Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oddities: How To Be A Complete Bastard (1987)

There's a quintessentially British style of humor that focuses on the antics of the brat, the bad boy... and the bastard, as in Ade Edmondson's 1986 book How To Be A Complete Bastard.  Edmondson is best known to American audiences as punk rocker Vyv on the comedy television series The Young Ones, and in 1987 Virgin Games saw fit to license his successful book as a video game.

The object of the game, as one might expect, is to be a complete jerk and chase away all the guests at a posh Yuppie party, primarily by playing nasty pranks and charging up the Drunkometer, Smellometer, Fartometer and Weeometer to maximum effect.  It's very much in the tradition of British kids' comic tabloids like the Beano, where bratty, juvenile characters with no mitigating goodheartedness reign supreme, giving polite society the two-fingered salute at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, the gameplay of HTBACB is similarly relentless in its assault upon the player's good nature and interest level.  The game's two-screen presentation is innovative but a bit confusing -- the top and bottom display offer different perspectives on the room the spiky-haired protagonist is in.  The views can be rotated to match or complement each other, but there's not much reason to pay attention to both views, except when forced to do so in order to navigate around awkwardly placed objects.  The perspective is very compressed, and the unfortunate net effect is that the player's movement seems to be fast from side to side, but very slow from top to bottom -- and as it's none too speedy to begin with, it becomes the proverbial pain just looking for something to do.

Beyond the sluggish navigation, the game plays like a poorly-constructed adventure game.  The player has to approach objects, bring up the menu, and hope something appears besides the default LOOK IN YOUR POCKETS and DO NOTHING options. This is often not the case.

Some items discovered can be eaten, imbibed, smashed and/or thrown about to make a mess, but the results are merely described in text, not shown in any visual way.  The player character can also kill himself by drinking TOO much at once.  When something more interesting does appear, like plastic wrap to put to cheeky use over the toilet seat, it's still a thankless chore to actually set the prank up, and once all the payoffs have been described, what remains of the game's appeal swiftly vanishes.

The game's graphics are so simple as to be schematic, with little personality.  There's also very little sound in the game, and the opening theme doesn't quite seem to fit; bad sound is a real lost opportunity on the SID-equipped Commodore 64.  In the end, the game is interesting for a moment, but not compelling enough to play to completion.

So that's How To Be A Complete Bastard.  Or at least one of the ways in which this noble goal could be accomplished in the U.K. circa 1987, and presumably safer than standing in the street shouting, "Eff off, Maggie!  Third term my arse!"

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