Monday, 2 December 2013

Chapter I: Ruff 'n' Tumble

Like many of you, I’m one of those persons that starts to read a magazine by the last pages. So, it seems fitting to start this story by how it ended.
In 1995, the Amiga scene was pretty much dead. Everybody was turning to PC’s and it was getting harder and harder to get hold of new Amiga games. Not only because there wasn’t much games coming out, but also because the local authorities were starting to notice this thing called “piracy”. See, here in Portugal was basically impossible to get hold of legal copies of games throughout all of 80s and early 90s when the Spectrum and Amiga ruled. Not that it mattered, people didn’t have the money to buy legal copies. The minimum wage at the time was probably around the equivalent of 200€, when a brand new game price was around 30€, judging by what I saw at Amiga Power. So, software stores that made copies of cracked games were everywhere, and there wasn’t anything illegal about them. They functioned like any normal store, and you could go there, check their games list and they would make a copy for you right there. Some of these even organized regular tournaments of popular games, like Decathlon in the eighties and Sensible Soccer during the early nineties.

Alas, that time went by and games were getting harder and harder to get. By 95, the only place you could find cracked copies of games was in a specific flea market in Lisbon. So one day, me and a friend of mine, which we’ll call him Magellan Joe from now on, grabbed our backpacks, got into the bus and went in search of this mythical flea market that everybody talked about. We were 13 or 14 at the time, from a very small town, so going into a place known to be at the time a thieves den (keep in mind that the translation of this market is “Woman Thief Fair”) was like Ulysses Odyssey in our minds. After we finally found the small stand in the market selling Amiga games, next to some other stands selling pirated copies of PC CD-ROM games we were ecstatic. It was like reaching the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade, and picking the wrong games then was like picking the wrong chalice. We couldn’t make mistakes, there would be no other opportunities and there was no turning back. I remember the games I bought: Civilization (because I was so addicted to it on my cousin’s PC), Virocop, Traps n’ Treasures, Wally World and Ruff ‘n’ Tumble.

I was lucky, because unlike the Nazi that came before Indy, I could choose five chalices, and Wally World, which was recommended by the guy at the stand, was the equivalent of the golden chalice that the Nazi chose. Fortunately, by the time Ruff n’ Tumble loaded, I knew I picked the Holy Grail. This was a run n’ gun that I never seen the likes of on the Amiga, with fast game play and very slick presentation. A game that in my mind could make any game on the Mega Drive look totally pedestrian (luckily I didn’t know Gunstar Heroes at the time).

The weeks after our epic journey, I played this game obsessively. It was still awesome, and it wasn’t just a pretty girl that you met one night at a disco that turned out it wasn’t so pretty. You were just wasted. No, this was a girl that besides being pretty was smart, liked punk rock just like you and had a big sense of humour. Unfortunately our love wasn’t meant to last. One day, my Amiga died after 7 years of the most loyal friendship. It felt like your pet dog dying.

A few months after, my parents got me a PC, but I couldn’t forget my first love, so my father found someone who could fix the Amiga. Unfortunately, this someone was highly incompetent and took ages to fix it, and when it finally arrived, although the computer could be turned on, it would freeze to a yellow screen randomly. Even so, I plugged the Amiga in the living room, and played Ruff ‘n’ Tumble like if it was the day we met. It didn’t matter if the game lasted 1 or 5 minutes before a random reboot. It was like going through the photos of that particular summer that happened to be the best of your life.

After all these years, it probably isn’t the best idea to risk nostalgia by playing the game again on an emulator. Someone wise once said “Memories are ours to keep, to live them again in our sleep”, but in case I’ll never wake up from sleeping, I’ll play this game.

So, how does the game stands after all these years? Did it crumble under the weight of massive rose tinted glasses or does it pass the test of time?

If I have to choose an option, I’ll go with the second one, certainly. All the slickness and pace that left me in awe back in the day remains intact. This is a big deal, as after all these years of playing newer games and the original arcade versions of many games I originally played on the Amiga, many games look tired and slow. Not Ruff n’ Tumble.

It’s fast, it looks great, and even though I don’t particularly like the music that much by itself, it matches the on screen action pretty well. The first world, which is the trademark woodland world as many other platformers, is divided into four stages. The difficulty curve is perfect, and it’s very easy to achieve something extra on each try. One particular aspect that should be praised are the weapon powerups, as they really pack a significant extra punch that makes them so fun to use. The flamethrower in particular should be ranked among the best power ups of all time, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I rarely had so much fun creating havoc with a videogame weapon.

Many games don’t pass the test of the boss fights, and after all these years I can count with my fingers the games that do it perfectly. Ruff n’ Tumble doesn’t, at least judging by the first world boss. It’s an impressive looking mechanical owl, which in itself is a feat. Everybody loves owls right? They’re the second most popular animals on the internet after kitties, after all. Yet, this owl has some very predictable move patterns, and if we reach it without any kind of power up it can become quite a chore to kill. It’s not the best but it’s also not among the worst boss fights I’ve seen, it’s just mediocre.
Take that silly owl!
Unfortunately, in the second world the pace is quite different, as the game insists on upping the environmental obstacles like lava pits and crushing machines and spears. While the first world played more like a run n’ gun, the second is more of a platforming game, and I can’t say I prefer the second. The game gets slower and more methodical and while seems great at first to have big open levels, it’s a chore the repeat whole sections of one level only because we didn’t found a particular key.

No one likes lava, unless we're talking about lava lamps
I could never manage to get to the second world boss after a few tries, but it doesn’t matter. It’s actually better this way. I can only wonder what kind of monstrosities can appear at the end of each word. A steampunk Panda? A giant robotic koala? Better leave some space for my imagination.
Welcome to Dying
Either way, it’s good to know that Ruff n’ Tumble is here and it can keep me company whenever I want. Welcome back!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog, great story, great game! Waiting for more!