Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ranking the Dizzy games, even though it's 2015 and I'm nearly 30

When listening to audiobooks, I like to have something to keep my eyes busy without being too much of a distraction to the old noggin. I used to do this by going on day trips and walking around. More recently, I've been playing through every one of Codemasters' Dizzy adventure games on Amiga and Spectrum emulators. I am nearly 30 years old. I liked some of them better than others.

10. Cash-In Crap

Dizzy was arguably the most successful franchise in the non-console, budget-label UK video game market of the late 1980s and very early '90s, so it's not surprising that Codemasters milked the little egg (that's not where milk comes from) for all he was worth. A lot less, in most cases.

Some of these games were at least original - Fast Food and Kwik Snax were nothing special, but were acceptable add-ons to bulk out bumper collections of proper games. But then they had the audacity to sell what were essentially mini-games from the proper games as stand-alone releases. Those shouldn't be counted, the same way you wouldn't count those handheld electronic Sonic games where ASCII sprites flickered around a painted background as part of the official hedgehog canon.

9. Crystal Kingdom Dizzy (1992)

The last and least of the once noble Dizzy line, this is a shocking disappointment after Fantastic Dizzy basically nailed it. Splitting the game into four separate areas with self-contained items and puzzles takes all the enjoyable frustration out of lugging dozens of items all over the map in desperation, the graphics and music are inexplicably annoying, but mainly it's just too hard to not get killed. The biggest problem of the first game comes back with a vengeance in the form of all those bloody birds.

Those factors combined meant I never played it much at the time, and never bothered to get past the pirate ship until emulators and the unfair advantage of save states meant I finally beat the sucker 20 years later. It's a shame the Crystal Maze bit with Richard O'Brien doesn't come earlier, as it's the main redeeming feature.

Greatest leap of logic: The arbitrary judgements about where the blu-tac and sticky tape should be used, but not the superglue for some reason.

8. Dizzy: The Ultimate Cartoon Adventure (1987)

This was the only one never released on the Amiga, so I didn't get a chance to play it before the internet came along (we even had the internet on our Amiga towards the end, but that's because my dad was stubborn). So while I don't have nostalgia for the game itself, the eight-colour graphics and chip sounds did take me back to playing much worse text-based games on whatever awful computers my primary schools had unwisely invested in around the same time.

The main elements are there - apart from things like the swimming gear, introduced in the follow-up, and the Yolkfolk characters in the game after that. It just needed perfecting. And there are too many bloody birds.

Greatest leap of logic: Dropping a purse of gold into a bucket causes the bucket to move up and down, offering access to a higher platform which you then jump off to release a Cloud Silver Lining, which can then join various other needlessly strange items in the witch's cauldron.

7. Wibble World Giddy: Wibble Mania! (1993)

This is not a Dizzy game, but it's such a good-natured parody (if homage extends to ripping the music straight out of Fantasy World Dizzy), entertaining in its own right and cluttered up in my childhood nostalgia that it might as well be. As a public domain game released for the fun of it, it's considerably shorter, a lot more linear and with less taxing puzzles. But despite its irreverence, it's even borderline educational at times - exploring the hazards of CFC aerosols, how weight differs on the Moon and the appropriate exchange rate for an Atari ST you've found in a bin.

There was a Giddy II that I didn't play until now. It doesn't look as fun. Too many birds.

Greatest leap of logic: What do birds got against eggs anyway?

6. Fantasy World Dizzy (1989)

The last title handled personally by Dizzy creators the Oliver Twins, like its predecessor Treasure Island Dizzy it's best played in the original 8-bit. I never liked the look of the 16-bit remastering, which ruins Dizzy's tumbling aerodynamics by giving him a hat and a nose. Even Crystal Kingdom Dizzy, for all its sins, stayed true to the dichotomy of having in-game Dizzy look nothing like he does on the box.

Greatest leap of logic: Why can't you knock on the door until you get the Brass Door Knocker? Wouldn't other heavy items, e.g. all those Heavy Boulders, be just as effective?

5. Dizzy: Prince of the Yolkfolk (1991)

I assume this was a deliberate attempt to make an economised Dizzy game, responding to feedback about annoying travel times and illogical puzzles to produce something leaner and tighter that you might actually have a chance of getting through before emulators are invented.

As an introduction to the Dizzy series, it's perfect, and was even remade for smartphones if you've joined the 21st century yet. But taken in context as Dizzy VI - reusing the same graphics as Magicland Dizzy, repeating puzzles and replacing the Yolkfolk with random humans and fantasy characters - it doesn't feel like a step forward. Especially as Fantastic Dizzy was released around the same time.

Greatest leap of logic: It turns out I have to bother the ferryman again to get a new puzzle. He seemed pretty contented after the last one, how was I to know?

4. Treasure Island Dizzy (1988)

Again, I prefer the smooth 8-bit graphics to the flat cartoon scenery and awkward animation of the 16-bit version, but I put up with it for the bodacious soundtrack. This isn't the largest or most complicated of the Dizzy games, but it's by far the hardest. Not only do you not have a health bar, you don't even have lives. And even if you do improbably survive all the way to the end without brushing against a single crustacean, you also need to find all 30 coins, which involves checking behind every fucking centimetre of the scenery for the ones hidden behind sods, railings and windows.

Unsurprisingly, I never managed to complete this one back in the day. I knew it was futile, but I never tired of trying.

Greatest leap of logic: The shopkeeper's inexplicable taste in merchandise.

3. Fantastic Dizzy (1991)

This is technically the best Dizzy game. There's no doubt it'd be my favourite if I'd dived in here rather than being weaned on its more primitive predecessors, from which it admittedly steals nearly all of its puzzle ideas.

Despite its multiple environments, diverse mini-games and fancy side-scrolling graphics (two floppy disks, la-de-da), I don't automatically hate it for being new (i.e. a few months younger than the first Dizzy game I played). Dizzy deserved this treatment. It's just a shame it was never taken any further.

Greatest leap of logic: They've kind of ironed out the daftness with this one. The items even have suggestive names to give you a clue. That's no fun at all.

2. Spellbound Dizzy (1991)

This is my favourite, really - the first Dizzy game we had, and among the first 10 video games I ever played (after some kind of rubbish Little Red Riding Hood text-based thing on the school computer; arcade PacMan, Frogger and Simpsons; Sonic 1 at David Baker's house; Oscar and Dennis in the Amiga bundle... I think this was before Alfred Chicken), my family have probably devoted more hours to getting this egg and his albumen brethren home than the total time everyone else spent on this game combined.

But peeking around the edge of that hefty chunk of concentrated nostalgia, I can appreciate that it has its flaws. It's too damn big; there's too much walking/rolling around; most of the graphics are just recycled from the first game (but properly coloured in now); all that time spent underground is actually quite depressing; the chirpy music would be maddening if it wasn't so comforting.

You're allowed to think of it less fondly than its four predecessors, I understand. But if you prefer Crystal Kingdom Dizzy, you're a prick.

Greatest leap of logic: 'Dylan's Vibes' being personified as a miniature fetish version of Dylan that can somehow pass through solid rock and be handed around.

1. Magicland Dizzy (1990)

So it's not my personal favourite (Spellbound) or even the actual best (Fantastic - clue's in the name), but somehow my number one. I can't really explain it, it's just always felt to me like the truest expression of the Dizzy ethos. No, I don't have any idea what I'm talking about.

It's cheery and magical without being annoying. It looks great and the soundtrack's pretty chilled out too. One of the earliest puzzles involves eating a power pill so you can chomp the flashing ghosts - why did Dizzy never gain that level of pop culture shorthand? "He'll never settle down, he's too much of a Pogie." "Hey, I like your bag - now you can carry up to four items at the same time, lol #dizzyshandsarefull."

It could just be that whatever you happened to have access to and actually experience in your youth, regardless of its objective quality or impact in the real world, automatically takes on a disproportionate level of importance in your mind. Well you would say that, wouldn't you? You probably had an Atari ST as well, you loser.

Greatest leap of logic: Pulling the sword from the stone makes you king, which means you can then make the queen chess piece disappear because 'king takes queen.' Surely that depends on the state of the game though? King doesn't automatically take queen by default? I don't know, I was never very good at chess, I was too busy trying futilely to catch elusive fluffles with sticky tape and storing rocks in clouds for later use. I wasted my childhood and now I'm wasting the rest of it. Enjoy your temporary existence, kids.


  1. Based on your screenshots, I think I once borrowed Fantasy World Dizzy from Alister (PC, floppy disk). I'm disappointed to find out he only had the sixth best one. No wonder we don't speak any more.

    Presuming we played all the same games as kids, I'm looking forward to your reviews of the Monkey Islands (doesn't count: http://freelanceflaneur.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/secret-of-monkey-beach.html), that Gladiator game that I can't properly remember the name of and Football Manager. You definitely played that one.

    1. 1. Monkey 1
      2. Monkey 2

      The rest don't count because they don't use blocky pixels any more. And *voices* to differentiate the characters instead of differently coloured text. But mainly/really because I found Monkey 3 uninteresting. (Tried Monkey 4 once. Worked out how to rotate the 3D Guybrush, switched off in disgust).

      I have a load of the point-n-click adventures on my laptop too, but pointing and clicking isn't as satisfying as rolling an egg around. I mainly just play Megaball and Poing 5.