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Qwak is one for the adrenaline junkie gamers isn’t it?! There will always be some gamers who love fast-paced reaction based games…and those who don’t. That’s fine. ~Jamie Woodhouse
Qwak is one of those odd cases where the story behind the game could be argued to be more interesting than the actual title itself.
Not that Qwak is a bad game by any means – it’s a super slick arcade platformer of the type that you just don’t see enough of nowadays – but this is a title with a intriguingly long history. So here we go…
Released on the BBC Micro (and the Acorn Electron) back in 1989 by Jamie Woodhouse, the game was then buffed up and bought to the Amiga and Amiga 32CD in 1993 with the help of Team 17.
It seemed as if that was the end for Qwak, but a whole thirteen years later Woodhouse plucked his personal labor of love out of obscurity and bought it onto the GBA.
Without a publisher’s backing the game was released unlicensed from Nintendo, with only 300 copies of Qwak created and sold directly on Woodhouse’s site.
A handmade instruction manual and the option to make your own box just demonstrated how much care had gone into bringing the game over to the GBA.
This was not the duck’s final bow though, but merely a rebirth. Since the GBA release he has now flown his way onto three other formats – Mac, PC and iOS.
But that’s enough history – what’s most important is how the game stands up today.
It’s hard not to feel that Qwak’s core principles do seem like something from another era while playing, but this turns out to be a strength, not a weakness.
The game requires you move and think fast. You have a button to jump and another to fire your limited supply of eggs, with the latter essential for dispatching the many foes you’ll encounter.
Quite what your enemies are supposed to be (are they animal mutants…or something else?) is irrelevant, but range from the easily culled to ones of the irritatingly persistent variety (some can fly, and home in at you directly).
While avoiding foes you also have a set number of keys to grab to open each level’s exit, with fruit and gem pick-ups helping to elevate your score. A time limit means you’ll have precious little time to plan ahead.
In fact, boosting your high-score could be argued to be the main driving force behind the game, despite the fact that there are a set number of levels to complete.
Only the very best will manage to reach the end of these on the normal difficulty setting though, so beating your score is one of the main reasons to keep playing.
Stages are thrown at you in a random order as well, meaning you lose any chance of settling into a rhythm – with this only strengthening Qwak’s already highly challenging arcade sensibilities.
A highly competitive two player option (not available on the GBA version) rounds off things rather nicely.
Overall, there’s no real excuse if you haven’t at least tried Qwak (a free demo is available on the game’s site), especially seeing as it offers you the chance to experience videogame values that modern titles seem to have deleted from their repertoire.
Yes, there’s a good chance that the game’s demand for super quick reactions may put you off, but stick with it – seeing your high score steadily climb upwards may hold more appeal than you might think.
Here’s a little extra for the 200th post – a mini interview with Mr Qwak himself, Jamie Woodhouse.
Qwak has been released on eight systems over the course of 21 years – can you see yourself releasing it on more formats in the future, or are you just focusing your time somewhere else?
Nope, it won’t be appearing on any new formats, just yet. I’m more interested in creating new games.
A worrying proportion of the people I get to play my GBA copy of Qwak complain that it’s too fast and that they can’t keep up. Do you find it worrying how truly intense reaction based gameplay seems to dying out in a lot of big-budget modern games, or do you think that it helps make a game like Qwak stand out all the more?
Yeah, I think a lot of people feel that way, it’s too fast for them. It really is one for the adrenaline junkie gamers isn’t it?!
There will always be some gamers who love fast-paced reaction based games…and those who don’t. That’s fine.
You’re thrown back in time to 1989 – would you do anything differently in terms of the title’s design or what it set out to do as a game knowing what you know now?
I wouldn’t be the same ‘me’, so I’d probably do a whole lot of stuff differently. Hard to say though, exactly what could have been changed to make it better, or exactly what would constitute ‘better’.
Regarding the GBA version of the game, when did you send off the last of the 300 GBA carts? Did you include anything special in the final copy to be sold, and were you relieved or slightly sad when you sent it out?
I can’t remember the exact date, or even month; I guess it must be a couple of years back now? I didn’t do anything special for the last copy. Was quite glad when it was all over, was tired of stuffing things in to envelopes and licking stamps!
Finally – which is your favorite version of Qwak, and why?
That would be the iPhone version (which is basically the same as the PC and Mac version). It just feels more colorful, plays better, and I love the puzzle levels on world 2!
My thanks go to Jamie for his time, and wish him the best of luck with his future titles. The main hub of all things Qwak can be found here, including links to purchase the PC, Mac and iOS versions of the game.