Remember the Road Runner arcade game? I do. I remember how disappointing it was. The cartoons revolved around Wile E. Coyote, not the Road Runner, and his daft traps and schemes. So putting you in the shoes of the Road Runner in a boring, frustrating chase game was not a great move, no matter how charming your enemy. It kind of missed the point, I thought. If only they'd made a Road Runner game from the point of view of Wile E. Coyote.
Well, somebody did. And they called it Cliff Hanger.
I first found Cliff Hanger on a C90 full of games that I'd borrowed. Although the tape was numbered with the positions of each game (the best way to get past uninteresting, already owned or known-to-be-cack games), this time I was playing through everything on the tape, because I hadn't played any of the games on there at all and figured I might as well give every one a crack.
Well, this all looks quite straightforward. But even the simplest screens can sometimes have a kick...
When Cliff Hanger loaded up, I laughed. The music was bad, the main character (Cliff Hanger) limped feebly onto the title screen, and his brother was called Coat. Oh dear.
But then I played the game.
At first, I was intrigued by the Road Runner-esque backdrops. They weren't great, but they were effective. And I was standing next to a boulder for no apparent reason, with nothing to do. But then I heard this odd noise. Was it a train? No... was that meant to be footsteps? And then I saw a tiny black shape in the distance, running towards me.
That strange rock formation could prove useful... better be careful with it, though!
He disappeared out of sight in a valley, only to reappear on the top level and run right past where I was standing, guns blazing! They were kind of blazing in a dubbed-Chinese-martial-arts-film way... his shots and the sounds rarely matched up. And as the bandit disappeared from sight, Cliff Hanger scratched his head. As well he might.
I wasn't put off by this... Cliff Hanger ended up being probably one of my most-played Commodore 64 games, despite the fact it was technically rubbish. It was just so much fun! One of the ways the game stayed fun was in the way it presented the levels to you... you weren't forced to play a screen repeatedly until you passed it. Instead, the game had a pool of levels that it picked from randomly. A game such as this could be frustrating if you had to play the same screen over and over again, so it was a clever piece of design. Once you completed the block of screens you were on, you'd be given a completely new block to play.
Hmmm. Magnet. Anvil. Death?
I've played Cliff Hanger in the last couple of years... Aidan really likes it. I knew I was safe in using it as an Unsung Classic before I'd even loaded it. Much like the Road Runner cartoons, it just never gets old, although I suppose some of its appeal might lie in how much you like that kind of humour.
The aim of each screen is to defeat the fleeing bandit, using a carefully-constructed trap. There's only one way to pull off the trap, and sometimes it's not immediately evident how you manage this. Do it wrong and you'll probably die in true cartoon style. Do it right and you still might not be successful... you have to get your timing right, too. Miss the bandit and Cliff might scratch his head or turn red and shake his fist in anger.
Do it right and time it right, and it's a comedy classic.
Now, come on. How did that boulder get there? Still, can't look a gift horse in the mouth...
The traps, as you'd expect, involve typical Wild West props. Boulders, mostly, but other things come into play, such as trampolines, magnets and anvils. Some of the set-ups are simple... the bandit will run through a gulch (isn't that a great word?), and you might have to roll a boulder down the ravine wall and squash him. Others, as you'd expect from a fella inspired by Wile E. Coyote, are much more convoluted.
The fun is derived from figuring out the traps, and then seeing them being executed perfectly. Split-second timing is necessary, so it's very satisfying just to pull off even the simplest trap. Even though it's 26 years old, Cliff Hanger retains all the appeal it ever had, and is a game I'd still recommend to anyone.