Creatures. With some it is like a game to discover.
Videogame violence is still very much a political hot potato with many people and groups voicing strong opinions on both sides, from knee jerk reactionaries who watch Tonight With Trevor McDonald (read: Fox News for our American readers) and think themselves videogame experts because they played Space Invaders at Butlins two decades ago. To more rational types who’ve seen this sad pantomime before with the dÃ©but of home video in the early 80’s which was claimed would destroy the moral fabric of society by the very same people.
Manhunt and Manhunt II, Thrill Kill, Doom, Postal and Carmageddon all these and more have been labelled â€œtoo violentâ€ but personally when the subject of videogame violence is raised I just chuckle to myself and recall a game that I first played over seventeen years ago that featured cute and cuddly fuzzy-wuzzies romping in colourful surrounds to many a jolly tune all the while fucking each other up with chainsaws, acid baths and the always trusty 16 ton weight.
‘cute yet nasty’
Creatures or Clyde Radcliff Exterminates All The Unfriendly, Repulsive Earth-ridden Slime to give it its full title was released back in 1990 by Thalamus and coded by Apex Computer Productions (Cyberdyne Warrior, Retrograde, Mayhem in Monsterland) it mixed scrolling platform action sections interspersed by end of stage torture chambers (more on those later) all filled with a variety of cute yet nasty monsters all trying to do you in.
Taking the role of Clyde Radcliff a very hung over fuzzy-wuzzie who awakes to find his whole village has been kidnapped by monsters and enslaved on the far side of the island. Pissed off, hung over and with breath so bad it literally burns he sets off to liberate his friends from the monster’s castle.
‘jump and flame any monsters’
Each area comprises of two scrolling sections where Clyde has to run, jump and flame any monsters in his way. There’s water rapids to float down thanks to some handy lily pads and Clyde’s pocket fan, underwater caves to be swum through all filled with deadly jellyfish and piranhas and all manor of hills, woods, caverns and graveyards between Clyde and his friends. Clyde himself is quite nimble and can move at a speedy pace and jump a fair distance and height all of which is important as the game requires some nifty joystick work to avoid those few monsters immune to Clyde’s fire breath.
At the beginning of Clyde’s journey he can use his bad breath in two ways. By holding down the fire button he charge up a lung full of fire that is more powerful than his normal shots but only has a shot range or he can spit flaming projectiles by rapidly tapping the fire button. These curve downwards giving the default shot its ‘droopy’ name. By collecting MPCs or Magical Potion Creatures found through the scrolling stages Clyde can give them to a friendly witch at her shop between levels who can then improve the strength of Clyde’s shots or even grant new kinds of shots like a ‘straight’ firing shot, the ‘wiggler’ that covers a bigger area than a straight shot or even ‘burst’ shots that fragment after a short distance for an even bigger effect. Finding these MPCs is no easy task, with three varieties varying in rareness with some concealed inside hidden areas or protected by tough monsters.
‘you bounced fuzzy-wuzzies across the screen’
Every area ends with Creature’s famous torture chambers, a single screen area where you have a set time limit to rescue a friend from one of the monsters death traps like a slowly moving conveyor belt ending in a buzz saw or pneumatic lift that raises a fuzzy-wuzzie to a monster holding a chainsaw. Rescuing your friend requires skill, timing and a good dollop of puzzle solving as each chamber’s death trap could be turned against the monsters by exploiting design flaws like a nearby unlit cannon, power switches or the always useful 16 tons weights.
Sure you can figure out the solution and rescue your friend but often people (myself included) would let the trap run its course and watch as a monster went to town with the chainsaw sending pixelated blood squirting everywhere with grand guignol glee. So popular where the torture chamber sections that the sequel Creatures II: Torture Trouble was six new chambers interspaced with different types of mini games where you bounced fuzzy-wuzzies across the screen with a stretcher or carry them across water sections avoiding monsters.
As well as being incredibly playable in both the scrolling and chamber sections this game looks incredible, looking at screenshots you might not fully appreciate how smooth everything moves and how colourful everything is by using a programming trick whereby two colours are flashed so quickly your brain only sees a combination of the two and therefore increased the C64’s palette way beyond its normal hardware enforced limits. Every monster is filled to the brim with cuteness despite their attempts to kill you at every turn. Even the old 8-bit standby of parallax scrolling (ask your dad) gets a look in along with a good range of sound effect or unique music for each level.
‘all the Clydes should now be grey’
To see the whole of Creatures for many was only possible by activating the cheat mode that gave Clyde infinite lives. To do this you wait until the title screen’s music stops playing, this will take about four minutes then plug a joystick into the often unused port 1. Wait until the high score screen appears, you will note the dancing Clyde’s have stopped moving and are standing still. Take the joystick in hand and waggle it like you are playing Hyper Sports. If you do it enough all the Clydes should now be grey and you have infinite lives or if you’re boring I’m told by holding Ctrl and 2 has the same effect but where’s the fun in that?
Speaking of no fun, don’t bother with the 16-bit conversions of Creatures both the Amiga and Atari ST versions totally fail to capture the magic of the C64 original and look generic and lifeless with overuse of copperbanding and ugly, overly large sprites. The best place to play Creatures is with an original C64 or a good emulator like CCS64, VICE or Hoxs64 all of which are freely downloadable or shareware along with the original game that can be found at any good retro site like Lemon64.com or C64.com.