The Flintstones

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The Flintstones

Whether or not these were a success has already been decided by history, but I’ve decided to revisit them, mainly because I’ve not played them all before, and also because I love the original cartoons. I have fond memories of the Top Cat and Scooby and Scrappy Doo Amiga games back in the day so it will interesting to re-visit these two most of all, however, the rest I am playing for the first time. Purely for alphabetical reasons out of the games I’ve selected, I’m going to first take a look at The Flintstones (1988) from Grandslam.

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The title screen and theme tune appear nice and quickly on this single disk game, with even a little animation (inspired by the cartoon show) to get us into the game.

You play as Fred Flintstone, who cannot go bowling with pal Barney Rubble until he has painted a wall, once this mini game is completed you drive with Barney (also another mini game) to the bowling alley. The bowling section of the game makes up the majority of the game, once done you then go on a completely unrelated (in all senses of the word) platform style mission to rescue Pebbles, avoiding giant nuts and bolts along the way. Yeah, okay then.

The game play is, um, varied to say the least. A couple of mini games which consist of painting a wall and bowling, intercut with a driving game and rounded off with some platform action (Ed – I wouldn’t really call it action). With such a rich source of material that is The Flintstones cartoon series, that can be applied to a multitude of genres, you wonder how they could have failed. It’s a pure and simple case of “what were they thinking?”, or maybe they just weren’t thinking at all? Why did they think painting a wall would make a great game? Domestic chores, really? Even more frustrating is that if you don’t finish in the alloted time, the game resets and you have to start from scratch, with Wilma basically calling you useless and lazy.

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Animated intro, with obligatory Yabba Dabba Doo from Fred.

However, for me, painting the wall was probably the most bearable part of the game, the controls weren’t as bad as I had read about, and with a little thinking involved it was actually pretty easy to beat if you stuck with it (good tip, do the top sections first, working from right to left, then the bottom working left to right). Painting done Fred is allowed to go bowling. The driving section consists of a side scrolling ride in the car, with Barney in the passenger seat, just don’t hit the rocks in the road, well, that’s if the terrible collision detection will let you avoid them. Oh wait, the car jumps? Really? Yup, you basically have to make the entire car ‘jump’ over rocks, otherwise your wheel falls off and you have to replace it. I’m really sure they could have thought of something a little more mind numbing, tedious and pointless? (Ed – Sheldon, sarcasm)

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Paint the wall in time, if not, the paint all magically disappears… gah.

Controls from this point onwards really do let the game down a lot. The bowling section really needed some more thought in this respect, the little Fred and Barney animations when they bowl could have made for a really fun part of the game, instead it is painfully slow, difficult, and boring, even the scoring is hard to read, and given this fills the majority of the game it seems like a plus not to make to the next section (lucky for me, I didn’t make it to the next section). Thankfully, someone else has been brave and kind enough to do the hard work for us, the Amiga long play of this game is on YouTube, see link below, where the wonderful cubex55 has saved me from tearing my hair out.

Finally free from the tedium of bowling with Barney, you suddenly have to rescue Pebbles in the games final section.  It unfortunate that the game descends into this, it looks rushed,  and the enemies are completely unrelated to the show, it seems like the worst idea I’ve ever seen for a platform section of a game. I’m still not even sure how we got from a night out bowling to having to rescue Pebbles? Domestic chores to kidnapping, who would have thought it. In the end it looks like the Flintstones family are all re-united and happy, awww.

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Beat Barney at bowling, tedium strikes.

I do like to try to find some good in games, but this one was tough, the painting part of the game was okay, and the character sprites and little animations were pleasing to the eye (with low expectations, naturally).

Overall though it’s a frustrating menagerie of under-developed and miscalculated mini-games with the Flintstones name slapped on it. I guess in all honesty I don’t expect much from these types of licenses but occasionally you do get a good game in amongst them. There is also a Spectrum version of this game and a Master System one, in which the latter the characters are all the right colour on the title screen. Yay. For a game that retailed at £19.95 back in the day I expect a few people were disappointed with this choice of game.

A few stone age related games that won’t make you want to lob your Amiga out of a window are Prehistorik, Ugh! and Chuck Rock, so if you fancy a quick jaunt to the era of the caveman I’d recommend trying these 3, and leave The Flintstones firmly were it belongs, in the past.

Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy

Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Taito is a video game developer/publisher that has been in the industry for decades, from their work on arcade cabinets in the 1970’s to mobile device diversions in the 2010’s. As part of their somewhat storied history, in 1991, they released a license game called The Flintstones: The Rescue Of Dino & Hoppy, based on the popular animated television show. Oddly enough, the platformer was actually pretty good.

Gameplay

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This is a one-player two-dimensional side-scrolling platformer in which the A button jumps and the B button attacks. This is already a promising formula, but with a lot of room to screw up. Fortunately for gamers everywhere, Taito did not take the somewhat typical route of cheaply, quickly producing the license title to try and take advantage of the fleeting popularity of the name recognition; instead, they packed in enough extras to add some intriguing gameplay dimensions, levels designed at least decently enough to provide a simple challenge, and all done with fairly slick execution.

The player controls Fred Flintstone who, beyond just jumping and swinging a big caveman’s club as an attack, has a few other maneuvers in his repertoire as well. Pressing down causes Fred to drop his head into his shirt, making him able to dodge certain projectiles he will encounter. Holding A during a jump will enable him to grab onto ledges, and pressing up on the edge will enable him to climb up, an essential move to completing the stages. Holding B powers up the club for a more powerful hit, during which Fred humorously waves it above his head until the release strike. There are items to collect as well, such as health items to replenish hearts (begins with three, five max), extra lives, and also including additional weapons. Once one of the three are collected, they can be activated by pressing up and B.

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The ammo system is interesting. The three items are an axe, which is thrown upward in an arc that comes back down; a slingshot, which fires straight ahead; and, amusingly enough, Boomasaurus eggs which are laid then, a few seconds later, “explode” to kill all enemies on the screen or harm a boss. Using one of the weapons takes tokens. The tokens can be found by killing most enemies. The Boomasaurus eggs take ten tokens to use, while slingshot shots and axes take three, but grabbing a token adds five to Fred’s total, offering an economy of use whereby one slingshot projectile per each fallen foe giving a token item results in a net profit of two tokens per enemy, although the amount does max out at 100.

The levels express a diversity in physics effects at a couple points, though perhaps feeling a little contrived. There is the usual ice level, with its slippery surface; but also a neat twist on an underwater level where, rather than swim, it is still a platforming stage, but with reduced gravity. The truly contrived, at worst, comes with the Asian level, complete with stereotypical martial-arts enemies and 8-bit “Oriental” music.

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Then there are the three basketball matches. Huh? Yeah, there is an overworld accessed between levels, offering route choice toward completion, which would be notable enough, but the truly noteworthy feature is the three one-on-one roundball rounds against Hard-Head Harry. The strangest part is that, if the player wins by scoring more points in the one-minute time period, the reward is one of three abilities granted by pressing Start and requesting from the Great Gazoo, who himself is a time-traveling alien who appeared on the show as the resident shark-jumper. The three possible rewards are temporary abilities to Fly, in which Fred dons wings and can head upward until hitting something; Jump, for which he hopes on a dinosaur and jumps a crazy height; and Dive, which is supposedly to help travel through water but is not really necessary, and even only helpful on a single level.

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Oh, the plot, by the way, and forgive this second-person-voice reviewer for slipping into more informal language for the moment, revolves around the two beloved dino-pets being kidnapped by a diabolical evil doctor from the future, who breaks Gazoo’s time machine, spreading its parts across the world, which is the whole point Fred is defeating all the stages to complete the machine to chase the villain down. Along the way, Fred will run into other classic characters from the shoe, like Wilma and Barney, who tend to inform him of an upcoming boss fight, which all the stages end which, featuring enormous monsters and even, at the castle, a Dracula-like character, matching giant Frankenstens throughout.

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The point: This is a solidly designed, thorough, professionally developed platformer, and done well by Taito, standing as a great example of what a license title can be and, dare it be said, approaches the level of Capcom’s license platformers. It does play a little slower, a little more strategic with its Prince of Persia-like edge-hanging, so it is not as much of a fast-paced game, but some players may even dig that. On the other side of the coin, the worst parts would have to be the knockback suffered with every enemy hit, and the sinister traps laid by the designers, including the need to take a couple leaps of complete faith to advance.

Graphics

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Flintstones: The Rescue Of Dino & Hoppy looks pretty, sharp, and pretty sharp. The animated sprites are drawn well, the enemy designs are competent, and the levels vary widely in their appearance. Even the signature style from the show is used for Fred’s walk animation, with his exaggerated leg movements. The way Fred can creep along while holding B for a club strike is enjoyable. Yet among the strengths are a couple noticeable flaws: Primarily, the one-color backgrounds in some bits, startling when jumping across a broad chasm; and, in the game’s ambition, there are some minor flickering issues when dealing with the larger foe creatures.

Sound

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A weak point of the game, in this reviewer’s opinion, but for a very specific reason that not everyone may agree with: The background music tracks very heavily rely on painfully high notes. Even though the compositions themselves are fine, even achieving the right range of zany cartoon mayhem, the melody leans on ear-splittingly high notes. The sound effects are okay; if not difficult to comment on, considering the onslaught of eardrum-burstingly shrill tunes.

Originality

The head-ducking effect, the plot twist that shows an amazingly brilliant use of license property near the end of the game, the tokens-as-ammo weapons system, and other elements add up to this being an admirably creative platformer. Perhaps no one of its ingredients is in itself inherently completely original (for example, there are certainly other basketball games on the NES), but the combination is distinctively unique and proves to be a satisfying experience. The rating goes four stars out of five for this one.

Christmas Comes to Pac-Land

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While current generations of gamers wait with much anticipation to open the XBox 360 Kinects and latest Call of Duty gear currently stashed under the Christmas tree, we take a look back today for a historical first in video gaming.

The first major wave of gaming popularity came to a crest in 1982 as arcade video machines could be found almost anywhere and Atari faced off with their first real home console challengers.  It was also a huge season for video game related merchandise, as manufacturers of everything from breakfast cereal to bedding to swim trunks got in on the first video game boom.

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On December 16, 1982 the first ever Christmas special of the video game age debuted in prime time.  Hanna Barbera’s Christmas Comes to Pac-Land took the popular new Saturday morning cartoon series based on Pac-Man and it’s many sequels into uncharted territory for anything related to video games.

In this ABC holiday special, Santa Claus crash lands in the fictional town of Pac-Land, an odd world where it seems to be legal to eat other inhabitants and walk around without pants.  Santa, (voiced by a pre-Optimus Prime Peter Cullen), has never heard of Pac-Land while those who live there have never heard of him or Christmas at all.

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The inhabitants of Pac-Land accept the idea of Santa and Christmas pretty quickly and decide to help Santa fix his sleigh and warm up his reindeer.  Pac-Man himself (a guy you’d think would be a pretty important guy in a world of the same name) goes off to find Santa’s sack of toys, which have been discovered by the “ghost monster” gang of Blinky, Pinky, Inky, Clyde and Sue.

Long story short, Santa gets going on his way, Christmas is now known by those who live in Pac-Land and even the ghost monsters get in on the gift giving spirit of the season.

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Initially the special had a short lifespan.  The video game industry crashed and burned through 1983 and 1984 and by the time gaming returned to the public eye years later (due to Nintendo’s strong marketing plan) Pac-Man was considered old hat in place of the Super Mario Bros. and Zeldacharacters.

The special has come back in recent years in holiday airings on Cartoon Network and Boomerang and can also be watched on the left side of his article thanks to YouTube so that parents of the original video gaming generation can show their young ones the roots of Christmas video gaming.