Monday, 8 June 2015

GROW - Monty Python's Flying Circus The Computer Game

Reviewed  by Trantor

Developer: Core Design
Publisher: Virgin Games
Platforms: Amiga, C64, Spectrum, Amstrad, Atari ST,MS-DOS
Release Date: 1990
Genres: Platform and Shooter
Mode: Single Player

(insert over-used, yet disturbingly still hilarious, Monty Python quote of choice HERE)

By 1990, Monty Python had been off the airwaves and out of theatres for quite some time.  Re-runs were still extremely popular and CD-Rom FMV games and later the internet, hadn't brought the geek friendly Python antics home in any significant way yet.  To fill this Pythonless void, we got Monty Python's Flying Circus The Computer Game!

Before booting the game up, you got the pleasure of leafing through an awesome black and white manual.  Written in an extremely Pythonesque fashion, it included excerpts from TV schedules, conversations between philosophers, brief nudity and even some monsters and an educational bit on cheese identification (which also served as the game's copy protection).  You can find the whole booklet here.

While the game's design was almost identical across all platforms, I'll first talk about the Amiga version, as it was by far the best of the lot.

The game is rendered in a style mimicking Terry Gilliams' brilliant cartoon segments from the show.  It pays tremendous homage to the show, with over 100 references popping up, from the foot of Venus that squashes you when you die, to the main character sprite of Mr. D P Gumby, the butcher, who was famously played by every member of the cast at one point.

This was, partially at least, a result of internal arguments about what to use as the basis for the game.  Given the limited memory restrictions and long load times of the 8 bit systems the game needed to run on (Spectrum and Amstrad games were still primarily sold on cassette tapes back then), too much variety in graphics for the sake of quick throw away references and gags simply would not be possible.  This lead to many references being made a bit more abstract (dead parrots dropping from the top of tubes during the shooter sequences, for example).  The sheer insanity of the original shows animations though make this approach to the license work perfectly and feel natural.  Add to that, graphic designer and programmer Simon Phipps had a real knack for making cartoony graphics (Rick Dangerous, Bubba N Stix, Switchblade, etc.), and Core's general love of cartoon-like stuff, with CarVUp and Chuck Rock titles meant that the team was more than up to the challenge.  One compromise was found by adding small interludes in the game, where the action would break at specific moments to teach you how to recognize trees from a long way away, for example.
So, as stated, you play as Mr. Gumby and are on a quest to recover the pieces of your brain.  These have run away from you and don't want to go back.  You travel across surreal landscapes, at times as Mr. Gumby in classic jump and run style, shooting herrings to kill a variety of insane enemies, such as detached feet, lawyers, helicopter pigs and midget vikings with wheels for feet.  The main sprite is quite large and doesn't move as quickly as let's say a Mario or Sonic, but is responsive and the game feels a bit like Chuck Rock.  The game adds variety by having your character's head re-applied to a variety of bodies during gameplay.  So at times you will be a man, then a fish, a turkey and even a head on a spring in a boot.  The fish and fowl sections are shooters and the man and boot segments are jump and run (or jump and jump in the case of the boot).
Between levels you can also get extra points by competing in a small reaction test mini game based on the argument clinic sketch.
While the game is a lot of fun, especially for Python fans, it does often rely on a lot of pattern memorization (a problem with most of Core's games of the day), but not as game breaking as it was in Rick Dangerous.  Would it have held up on consoles of the time?  I think a Genesis port could have easily been done, but the license probably would have been lost on the North American target market.
As you can see from the screenshots, the game looks brilliant on the Amiga, with a slightly matted color that is reminiscent of the original TV shows style.  The ST and MSDOS ports were almost identical, with slightly weaker sound and the scrolling on the ST wasn't always as smooth.

Amstrad CPC Version
Spectrum Version
The 8 bit versions on the other hand were pretty much copy and paste ports.  The Amstrad looks super colorful but traditionally blocky.  The Spectrum version does a good job of remaining colorful and utilizing the high resolution of the monochrome sprites to give it detail and works around colorclash very well.  The C64 got a decent looking port (even if it could have been a bit more polished).  Sadly though all three of these versions suffers from the same major defect, namely, no smooth scrolling.  The screen only moves forward one chunk at a time (about 1/5 of the screen width), making it very hard on the eyes.  Not an uncommon practice on the Amstrad and Spectrum, but inexcusable on the C64.  They also left out the small interlude scenes, no doubt for memory reasons (again, something probably not necessary on the C64, at least in its disk release).
Commodore 64 Version
 The title screen includes a great rendition of the Monty Python tune, but during gameplay you are left with just sound effects... probably not a bad idea given how annoying that music would probably otherwise get.

Reviewers of the time were split.  Some mags gave it extremely high scores (Your Sinclair gave the Spectrum version a 90% score, while the German 64'er magazine gave the C64 version only 10% saying it was horribly outdated and claimed that calling the scrolling in the game actual scrolling was "the pinnacle of cheekiness".  Amiga Power gave it 50%, which by their standards meant it was a perfectly average game, saying it was fun even after you've seen the jokes, despite basic gameplay).

So, is it the best game ever?  No.
Is it a fun game with a lot of character and a ton of little references?  Definitely!  It didn't set the world on fire at the time of its release, but it was still fun, then as now, and worth a looksie, especially if you're a Python fan, but only on a 16 bit system.
There's Spam, Egg, Spam, Spam, Bean, Spam, Sausage, Spam to collect!

Here's also a good profile of the game by Simon Phipps.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Karl. This looks like a game I should take a look at on one of my Amigas. I like that there's a Thing on a Spring reference in there as well :-) I do love Monty Python (just picked up the box set yesterday) so I'll definitely try to find time for this game.