Short Circuit

What is it with me and playing movie tie-in games? I know that they really are not going to be the greatest of gaming endeavors undertaken by man. Yet I continue to abuse myself by playing them. Must be that my brain is wired up differently to want to keep doing it to myself.

This time I am going to look at a game from way back in my gaming past. A game from the now long defunct Ocean Software. A company that spawned just as many movie and TV tie-in games as LJN did.

Short Circuit was a film that almost certainly sealed my love for sci-fi as a child. I loved that film so much that I would watch it every time that it was on TV and actually wore the VHS tape out. So as you can imagine I was mighty excited when I saw the C64 version of the game (it also came out on the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC) on a local market stall one day and I just had to have it. So I spent what pocket money I had been given to me by my grandparents and bought it from the market stall. The problem is that I seem to remember loving this game a little too much as a child. I recall spending hours of my life sat in front of my C64 playing this game. Even now, as I slid the tape into my Datasette to play the game for this review, I got a little shudder of excitement as I closed the lid and pressed play. Yet my adult brain could not comprehend why I was getting excited about this game and was furiously screaming, “It’s a movie tie-in game and it’s going to destroy you as your nostalgia gets shredded by the horror that awaits!” at me through a megaphone from the back of my noggin.

My stupid brain was not wrong either.

Short Circuit was one of the first licensed games that Ocean software had produced. So given this fact you would expect things to be a little rough around the edges. Yet this game is possibly one of the worse movie tie-ins that I have ever played.

Nowhere near as terrible as Running Man but still pretty bad.

The game is split into two parts with two different styles of game play. In part one you have to escape from the Nova Robotics factory. This was done in an arcade adventure style of gameplay. Various items were strewn across rooms and you have to search, collect, hide and use them in a certain order. Fail to find a card to deactivate an alarm or go through the front doors without finding the necessary items and its game over.

In part two you are evading capture from the pursuing Nova guards and robots in side scrolling action. While trying to avoid the masses of wildlife that are hell bent on running, jumping and flying into you. Each time an animal hits you, you lose some conscience and you eventually shutdown. Get caught by a robot and you shutdown. Get shot too many times and you shutdown.

I can pretty much put my finger on a few points as to why this game probably failed. Firstly I think Ocean were a little too ambitious with this title. Splitting the game into two parts and making it a rather big game is fair enough. And it also gives the appearance of getting more value for your money. But in doing so it felt as if things had been stretched a little too far. Giving the feeling of not enough attention been paid to either part. Creating a rather bland, uninspiring and mediocre experience across the entire game.

Secondly the game has some really awful controls. The joystick input feels clunky and stiff. Commands seem to take a while for Johnny to process and you end up with very jerky controls in part one and slow lumbering controls in part two. To which, with part two been a side scroller, you would expect them to be very responsive and tight. Even the menu system for part one is incredibly frustrating to use and a single mistake sees you having to start from scratch again with the menus. It’s hard to explain how bad the controls really are in this game. All I can say is go grab a copy and give it a try it for yourself.

Thirdly the graphics aren’t the best that I have ever seen on the system. They certainly aren’t the worst but they don’t really stand out like some titles. Also there is a lot of repetition in the background imagery. For example in part one, in the Nova Robotics building, there is an awful lot of grey been used and many of the rooms have a similar feel to one and other. And in part two the background gets repeated over and over again. Also I am sure that the end of the film is set in a desert type environment and not green and lush meadows.

Finally the game is just back breaking hard. I know a lot of the games from this era are hard but this is a different kind of hard. Part one is difficult because of the controls and the fact that you have to memories the locations and uses for all the items. Part two is again difficult because of the controls but also because everything comes at you with more pace than what the game allows you. Yet this does not mean that game is impossible to complete as repeated play, and plenty of save states, does eventually lead to completion. It all just makes it rather a frustrating experience on both parts.

However, there is one redeeming feature for this game and that is the music. The game has some good SID renditions of music from the film coded by Martin Galway. Including “Who’s Johnny” and “Come and Follow Me”. Which are still stuck in my head even now. However, a lot of music done on the SID does make me go gooey at the knees anyway.

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Lets kick out some final thoughts on this game then so I can try and rebuild my shattered reality.

I will be honest about this. I am upset that I played this game and I think it may show in this review a little with some lackluster typing. The problem is that it has been kind of like meeting my childhood hero again after twenty years. You are all excited to meet them and then you find out it really is just a guy in a costume. Who has now put on so much weight it looks like they have had to lube him up and shove him in it. Then just stumbles around a bit in either a drink or drug fuelled stupor. Slurring dated catchphrases and grunting in exhaustion. Slowly stripping away the childhood love and excitement for the character or franchise.

The love of the films is still there deep inside me and this game still does have a special place in my childhood gaming history. It is just that some of the nostalgia has been shattered by adult realization that this is a bad game. With bad design, bad controls and a crippling difficulty.

And I am not so heartless as to call this the worst movie based game I have ever played. I think that honour goes firmly with Running Man, which is now my lowest benchmark for movie tie-in’s. But this game still is pretty bad on the grand scale of things and well worth avoiding.

Enjoy Life, be kind to others.

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