A – Z of Forgotten Amiga platformers, Part 1.

By remaining very still, quiet and holding out a half eaten Curly Wurly, James Matson coaxes some of the lesser known Amiga platform games out from hiding.

Picture the scene: You’re at a friends house, at a party in fact.

Music is pumping out of the lounge room at levels just above comfortable, but not so high that it drowns out the clink of glasses, the murmur of conversation and the occasional laughter in response to someone defending Superman 64 as a decent game.

Some bright spark – in the throes of a drunken stupor – suggests that you all play a game of word association. You know the onr, right? Someone yells out a word or phrase, someone else yells out the first word that comes into their head in response.

Drunky yells out ‘Platform games!’ 

You yell back ‘Amiga!’.

No. Wait. That’s not right at all.

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Wind back a second. Get a grip.  If we wanted this to be an authentic scenario we’d have yelled back ‘Nintendo!’ or ‘Sega!’ because the fact of the matter is that those machines were forces to be reckoned with in the world of platform games.  When we think about the best platform games we think about Nintendo titles like Mario Bros,  Donkey Kong Country and Mega Man or Sega greats like Wonder Boy or Alex Kidd.   The Amiga – if considered as a games machine in the same vein as 16/32-bit consoles – barely rates a mention.

Now before Commodore fans start plotting to locate the Retro Domination headquarters via GPS and storm the offices wearing Bitmap Brothers t-shirts and brandishing pitchforks, we should get right out ahead of that by saying the Amiga did have some great platformers in its own right.  Gods, Magic Pockets, Zool and Superfrog come to mind without expending too much brainpower.

These were some of the games that defined the Amiga platform game genre, but that’s not why we’re here today boys and girls.

You see, it’s easy to talk about genre-defining titles whether they were on the Megadrive, NES or Amiga, but it’s more fun – a journey of revelation let’s call it – to talk about examples of the genre that never quite got the same uptake.

And that kids, that’s why we’re here.

Over this four part feature we’re going to explore an A – Z of lesser known platform games on a machine not really known for them in the first place, the mighty Commodore Amiga.  There will be some hidden gems mixed in with digital turds, but by the end you should consider yourself a successful graduate of the school of forgotten Amiga platformers.

‘A’ is for Aunt Arctic Adventure

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When thinking about the graphical touches that define the retro platformer, your mind instantly goes to parallax scrolling backgrounds, big bright characters and lush environments.

Against these visual staples, Aunt Arctic Adventure – with its pitch black backdrop, limited colour palette and underwhelming sprites – seems a poor choice of game to play.   Released in 1988 by Mindware, Aunt Arctic puts you in control of Charlie the Chimp as he battles through 50 levels of platforming action in search of his lost Aunt. Each level consists of avoiding enemies and finding enough bananas to unlock the doorway to the next stage.

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The graphics are simplistic – borderline uninspired in fact, but Aunt Arctic makes up for this in so many other ways.  Levels vary from sprawling multi-screen affairs to stages where you free fall from the top of the level to the bottom trying to swing past bananas on the way, and every turn tests your skill and reflexes.

A few levels into the mammoth 50 stage challenge you begin to discover that the real charm of Aunt Arctic is simple and classy – the charm of discovery. What’s around the next corner? Where is that last banana? How on earth am I going to get from this platform up to that ledge? Beneath the simple outside layer is a game that can suck you right in and let you go – oh – about 50 levels later.

 ‘B’ is for Brian The Lion

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Brian The Lion ticked every single box that a platform game needed to tick in order to make it big on the scene and yet somehow, didn’t. Featuring an incredibly cute main character in Brian, the game managed to set him among some of the best graphics, catchiest tunes and most frantic platform hopping action ever seen on the Amiga. Your job was simple: guide Brian the Lion through a variety of colorful, parallax scrolling themed levels (Egyption, Jungle et al)  jumping on bad guys, leaping onto spring platforms, dodging obstacles, collecting treasure and locating secret rooms.

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Brian The Lion wasn’t just a fantastic game to play back at release, but has aged incredibly well thanks to the fact it’s a polished product from start to finish. The music is brilliant, the world vibrant and neat touches like SNES ‘Mode 7’ style backgrounds, entertaining mini games and the fact that if you take Brian to close to the edge of a platform he looks down nervously just set the title apart from the pack. Why Commodore chose to bundle the awful ‘Dangerous Streets’ with their Amiga CD32 and not this game baffles us to this day. Brian had all the makings of the Amiga Mario or Sonic.

‘C’ is for Count Duckula

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C9unt Duckula – what an awesome cartoon, right? What’s that? You’ve never heard of it? Crazy.  For some of us 80s kids – particularly in Australia – the adventures of Duckula, Igor and Nanny were regular staple viewing on channel ABC.   Filled with British humor and memorable characters, Duckula seemed to have the right chemical makeup to transition well into a video game, particularly a platformer.

Sadly, we’d have to grade the Amiga interpretation of the Duckula saga somewhere between tripe and digital offal (Why are we grading games on a scale of animal entrails? No idea, but that’s a tale for another time)

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Impressions from the first level are appalling. Your character – the Count himself – is jerky, unappealing and has some of the oddest walking/running animation we’ve ever seen.  With jerky Count in tow, you get to wander around some truly uninspired environments trying to avoid Mummies and collect keys to unlock previously inaccessible areas of each stage.  The music that plays on the first level – a reasonable rendition of the cartoon theme song – is apparently the only music that plays the entire game. Over, and over and over.

There are possibly more interesting things that happen in Duckula beyond the first level. Amazing puzzles, fantastic boss fights, untold treasures.

The problem is you’ll have absolutely zero desire to stick with it long enough to find out.