Sinclair ZX Spectrum version:
Programming by John Gibson and Roy Gibson
Graphics by Karen Davies
Commodore 64 version:
Programming by Dave Colclough and Graham Everett
Graphics by Karen Davies
Music by Fred Gray
Published in Europe by Ocean Software in 1985.
The C64 version also published in North America by Firebird in 1986.
Amstrad CPC version written by John Gibson, and published by Ocean Software in 1986.
NOTE: This entry also contains a slightly belated bonus tribute chapter to the recently passed Bob Wakelin, who made the cover art for this game, as well as a great deal of many other classic games of this era. May he rest in peace.
INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS
A long time ago in a Finnish village far, far away from any real access to anything that was going on in the real world, a young boy just about ready to take his first steps into computer gaming was utterly, blissfully unaware of anything resembling modern pop music. Right about that time, an oddly named pop group called Frankie Goes To Hollywood had released their few smash hit singles, as well as a couple of albums, before disbanding. The first time I actually learnt that Frankie Goes To Hollywood was a band was shortly after I had first come across this game on Ocean's compilation, The Magnificent Seven, and played it for a while. Like all the other best games have a tendency to do, Frankie the Computer Game (as it was otherwise known) and its brilliance took awhile to sink in. It didn't help, that I hadn't read anything about the game before playing it - not even the manual. See, part of the whole point in experiencing Frankie the Computer Game with as little knowledge as possible is the sheer surprise of discovery, but happily, it still manages to remain somewhat of a mystery. In case you want to keep this game as a mystery before you play it, do yourself a favour and stop reading now. If you're familiar with Frankie the game, read on.
Frankie the Computer Game was officially one of the best games of 1985 - in fact, it took the 2nd place in the 1985 Game of the Year Awards' Arcade Adventure category. Ratings in magazines at the time were exceedingly high: 97% given by Zzap!64, a full five star rating from Sinclair User and 94% from Crash. I cannot vouch for the integrity of each magazine, but to be fair, the current ratings at our favourite websites aren't much worse, considering the "devaluation" of games of this age in general. At World of Spectrum, the game has a score of 8.09 from 64 voters, while the Lemon64 score is just a tad higher at 8.2 from 106 votes, and the only Amstrad review to be found at CPC Game Reviews has a 7/10 rating. Not bad, considering this is a game from 1985, but couldn't it have been even better?
DESCRIPTION & REVIEW
Categorizing Frankie as an "arcade/adventure" would only barely begin to describe this game. Sure, it's the smallest compartment you can put the game into, but it's also a surreal quest of an incognito man to become a real person by finding, examining and consuming items, using them on other objects if possible and... for the lack of a better explanation, merge reality with fantasy - the mundane with the fantastical. Frankie Goes To Hollywood is exactly the sort of game that would fit into the Unique Games series, had it not been released for three machines, which is why I decided to do a comparison of it.
In practical terms, you control a man with your favourite controller around a large number of houses on a few imaginary streets, grab objects by reaching out for them, and use them. Once you have learned how to use things, you can eventually travel between different dimensions (through video screens) and play lots of different kinds of arcadey mini-games to further solve a murder mystery as a side quest, and gain something called Pleasure Points in order to reach the height of humanity... or something. It's a difficult game to describe in a few words, and it's not the sort of game you would want to give too much information on, either, particularly if you're trying to recommend it to anyone. So, while I do recommend it to anyone trying to find something unique to experience on a C64, Spectrum or Amstrad, I also have to recommend NOT to read this article any further, if you haven't played it yet.
This will be the last time I'm compiling a loading section to compare the loading times of the usual threesome. Come to think of it, there hasn't been an entry with only the usual three computers in a long time, so it's just as well to do one now, near the end of the blog. And of course, let's have all the loading screens here as well.
COMMODORE 64: 4 min 36 sec
AMSTRAD CPC: 4 min 19 sec
ZX SPECTRUM: 3 min 31 sec
Here we have a rare occurrence of the C64 version being the slowest one to load from the three usual contestants. Whatever the reason for that, it's still the most entertaining loader to wait through, since it features an unusual SID arrangement of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's first, and biggest, hit single "Relax" by Fred Gray. Unusual in the way that it sounds almost as if it's heard from a distance away from a set of Walkman headphones played at considerable volume. The other two just screech their way through in their usual manner.
|Loading screens, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 tape (PAL), Commodore 64 disk (NTSC)|
All of the regular loading screens depict an equation which doesn't make sense, even if you have completed the game. If anything is to be gathered from the loading screen, it is a vague hint to what needs to be done in the game. Unbeknownst to many, the C64 version was also released in the US through Firebird (disk only), which is where the fourth loading screen comes from. Naturally, the disk version has no loading music, nor would it feel appropriate with such a loading screen. After the game has loaded, though, the regular Frankie starting screen comes up - although you won't see the non-person in the ring punching a rectangular thing until you press the fire button to start the game.
The above reminds me of the first few times I tried to play Frankie on my C64, and several times after the first time I got to play it. The annoying thing was, that the loading screen would stay until the very end of loading, although the text bits would disappear at some point, and the music would cease to play some time after that. Because the tape would continue to play even after the music has ceased, you were supposed to realize without any further cues, that you can now press the fire button to start, which would trigger an animated event on the screen. Because on the C64, the tape drive's motor usually stops when the loading is done, and also because in most other Ocean's games, the loading still continues for a while after the loading music has stopped playing, it took me a while to realize that the game is ready to be played when the loading music stops (unless, of course, there was a load error), and so, a few times, the tape would continue to play until the end, and thus a chance would be missed to load the game that was recorded next onto that particular the Magnificent Seven tape (The Great Escape). The other two versions are thankfully more traditional in this sense.
Once we have gotten past the practically unskippable loading part, it's time to find out how to actually play the game - in other words, finding your controls. The C64 version is played either on a joystick in port 2, or keyboard, which is a bit complicated, but variable to your own preference. Basically, any key in the top row acts as the fire button; the next row down is used for up and the row down from that is used for down; and the last real row alternates left and right for each key; and oddly, the Space Bar isn't used at all. But joystick is definitely preferable, since you don't really need anything else. The SPECTRUM version is played on either definable keys or various choices of joysticks, the choice of which must be made immediately after the game has loaded. The AMSTRAD version can also be played by either a joystick or the predefined keys on your keyboard, which are 8, U, H, J and SPACE.
As soon as you enter the peculiarly mundane world of Frankie, you will be bound to notice, that the game is a non-scrolling flip-screen action/adventure of sorts. You can explore the world by entering different areas through doors, examining and picking up objects by extending your hand, and using the items at hopefully appropriate places by choosing them from the inventory, which you can access by pressing down the fire button and pulling the joystick down. Unlike many other such adventure games of the time, Frankie allows you to carry up to eight items at once, as opposed to maybe one or two - superbly convenient, indeed! (Now, I cannot go on further without perhaps spoiling something of the game's less mundane part, but since the mini-games are an integral part of your journey to becoming a complete person, it cannot be helped. Besides, you were warned in the introduction, so any complaints can be addressed at your mirror.) Once you have walked into the fantasy realm of seemingly unrelated minigames, you also have the occasional ability to shoot with the fire button, either straight on when occupying a missile defender or other weapon of the sort, or you might need to lift your hand first to make it shoot, as it happens in the WAR room and the maze. Similarly, you might just move some object up and down or left and right, instead of walking your actual game self.
Although the aforementioned murder mystery presents itself rather abruptly and further into the game than you might expect - thus emphasizing its secondary nature of being part of the game - it is also an important part of the journey, and will pile up a good amount of points towards your becoming a complete person. When the event of discovering a dead body occurs, it starts a new integrated part in the game, which shows you all the clues about who the murderer is, and clues about the people in the area, who might or might not have something in common with the murderer. Once you have gathered enough (preferably all) evidence, you must return to the crime scene and announce the murderer. Of course, if you haven't solved the crime and choose the wrong suspect, points are taken away from you. But as you know by now, even solving the crime doesn't end the game.
The main object is to fill up all four status bars (representing faith, love, sex and spirit), which will light up the letters B-A-N-G when they're filled, and then travel through a maze called the Corridors of Power to find a certain door, through which you must enter. Before that, I have no real idea of how to get all the points collected and how to access the final room, apart from drawing a map of the maze, but it seems as if you are required to win all the eight minigames before you can access the end, which I presume is either the entrance to, or the heart of the Pleasure Dome, if you believe the manual. Or it could be something else entirely. Of course, some of the minigames themselves are vaguely related to the band's music, or at least the videos.
Let us cut to the chase, as it were. The basic gist of the game is the same in all three versions, but some odd gameplay elements are altered to make each version feel somewhat different on the whole. First of all, controlling the unnamed person is relatively fluent and practically pixel-perfect in the C64 version, with six tightly placed frames of walking, which enables you to stop movement to the exact spot you wish to, even if you're in mid-step; while in both of the other two, you move by full steps, which are made of two (SPE) or four (CPC) frames of walking, and if you loose grip of your joystick in the middle of taking a step, you will fall back to stand at the spot of your previous full taken step. Sounds a bit too complex on paper, and it feels similarly awkward in motion. That said, both SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions make up for this inconvenience by allowing you to go through a doorway even when you're slightly misaligned.
The next item on my list is not necessarily an inconvenience as such, but it is a curious variable. This concerns all pathways in general, and to be more precise, different kinds of things used as pathways, and certain pathway types used in a different manner. In the C64 version, decorations such as maps and paintings can be touched to open up a pathway into a minigame, whereas in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, maps and paintings do not really do anything more than decorate the houses, and instead, you are supposed to touch light switches to gain access into the realm of minigames, which too often starts either from the Pong-like room or the WAR room. In a way, starting from the WAR room makes sense, because in there, you are supposed to shoot (with your arm) at falling status symbols coming out of quickly opening and closing windows showing other minigames, and when you manage to shoot a symbol, the corresponding window opens up for a long enough time for you to enter the minigame; thus, you could consider the WAR room a gateway to all the other minigames, however unfortunately random the system is. At least in the C64 version, you have more solid options to enter the arcade realm. Also, regarding the doorway(s) leading into the Corridors of Power: in the C64 version, there is a certain specific door within a certain house, which will lead you there, once you have unlocked it with a key, but in the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, the pathway to the Corridors is somewhere within the arcade realm, but it's always noticeably different from the other pathways. Going back to things to touch in the game, there's a unique light switch in the C64 version, that actually turns the lights on and off from the adjoining room. Also, while in the C64 version, you come through the rightmost door (as shown inside) when you come in through the out door, in the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, you come in through the door in the middle of the room/corridor.
As was previously mentioned, this being an adventure game of sorts, you have an inventory, in which you are allowed to carry up to eight items. The items you can find in the game are mostly found within cabinets, refridgerators, or other such containers, but you can also find some items lying around in plain sight. In the C64 version, the only collectables in plain sight are milk bottles (sometimes seen next to the front door), clothes hanging in the foyer, and the single living entity in the town (actually called Mundaneville, according to the manual), which is the cat. Funnily enough, the cat is part of an optional puzzle, that can bring you points, if you manage to solve the puzzle. Similarly, the cat puzzle exists in the other two versions, only the cat needs to be picked up from an unorthodox position in both. In addition, the SPECTRUM version features more collectable items in plain sight, such as pleasure pills and other such items hanging on the walls. I cannot say, if this makes the game any better or worse in any case, but it does require some adjustment to new game-environmental rules.
Finally, we get to the minigames. If you didn't get the feeling of this game being at its most comfortable on the C64 from the main adventure part, the minigames will most likely enhance that feeling. First of all, the C64 version feature two more minigames than the other two versions: an eerie flower-picking game called "Flower Power" and an odd Froggeresque proceed-'em-up called "Cupid's Arrows". Secondly, an important part of the minigames are much more playable on the C64, most particularly the "Raid Over Merseyside" shooting game, which shoots straight from the gun, whereas you need to wait for your bullets to appear as they come from the other end of the screen in both SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions; the slightly Pong-like "Cybernetic Breakout" and the aforementioned WAR room.
Of all three versions, the AMSTRAD version feels the least co-operative, mostly because there seems to be some bugs in the game, where the murder mystery is concerned. As I usually have to play each version multiple times in each comparison to get as much details listed as possible, it so happened, that out of five attempts at playing the AMSTRAD version, only twice I managed to get the murder mystery section properly ignited and the clues appearing. I don't know what I could have done differently to make this problem occur, but it is a vast disadvantage. In addition to that, getting to play all the minigames is stupidly difficult due to some unfortunate overlooks in certain segments. Much like in the SPECTRUM version, but at least there, you have no such problem with the murder mystery, and Mundaneville is slightly more familiarly arranged to those familiar with the C64 version, even if it doesn't appear in its entirety. Neither does the SPECTRUM version feel quite as clunky as the AMSTRAD version, but it's still a good deal less comfortable to play than the C64 version. Plus, of course, you get more content for your money on the C64.
1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM
3. AMSTRAD CPC
I never understood the visual aspect of the band Frankie Goes To Hollywood, but then I was never part of that particular slice of culture. Their music videos and lyrics were somewhat politically charged, yet there was something oddly... how should I put this... radical about the whole style of the band, which had quite a bit to do with the open homosexuality of the band's two singers, Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford. Of course, as some of you will already be aware, this was all used to the band's advantage, as their marketing campaign intentionally courted scandal, and was a key factor in making their first single, "Relax", a smash hit - followed by two other number one singles; a feat only Gerry and the Pacemakers had managed in the 1960's, and a record, which would only be beaten by Spice Girls with six consecutive number one hit singles during 1996-97. But although I'm getting carried away off-topic, this just proves a point, that sometimes, visuals are just as, if not more important, than music. Doesn't mean you have to like it, though. Happily, such was not the case with the game.
|Opening sequences, where available. Left: Commodore 64. Middle and right: ZX Spectrum.|
Frankie the Computer Game has no actual title screen, unless you count the loading screen as such. The AMSTRAD version starts straight from wherever the game sees fit to spawn you in, but in the case of the C64 and SPECTRUM versions, the loading screen transforms into what could be argued to being a representation of a man being born into a new world. More particularly, the man in the FGTH logo. The animation of the man entering Mundaneville is done differently in both versions: on C64, the circle around the man is turned so that the man can step out of it, and walk right; and on SPECTRUM, the man merely walks from the left, stops at some point and continues to walk off the screen from the right side.
|On a random street. Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.|
From this point on, you might as well get yourself accustomed to the screen never taking full advantage of the regular allowed screen area, since all around Mundaneville, the action screen is barely half of the allowed screen area's height, and even the width isn't what it could be, since a part of the screen's width is taken by the four status bars. This feels very much like a design decision, rather than a necessary cut.
The C64 version always starts the game from outside on a street, in front of a set of four houses, which is why we start from there. The other two versions usually start from somewhere inside a certain house, mostly the living room, sometimes the kitchen, but barely ever from the street. Also worth noting is, that while the C64 and SPECTRUM versions look decidedly 2D, there's some sort of attempt at generating depth into the graphics in the AMSTRAD version, by drawing everything, apart from our non-person protagonist in faux-3D. Whether or not this looks better or worse to each gamer, is mostly a matter of preference, and I do think the 3D'esque graphics do make the rooms look more... for the lack of a better word, roomy. That said, a 3D'esque effect doesn't make sense, when every bit of furniture is placed against just one wall. In plain 2D, it feels more abstract and approximated.
|Examples of a foyer. Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.|
Soon enough, you will start noticing, that all the residences of Mundaneville are made of the same cloth, basically at least. In some houses, kitchen has been omitted, although there is no explanation as to why. All the wallpapers are more or less the same in all houses - the foyers, the living rooms and the kitchens are all styled similarly in all houses. The SPECTRUM version has the foyers look the most bland, while the AMSTRAD foyers look like something out of a horror movie, but not completely out of context, either. The C64 version's foyers look... well, appropriately mundane.
|Two exceptions in living rooms: a murder victim and a cat.|
Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.
The only thing that changes between all the rooms, is the furniture, which might be a combination of so many different kinds of things that a certain kind of a room might not necessarily have anything in it that the same room in another house might have. Or, at the very least, the chances are extremely slim of finding any room exactly the same.
And then, of course, you get a few exception rooms, which either serve as passages to places you wouldn't normally get to from other similar houses/rooms, or they might contain a unique item that could be connected with another unique item to solve a puzzle, most obviously the thirsty cat and the murder mystery sub-plot trigger. In all three versions, both the cat and the dead body are found in different positions, in more or less varying places in the room, and all the rooms look slightly different from each other in all versions.
|Kitchens. Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.|
Similarly to the living rooms, the kitchens have their own exceptions in both items and special passages. In the C64 version, some of the kitchens have back doors that lead to exclusive back yards, if they don't lead straight to the next street, while in the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, they lead either to the next street or to the WAR room, but no real special places. Curiously, on the SPECTRUM and C64 versions, I have seen footprints in one of the kitchens, but I haven't come across such a thing in the AMSTRAD version. Definitely a detail omission worth considering a failure.
|All the walking animation frames. Top: Commodore 64.|
Bottom left: ZX Spectrum. Bottom right: Amstrad CPC.
|Messages and inventories. Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.|
Now, we will get into the minigames, and because I only mentioned them briefly in the Playability section due to their relative inconsequentiality, I shall focus on describing them properly now, as I also compare their graphics, so bear with me.
|Screenshots from the arcade realm: WAR room (top row) and Raid Over Merseyside (bottom row).|
Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.
Out from the realm of Mundaneville, you will find there are plenty of strange things to see. Once you realize how to access the minigames, it becomes stupidly easy to get out of Mundaneville and into the arcade realm, and at some point, you will likely grow bored of certain minigames. Personally, I hate the WAR room, which is equally random in all versions, and you have to have the reaction time of a cheetah and equally speedy trigger finger to get anywhere. The WAR room itself is fairly empty, with only the word "WAR" written on the black background - one large word in the SPECTRUM and C64 versions, and 36 small words in the AMSTRAD version. The real graphical aspect of the said minigame is the quickly opening and closing windows from other minigames, which drop diagonally falling pleasure icons, which you need to shoot in order to get the window which it dropped from open properly, so you can enter the new minigame. Annoying, and doesn't really give much of new graphics into the mix in any real sense.
The other minigame shown in the above set of pictures is called "Raid Over Merseyside", which puts you in control of the cannon between the info panels and the map. Your mission is to shoot at fighter planes flying over the map, as well as the bombs they keep dropping on targets you need to protect. The C64 version takes great advantage of the whole available screen area, which not only gives it a colourful and detailed look, but also allows you to see properly what you're supposed to be aiming at. The AMSTRAD version shows an unfathomable minimap and barely distinguishable fighter planes and bombs. The SPECTRUM version falls firmly in the middle of the other two, with its usual relative lack of colour, but great detail and much nicer map size, making it notably more playable than the AMSTRAD equivalent.
|More screenshots from the arcade realm: Cybernetic Breakout (top row) and Talking Heads (bottom row).|
Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.
The Talking Heads minigame, which it is officially called, is an odd one, and showcases the width of variety between the three versions' graphics. Sure enough, the controlled thing is a head - a head of state, to be more precise, at least in the C64 and SPECTRUM versions. Both versions clearly display monochrome pixelated heads of the presidents of United States of America and Soviet Union at the time: Ronald Reagan and Mihail Gorbatšov, respectively. Considering the title of the minigame, it's decidedly odd, that the AMSTRAD version has no heads at all, but has the flags of each country instead as the controlled characters. Because the heads spit some sort of projectiles at each other in the other two versions, it looks a bit ridiculous, that in the AMSTRAD version, the flags have opening mouths that spit the same kinds of projectiles. Apart from the heads and flags, the screen has a wall in the middle for both sides to get through, before the spit-projectiles can get through. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions take place in yet another black space, while the C64 version has been set into a river of sorts, with a shoreline behind each head.
|Still more screenshots from the arcade realm: Shooting Gallery (top row) and the Terminal Room (bottom row).|
Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.
For any fan of shooting galleries, this particular shooting gallery in FGTH must be one of the least appealing ones in any computer or video game. Not because of its much too randomly appearing targets, nor because of its off-putting odd gravity-based controllability, nor even the fact that the C64 version has a different goal than in the other two versions (hit a target with all your bullets, instead of getting a certain amount of targets down within the allotted time), but mostly because it's such a difficult minigame to get into, so you will probably never be able to tell, how randomly the targets do appear. As for its graphics, the C64 version is once again the only version that has some proper decoration for the shooting gallery, making it look something like an old western variant. The targets look very much the same on SPECTRUM and C64, but the appearance of the shooting gallery is more appealing on the C64. Again, the AMSTRAD version has a miniature version of the shooting area, but more pitifully, the targets have no actual faces, and barely look like heads.
One of the more odd differences is the way the Terminal Room is arranged. In the C64 version, the lift pad is on the left side of the screen, and in addition to the big computer, two of the smaller ones are interactible. The arrangement has been turned pretty much into a mirrored formation, but the computers have been set up differently. Graphically, the C64 Terminal Room is a bit more detailed and complex than the other two, but the colourings of each version suit the purpose and overall colouring of the game equally well.
|Yet another set of screenshots from the arcade realm: the ZTT Room (top row) and the Sea of Holes (bottom row).|
Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.
As for the ZTT Room, there are multiple levels in it, which need some explanation. First, as you enter the room, you are faced with a shooting barrier you need to pass by shooting it down, but - I might as well spoil it here - you need to wear a flak jacket in the room in order to survive through that. Once you have passed that, you have the option to push the three buttons next to the escalator, which will open up a window to another minigame, or just go up and start working on the actual ZTT puzzle, which is operated somehow through a device with six knobs. Once again, the C64 version offers the most colours and arguably the most pleasing set of details, but most importantly, the ZTT logo is drawn precisely as it should, which cannot be said for the other two versions.
|Examples of the Corridors of Power. Left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.|
We still have the Corridors of Power to consider. It's just a mess of a maze, that looks just about the same in every screen - be it a crossing, a corner or a straight bit, perhaps with a door or a manhole. Apart from the obvious differences in the usage of colour, all three versions look as you would expect, and so further commentary is unnecessary. The only useful thing you are given to know about the Corridors, is that by shooting at the fireballs coming from the foxholes, you can reveal new doors in the maze. A useful thing you might have found about the AMSTRAD version, if I didn't tell you now, is that you can only access the Corridors through beaten minigames in the arcade realm. The only thing you would probably need to know, is how to actually navigate through the corridors, because I, for one, still can't make heads or tails of it after all these years.
|Screenshots from C64-exclusive bits. Top left: Flower Power minigame. Top right: Cupid's Arrows minigame.|
Bottom row: different backyards.
There's one more curious element about Frankie the Computer Game, that you don't really get to notice until it's too late: there is no Game Over here. In the event of not getting your Pleasure Points up to the roof, and finding the entrance to the ending room, you are only left wandering around aimlessly with no chance of restarting the game. Then again, if you find yourself in this position, you probably wouldn't have much of energy to spend another hour or so, playing through all that same stuff all over again. So, your Game Over comes when you switch off the computer. Because the ending should be at least somewhat of a surprise, it shall not be included here.
Even though the order should be clear by now, let's recap. The C64 version takes the best advantage of the available screen, while the AMSTRAD version tends to use less than possible, or even necessary; the SPECTRUM version falls neatly between the two. Similarly with hi-res vs lo-res sprites and other details: the C64 and SPECTRUM versions have an overall neater look to them than the AMSTRAD version. Then again, the AMSTRAD version has tried to go with a pseudo-3D look, which has no real use in the game, nor does it look significantly better, or particularly logical in the context. The animations are easily the best on the C64, but from the two others, the SPECTRUM version uses the lack of frames more neatly to suit the gameplay. Need I say more?
1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM
3. AMSTRAD CPC
Seeing as Frankie the Computer Game is somehow supposed to be based on the band Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the obvious expectation is to hear some of the band's music in the game. Happily, all three versions do feature some of that, albeit in varying amounts and varying degrees of success to portray the tunes as faithfully as possible.
Since the ZX SPECTRUM only had a 48k release (unless you count the just about 128k-compatible version in the Magnificent Seven compilation), the memory restrictions and the lack of a proper sound chip meant that you wouldn't hear all that much of music, nor much of anything else for that matter. There is a title tune, however, which is a single-channel rendition of "Two Tribes", played in the controls selection screen, but that's all the music the SPECTRUM version has. The sound effects are barely existing - only some minor blips are played when absolutely necessary. Too bad there was no 128k version...
...because the AMSTRAD version shows at least some progression, even though the memory constraints still apply, at least to some extent. Again, "Two Tribes" is the main theme here, which is played almost constantly during play. From other Frankie tunes, only a brief clip of "Relax" is heard when you score points, but there are one or two other brief non-Frankie melodies used for certain events. As for the sound effects, there's a couple of them and they're nothing special, but they're there, and at least they're more notable than those in the SPECTRUM version.
Unsurprisingly, it's the C64 version that takes the cake here, and quite easily at that. Not only is "Relax" used as the loading tune, but a clip of it is also played when you score something. "Two Tribes" is also featured in the game, although this time, it's used for the Corridors of Power segment. The main game theme is, rather aptly, a fair bit of "Welcome to the Pleasuredome", if you want to consider the main theme as the one playing all around Mundaneville. According to the SID database, other Frankie tunes featured in various places are supposedly "Snatch of Fury" and "Bang!", but I'm not entirely sure this information is correct. In addition to all that, there are some non-Frankie melodies played at certain events, such as the very beginning of the Dragnet theme when coming across murder clues and Juventino Rosas' "Over The Waves" played in the target shooting minigame. And then there's the inevitable sound effects for shooting, bouncing and all kinds of little blips for all the minigames, which admittedly are still not all that special, but at least they're not as bulky or non-desript as those in the other two versions. I guess we have a clear order here, then.
1. COMMODORE 64
2. AMSTRAD CPC
3. ZX SPECTRUM
Conceptually, the whole thing distantly reminds me of Genesis' concept album "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway", since both have the concepts of life and death dealt with in a vastly abstract manner, and the end of the game is just as uncommitting to the concept of ending as the end in Genesis' album seems to be. Or perhaps I'm just deliberately misinterpreting both. But what they both have firmly in common is, that the less you know about it from the onset, the better, and the more time you spend with it, the more you start "getting" it.
If you have read all of the above, there is really no point in pointing out the obvious any further. The only thing I'm still uncertain about is, whether the game was originally made for the ZX SPECTRUM or COMMODORE 64 - or were both developed simultaneously. All the content would point towards the C64 being the primarily focused platform, but who knows. In either case, the mathematically dubious Overall Scores are as follows:
1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
2. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
3. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 4
Whatever the scores above are, the game itself is such a singular experience, that I cannot close this article without recommending any of the available versions wholeheartedly, depending on which platform you happen to own... with a small cautionary word about the Amstrad version, perhaps. Even still, even if you don't own a C64, that particular version is recommendable for further exploration, simply due to its differences to the other two. Now, let's move on to the bonus chapter.
A SMALL TRIBUTE TO BOB WAKELIN
From my personal point of view, Bob Wakelin's journey to his chosen occupation was exactly the opposite from mine. He was first and foremost a comics artist, and took a brief detour in being a multi-instrumentalist in a British post-punk/new wave band, Modern Eon. I, on the other hand, used to draw a lot as a young lad, but I turned out to be a professional musician instead, in a similar manner, albeit on a considerably lesser scale. But this man was, unbeknownst to himself for a long time, considered a living legend for quite a while, up until he sadly passed away in January this year. Since I cannot do a separate tribute, let this little chapter be a reminder of what he did was such a big part of what the European gaming industry became. (Also, since I also cannot include all his cover art in such a small chapter, I'll do a mixture of his lesser-known artwork with his more famous ones.)
Various sources will tell you much of the same backstory of Bob Wakelin's rise to fame. In the mid-1970's, Wakelin went to an art college in his homeland of Wales, where his talent and affinity to comic books was mostly scorned. Having finished his rom 1978 to 1982, he did freelancing illustration work for various magazines and comic books in Liverpool, but in 1983, he learnt through a half-acquaintance of his, that a man called David Ward was setting up a new software house called Spectrum Games in Manchester. Shortly thereafter, Bob Wakelin (still firmly in Liverpool) became known as the main cover artist for a renamed company, now known by the name Ocean Software.
While not nearly all the games that Wakelin did cover art for Ocean (and Imagine) were particularly brilliant, his artwork made them more often than not infinitely more appealing to a young game consumer. Even such games as Road Frog (basically a Frogger-clone) on the Spectrum and Oric, Island of Death (a mostly text-based adventure) on the Oric, or even the already aging concept of Moon Buggy as Moon Alert! on the Spectrum came much more interesting to purchase into your beginning game collection, when the covers were appealing to look at, compared to most other struggling or starting game companies' covers.
Sure enough, though, the general output of Ocean Software, who at some point in 1985 acquired Imagine Software, now had more skillful programmers in their team, making not only much more original games, but much more competent arcade ports as well. The game cover that really got Wakelin to stardom was the one he made for GryZor (elsewhere known as Contra), which combined so many familiar action/sci-fi movie elements, that it was the perfect companion for the game itself. According to his quote at ExoticA, he wasn't even all that fond of the artwork - apparently, it was a "thoroughly boring job to do." Go, figure. In any case, it didn't take too long for Konami to copy the artwork for their US/EU release of the NES version, which has since been part of every western gamer's wallpaper. His other classic artwork included original designs and redesigned arcade port cover art, which often surpassed even the original arcade artwork, such as Green Beret, Operation Wolf, Cabal, Hyper Sports and Mikie. The original game artwork was often even more interesting, showing the extent of Wakelin's education, natural skills and sense of style in covers, such as Wizball, Movie, Highlander, Flashpoint, Billy the Kid, Batman the Caped Crusader and Daley Thompson's Decathlon.
After a great back catalogue of cover art, Bob Wakelin's last work for Ocean was commissioned in 1994. The game was barely even known to have been released back then, and since Ocean went down under not long after that, "Central Intelligence" became an obscurity of the highest order. Possibly for good reasons. For a man who had no computer until around the mid-90's because he had to learn how to use Photoshop, Wakelin did an acutely fine job at making properly good game cover design something of a necessity in the mid-80's, as well as game collecting as viable an hobby as comic books.
|Robert Wakelin, 1953-2018.|
And with that, it's time to end this entry. Thanks for reading once again; I hope all of this served at least some purpose. Particularly the last bit. Next comparison will be the last one that I still have to work on, and it's one that requires quite a bit of work, so don't expect it until sometime later in March. Until then, keep on retro gaming!