Wednesday, June 18, 2014

C64 Review - Over the Rainbow (C) 1983 Renegade Software

Chuck:  Today we have "Over the Rainbow" from Renegade Software, programmed by James O'Keane.  From the wonderful year of 1983.

John:  Eight years old, we were.  Do you remember this one?

Chuck:  Very vaguely.  And so does everyone else, apparently.   Couldnt find much on the web, except for one thing we'll get to in a second.  It's in the CSDB, and although it's not the crack that we have it's definitely the same game.  Should we be archiving this??  Ours says "BROKEN BY THE BANDIT"

John:  Focus, Chuck.

Chuck: This is another Q-Bert clone.  Wait readers, dont run away!  This is a good one.  In fact this was on the flipside of the same disk we have Q-Bopper on.  And it truly is the flip side of Q-Bopper.  It rights nearly every wrong.

(You'll have to excuse us if we get a little flowery when discussing this one.  After Q-Bopper it was such a breath of fresh air...)

John:  To put one issue right to bed:  The game uses the proper Q-Bert controls (see the Q-Bopper review).  So high-five for that.

Chuck:  Go Team Venture!

John: The controls work, the game is colorful and has some cool characters and ideas that branch off of Q-Bert, but dont ape it.  There's good variation and progression in the levels.  After a game over you immediately want to try it again.  It's actually addictive.  It's like playing a real video game!

Chuck:  Yes, thank you Renegade Software!

John:  Thank you James O'Keane!

Chuck:  Did you know, old James is still making video games?

John:  You're kidding.

Chuck:  Nope, I found him working for Raven software as late as 2002.  His bio even mentions Over the Rainbow!  And he seems to be most famous for... Soldier of Fortune 2??

John:  Nooooooo!  A first person shooter?  From Over the Rainbow to Rainbow Six?  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Chuck:  Come back from the dark side, Jim.  We're waiting for you with Atari 2600 joysticks in hand.

John:  We want a sequel to Over the Rainbow.  We want music and sound effects this time!

Chuck:  OK dont jump too far ahead.

John:  Well before I get into the not-so-good, let's stick to the good.  I like what he did with the Q-Bert color-changing concept.  Over the Rainbow is named so because it uses the C-64's color palette to great effect.

Just like Q-Bert you jump from square to square, changing its' color.  However, the object is not to change all the squares to a single color.  The top square, or group of squares in later levels, turn red.  As you jump down the level you change the descending squares to orange, yellow, green, blue, darker blue and violet.  And there's your Rainbow.

Your enemies are colored balls (gumdrops) that rain down from the top and fall off the bottom, edging toward you if you are close.  It has the requisite color-reversal enemy (The Rabbit) and enemy you stomp for points (Raindrop).  Eventually a green ball appears, and it contains a Coily-like Witch character that will chase you.  You have to get to an escape disc (grey cloud) to escape.  When you do, the cloud moves above the Witch.  It rains on her and melts her.  Fantastic!

Chuck:  Bravo, Jim!

John:  Like I said, it's like a real video game.  I think, obviously, he was going for a Wizard of Oz theme, but there's the clouds, the Raindrop, Rabbit, Frog and Bat characters, and whatever you're supposed to be playing as as well.  So there's weather, nature and clown(?) elements mixed in also.  He didnt really nail a theme too well here but it sort-of fits together anyway.

Chuck:  The level design is very good.  The layouts are symmetrical, for one thing.  They're eye-catching and actually make sense from a gameplay standpoint.  There are usually holes in the board that you have to jump around but the enemies can be led to fall in (except the Witch, she's flying).  Some levels are small, not giving you a lot of room to avoid danger and will have your pulse racing as you rush to finish coloring in all the squares before you're killed.  Just like a real video game!

The Frog enemy is well thought out.  He sometimes jumps and lands so hard that he breaks through a block, leaving a hole in an unexpected place on the board, accompanied by a good screen-shaking effect.  It's touches like this that make this game special.  There are ideas here that would have worked really well in an actual sequel or spinoff to Q-Bert, even.

John:  I agree.  I like how eventually you have to touch the squares multiple times, like Q-Bert, except here you're a little more confused because there are so many colors on the screen.  By the fourth level or so you will find that you've turned the top two rows of squares red, and you'll have to hit the second row again to turn them orange.  You have to remember you're working on a rainbow here, and think about which row isnt the right color yet.  I like that little extra dimension, a little extra something for your brain to chew on.

Chuck:  I dont know about that.  I think it gets a little too confusing.    I'll give it a pass, though, because it sure as hell is better than Q-Bopper.

John:  Yeah I mean the game isnt perfect or anything, it shows its' age a bit.  It's a little stiff.   Alex, the Player Character, is a little drab.  I think he's supposed to be a harlequin but he's a little grey and uninteresting and he doesnt have precisely the right weight to him.  It gets a little repetitive after a while (that's normal for these types of games, they were meant for short bursts of play anyway) and the levels repeat themselves quickly.  But my main beef is with the sound design.  There's no music and the SFX are practically non-existent.   Really, this is a quiet game, with very little fanfare or audio cues.  When Alex dies it's a little... less than dramatic.  There's not even any noise when you jump!  I'll give it a pass though, because it sure as hell is better than Q-Bopper.

Chuck:  Seriously though, the good very much outweighs the bad.  So congratulations Jim, you have conquered Q-Bopper and proven your worth as a C-64 Gamesmaker Extraordinaire!

John:  OK let's not get carried away here, I mean it's not like he came up with a whole new concept or-

Chuck:  You shut your filthy mouth!  The sweet gameplay and great ideas of Over the Rainbow have cleansed our souls of Q-Bopper forever, and we have Mr. O'Keane to thank.  He should get the first seal of approval.

John:  You're right.  We love you, Jim.  Please come back to gaming platforms that matter, thank you.  Over the Rainbow gets our first:

(thank you for the image)