Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oddities: Benny Hill's Madcap Chase

Kato-chan and Ken-chan aside, there haven't been many videogames featuring established comedians or comic actors.  There have been some Monty Python techno-experiments, focused more on Terry Gilliam's artwork and the general Python sensibility than the writing/performing troupe as personalities.  The Cinemaware Three Stooges game is an example.  And I think the recent Ghostbusters counts; at least it's a more authentic effort than, say, the Atari 2600 Porky's or Ocean's 16-bit Blues Brothers game.

But there's one example that goes back farther than any I'm aware of.  Back in 1985, U.K. software publisher DK'Tronics decided to license the name and image of British comic Benny Hill, based on his Thames Television series The Benny Hill Show.  The result was this unusual action game for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum:

Had this game come out in the mid-1990's CD-ROM Full Motion Video era, it could have gone horribly wrong in a number of ways.  I would approximate the precise number as:
  • 15 megabytes devoted to musical theme "Yakety Sax" and variations thereof
  • 35 megabytes of risque puns and double entendres
  • 400 megabytes of digitized video featuring Mr. Hill leering, winking, and slapping an elderly gentleman on the back of the head
  • 199.9 megabytes of Louise English's cleavage
  • 100 KB of gameplay

Arriving during the 8-bit era, however, Benny Hill's Madcap Chase is obligated to be an actual game, and it is, albeit a simple and repetive one.  Benny (in his beret-wearing Scuttle persona) is required to sneak across town, avoiding hazards like lampposts and telephone booths; steal articles of clothing (including lingerie) from a clothesline; then store it back at home base.   He must accomplish this one piece at a time, while avoiding a buxom, matronly representative of society's outrage.  True, the official game story indicates that Scuttle is actually rescuing the brassieres and pantaloons on behalf of some unseen beneficiary, but there's no evidence of that in the game proper.  He's just a dirty old man in a beret; not that there's anything wrong with that. He certainly seems cheerful enough:


It's all in good fun, and certainly worth a brief giggle, but the game lacks the pacing of Hill's traditional show-ending speedy chase sequences.  There's not very much that's Madcap about it, actually, as Benny has to carefully move up and down a narrow band of ground to work his way around the various obstacles.  The sound isn't remarkable -- an assortment of annoying chirps and buzzes, with no music.  But the graphics are large and colorful, and nicely animated given the technological constraints of the Spectrum.  Color clash is kept to a minimum, thanks in part to the sheer size of everything; of course, the large graphics also make it difficult not to get chased down and trodden upon:

That's about all there is to it -- retrieve as many articles of clothing as possible before time runs out.  But it's an interesting historical artifact, representing Benny Hill's one-and-only outing into the videogame industry.  Not a great game -- but it would be a shame if it were completely forgotten, wooden tit?

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