|What game are we playing this time?|
|The game box speaks of pedagogical breakthroughs, but this just seems |
ridiculous. I bet the program accepted only one correct solution,
although technically there might have been many correct answers
Educational games was something Coktel Vision continued to produce through the years, but a bit more interesting from our perspective were their adaptations from comic books and animation movies. It is quite surprising that this French company apparently got the permission to produce games based on Disney movies. Their catalogue contained games based on old classics, like Peter Pan and Jungle Book, but also a game based on Oliver & Company. And this movie might just be the reason why Disney ever co-operated with a semi-obscure French company. Disney animations had experienced a kind of a slump in the 80s, and they didn’t fully recover before Little Mermaid. Oliver & Company was just another disappointment, at a time when Fievel was more popular than the company with the original mouse brand. Maybe no one else just wasn't that interested of making games based on Disney movies at the end of 80s?
FUN FACT: Oliver & Company was the second Disney movie I ever watched in a movie theater (guess what was the first one for 5 CAPs) and the first one I watched the year it appeared
I did see this one also in the movies, but it will still be a while, before we get to it on the blog...
|...and yes, they did make an adventure game out of it|
Muriel Tramis was somehow involved in making Oliver & Company into a game, since she is credited as conceiving the game (I really can’t fathom what else could it mean but just saying “do a game based on the new Disney movie”). Alas, the game is clearly an action game, so we won’t be seeing it on the blog.
If you truly want to see what Oliver & Company is all about, here it is in all its 8-minute glory
Besides Disney, Coktel Vision was also involved in turning a number of French comic book series into computer games. These creations included Blueberry, Lucky Luke - and three Asterix games. Muriel Tramis is credited, again, as providing the concept for the last of them, Operation Getafix. Before getting into that game, I shall take the opportunity to introduce all you non-Europeans to the famed French comic book writer, René Goscinny, the person behind the best Asterix stories.
I won’t go into any biographical details of Goscinny's life (you can read them from Wikipedia), but I'll go straight to his work with comic books. While he apparently did draw his own comics, Goscinny is especially known as a collaborator, who provided plots for others to draw. Some of these comic book series were created before Goscinny got his hands on them and many of them continued after Goscinny’s death in 1977, but it is usually the Goscinny era titles that fans tend to remember.
Take for instance Lucky Luke, created by Belgian cartoonist Morris. Originally, the comic book was quite hard-boiled and Luke, the fastest gun in West, would kill his enemies in cold blood.
|Not very kid friendly|
This wouldn’t happen after Goscinny took charge of writing Lucky Luke and Morris was left the task of drawing. Instead of blood and guts, Goscinny concentrated on making fun of the usual cowboy cliches. Often he would take some noted figures of Wild West mythology and turn them upside down. Morris had killed off the Dalton brothers, but Goscinny invented their lesser known cousins, who were more incompetent than their famous namesakes. Jesse James, the famed Robin Hood of Wild West, has trouble deciding who are the poor he should help - if he gives money to people, they suddenly become rich - and finally decides to give money to people who are always poor, that is, Jesse himself and his brother. And then there’s Billy the Kid, who is literally a child and loves his lollipops and cocoa.
|The picture says it all|
While Lucky Luke is firmly based on historical realities, although at the same time subverting myths based on them, Iznogoud, Goscinny’s collaboration with Jean Tabary, is situated firmly in the land of fairy tales. The basic plot of these short stories is always same. Iznogoud, notoriously evil grand vizier of good and lazy caliph Haroun el Placid, invents the most nefarious plots involving political treacheries, magic and all kinds of nasty tricks, just to get to be Caliph instead of the Caliph; inevitably, these plots fail, usually turning against Iznogoud himself. Although the story is in a sense always same, the absurdity of Iznogoud’s plans and the number of amusing details and more or less bad puns filling these stories combine into a delightful experience.
It is simply impossible to pick a favourite out of these tales. Would it be the time when Iznogoud summoned to life a wax cabinet full of past and future criminals, including Brutus (killer of Caesar), Lucrezia Borgia and Al Capone? Or perhaps when he tried to sell the caliphate to mongol hordes who live in yogurt and eat jurts (the pun is better in French, where the two words sound so similar)? Or could it be the absurd story of Iznogoud trying to push Caliph within a magical ad poster (don’t even try to understand this without reading the story itself)? Or perhaps it’s the simple tale of Iznogoud trying to take Caliph into an island, which rumors told to be inhabited by man-eating giants, who then turn out to be vegetarians, but do use Iznogoud and his trusted servant Wa'at Alahf...
|...as pieces of a giant chess set!|
Many of the Asterix tales center around the village and its citizens, many of whom have names based on more or less bad puns. Because these puns are usually funny only in French, the names of the characters vary from one language to another. So, the village druid is called in French Panoramix (“seer”), in English Getafix (local drug dealer?), in Swedish Miraculix (“the miracle maker”) and in Finnish Akvavitix (reference to akvavit, a Scandinavian version of vodka). For the village chief, the same versions are Abraracourcix (“short arm”), Vitalstatistix, Majestix and Aladobix (reference to aladåb, Scandinavian version of meat jelly).
|Would you take orders from this guy?|
|No, these. These were also good with fist fights.|
With such stock characters, it is then no wonder that the actual plots of the Asterix albums are often largely forgettable, especially if the heroes are forced to remain near their home village. Instead, it is the small details that you remember, both the historical intros, in which Goscinny goes through the context of the stories, and the absurd puns and silly details that have nothing at all to do with the plot as such. Just look at the following panels from a plotwise completely irrelevant orgy in Switzerland, which involves messier and messier cheese fondue and ever-growing punishments each time you drop a bread in the pot.
|I know World War II had just ended, but seriously, not all |
Germans are brutes who wear spiked helmets
Taking into account all the pitfalls that an Asterix story could fall into, it is no wonder that best of these is actually an animated movie, based on no comic book. I am, of course, speaking of the Twelve Tasks of Asterix. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you should probably go and see the movie. The plot itself is suitably absurd. Roman legions have got enough beating from one single Gallic village, and rumor is spread that the villagers are actually gods. Julius Caesar takes this as an insult and challenges the villagers to do twelve impossible tasks - not those of Hercules, because they are a bit dated, but an updated version.
The silly premise is nothing but an excuse to take Asterix and Obelix from one crazy situation to another. And it works! Even the stereotypes of national characters are kind of endearing in this one, and the German martial arts expert is positively hilarious. The ending has no respect at all of real history, but this is animation, where everything can happen. Without going to further spoilers, I’ll just show you my two favourite scenes from the film.
It starts off as a cliched quest to answer a riddle of a wise old hermit.
Then it becomes a commercial. Finally, we see Olympic gods,
and Venus look suspiciously like Brigitte Bardot.
A classic scene in its own right. It’s supposed to be a simple
administrative formality, but red tape will make anyone crazy.
Instead, the filmmakers took only a B-plot from the comic book, which was probably for the best, since the B-plot actually has some funny moments and visual gags. It all begins by Getafix being hit by a flying menhir, thrown by Obelix. The result is that Getafix can’t remember how to make the magic potion. Best gags of the album involve Getafix making all kinds of potions with worse and worse side effects.
This B-plot alone couldn’t make a movie, so the producers combined it with another, slightly more interesting album, Asterix and the Soothsayer. It does have one of those classic Asterix history lessons, this time about divination in ancient times.
|And it manages to be quite sarcastic|
The story itself isn’t too bad either. Getafix has gone to the annual druid convention, while the village is visited by a soothsayer, who soon has to leave it, because Asterix and Obelix don’t trust him. Other villagers, though, keep on visiting the soothsayer in the forest, because he promises them a wonderful future. Then the Romans capture the soothsayer, and the local centurion hires him to prophesy a doom to the villagers. The ending manages to have both environmentalist and feminist overtones - Getafix rids Romans from the village with a foul-smelling gas reminiscent of polluted air, while the women of the village are finally given a chance to drink the magic potion and join the men in beating the Romans.
The movie is a bit of a paint-by-the-numbers. It has all the important points from one and a half albums - the plot follows mostly Asterix and the Soothsayer, but instead of being in a druid convention, Getafix has been hit by a menhir. Despite being faithful to the originals, the spirit of Asterix is sorely missing. And then someone - Muriel Tramis, perhaps? - had the bright idea of turning the movie into a game.
As you could have probably fathomed from the overtly long introduction, the game itself is quite short. Well, at least the English name is far better - Operation Getafix actually has something to do with the plot.
|They didn’t get even Uderzo’s name right|
The game begins just after Getafix has been hit by a menhir. The task of Asterix is stated clearly in the manual - collect ingredients from the surroundings and try to find the correct combination that will return Getafix to his sanity.
Let’s talk about the geography of the game. The central part of the game is the forest, which consists of two rows of little under ten screens. Both rows of forest screens end in same places. In the West, the forest stops with the Gallic village (four screens) and in the East, with the Roman camp (three screens). Apparently the world of Asterix is smaller than I remembered.
The main importance of the forest is that you can find various ingredients within it. Some of them you can find on trees and you have to push ENTER to get them. Some of them lie on the ground and you have to push SPACEBAR to make Asterix bend and pick them up. And while manual speaks of bending, the animation looks like Asterix is going on all fours. I am pretty sure French school kids used to make Asterix bend near other characters, creating all sorts of provocative images that we will not reproduce in this blog. Anyway, you can pick up only one piece of an ingredient at a time, and if you happen to lose it by making the wrong type of potion, you’ll have to go and pick it up again. Nice way to make the game last longer.
|Found fresh strawberries|
|Jumping to get holly|
At the western end of the forest we’ll encounter flying fish. This is running joke in Asterix. Apparently the local fishmonger sells fish that is far from fresh, which often causes fights between the villagers, and in these fights, fishes are thrown. In the game, the flying fishes work as an action minigame - you have to bend, if a fish is going to strike you. If Asterix is hit by several fishes, he loses one piece of wild boar, which act as hit points in the game. Lose enough hit points and it’s a game over. Asterix can also regain energy by jumping on wild boars, which also run at the western end of the forest.
|Hit by a fish one too many time...|
|...and the result is the liberation of the village by Roman armies|
At the eastern end of the forest we meet Roman legionaries in yet another action sequence. I can understand that I am meant to use joystick, but it really is a bad design choice to link all the fighting moves to function keys. Luckily, fighting is surprisingly easy. All you need to do is to stay far away from the legionary, repeatedly press F1 (a classic distracting move: “look, it’s a bird!”) and the legionary will inevitably run away.
|I don’t get the logic of this game: Obelix, with his permanent super strength, |
watches while Asterix with mere human strength tries to beat an armed soldier.
That’s about all there is to the forest, except for one screen, to which we will return later. The Gallic village is not much more interesting. The village has three shops:
- Blacksmith, who sells Asterix a sickle. The sickle is used just as an extra point of energy.
- Fishmonger, who sells Asterix a fish.
- Wine merchant, who sells Asterix some wine.
|The game truly lacks depth. You’d think you could use the stone path |
leading to the building, but no, it’s apparently just a painted backdrop,
since Asterix stops walking, when he reaches the limits of the dirt path.
The one building you can enter in the village is the chief’s house. When you enter it the first time, a cutscene begins:
|Gauls are scared of storms, because they are afraid the sky |
might fall down. So they all gather into chief’s house for safety.
|Ominous character enters the house: the soothsayer.|
The scene follows the plot of the movie. The soothsayer offers reading the future from entrails (this is where you need the fish) and promises the villagers that the sky isn’t falling.
Every time after this incident, when Asterix visits the chief’s house, the chief’s wife feeds Asterix and Obelix some wild boar. This restores the energy of Asterix, but also makes him lose all the ingredients he has collected.
|Considering that it is Obelix doing the eating, it is strange that the energy is transferred to Asterix.|
The last place to visit in the village is the field, where Getafix is trying to brew his potion. Asterix can give him three different ingredients. Sometime the mixture explodes, but if it doesn’t, Obelix will ask whether Asterix will let Getafix drink the stuff. Unfortunately, Coktel Vision wasn’t very innovative with the results of the potion brewing. We don’t see Getafix changing his colour, but he merely jumps around and levitates a bit.
|Getafix took one mushroom too many|
The more you feed Getafix wrong potions, the worse shape he gets. Thus, manual suggests getting a guinea pig to do the dangerous tasting business. Let’s go take a look at the forest again.
|What are the ladies of the village doing in the forest?|
|They are feeding the soothsayer!|
The soothsayer as such is a relatively unimportant character in the game. You can test his divining skills, that is, play dice with him and perhaps gain some money, but that’s not really necessary. When you visit the screen a second time, the soothsayer is gone (if the game follows the plot of the movie, he’s been taken by the Romans) and you have a chance to loot his hideout.
|Let’s take a can of petroleum…|
|...to make a big explosion…|
|...and to capture a Roman soldier…|
|...who will become our guinea pig!|
It becomes quickly apparent (at least if you use save states in testing the various ingredient combinations) that you are missing one ingredient. It’s probably bay laurel, which Getafix insists I should get him, and it cannot really be elsewhere, but in the Roman camp (you know, all Romans like occasionally to dress up in laurel wreath and pretend to be Caesar).
Getting into the Roman camp poses a problem. It is easy to scare away one guard, but there seems to be an infinite number of guards waiting to replace him. It’s time to do some adventure game magic and try to read the creator’s mind (or watch the movie and see what plot point you might want to advance next).
|Again, the logic of the game eludes me. Surely Obelix could just run through the line of guards.|
Let’s return to our guinea pig and give him some nice potions to drink.
|I so want to invite Getafix to my parties, everyone would be flying high.|
The floating Roman flies to his camp, where his fellow legionaries manage to tie a rope to him. After that, they become so busy watching the sky that they fail to notice an uninvited visitor.
|You have to know either the comic or the movie to even consider this possibility|
The camp itself is mostly empty, except for few legionaries playing dice and the tent of centurion. Centurion is quite happy to trade your bottle of wine for anything that you want.
|That reclining chair would look awfully good in my living room|
Asterix takes the laurel wreath, which we can then take to Getafix.
|And he finally comes back to his senses…|
|...just in time to make some magic potion|
And that’s the whole game! Let’s start the scoring.
Puzzles and solvability
At first I thought Operation Getafix might be more of an action adventure, but the action parts occur fortunately only in few screens, and even then there’s no need for quick reflexes. Still, there are not that much of puzzles either and most of them are solved just by trying different mixtures of the six ingredients or by carrying the correct object when you need it. The only thing you really need to complete the game then is patience.
Interface and Inventory
For once, Coktel Vision managed to make an interface that doesn’t feel essentially flawed. It’s simple, with only two actions (bending and jumping), but it works. The fighting system was a bit awkward, but you didn’t really need it for anything. Again, Coktel Vision did not give the player any chance to save her progress. Of course, with a saving ability the game would be ridiculously short - without it, you’d have to go and collect the same ingredients multiple times. Still, the lack of saving seems like a bad way to lengthen the game, so I’ll deduct a few points for it.
Story and Setting
There could have been so much depth or at least fun moments in the game. Instead, the producers took the already condensed movie and ripped a few scenes out of it. The role of the soothsayer is not very clear in the game, especially as he just vanishes in the middle of the game. And why isn’t Obelix doing anything in the game, except eating and making snarky comments? I know licensed games can be even worse in their lack of respect of the original source, but this is still quite unsatisfying.
Sounds and Graphics
Somehow I feel Coktel Vision is just getting worse in this category. The characters are recognisable from the comics, but otherwise the graphics look a bit bland. There seems to be no music, and while there are few sound effects, especially in the fighting scenes, they are not very remarkable.
Environment and Atmosphere
It is rare to find a game that manages to seem both too small and too big at the same time. The village and the Roman camp could have had more screens to visit, while the forest - the place you’ll be visiting most often - is just full of empty screens with nothing to do. This alone would be enough for 2, but considering that playing this without save states would mean walking around these desolate and boring surroundings many times over, I think I must give an even worse score.
Dialogue and Acting
Compared to earlier Coktel Vision games with a real writer doing all the texts. Operation Getafix falls flat. All the lines are comprehensible, but I would have expected more from a game based on Asterix-series.
1 + 3 + 2 + 3 + 1 +3 = 13, which divided by 0.6 makes 22. Considering the shortness and simplicity of the game, the score seems well deserved.