After an overwhelmingly negative start to the new look with the Mutant Storm Empire review, I think it’s time to restore some balance to the world. Unfortunately for you, dear readers – unlike the aforementioned boredom fest of a game, you can’t actually lay your grubby mits upon Montys Christmas Special just yet.
I know, I’m not on my own in hating those “nyeargh, I’ve played something you haven’t” style blog posts, and this is, to some extents very much that – but it’s not often I’m compelled to blog about something I’ve played which isn’t available for public download yet. Alright, the odd NDA here and there has also seriously put paid to that in the past, but other than that…
Way back in the mists of time, long before Mario became quite the
cashcow icon that he is now and blue hedgehogs only appeared in games because people only had 5 or 6 colours to play with and games suffered from serious colour clash, a different set of heroes captured the British public consciousness. Some of them did, anyway – for every Jet Set Willy, we had a Steg The Slug, a Spikey Harold (a white hedgehog, go figure), Technician Ted, Dynamite Dan, CJ The Elephant, Thing On A Spring (it’s a fucking thing, on a spring!), Sam Stoat, Grumpey Gumphrey Super Sleuth… the list goes on.
I’m sure some of our more ardent retro fan readers will recognise some, if not all of the names above, maybe even remember some of the games fondly, but that’s kinda beside the point. Most of these game characters, and rightly so, are likely in the gaming equivalent of the Fletcher Memorial Home now.
One of the more successful franchise characters of the eighties was a certain Monty Mole, not to be confused with the Nintendo character, of course. An early case of natural selection in gaming with two entirely different versions of his first appearance being created. One a scrolling platformer for the C64 by Tony Crowther that wasn’t so good, the other, superior version – Pete Harraps original for the ZX Spectrum. Luckily for us, the guts of the series continued – providing you ignore the blatant cash in of Monty Is Innocent and Core Designs contribution to the series, Impossamole – in what was to become Pete Harraps trademark style.
Screens would be packed with death defying leaps to be performed, a myriad of bizarre nasties would thwart Montys attempts to progress through the screens, all the things we take for granted in modern platform games made an appearance in Montys games. Even the irritating “what has that got to do with anything?” non-platforming parts designers like to throw in just to make sure the game doesn’t quite feel consistent reared their heads.
When the Monty series was good, it was fucking amazingly good. Just mention Monty On The Run to any Commodore 64 owner and sit back and watch as their eyes glaze over with memories of the awesome Rob Hubbard tune that accompanied the game. British 8 bit platforming goes hand in hand with Monty Mole like bangers go with mash, like Chas goes with Dave, like something that goes with something else really well.
Mind you, we all pretend the escape kit was never added to Monty On The Run, as that was total shitcake and infringes seriously on any rose tinted view you might want to hold. Yeah, randomly pick the objects at the start in the hope that you’ve got what you need to progress but you won’t find out until you get to the room you need the object for. Very clever, that. At least the remake had the decency to do away with it.
Montys Christmas Special is the spiritual successor to the finest three Monty Mole games (Wanted, …On The Run and Auf Weidershein respectively), essentially – it’s the sequel that never was but should have been and probably could have been if the developers didn’t have one eye on taking on the abominable glut of poor 16 bit platformers with yet another poor 16 bit platformer.
Spanning a whopping eighty screens set over four stages and jam packed with luscious eight bit style graphics (with a fair liberty taken on the palette it must be said) and fiendishly difficult at times – it’s a wonderful game. Along the way you’ll be taking trips through pipes, going the fairground, negotiating toxic waste, avoiding inflatable cars (I piss you not), clambering across the ceiling, jumping saws and spikes and other platforming standards and having a massive pissload of fun with it. Promise.
It’s defiantly old school in design, defiantly old school in looks and defiantly old school in playability.
I’ve a great deal of respect for my MR compadre Mr Smila’s graphical talents and even more for Scottige’s room design talents. The sections Scott contributed to Jet Set Willy Online being some of the greatest and most evil 8 bit platform rooms I’ve been fortunate enough to play – rule of thumb, if it’s in JSWO and it’s evil, it’s probably Scotts. However, as nice and as polished as their previous collaborations have been, none have really played quite so well to their respective strengths as Montys Christmas Special does.
It gives me the horn, in a good way.
It’ll be out in the wild in December, I believe. In the meantime, have some screenshots to tide you over with.