Released in 1983 for Apple ][, Atari 8-bits and ColecoVision, and in 1984 for Commodore 64 and IBM-PC compatibles.
Converted for the ZX Spectrum by Mike Davies, and released through Software Projects Ltd. in 1984.
Converted for the MSX by N.R. Dick for Interphase Technologies, Inc. and released through Toshiba-EMI Ltd. in 1985.
First in the series of Sydney Development titles based on Johnny Hart's comic strip characters, B.C.'s Quest For Tires has the distinction of being also the first "runner"-type platforming game, currently a more popular genre of gaming than it ever was before with the likes of Canabalt and Temple Run. Also, Quest For Tires also happens to be the only Sierra On-Line game ever to be converted for the ZX Spectrum, so this comparison will be a singular event in that sense.
Although it has been implied around the internet, that the ColecoVision was the first platform to have a release of QFT, I haven't found any evidence to prove this as a fact. Anyway, the supposed original Coleco version has a score of 4.4 out of 5.0 at MobyGames, while the Apple ][ version has a 3.7 there. Abandonia's editor has given the PC version 4.0 out of 5.0, and 1944 users have collectively rated it with 2.8. 128 Atarimania voters have given the Atari 8-bit version a whopping 8.4 out of 10, and in the Visitors' Top 25 list by rating, the game is at number 11 at the moment. The rating at Lemon64 is currently 7.5 from a total of 123 votes. At World of Spectrum, the game has a 7.56 from 27 votes, and finally, the MSX conversion has 3.5 stars from 4 votes. I guess these results might tell you something of the game's popularity and impact on modern gaming, although it has to be said, it was never really appreciated enough for what it was - or more particularly, what it is today.
DESCRIPTION & REVIEW
Having had its newspaper debut in February 17th 1958, B.C. is one of the longest-running daily American comic strips of all time. After its original creator, Johnny Hart, had died in 2007, the production of the comic strip was continued by his grandsons Mason and Nick Mastroianni and Hart's daughter Perri. After having the comic strip adapted into two animated television specials in the 1973 and 1981, it was only natural that the next step would be to take the characters into the
realm of video games.
B.C.'s Quest For Tires was first of its kind in 1983, and for a long time, the only one in the now popular genre of automatically scrolling "runner" games. Even more uniquely, it was a plot-driven game - even if the plot wasn't much more than rescuing Cute Chick from the claws of a dinosaur. So, in order to complete your mission, you must travel on your stone wheel through 10 connected levels, wherein you must jump over potholes, trees and rolling rocks etc., as well as duck under treebranches and stalactites. Two of the levels are single-screen jump-timing puzzles of sorts, and all the others are automatically horizontally scrolling ones. The most peculiar feature of this game is, funnily enough, your ability to control the speed of your stone wheel, which in turn has an impact on the scores you are given.
It can't be called a particularly difficult game by any means, but it offers a nice challenge, as well as a fairly nice diversion from all the other games of the time. Perhaps QFT doesn't have much of replay value in the way games like Super Mario Bros. or the Legend of Zelda have, but for some reason, it does have that strange feel to it every time you play it like you're meeting an old friend you haven't seen in 10 years, but enjoy the meeting every time, and you're happy with that relationship. I do heartily recommend it, but only in short bursts.
The game was released on a cartridge for various platforms, such as the Atari 8-bit home computers, Colecovision and Commodore 64. Most of the versions were also released on disk, so the only version that was only ever available on tape is the SPECTRUM one. So, automatically, it loses the battle this time, if you ever wanted to call it a battle. A comparison of the sequel might have been a bit more interesting in this regard, but this seemed to be a lot more interesting one otherwise.
|Loading screens and Padlock Protection screens from Commodore 64 (left) and ZX Spectrum (right)|
The only thing worth mentioning regarding loading is the Padlock protection on both tape versions on the C64 and the SPECTRUM, so I wanted to show what it's all about, in case you haven't heard of it. The Padlock code entering screen is shown right after the game has loaded, and you have to check the corresponding cross-section from the code sheet inside the tape inlay. An early form of copy protection, and an idiot proof method of getting crackers cracking.
Similarly to other runner-type games, Quest For Tires is a very easy game to pick up and just play. The only real feel of originality here compared to other runner games comes from your ability to adjust your speed very freely, which I mentioned already.
Thor is mostly controlled with a joystick. The PC version cannot even be played without one - it just will launch an unplayable game, where Thor just keeps on jumping and you can't do anything about it whatsoever. Only the SPECTRUM version has the option to play with a keyboard, which is the default option. The predefined keys there are Q, W, K, M and ENTER. Although you can't see any possibility to change any control methods or other options, push one of the following buttons when in the Game Over screen: P for selecting controls (1 - keyboard, 2 - Kempston, 3 - Protek, 4 - Sinclair), O for number of players (1 or 2) and I for skill level, which goes up to 4. You can pause the game by pressing the 'S' key. The controls are otherwise pretty self-explanatory, but accelerating and decelerating are a bit different on different machines. Some versions that are able to utilise a two-button joystick have one fire button for each action, while the one-button joysticks have to push the joystick left or right while pushing the fire button in order to either accelerate or decelerate. I choose not to give this bit any importance while counting the scores.
Speaking of scores, most of the versions of Quest For Tires has a high score indicator, even though the release media format wouldn't support saving high scores. Only two versions actually have a proper high score list: SPECTRUM and C64. Curiously, the C64 cartridge version doesn't have a high score list, although the disk and tape versions do. Naturally, you can find a nice upgraded crack version of the game on the C64, featuring a high scores saver, not that it matters much nowadays.
Perhaps I should finally get to the game itself. From what I could count, the game normally has as many as 10 levels of varying difficulty, speed and length. Some of the levels are only one screen long timing puzzles, if you want to count them as levels. But here's another one of those nice lists to make things unnecessarily clear.
Level 1: Flat grassy field with rocks and holes. You only need to perform jumps in order to pass the level.
Level 2: Forest area, featuring tree branches and fallen logs. Now, you need to duck as well as jump.
Level 3: Turtle bridge with Fat Broad. "Jump, sucker!" You need to cross a river by hopping on floating and diving turtles. You need to time the jumps to go with Fat Broad's club smashing as well. Just tap the joystick right and left to get through it.
Level 4: Uphill battle. Similar level to the first one, but now you're going uphill, and some rolling rocks will come at you. Jump like a maniac.
Level 5: Top of the volcano. More rocks and holes, as well as a lava pit. To get over the lava pit, you must match your speed with the Dooky Bird's, and jump on the bird's legs when approaching the pit.
Level 6: Downhill battle. A short downhill version of level 1. High speed.
Level 7: Jump over a chasm. Go high speed and time your jump right.
Level 8: Dodge falling hot lava rocks from the erupted volcano. Sort of similar to level 1 again, but with rocks falling from the sky. Your speed can be whatever you wish, but I'd recommend something around 40-50.
Level 9: Turtle bridge with a dinosaur. Similar to level 3, but with different timing.
Level 10: Cave version of level 2. Jump and duck past stalagmites. At the end of the cave, Cute Chick is waiting for you, and will be heartily grateful until the next round.
After completing the game, it starts with a higher difficulty level, which mostly means a higher minimum speed, but also slightly more obstacles and other minor nuisances. On the easiest difficulty level, your minimum speed is 10 in all but two segments - the forest and the cave. The next round adds 10 units to previous minimums, and so forth.
I hate to say it, but most of the versions are so similar to each other (at least when it comes to gameplay), that I'm having a hard time getting anything interesting for this section. Mostly, the differences are very small, for instance the length and timing of your jumps, and the acceleration and the sense of speed. But there is something more weighing to be mentioned about your allowed area of movement in each level of each version. Chuck Benton has made all his own versions the same, and they are all quite free concerning movement. The Coleco and MSX versions play exactly the same, as they are made by the same Sydney team, and both have some notable differences in velocity and area restrictions. Somehow, the DOS version got spared of these problems, although it doesn't mention Benton as being in charge. In the end, most of this stuff affects the playability very little, but there is one strange thing that was overlooked on the MSX/COLECO version: in the first turtle bridge section, you can't fall into the water as the turtles take a dip. This feels like an overlook of sorts, and makes the game way too easy in this regard. Apart from that, the biggest thing you need to worry about is how to actually get to play any of these versions. Having said that, the DOS version being a booter game must be the most difficult one to get to play properly with modern hardware, particularly if you have no joystick, but when you get all the required bits connected, it's quite as good as the MSX/COLECO version. Make sure you play it on a proper old PC with a proper old PC joystick, though - some USB-controllers don't always work fast enough, and instead have some slight delay, which kills any enjoyment you might have in games that require quick actions.
The only version that has any sort of properly different feel to it in gameplay is the APPLE ][ version, which is curious, since it's one of the originals. I suppose Chuck Benton wasn't involved all that much in the programming of this version, but who knows. It's missing four bits that are in every other version: the forest level, the downhill bit and the chasm after the volcano, and the dinosaur. Instead of going past the dinosaur, Fat Broad appears in its stead, and she is missing from the earlier turtle bridge bit. But this is not even close to being the bulk of all the differences here, oh no. Frankly, I didn't even notice those differences on my first two plays. All the speed differences and entirely different (in one word, longer) jump mechanics make this feel like an entirely different game compared to all the other versions. The most notable difference regarding the jump mechanics comes in the turtle bridge sections, where you will only need to push the joystick up in order to hop over the next turtle, which happens so slowly that you're never really able to tell whether you will land on a turtle or water. To put it in a few blunt words, the APPLE ][ version is a slow-tempo arcade game requiring lots of luck and guesswork, whereas the other versions are fast arcade games based almost entirely on calculated actions.
1. ATARI / C64 / SPECTRUM
2. MSX / COLECOVISION / DOS
3. APPLE ][
|Title screens. Top row, left to right: Colecovision, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, PC-booter CGA.|
Bottom row: MSX, Apple ][, ZX Spectrum, PC-booter TV composite.
Before heading on to the in-game graphics, let's start off with a set of title screens, which in most cases is a very text-based one. Only on the IBM-PC and APPLE versions you get any sort of graphics apart from the MSX's colourful blocks going around in the borders. Clearly, the APPLE version scores here, so we might as well move on to the level screenshot compilations.
|Screenshots from the Apple ][ version.|
Now, since the APPLE ][ version practically ended the previous section, let's start the actual level graphics comparisons with that one now. I'm pretty convinced, not that many of you otherwise familiar with the game have ever seen it like this. Not included in the compilation of screenshots is the second turtle bridge, only because it looks exactly the same as the first one. As always, screenshots as still pictures don't always tell the whole truth - the animations are quite impressive here, very detailed and having more frames than any of the other versions. Although the scrolling is fine enough, the slowness of the game takes quite a bit away from the excitement and enjoyment you could have had, were it as fast as the others. Also, the colouring isn't a particularly exciting one. Going monochrome would have been almost preferable, since it would have matched the basic mode comic strip. Also, having no "Jump! Sucker!" speech bubble for Fat Broad is a letdown.
|Screenshots from the PAL Atari 8-bit version.|
On the ATARI, we have a properly coloured version. Even though the background graphics aren't very consistant in keeping the ground levels properly linked to each level, having any differing sorts of backgrounds at all makes up for it quite nicely. As with the rest of the versions, the animations are quicker, more comical and immediate, and the scrolling is stunningly quick compared to the APPLE ][ version.
|Extra Atari screenshots from the NTSC version.|
Compared to the PAL screens, the NTSC screens seem a bit washed out. However, I should point out that when playing on an emulator, the NTSC version works slightly better - the PAL emulation's scrolling jitters slightly, which doesn't happen when in NTSC mode. But it could well be some sort of a problem with my chosen emulator or my current PC setup, who knows. If anyone can tell if this is strictly an emulator-related problem, I would be grateful for the information.
|Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.|
Apart from being very similar to the ATARI graphics, I can only describe the C64 version as being a lot more cheerful in palette. Taking a closer look, there are some slight differences in the background details as well - there's a bit more shading in the mountains and life in the trees here. Also, it's a minor detail, but I definitely like the brighter colour on the Dookie Bird more, even if his colour is red in the comics. It's just more noticable this way. But putting my personal opinions aside, it's basically the same as the ATARI version. You like what you will.
|Screenshots from the TV composite PC-booter version.|
The PC-booter version has two different display modes - one for TV output and one for RGB output, which is supposed to be targeted for the early CGA-supported monitors. The screenshots above are taken from the DOSbox-emulated TV version, which works a lot better than the RGB version, as you can see from below.
|Extra screens from the CGA PC-booter version.|
As you see, not even nearly as enjoyable as the composite TV version, so it's definitely not recommended. The animation in the PC-booter version is basically the same quality as with all the other "normal" ones, but the colouring and screen resolution are just not quite up to scratch with the others.
|Screenshots from the Colecovision and MSX versions.|
This might come as a surprise, but apart from the title screen, the MSX and COLECOVISION versions look EXACTLY the same. To prove this point, into the above compilation I have combined screenshots from both versions in a random order. If you can point out which screen is from which version, I'll buy you a doughnut. The scrolling and colouring is pretty much the same as in all the other "normal" versions, but the details on the sprites and the animation are slightly better here. Unfortunately, the collision detection is a bit wonky, which makes the graphics in all their goodness slightly distracting, because they don't represent the exact size of all things. Luckily, it's not what we're looking for here.
|Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version.|
Although the SPECTRUM's colour scheme is funky and bright, some attribute clash is inevitable, so the wheel has been made permanently green, and Thor is completely red. Basically, most of the colours have been localized into sections. There's the green area with some yellow underneath, the red area over the white background, then there's the background graphics area with mountains, sky, trees, calls of help and the Dookie Bird. All that colour clash aside, it's a pretty good rendition of the C64 version. The animations are well made, the scrolling is spot on... only the colours are a bit off. I'm actually a bit impressed here.
|Failing at the chasm: left - MSX/Coleco, right - PC-booter|
|Screenshots of Thor sinking. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, ZX Spectrum.|
Bottom row: Apple ][, PC-booter (TV), MSX/Colecovision.
As for the sinking bit - it's pretty much all the same in all versions. The APPLE ][ version has this funny little "ZOT!" exclamation, which gets shown before every fall, but when you drop in the water or lava, this is the only thing you'll see as Thor keeps sinking.
|Screenshots of Thor falling off his wheel. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, ZX Spectrum.|
Bottom row: Apple ][, PC-booter (TV), MSX/Colecovision.
The default failure animation is when you get knocked off of your stone wheel - you drop down flat on your face and begin to see stars, while your stone wheel bounces off to the right like a Super Ball, all the way out of the screen. Only the PC-booter version doesn't feature any stars above Thor's head, and on the SPECTRUM, Thor turns completely green due to the sectored colouring, but otherwise, it's all pretty much the same.
|Screenshots from ending sequences. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, ZX Spectrum.|
Bottom row: Apple ][, PC-booter (TV), MSX/Colecovision.
Rescuing the Cute Chick is an event that always sends some hearts flying. Literally. The default animation goes like this: Cute Chick sends a heart flying towards Thor, but on its way, the heart performs a bigger heart-shaped pattern in the air. When the Cute Chick's heart reaches Thor, he turns towards the camera and smiles at us with a big smile on his face and a heart touching his cheek. Strangely, the otherwise graphically slightly superior MSX/COLECO version doesn't have any kind of animation here, only a still picture as you see above. Same goes for the PC-booter version, as you might have already suspected. The SPECTRUM version tries its best by drawing a very flat heart under the colourful background area, which is kind of cute. Finally, the already quite dissimilar APPLE ][ version shows Thor arriving to the scene with his heart on display, and when Cute Chick is finally shown on the screen, she offers her heart as well. The two hearts are drawn in a funny, bad cartoonish sort of way, which is a nice touch, but it kind of feels even cheesier than the default ending scene.
All in all, I think the APPLE ][ version works surprisingly well in its own peculiar way, but the animation speed leaves a lot to be desired, as do the colouring and the background graphics. While the PC-booter version features less detail than most of the other versions, it does have more colour than the SPECTRUM and APPLE ][ versions, which is already quite a lot. The stretched look is a big turn-off here, but the CGA version can't be even considered an option. Animation-wise, as well as detail-wise, the MSX/COLECO version is surprisingly a lot better than any of the others, and it has the biggest amount of failure animations - but then it's missing a properly good ending sequence. In that sense, the C64, ATARI and SPECTRUM versions are the most thoroughly compiled ones. But, the sum of all parts make the scores look like this:
1. MSX / COLECOVISION
2. ATARI 8-BIT / COMMODORE 64
3. ZX SPECTRUM
4. DOS (TV) / APPLE ][
5. DOS (CGA)
Finally, let's start the sound section with the twosome that surprised us all (well, at least me) in the previous section. As the COLECOVISION was one of the first platforms to get a release of Quest For Tires, it also was given what feels like the optimal blueprint for the game's sound design. All the sound effects are very cartoony and fitting for the theme - noisy crashes and splashes, springy bouncing sounds, rolling sound effect from your stone wheel and some bips and bops. Just different enough to make it recognizable. There's not much music here, but the little that there is, sets the mood quite nicely. You get a couple of different bits from Rossini's William Tell Overture, and for the grand finale, we hear the all-too familiar bit from Mendelssohn's Wedding March. How unique.
The MSX version could almost be said of being much of the same, really, as all the basic sound effects have a similar style, and the two tunes are also in there, but then singularly, it features voice samples of Thor yelling "ouch", "whoops" and "yipee", which makes quite a lot of difference. Of course, this was made two years after the original, so they had some time to make the enhancements, but having voice samples in 1985 wasn't such a big thing anymore. Still, it makes the MSX version easily the most enjoyable one.
From the other early releases, the APPLE ][ features the least impressive soundtrack, as it has no music at all, and the sound effects are something you would expect in a mediocre Spectrum game with bleepy stock sound effects. Clearly, this is not anywhere even near the same league as the others.
And then, the ATARI version. The sound effects are very different from either of the two other early versions, which is a good thing, as it offers another starting point for other conversions. The whole set is still a very cartoony one, but now it has a very different, distinctively Atariesque metallic feel to it. Somehow, I don't get the feeling that the sounds really belong into the game as much as they should, but at least they work much better than the APPLE sounds. As for the music, you get the "charge!" jingle twice during the game, and the obligatory Wedding March at the end, so it's not quite a finished product yet, but getting closer to the COLECO/MSX version.
From the second batch, the C64 version is easily the more enjoyable one, and it's clearly an ATARI derivative. However, the sound effects here lack the metallicity that is so evident on the Atari, and now have a more... I'm not sure if this is the right word to describe it, but with the slightly nasal overall quality of the jumps and ducks, as well as the small delay effect used there, the C64 version has a more rubberbandy feel to the soundtrack. As on the ATARI, the musical part of the game is only represented by the "charge!" jingle and the Wedding March bit. For me, it's on the same line as the ATARI version, but for once, not nearly as good as the MSX version. Or even the COLECO version.
For a single-channel speaker soundtrack, the PC-booter version has a surprisingly competitive one. You get the William Tell Overture bits, the Wedding March bit, and some fairly descriptive sound effects, which, while not exactly enjoyable, are still easily better and more varied than the APPLE ][ sounds.
The SPECTRUM soundtrack is trying to imitate the very core of the original sound effects with some sort of weird percussive farty noises, but apart from the stone wheel's rolling sound, none of it really hits the right tone. Even the rolling sound is slightly changed for every section - seems like it all depends on the graphics, how the sounds are effected. But the worst bit is the Wedding March thing at the end, which resembles the tune only in a rhythmic way, as the melody is pretty much completely lost there. But I'd say, as far as the quality and the amount of sounds go, the SPECTRUM version is on the same line as the PC version.
Happily, we get a clear order for once...
3. C64 / ATARI
4. DOS / SPECTRUM
5. APPLE ][
Considering that you play as Thor from the comic strip series B.C., and not as B.C. himself, it seems a bit odd that the game is called B.C.'s Quest For Tires, since B.C. isn't shown anywhere in the game. But aside from that, the game throws in a nice set of characters from the comic strip, as well as a good amount of similar simplistic backdrops.
I suppose it could be a matter of taste whether you like to have a simplistic game representation of the comic strip, or an even more simplistic one, but as I keep saying, playability is the king. But whether you like it or not, here are the final mathematical results...
1. MSX: Playability 2, Graphics 5, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 12
2. COLECOVISION: Playability 2, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
3. ATARI 8-BITS: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 10
3. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 10
4. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
5. PC-BOOTER: Playability 2, Graphics 1/2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5/6
6. APPLE ][: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4
Although I'm actually able to agree again with the results - at least when it comes to the overall quality of all sections and the entertainment value, I'm still of a mind to mention that I am currently going through a phase of trying out different methods of calculating the scores... although finding a proper scoring method would probably defeat the object of getting you lot to read through these massive posts. So let's see if that will ever actually happen.
Anyway, I have to recommend you to check out the MSX version for a more audiovisually entertaining experience, but if you just want to enjoy playing the game, pick any of the middle threesome. They're all as good as it gets, although I do feel the C64 version has the least off-putting soundtrack of them.
Quest For Tires has enough of a cult status to have gained a remake for modern computers. This remake by Derbian Games is a more difficult version based on the C64 release, featuring sounds ripped from the C64 version. The enhancements here are nice fresh graphics and a simultaneous two-player competitive mode. It's a nice version for all you hardcore fans, who have grown tired of the easiness of the original, so head on to the Derbian Games' website and download the remake for free.
|Screenshots from Derbian Games' PC remake of B.C.'s Quest For Tires.|
But before you do so, you might want to take a look at my review of the sequel here below...
B.C. II - GROG'S REVENGE
Developed by Sydney Development Corp.
Released in 1984 by Sierra On-Line for Commodore 64 and ColecoVision, and in 1986 by Erbe Software for MSX.
While B.C.'s Quest For Tires was a fun arcade game, I don't really think it really hit the comic strip's humor quite right, although at least you could see many familiar characters. And as is often the case, the sequel turned out to be the more interesting one, and this time, even a bit of that old B.C. humour got thrown in the mix, as your quest this time was to get to the highest mountain and seek the Meaning of Life - probably from the hermit guru living on top of a mountain. You still don't get to play as B.C. himself, though.
|Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version of Grog's Revenge.|
Unfortunately, the game was only ever released on the C64, Coleco and MSX, although it was also advertised for being published for the Spectrum, BBC Micro and Amstrad. So I thought it wouldn't be nearly as interesting to make a proper comparison of, and therefore, I have added it here as another post scriptum.
Again, you control Thor, but instead of moving in an automatically scrolling world, you are now moving freely from left to right and front to back. Your mission is to collect a certain amount of clams (as money) from the mountain roads and from connecting cave segments to be able to pay the bridge toll to Peter, while trying to avoid collision with potholes, rocks, pterodactyls and Grog. In the connecting caves, you control Thor through vertically scrolling darkness, helped by a short light emanating from your torch, which you must use to navigate past the randomly scattered stalagmites.
|Screenshots from the MSX version of Grog's Revenge.|
Although Grog's Revenge isn't quite as diverse as the original game, it certainly has a more immersive style of gameplay, and it's quite a bit more difficult than Quest For Tires as well. As well as getting the comic strip's humour better on display here, it also manages to give you a fair amount of jump scares, when Grog or the pterodactyl manage to surprise you around the corner. Happily, the game has a map screen to see where Grog is moving, as well as a sound effect alarming you to Grog's nearby location, so you can't say you weren't warned before getting yelled off your stone wheel.
Grog's Revenge is such a different game compared to Quest For Tires, that I can only recommend everyone to check it out, even if you didn't enjoy the original game. Or perhaps, particularly if you didn't enjoy it.
That's it for now, hope you enjoyed it!
Next time, something completely different, which might interest a lot of retrogaming newbies.
Thanks for reading again; comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome as always!