however, Commodore released one last proper Amiga 1200 pack in the UK in 1994: the 32-BIT POWER Computer Combat pack!

Image from www.amiga4ever.nl

Featuring, in clockwise order from top-left:

- Wall of muscle Captain Carnage and Orcus 'The Mother of All Boss Monsters' from the port of Midway's outrageously violent arcade game Total Carnage.

- Ninja ants from the Nth dimension Zool and Zooz from Zool 2.

- And finally Brian the Lion himself, who you might notice here as being drawn completely different to how Brian looked a second ago.

Psygnosis must've told the Commodore artist to "Draw a lion!", and they replied "What do you mean 'a lion'?", and Psygnosis fired back "A lion! You know, the king of the jungle!", and Commodore replied "Okay! Fine! A lion! A king! Also, stop shouting!"

And so we got a lion that looks like he's advertising some kind of knock-off supermarket cereal that he loves so much he'd throttle a snake for just one more bowl. I wonder if he's based on a real cartoon lion? I'm afraid I don't know enough about old cartoons! If anybody recognises who Box Brian might be related to, leave a comment!

I wonder who drew this? I suspect that it was possibly a Gremlin-affiliated artist, since Zool and Zooz look like they ought to. It never occurred to me until recently, but in the pre-digital art era all illustrations like this would have been done for real first and then captured as an image for production, so this illustration must exist physically somewhere in someone's house!

Brian the Lion was released shortly before Commodore International went down the tubes. A few months after Brian and Computer Combat, the Amiga properties went through many pairs of hands, each trying to wring just a little bit more like out of the Motorola-powered system while everybody with sense leapt over to the mysterious world of the 386-powered PC with its fancy spreadsheets, working hard drives, fully-voiced cartoon rabbits and the actual not-a-clone-of-Doom Doom.

Brian only existed in the world of the Amiga: on the A500, A1200 and even a shiny CD32 version. Let's see what the Amiga's ultimate mascot looked like in action!

Here's the title screen, full of text sliding in every which way, rendered completely unreadable by a giant, bright blue BRIAN pulsing and twisting with a fancy, blinding throbbing effect.

Why? I think the point was to be able to say in the manual that this game was 'the first to introduce the console-style effects onto the Amiga - including zooming, de-res, curved perspectives and even full-screen rotation at 50 fps.'. From the wording, I'm not entirely certain whether these claims were made tongue in cheek or not.

Brian the Lion doesn't have a crazy animated intro like Quik The Thunder Rabbit, Superfrog or Zool 2 or character portraits like Yo! Joe!, which is a huge missed opportunity. It doesn't even have that memorable a title theme. If I asked you to hum the theme to Super Mario World or Sonic The Hedgehog, you could give it a shot. Brian just has... Euro-nonsense. (YouTube link)

I can pick NORMAL or HARD; let's pick a NORMAL game.

There he is! Still slouched up as casual as he can with those l'il legs of his.

The game doesn't support multiple disk drives so we've got a bit of housekeeping to do before we can get into the game for real. If you've got a hard drive, you can install Brian the Lion for a lush, lightning fast disk-swapping-free experience! You'd have to have been an Amiga nut to have gotten a 1200 in the first place, and if you were using it for any kind of work you'd have at least a small hard drive. I know someone whose first ever A1200 hard drive has worked flawlessly for the past twenty five years. Sadly, it's possibly the only part of the computer that still works without complaint...

Now that's what we came here to see: a world map, with lovely bold jungly music! (YouTube link)

The screen zooms in smoothly, revealing the plains and jungles of Brianland rendered in the finest colour-cycling the Amiga can offer. It pans left to reveal our feline pal waiting for us on Level 1: The Steamy Jungle.

What are we waiting for?

Thumping jungle action beats are on - with cheesy big cat roar sound effects and everything! RAOOOW! (YouTube link)

Brian knows where he is and what he's gotta do. None of this RoboCod or Pinkie-style blundering into colourful rooms at random. He's got to run to the right, and he's giving himself two minutes to do it. Hit it!

Believe it or not this kind of graphic was incredibly rare, on any Amiga. The Game Boy Advance has built-in support for showing, scrolling and distorting tiled backgrounds, but the only thing the Amiga is good at is copying rectangles and displaying a full scrollable screen of static graphics. Something like these shapes, or the map smoothly zooming in, was Clever Stuff. That it also looked nice was just showing off.

Agh! Sorry, Brian. One second into the game and he gets clonked on the head by a completely invisible gourd!

I couldn't help it! My instinct was to rush to the right! How was I to know that these things were perfectly timed traps?

I let Brian take out his frustration on a conspicuous flashing ? rock full of delicious crystals.

Any enemy that comes within five pixels' range of Brian will know the full fury of his tiny paws.

On the next screen, a spring platform leads up to a mysteriously floating boxing glove big enough for Brian's entire head! There's a 1-UP floating a few screens to the right, but they're not even a Brian face or anything, just text.

The background doesn't change as I rise and fall which makes gauging my height rather difficult.

Just like in RoboCod, foes shatter into stars beneath Brian's pudgy, stompy paws, though he takes no pleasure in this necessary act of self-defense.

Watch out for the completely invisible snakes, Brian!

Wahhhh! Poor lion! His life is one catastrophe after another...

Brian is terrified by edges and water, which is unfortunate since his kingdom is full of both! Lucky I wasn't trying to control him coming off that ramp or I'd have missed this platform and fallen right in the stuff.

I've got to time my jump with care. Not easy. It's 'Up' on the joystick to jump, so I need to steady the stick with one hand and jerk diagonally, holding Up to maintain my height as I guide him onto one of the fast-moving, near-invisible rafts.

Have you noticed how everything blinks - Brian, his lives counter, the hit point glove, the crystals. Everything except the milestone erected in memory of Brian's grandfather, apparently named SAVE the Lion, where I'll surely reappear if I misjudge the jump and give Brian an early bath.

Sorry, I couldn't think of a decent Brine the Lion joke.
Nooooo... poor Brian is being swept away... over to the right... which is exactly where he wanted to go anyway... nooooooo...

Those little crocodile heads are very, very hard to see.

So are these scorpion fellows!

Why does everybody hate Brian? He's so innocent looking! He just wants to stomp about and do his platform game thing and all the animals have teamed up to hide themselves around the jungle and make his life miserable.

I've long since ran out of time as well. Brian doesn't care. The world can work to his schedule. He is the King, after all.

Aaaagh, what an ignominious end! Killed by frogs in a shallow pond. Brian is never going to live it down. Well, he wouldn't, if he weren't dead. :(

I don't lose my crystals when I die, but they don't protect me either. Their purpose is yet to be discovered. There may be a fearsome clown exacting a charge in precious stones for passage through the jungle.

Guile tigers! Their camo really works!

Brian's had quite enough of these animals all talking back to him in his own jungle, so I'm unsheathing the claws and letting them have what for.

With a squeaky little 'wahhh...', I send the tigers flying off the stage. You've got to be really, really quick with the fire button otherwise they'll kick Brian in the crotch.

Up above the canopy is another flat platform with a hit point on it, but if you don't have your wits about you you'll lose a hit point just getting to it.

Dialogue! Hands up if you thought our fast-paced platforming adventure would be interrupted by a dialogue sequence.

This is Chris the Crystal (pause for groan and/or polite chuckle from reader), and he's why we're on this daring adventure. We're rescuing him from an evil dragon named Geeza, who wants to use Chris' magic powers to brainwash all the animals. The full story is in the manual...

"Brian lives in the jungle on an island off the coast of Africa. Most days he spends doing the things that your average Lord of all beasts gets up to. Taking cat-naps in the shade, picking big juicy fleas out of his mane and chewing the fat with his best pal, Chris the Crystal.

But inevitably that cosy idyll has been rudely interrupted. A big, ugly monster named Geeza - who's chief hobbies are squeezing zits and listening to dodgy guitar-based rock bands - has kidnapped Chris! Geeza wants to use Chris's prismatic powers to hypnotise all the jungle creatures and crown himself King of the beasts.

Armed only with his mighty roar and a dazzling pair of Bermuda shorts, Brian has to take on wave after wave of Geeza's brainwashed followers and cross the island in order to save his pal and the rest of the animals from being rules by a monster of severely restricted musical taste. And anyway Brian liked being king of the Jungle. It helped him pull the babes..."


Yes, this is an English game, how could you tell?

Bertie the Bird and his catapult are just ahead as it turns out. I appreciated the hint, since the level ends in a blind drop if you continue to the right and you'd be tempted to flop Brian off the edge thinking the level continued downwards. You don't have to wake Bertie up first though, you have to jump in the cup of his catapult while he's sleeping. Like so!

With Brian sent flying across the jungle crevasse, the level is complete and it's BONUS TIME!

Which I failed at meeting spectacularly because of all those damn snakes and crocodiles and scorpions and tigers and frogs which I couldn't see.

On subsequent playthroughs, I found out the timer keeps on going during this catapult sequence, so you need at least 10 seconds remaining in order to qualify, which is a bloody cheek.

Stage 2: The Rocky Mountain

New music! And a new background!

I'm starting to see that Brian has a love-hate relationship with the ground. Every spring sends Brian flying into the air, which is filled with crystals and gloves for you to snag if you're willing to take the risk of sending Brian blindly down one of the many, many, many holes in the jungle floor. The poor thing is frightened out of his wits by it all.

Goat outta my way!

These guys just walk backwards and forwards like the tigers and all the other critters I've stumbled face-first into so far. Despite the horns, you can jump on them just fine if you're feeling brave.

It's hard to convey in these screenshots just how lovely this game is in motion! It runs at 50 frames per second, the ground and the mountains are their own layer, there's no compromise. It's slicker than a galleon of greasy geese, and the colours are much easier on the eye than Mr. Nutz: Hoppin' Mad's chicken-filled plastic wonderland. This is the magic of the AGA chipset!

It's a shame that there's nowhere much to go and nothing to do. The levels so far have been horizontal lines without many ramps. There's a crystal here or there, but the game isn't trying to wow the player much with speed or powerups or scenery. I haven't seen another ? rock all this time, just mostly static enemies sliding about back and forth and blending into the background.

I'd love to know what rewards await me if I complete a level within the BONUS TIME! limit, but all the enemies are all just too sneaky (or just plain too damn tall) for me to rush through the level as fast as the game seems to want me to.

A500 (OCS) version
A1200 (AGA) version
Aw! Sorry, Brian!

The route past the goats branched into an upper and a lower route, but the upper route ended with a hit point and a Save stone. I could have gone back, but I thought that perhaps there would be a secret something if I jumped off and carried on. All I found were spikes...

Hitting spikes sends Brian flying upwards with no invulnerability; no squeaky sound of pain, oddly. If I keep guiding him to the right, I think I can just about make that ledge.

All the graphical effects - the title card, the zooming map, the pulsing BRIAN text - are in the A500 version. The loss of the detailed background layer is the only compromise made for the older system; the game still looks and moves fabulously. I think even the colour palettes for Brian and the foreground landscape are identical between the systems.

After the spikes I saw a tiny little cloud and thought I could pick it up. Instead it called for its Papa, and Papa is not pleased.

Brian doesn't want to move away. He's totally transfixed by it. Run, Brian! He's gonna get you!

Oh no...

I've been deposited at Honest Buck's Galactic MEGA STORE, a shop in the clouds run by the adorable Honest Buck!

Well-dressed, very pleased to see me, and probably not at all struggling to keep his breakfast down with all this bobbing about. Buck's a very polite chap who's got tons of useful things for sale!

excellent extra life. that will cost you 100 crystals.
continue play. that's 200 crystals please sir.
heavenly hit point. that costs 15 crystals.
jinormous jumping. hold onto your wallet, that'll be 25 crystals.
really raj roar. rajy power like this will cost 30 crystals.
splended speed. whoah! 20 crystals to you sir.


These aren't upgrades for Brian, by the way. These are powerups that Brian can use to help him get through a single level. Which means that they're just like Donk the Samurai Duck's abilities! (Heaven help me I accidentally just looked directly at Donk, that was foolish. Ugh.)

It doesn't say anywhere how many of each of these abilities I already have, hmm... I think I'll save my money for now, since you never know when I might find one lying around in a level somewhere and then kick myself for not buying some hit points instead.

I wish I'd bought some hit points instead.

I didn't expect a poorly cut-out monkey to hurl a pea at my bonce! This character's all over the damned place: running, flying kicking. It's all I can do to get the heck out of there before I'm smashed to pieces. That platform up there is unreachable without leaping on the monkey's head (good luck!), or using some Jinormous Jumping (which I don't have).

This is the first downhill ramp I've seen in the game so far! And look, he's doing the wheel-o'-feet! That means he's a real game character!

Better still - I've reached the unmarked, screen-just-stops-scrolling-dead exit with plenty of time to spare, which means...

BONUS TIME!
Bonus Limit Reached!!

I am truly the lionest lion who ever lied!

My reward for reaching the exit within the limit is my choice of three bonus levels, LIQUID LAND, CRYSTAL KINGDOM and SKY HIGH WORLD. I'm going to pick CRYSTAL KINGDOM first.

Be careful not to fall Brian!
There are many spikey crystals to avoid, so time your jumps carefully.


Heck, they weren't lying! This place is a real shambles. Brian's got to hop from one suspended platform to the next, slotting himself neatly in between sets of spikes barely spaced far enough apart for him to fit.

The background here has a strange rotating cylindrical perspective effect, just for showing-offs sake. As long as it isn't a freely rotating vortex of gemstones and polygon ducks, I think my stomach can handle it.

There's no powerups here, no crystals, no lives. If this was a bonus level, they kind of forgot to put any bonuses in. It only scrolls horizontally, so Brian spends a lot of his time hovering somewhere off the top of it. One mis-timed landing from me and Brian is toast. Sorry, Brian.

Back in the real world I thought I was so clever avoiding the fish leaping up from the bottom of the screen that I never thought to avoid the other fish raining down unannounced from above!

Those lives and hit points really don't last very long at all.

Oh no! That's it for Brian...

But I can Continue!

Oh... no, nope I can't. My options are no and restart. No takes you back to the title screen, in case you wanted to... check Today's High Score on the title screen...? I have no idea.

No point getting in a sulk, Chris. It's not as if you were any help.

Let's see what restart does.

Here we are right back at The Steamy Jungle again. That's a bit of a bother, Brian isn't an easy game!

You've got tigers booting you in the balls...

Rocks rolling uphill to come and get you, knocking you down instant death holes...

And attempting to invade Joels Mine this time was a big mistake. Full of moles! Look real close! And these moles take multiple hits!

Let's take a break and see if things are any different in the CD32 version!

CD32 version

Apart from these new level title cards not a lot has changed. I don't think these are even that great an improvement.

I'd love to be able to say that I loved the high-quality CD soundtrack, but if I did it would have to be heavily qualified. One of my favourite tracks from the game, the simple catchy one used for The Steamy Jungle has been rewritten by somebody who didn't quite get it. The main beat and melody is there, but the key changes aren't right, whole sections are missing, it's frustrating to listen to.

Other tracks in the game are better, some are worse, but it's hard to pick them out since Brian has a largely forgettable soundtrack, and the songs with a noticeable melody are more intricate and interesting with the floppy versions' tracker music than the poorly-looping CD tracks.

CD32 version

What you get in return for the altered soundtrack is instant loading times and new levels!

The levels play to the better parts of the world of Brian the Lion: they're all about showing how much of a nice guy Brian is, and how he's always willing to take some time out of his quest to help the out other animals in the jungle. In The Village People, Brian is asked to rescue some animals who have been captured and put in cages by some nasty rhinoceroses.

CD32 version

But as cute and lovely it is to meet more of the folks in Brian's world, the layout of this level is phenomenally, shockingly boring. It's three flat horizontal strips linked together by a series of floating blocks that move up and down as lifts. Not a single power-up or crystal or platform or anything to be found anywhere else within it.

Somewhere in the grid are these cages with adorable fellows to rescue. If you're especially patient, you'll eventually smash the padlock, but it doesn't half take a lot of swipes.

In a bit of black comedy, it's entirely possible to end up at the end of the level without having saved all the animals, and poor Brian has to report to the crying lady that despite his efforts he couldn't find the captives, before he rushes off to the sound of happy music to claim his BONUS TIME!

But you wouldn't let that happen, would you?

And on the subject of BONUS TIME!, it's time for another shot at the crystal world. Click the image below to see my attempt in motion!

Click to play! Click the speaker to unmute!

Can I draw your attention to the lion who spends most of his time off the damn screen? Or perhaps, the over two dozen blind jumps towards platforms yet to be revealed.

Seriously check out those rotating platforms though. The Amiga can not do that! Can not! It's madness!

I have no idea how close I'd gotten to the end - there's a totally useless gauge in the lower centre (again) that could've easily been used to tell me how close I was to reaching the end, but no. It remains a mystery. I thought I was doing pretty well!

This is level four. Or five. I really couldn't tell you. Here's a bridge, though.

Each level has had its own music so far, making them more distinctive to play than to look at. They've all been very short too as if they could have been checkpoints in one longer level.

With each repetition through the game, I'm getting more adept at winding Brian around the enemies like a ninja, rushing at them fast then flicking Brian away from them just far enough to make a clean leap over them rather than attempting to land on their heads or swipe them with his pudgy paws. Brian isn't up to attacking the enemies at all.

My nifty feline ways mean I've arrived in plenty of time for my next choice of BONUS TIME! challenge world!

LIQUID LAND

Snorkel on Brian! This watery place is filled with dangerous mines. Get too close and they'll explode, so be careful!

It's an obstacle course of mines! This level isn't so bad, except it seems that the mines are triggered by Brian's progress to the right as well as by proximity, so as you move through the course it's possible for one you think you'd already dealt with to explode while you're looking ahead, giving Brian a spike up the bum.

And yeah, like Sonic and Mario, Brian is perfectly fine with water whenever he feels like it.

Alright, I've made it to my first boss 'Barry the Bear'!

I can't see any way to save or get a password so I'm as prepared as I'll ever be.

Well, hecking ducks. I don't think that was particularly fair.

This bear fellow's weakness is the top of his head. I know because I've managed to hit him a few times before now, but he decided to scoot just a few pixels to the right as I jumped and I must've landed on the bear's eyeball, which as you know will kill any lion instantly.

The bear doesn't really do anything except walk backwards and forwards here. He's just a bear! In a t-shirt. No pants. I guess that makes him the polar opposite of Brian, fashion-wise! Except he's not a polar bear. Oh, you know what I mean.

If you stand close enough to Barry, he'll very slowly swipe at you, but if you think Brian stands a chance in hand-to-hand combat against a bear with arms as long as Brian's entire body, you're welcome to try.

I'm not going to quit until I get a password. I didn't give up on Pinkie and his blinding, wacky world. Brian's a cute little squishy fuzzy lion, and he deserves to win at least once.

I'm right back at The Steamy Jungle again. Hmm... I'm going to try something. Let's see if there's any powerups in any of those hidden routes I mentioned. Although the levels are totally featureless and flat like a set of supermarket shelves, very very occasionally a blind leap will land you on a new platform leading to some goodies. There's never a hint box to find or a key to pick up or anything like that.

It's a tiny little tornado with a moustache! Time to run straight into it! If you can't trust a tornado, right?

Thinking back to the cloud leading to the bunny shop, I suppose Brian is allied with all meteorological phenomena, being as he is a lion in shorts trying to punch a bear to death to rescue a talking crystal. It all makes sense in those terms.

The tornado whisks Brian off the top of the screen... and to a whole new secret level! Back on the world map, a new path branches away from The Steamy Jungle toward a new level cleverly titled Jungle Secret.

I'd show you Jungle Secret but, y'know, it's a secret, so I can't.

Okay, it's just three screens wide with the exact same graphics as the normal jungle and there's nothing of interest there whatsoever. The BONUS TIME! is set to twenty seconds, and you can easily make it if you dash.

Which means it's time for the third and last challenge world!

SKY HIGH WORLD

Way up in the sky.. one wrong move will make for a bit of skydiving without a parachute! Watch out for popping balloons!

Whoever set up this ridiculous course has a lot to answer for. There's different coloured balloons, some of which pop, meaning that you have to be holding Jump as you land on them otherwise you'll fall through them, and some of which don't pop, which means that you have to let go of Jump after landing and pull Jump again to lift off them... but the colour of the balloon doesn't correspond to whether or not they'll pop! If a balloon pops and you weren't ready for it, Brian falls to his death.

On top of this (a-ha ha!) Brian spends most of his time completely off the top of the screen, so landing your jumps relies on you being perfectly attuned to where Brian's sprite is likely to reappear. I know I keep saying it, but it keeps happening.

The challenge courses aren't randomly generated, so you could learn them gradually over time if you're very, very good at making BONUS TIME!, and as good at platforming as, I dunno, me.

I thank-a you.

You know what you get for completing a challenge world? Absolutely nothing.

You get a blink-and-you'll-miss-it acknowledgement, and then it's back to the world map. Only if you'd read the manual would you know that completing all three challenge courses gets you a secret reward. And, for better or worse depending on your taste, it isn't a special ending, or anything plot related. It's something useful, but nothing you'd need to win the game.

Beyond Jungle Secret is a further secret level named Jungle Paradise, which is just a box with two hit points and an extra life in it. Not complaining! After that the route loops back around to The Steamy Jungle. There's no sneaky way around completing the first level fair and square. This time through, I'm going to head to the goat level and see if there's a secret exit if I bounce off the chimp's head and land on his floating platform.

Fountain Secret is a lot more demanding than Jungle Secret was!

There's fifty crystals here, for anyone persistent enough to guide a helpless Brian through an underwater maze filled with fish, fish, fish with a side of fish.

Emerge victorious, and you will arrive at...

A level simply called Gosh! full of hit points and crystals!

Here's an oddity that I've not seen in many games with a level select map: when you return to a previously cleared level all the pickups are gone. I don't mean all the ones you'd previously collected are gone, I mean everything. Every crystal, hit point and extra life is scrubbed from the landscape after Brian leaves, but the enemies are all still there, leaving you to wander pointlessly around the absurdly dangerous jungles you'd just escaped from. You can't even have another shot at meeting the BONUS TIME! target: when you reach the end of an already completed level, the game just fades out and that's it.

It's very, very strange, and it means that keeping hold of your hit points is absolutely essential. They're not refilled to max on the world map, so all you've got is all you've got. Make a mistake and you've got to live with it.

It also means you've got to quickly make a choice between scraping every corner of the level for crystals and hit points, and cannonballing it through all the enemies toward the exit in order to make it for BONUS TIME!

That I did not expect. Completing Gosh! has earned me my very first password!

I'm not sure I like the idea of having to fight through two secret exits and one underwater maze in order to attain it, but I don't care because I've done it, done it, done it. I didn't even fight Barry the Bear yet. His level is the orange marker to the lower-right of Brian here.

That slashed zero indicates that this game was clearly the work of programmers, thinking they're helpful by distinguishing the numeral zero from the letter O. But the problem with programmers is that they never think to just take out the easily-confused characters in the first place, and believe it's perfectly fine to offer passwords that have both a 5 and an uppercase S in them.

It's time to take on Barry again. I've got a secret weapon this time. When I bought the JUMP power from Buck to get to a tornado earlier, I invested in a couple of ROAR powers as well.

Just need to hold Fire to charge it up, and we'll see who the real King of the Jungle is around here!

RAAAAAAAOOOOOORRRR....!

Aw, poor Brian...! Roaring is the one thing he's good at, and the bear just roars right back!

Many, many hops later...

The bear is absolutely flabber-shocked that I made it through only losing two hit points.

Defeating Barry the Bear grants me the password 1*87vgqaGP, and allows me access to The Spooky Ruins. I even receive some new, somewhat desolate-sounding world map music to commemorate my achievement!

There's something disappointingly basic about this place. Falling blocks with funny faces on them? Spiked balls on chains? Kind of... platformery, isn't it? After all those nice jungle levels... I don't know.

It's all straight lines and squares, but also more difficult than it ought to be to tell which parts of the foreground are real platforms.

You can even use a canny leap to escape the dungeon and run across the flat top of it for some bonus shinies!

If you're patient enough with Brian's jumps, you can head further upwards to a tornado that leads you to...

Ruined Secret!

Agh! I showed you and ruined the secret! Oh no!

This place is full of bats that fly slowly horizontally towards Brian. You can't attack while crouched, so what you're supposed to do I have no idea. Trying to jump over them is a gutsy move.

Further on in this chain of secret levels, Brian finds himself in some Tribal Trouble when he finds a village of cheetahs!

Brian has an odd progression with its graphical styles: at the start the game was re-using graphics over and over, but after Barry the game is hiding unique backgrounds and enemies in secret levels and never using them again. It's very strange.

Beyond Tribal Trouble is Tribal Secret, which has a few more crystals to add to my collection, as well as another shop cloud! Time to pay a visit to Honest Buck and his Galactic Mega Store!

Wait! What the hell!?

Honest Buck's been usurped and replaced with a sinister, grinning Dweezil-lookalike! Who the hell are you, Dodgy Dave? And what have you done with Buck!?

He's even got his own bassy remix of Buck's happy shop theme, and his prices are through the roof! I might have to buy something though, I haven't found any Jump, Roar or Speed in any of the levels, and I'm starting to think I might never find any free powerups. The bastard's got me.

Damn it! Do I have to save Buck too?

At the end of the chain of levels, I'm given 1*0XvgqaGc and ushered back into The Spooky Ruins to win it properly this time.

Hey it's the Psygnosis logo, or perhaps it's the emblem of Alestes from Agony (as it was retroactively canonised)
You don't need me to tell you what that is, right? :)

These levels are becoming long enough to be a real challenge, but not too long as to outstay their welcome. Fewer damned coconut traps, but now there's spring-loaded hidden floor spikes instead.

CD32 version

It's pretty, it's funny, it's a doggamn pointless straight line left to right, and Brian's terrified.

That's pretty much the game in microcosm.

More water... I made the mistake of using a Jinormous Jumping on this level, so Brian shoots right off the screen (or rather the land does) when I have to move from one whale to the next. Activated powers last for the entire level until you win or run out of lives. Don't whatever you do be tempted to press Escape to return to the world map. Pressing Escape is an instant Game Over.

I just noticed that all the landmarks Brian traverses on his journey are represented on the world map: Bernie's catapult sends Brian over the chasm, and now I'm travelling over the water to the next island in the archipelago. That's really cute!

This level is simply called RUN!

That nozzle at the top is dropping bombs all over, and there's no sneaking out of the dungeon this time!

Go, Brian, Go!

The ancient, frowning lion-squishing device deep in the ruins is of little interest to the King.

I really like Brian's animations. He has so many! If you push him against a solid wall, he'll strike a relaxed pose.

Meanwhile on the CD32 version, a mysterious floating top hat has appeared on top of one of the earlier levels...

CD32 version

Sit down, my friend and try your skill at a simple game of cards. All you have to do is to stop the cards at the right moment to win yourself some extra lives or a hitpoint or two. You must get 4 1-UP cards for an extra life or 3 boxing glove cards for a hitpoint. If you manage to get more then I'll give you a bonus!

It's a card shark! Giving out extra lives to those with perfect timing.

That green spiked fellow with the yellow face is Geeza. Uh, I won't tell Nintendo if you don't?

CD32 version

Here's another one of the special CD32-exclusive levels: The Well. In return for 2 1-UPs, Brian has agreed to venture down into a giant well to see why it's run dry. Unlike the rest of the levels in the game, this one scrolls vertically! And it's full of spikes to fall upon! Really leaning on the strengths of your game design there, guys.

That Well level aside, it's such a relief to finally be doing something in this game, even if it is just jumping on cogs and whatnot. Where's the next platform? You just have to trust that one will make itself known in time.

Oh the humanity! Cruelly assassinated by an Indiana Jones wannabe!

If I'd have tried to jump it, I'd have hit the ceiling. ROAR would've taken time to charge up. I don't think I had time to swipe at him with my claws - it took me a second to realise he wasn't another one of those background statues. If I'd had a hit point, maybe the best thing to do would have to just run through him?

CD32 version

Hi Brian, fancy trying your luck on a game of Cup 'n' Ball? All you have to do is to keep your eye on the ball, and when the cups stop moving, choose the cup you think the ball is under. Pick the correct one and I'll grant you a couple of extra lives, and a bag of crystals. You'll like it... Not a lot!

Martin the Magical Monkey challenges us to a simple game of Cup 'n' Ball. Despite his warning, he may play fast but he also plays fair. If your eyes are still up to it after staring at Brian's blazing bright kingdom, you can follow the twiddling cups and claim your bounty. And you'll bloody need it too.

That's a cruel way to go. Eaten alive by fishes trapped in a murky pit in an underground ruin.

I've completed the Ruins section of the game it seems and it's time to engage in some gorilla warfare against the next boss, Graeme the Gorilla.

I'm not sure Brian was designed to look so innocent and pathetic, but he always looks so defenseless!

Stop making fun of Brian, you bully!

I really, really should've seen that coming.

Don't ever back away from a boss in this game. Commit, and reach for their head even if you think you won't make it. Landing anywhere else is certain death anyway.

Right. Rematch. You and me. Right now.

What you're supposed to do is jump on the heads of his squad on their little space hoppers in order to get enough height to jump on Graeme's head, but if you've packed a little extra Jinormous Jumping you can leave the little guys alone and attack the boss directly!

His sprite slides off the screen and the minions flee. Brian is the undisputed king of the island!

Click to enlarge

I'm rewarded with another password and invited to enter the next level, somewhat ominously titled The Way Forward.

There's nothing left to do here. The blue dots are levels with tornadoes, and I haven't found them all. I could go back and search for the missing levels but I'd surely lose more lives than I'd gain in the attempt. The blue dot beside the waterfall leads to the underwater maze level full of fish and then to Gosh!.

The crescent-shaped set of levels on the left are The Steamy Jungle through to Jungle Paradise and back again. You'd be rightly concerned by the length of the trails leading across the chasm towards The Rocky Mountain and then around the lower edge of the mountain to Pleasant Plains. By level 3, you're already half way along the world map! What a swizz!

Brian's journey onwards takes the form of a horizontally scrolling shoot-'em-up. All aboard the bullshit express, destination: The Way Forward!

First, enemies jumping out of the water with without warning after the player's lured down there with trails of crystals and the occasional hit point. There's tons and tons of enemies; it's very impressive how fast it is. It's also a pain in the behind.

My first thought for a comparison would be Yo, Joe!'s between-stage bird levels, but a better comparison would be Shadow of the Beast, another game where you play as a monster-guy who has to walk left to right across mostly flat grassy platforms armed only with a simple punch, until he finds a jetpack and the game decides it's going to be a horizontally scrolling shooter for a little bit. Coincidentally also by Reflections.

And if the bird's animation isn't a deliberate homage to Psygnosis' Agony, I'll eat a hat.

After the onslaught, you've got to guide your slow-moving pigeon safely through a course of jagged rocks, which would be difficult enough without the screen getting faster and faster as you progress.

And if dozens of regular enemies aren't trouble enough, there's a boss rush. That's three boss fights in succession.

The first boss are these two gigantic crabs. Don't take your eyes off the inexplicable stalagtites, Brian!

After the crabs there's a kraken that pops its head up momentarily and then lurches out towards you. The timing and the positioning of the kraken is infuriating - it always seems to take slightly too long to come out, and then it comes out in slightly the wrong place and throws me off.

And then finally...

A honking huge hypergoose from hell swoops in! There's bullets and eggs and chicks and things flying in all directions!

In this stage, if you lose a life you'll just reappear back where you were. And a bloody useful thing too, because otherwise this would be just ridiculous.

I'm trying this on both the A1200 and the CD32, no cheats. The A1200's passwords don't save your lives, so if you use the password from beating Graeme, you're placed at The Way Forward with a mostly-explored world map with no 1-UPs left in it to find. On the CD32, the top hat seems to reappear every time I take a three second run through Jungle Paradise, so your lives are limited only by your patience. And I wouldn't blame you if your patience was just about exhausted by now.

DONE.

After fighting his way through shmup hell, Brian's landed in literal Hell, clutching a new password in his bloodied paws.

The next level is The Graveyard. Alternatively, I can send Brian on The Way Back to the first world map. Oh how I would laugh if I had to repeat the shooter section every time I transitioned from one world map to the other. I don't though. Phew!

Zombie dogs that burrow up from the ground! And if you touch a single pixel of their disturbed soil, you lose a hit point and are flung across the screen into mummies! And ghosts! Ghosts flying all over the place! Aaaargh!

Look, I love you Brian, but your game's a pain in the arse.

CONCLUSION


Almost all of the difficulty in Brian the Lion comes from dumb, stupid traps. The rest of it comes from near-impossible leaps due to the size of Brian or the enemies on-screen. If you have to warn players in the manual that keeping track of the ground when you jump is difficult, you've probably got some level design or camera issues in your game...

If you want to stand a chance playing Brian, you'll have to learn where everything is over the course of multiple playthroughs. You need to know where all the trap coconuts are (everywhere) and when they're going to fall (at the worst possible moment). You'll need to know where the crystals, lives and hit points are, since you only get one shot at everything.

Reaching a password is a relief, but it doesn't store your score, powers, lives or hit points, so you're still playing an endurance run regardless. One thing the passwords do remember is what levels you've cleared, and therefore which levels should be completely emptied of power-ups should you choose to revisit them. Thanks a bundle.

Paradoxically, once you know where they are, it's most likely better to deliberately miss as many bonus levels as you can for as long as you can. As annoying as the underwater maze preceding Gosh! can be, the extra lives after it are well worth it. Keeping the secret levels closed (and therefore still full of goodies) until the end of the game gives you a handy, if dangerous, cache of extra lives you can call upon if you really need to.

Completing all the BONUS TIME! challenge worlds was the anticlimax of the century. Don't bother, unless you just want the kudos.

All of the special powers in Buck and Dave's shops are fascinating flavours of useless: ROAR leaves you a sitting duck as you charge it up. I've yet to see it have any effect on anything. JUMP and SPEED both make Brian even more of a liability than he is already, making the simplest gap into an exhausting test of memory and skill as Brian shoots off the screen like a rocket at the slightest touch.

It's a shame. The A500 and A1200 versions are functionally identical, and both of them are absolutely gorgeous! The game is absolutely delightful and full of nice touches.

In return for mucking up the music a little, the CD32 version effectively gives you infinite lives by allowing you to summon the minigame top hat whenever and wherever you like. It also eliminates the disk swapping and properly saves your full stats after each boss and secret route. The extra three levels you get aren't super special, which is a shame. I've shown you them all in this post. The CD32 controller isn't really that bad either, but I'd definitely recommend using a substitute or an adapter if you can get your hands on one!

So the choice of system depends whether you want the game to be a tense gauntlet or comfortable wander about. Either way, it's something that you're going to have to chip away at one piece at a time. And it's just as well, because [The Way Forward is the half-way point of the game!] (click to view spoiler)

Brian the Lion has so many unique enemies, backgrounds and music tracks, I can't help but wonder if the game was originally designed to be longer. There's unique music for losing a life, getting a game over and using a Continue in each different themed area (and no Sound Test so you'll never hear any of it). Only using the cheetah enemies on a secret level within a secret level is lovely from a player's perspective, but lunacy from an economic perspective. And cramming three separate bosses into The Way Forward couldn't possibly have been the intended design. It's as if there was supposed to be four islands with one boss between each of them...

Despite the easy opportunity to draw comparisons with Shadow of the Beast and blame Reflections for the weirdness in this game as if it were all a deliberate progression of Beast's design, I'm not going to. In fact, I'm going to direct some polite applause towards the Psygnosis staff and the producers, Steve Cain and Martin Edmondson.

My theory is that one or both of these folks, responsible for but somewhat detached from the project, kept a close eye on things as Brian was coming together. When the A1200 bundle deal was signed (and possibly with a suspicion that the Amiga was gently exploding in the background as the next generation of consoles and console add-ons was being revealed), they called the staff together and set a firm deadline and told the guys to add no more new stuff. You've got so many months, they might have said, just make what we've already got nice. A restriction but with ample warning and support: a gentle, controlled landing from earlier lofty ambitions. The exact opposite of what I suggested happened with Pinkie.

That said, I think my theory is probably baloney considering The One For Amiga Games magazine listed the game as being started in 'Autumn 1991', so they had over two years to make the game. Maybe everything was supposed to be this difficult and annoying? With Amiga games you never can tell.

Brian the Lion Starring In: 'Rumble In The Jungle' is the Amiga's best platform game. It's also coincidentally the most console-like. And stars a cat. It makes even sophisticated things like Mr. Nutz: Hoppin' Mad look like, well, Amiga games. When I was looking up information about the Amiga bundles (kudos to http://www.amigahistory.plus.com), I was surprised to find that Zool 2 was invariably hailed as the hero of the A1200 and Brian got nothing but stick. I don't see it myself: Zool moves and looks like a flea, and Brian moves and looks like a cuddly toy. Both games are really difficult, but Brian gives you passwords whereas Zool 2 doesn't - I think if you gave Brian a chance over a week or so you could have a good time working through it. There's only so many times you can play the start of Zool 2 before you put it back in a drawer forever.

Brian the Lion himself might be a softie, but his game is hard as nails. Are you tough enough to give him a chance?


Thanks for dropping by and reading all those words. I've got a question for you though: what do you think about Brian the Lion?

Actually, wait, I've got a better question: what do you think the next game's going to be?

7 comments:

  1. My Amiga 1200 had no fluffy mascots and instead came with The Chaos Engine, Syndicate, Pinball Fantasies, and, um, Nick Faldo's Championship Golf. It was called the "Chaos Pack", probably because of Faldo's chaotic personal life.

    I thought Box Brian might be based on Prince John from Disney's Robin Hood, but although he is a lion with a crown, they look quite different. King Leonidas in Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a bit closer, but still not quite there. Of course, searching for any combination of "lion" and "king" gets you a lot of useless results.

    Brian the Lion reminds me a bit of Superfrog but that might just be the random insertion of a side-scrolling shooty level inspired by one of the publisher's other games.

    I'm not sure what the next game is. It looks like one of those Black Isle type rpgs that have become so popular of late, but it's not one of the old ones and I haven't played any of the new ones, so dunno.

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    1. I salute your knowledge of royal lions, and I'd like to play 'Nick "Fantasies of Chaos" Faldo's Championship Pinball Syndicate'.

      Superfrog is a lot more indepth with its platforming; most levels are five or six screens high, playing a lot more like Sonic than Brian's left-to-right Mario 1ing. I think Soupy Frog is almost certainly made out of the Alien Breed eight-directional scrolling tile engine, and Brian was made out of a horizontally scrolling parallax and sprite test.

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    2. I hadn't noticed that before, but Superfrog and Alien Breed do feel similar in a way. I think you may be right.

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  2. Wait, wait, back up.

    ...Zool was supposed to be an ANT this entire time?!

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    Replies
    1. I learned something today

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    2. He's not really an ant, that's just what reviewers called him. I guess because the ants in their garden have big yellow eyes, two green arms, and ears like a gremlin.

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  3. Next game should be Citadel, your Amiga fps reviews are hilarious which on their own are miserable Doom wannabe`s

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