Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oddities: Laurel & Hardy - The Videogame

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were one of the greatest comedy teams of the early sound movie era, starring in classic shorts like The Music Box and features like The Flying Deuces.

Unfortunately, this 1987 Commodore 64 game from UK publisher Advance Software Promotions fails miserably to honor their legacy:



The game attempts to mimic the look of the silent movie era, which isn't completely inappropriate as Stan and Ollie made their professional debuts, solo and as a team, before sound came along.  For example, there are intertitles presented in an appropriate font, in this case as Ollie steps into a bar:





The game also features a dynamic "bouncy" animation of the backgrounds, mimicking the look of the Max Fleischer Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons.  There's even a plinky piano rendition of the Laurel & Hardy theme song, with an animated theatre pianist in the center section of the split screen.  But after these initial positive impressions, the fun drags to a stop.

The first problem is that the license is based on Larry Harmon's 1960s Laurel & Hardy television cartoon series, not on the original films.  Presumably the secondary license was easier to obtain and avoided estate and likeness rights complications, but as a consequence the duo's most memorable situations are off-limits for adaptation, leaving the game designers to come up with a generic plot.

This they did, saddling our heroes with repetitive and boring gameplay centered around the classic pie fight.  But the design entirely misses the point and the pacing -- as implemented, the goal for each player is to find a flan (i.e. pie) somewhere in town, then locate the other player and throw it in his face.  The first player to score the requisite number of SPLATs wins.

Even setting aside the relative paucity of pie fights in the Laurel and Hardy shorts, the gameplay fails to capitalize on this simplistic idea.  The basic problem is that the game map is HUGE and the flans are scattered scarcely and randomly around town.  The players therefore spend the majority of their time wandering around looking for a flan, then more time finding the other player so as to be able to fling it.  The cream pie confrontation itself is an anticlimax, and happens so quickly and non-visually that I wasn't even able to capture a proper screenshot.



Here, in this post-SPLAT image, Stan has pie on his face in the status area, Ollie having scored the first hit.  And the pointless wandering continues anew.

Where are the nagging wives?  The troublesome pianos?  The mustachioed nemeses?  The annoying little dogs and children?  The insurmountable work assignments?  The Hal Roach-inspired action of any kind?  Such felicities are nowhere to be seen.  All we have are Stan and Ollie, wandering endlessly through the digital wasteland. 

I think I know what went wrong.  The designers saw the derbies, and mistook the characters for Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot.  And so, per Samuel Beckett, there's nothing to be done.  We shall pause. 

(Pause.) 

Now let's go play something else.

2 comments:

  1. Talking about Stan Laurel, I really love his movies and collect some of his DVD. He is a great actor, comedian and also writer.

    Anyway, the game does not bring a lot of other characters besides Stain. It might be interesting if more characters and more varied. It just my opinion. Thanks!

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  2. Hello,
    A quick introduction from my end-Iam Chinmaya from Bangalore,India. The reason for my mail is that I understand that the "sons of the desert" are having their next convention at Hollywood and would want to know if you are attending it. You may check this for more details- http://www.laurelandhardywood.com/ .
    Incase you or anyone whom you know are,please let me know as there are somethings that i want to discuss regarding the same.My id is-chimayaprakash@gmail.com Else,you may ignore this.

    Regards and best wishes,
    Chinmaya


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