I fell in love with an Alien!
There's an old saying about how every large Oak tree starts from a single Acorn and it's something that seems to have stuck with me throughout my entire life. I love that saying, mostly because it just so happens to be true.
When you apply it to the world of videogaming it has a real sense of true meaning, after all, an idea is the Acorn and the finished game the big 'ol Tree. But what happens when the finished article doesn't come from a standard idea? what happens when it's origins are a little bit more unique and ultimately special. Will you still get a familiar looking Oak at the end of it all or by coming at it from another angle entirely will something wondrous happen?
Let's take a look at one of those 'unique' moments...
A 'Travellers Tale' worth hearing
The Sega Megadrive / Genesis is a system that just so happens to have an absolute ton of fantastic games on it that actually came from other popular systems. Any Amiga 500 fans reading this should know that there are a huge number of titles that were made famous by the 16-Bit home computer (James Pond and Chuck Rock say hello) that went on to sell more or eventually be regarded as classics for Sega’s system. Somehow, and clearly without wanting or meaning too, that sexy black box of goodness ended up stealing all the credit it seems. Now some videogame titles or series are known to everyone such as the two I just mentioned above but one or two are out there but seldom seem to get any love or spotlight’s pointed on them, that’s where I come in.
This entry is all about a game that started out as something totally different that was meant for one platform that eventually became something entirely new on another format which went on to have it’s best edition on an addition to previous machine. To make it even more confusing it was still released on the format where the idea first came from, it‘s sequel was cancelled and the main rival‘s platform version was almost finished then binned. Confused? Don’t be. Pull up a chair, sit back, relax and above all else, trust me sexy people… I got this!
In Europe and bits of North America/Canada the name ‘Amiga’ is usually a word spoken that’s quickly followed by a glossy look in the eye and mind drifting elsewhere. If you don’t believe me then the next time you speak with friends or in public just say it and watch for the reaction. North American fans of the NES, SNES and Genesis have similar responses but for this writer the Commodore Amiga trounces all. In my opinion (and trust me I will fight you on this) it’s the only time there’s been a true 2 generation leap from the current installed format king. What it could do in 1987 whilst Europe was mostly into the Master System or 8-Bit home computers and Japan and North America were going insane over some fat plumber was almost too good to be true.
So big was the Amiga’s impact that it ended up creating an entire sub section of games and entertainment commonly referred to as Public Domain. Ordinary people would use the computer to create games or demos and then save them to disc and share with friends or send to huge mail order companies for increased distribution. Essentially it was the Indie gaming scene of it’s era only it was way cooler, far harder due to being the first true example of potentially mass produced homebrew and above all else all without the aid of the internet. You younger lot don’t even know you’re born some days, trust me - lol.
Along with coders on platforms such as the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64 a ton of software houses would actively hire talent from these Public Domain groups. DICE came from the Amiga demo scene and the next time you play Worms, make sure you thank the Amiga Public Domain revolution. What I’m trying to build to here is just how crucial the Amiga was to it’s time and the entire gaming industry regardless of territory. Demos were a huge deal for years and once such demo featuring a very cool little dude was about to go way further than it’s creators first thought… Enter Puggsy!
The name of the demo was simply called ‘Puggs in Space’ by a public domain group called ‘DIONYSUS’ and is an animated cartoon-esq story of how the little fella comes to Earth and then proceeds to interact with things he comes across. When it first came out it was fantastic however to look at it now sort of makes your enamel on the teeth itch. Very much a proof of concept type affair the 3 guys behind it then went on to begin the making of an actual game. During it’s development a very famous developer and publisher called ‘Psygnosis’ stepped in, purchased the rights then proceeded to have talented developer ‘Travellers Tales’ take up the job and produce a final marketable product.
Releasing to very favourable review scores it was also earmarked for release on the Sega Megadrive console due to the formats instant sales success in Europe. Meeting with less favourable but still very decent scores it hit the Sega format and went on to be quite popular with people who liked platforming games but wanted more than just running from left to right, this fit the bill perfectly.
The Amiga and Sega version of the game are mostly similar in that Puggsy has landed on a planet and had his spacecraft stolen. As the player you assume the role of this cool orange alien and begin to work through the games levels in order to find said spaceship and leave. Rather than a standard platformer, Puggsy plays very much like a ‘Dizzy’ title, for those not in the know this means it’s a fetch and carry adventure game where you can backtrack through the level.
By collecting objects you can then take them to areas that require said item, for example, a key will open a treasure chest and in turn get you a candle. This item will then be needed for a dark place to enable you to see. This of course slows the pace of the game down but in turn allows the gamer to see more of the game world and therefore properly feel a part of it. There’s a reason Dizzy had so many games, it’s a concept that Europeans and especially UK gamers loved. Puzzle platformers are quite simply awesome!
Where Puggsy stood apart from everything else around it however was it’s superb use of physics, by stacking items on top of each other you could actually move more than just one item around saving huge portions of time. Each of the objects in the game also had a specific weight to it meaning that some clever thinking and arranging of stuff would end up with you looking like a power lifter or a puzzle game god. It was something never really seen in games before and would actually take years for other titles to incorporate similar methods of object moving. Well done Travellers tales.
A huge adventure, Puggsy has over 50 levels to experience including 6 boss battles, a set of training levels on it’s Junior mode and a few things only accessible through finding secret areas inside the existing areas. With it’s puzzling element this was something that really took people some serious time to finish. Another genius move was in not having to make you actually beat every level, you could, if you knew what you were doing bypass certain situations entirely.
With the release of Sega’s Add-On unit the Mega-CD / Sega-CD a more enhanced version of the same game was eventually released for the CD based peripheral. With a few more levels and 3 extra boss encounters it’s biggest benefit was a much richer graphical design, gorgeous CD music and even some cool FMV sequences to help aid the story. Very much a Directors cut of an existing game it’s this Mega-CD version that is without a shadow of a doubt the best overall version of the game. But here’s where it gets even cooler… Puggsy CD contains levels based on another Psygnosis title called Wiz ‘N’ liz and also the Sega mega CD version even had a demo!!! Yes you heard me correctly. The magazine called ‘Mega Power’ actually produced a 3 title special CD Psygnosis demo on the cover of one of it’s issues. Now I could be wrong, I seldom am though - lol but this would be the first time a Sega cartridge based game would have an actual playable demo available for consumer purchase and use because of a CD format. Mind Blown!
The disc contained demos of Microcosm, Puggsy and that game I mentioned before, Wiz ‘n’ Liz. There was also another cool bonus, a full music video in CD/FMV format by a band called ‘Sunscream’ the song called ‘Broken English’ How superb that a demo that would go on to become a fully fledged game would one day return in a demo form eh? Puggsy is special. Around this text you will find my copy of that disc, it’s awesome! An almost finished version of the game also existed for the Super Nintendo console but unfortunately was cancelled, a second adventure pencilled in after the Amiga launch was also canned thus unfortunately ending our love affair with that short orangey red Alien.
Never an award winner and never sitting on the top of sales charts Puggsy and it’s CD version absolutely deserved way more than it got. It looks gorgeous, even now, it’s music is incredible and there’s just so much to see and do including different endings and some really cool hidden elements.
Whilst Worms and several other famous franchises went on to gain traction and stay around this wonderful little adventure seems destined to be left outside like a naughty dog and for me that’s just not cool, not cool at all. If you see yourself as a platform or adventure fan and you don’t mind puzzles then this is something that needs to be fired up today. It’s one of those games that in 2016 looks and feels just as great as it did in 1993 when it was first released. It was great then, it’s great now and that’s because the special games always remain that way. Magic, love and the ‘it’ factor were coded into it’s very DNA and the result, for me anyway, was just mountains and mountains of great memories.