Spectrum

The Rocky Horror Show

Turning a popular movie or television series into a computer game was always a bit of a stretch, especially during the '80s when hardware restrictions often severely limited the types of games you could produce. Regardless, a great many companies tried and some of them even managed to produce some excellent, playable titles over the years. But in 1985 when CRL announced that they had acquired the rights to produce a tie-in game based upon Richard O'Brien's insanely-popular musical 'The Rocky Horror Show', you could be excused for thinking they may well have taken leave of their senses. The latest Hollywood action-blockbuster you could maybe imagine in 8-bit form, but a musical? On a machine with the musical capabilities of your average digital watch? How could that ever work?

 

The answer to that question turned out to be 'about as well as you expected it to', if we're being honest. CRL's hastily-produced game appeared later that year and was a fairly standard flick-screen collect-'em-up, with the only nod to the show's classic soundtrack being a rather nasty beeper rendition of 'The Time Warp' and some dancing sprites during the game's intro.

Taking control of either Brad or (in an very unusual move for the day) Janet, you are tasked with rescuing your other half from the clutches of Dr. Frank N. Furter, who has paralysed them with his Medusa machine. To achieve this you must explore his mansion, collecting the pieces of a machine which will undo his evil work and allow you to escape - a task made all the more difficult by the other inhabitants who will get in your way or try to kill you, depending on their persuasion. Pieces of the machine are scattered throughout the house at random along with keys that you'll need to open the many locked doors and a number of environmental hazards to work your way around. And avoid them you must, for you only have a single life with which to complete your task - step into the path of Riff Raff's death ray or end up under the wheels of Eddie's motorcycle and it's game over. As if that wasn't bad enough, you're also up against a fairly steep time limit, and the non-lethal characters can steal your clothes leaving you naked and unable to perform certain actions until you recover them.

 


Presentation-wise, the game holds up pretty well. The game map might seem quite small at only fourteen screens, but each room is beautifully drawn with some excellent attention to detail and the map is organised sensibly so you never find yourself struggling to get to where you need to be. Most of the major characters from the play survive their conversion to sprite form well enough to be instantly recognisable, and will often parrot a couple of lines from one of the songs in speech bubble form if you get close enough to them. Gameplay is smooth and the controls responsive, and the few sound effects which are included aren't too hard on the ears.

Unfortunately the game itself doesn't fare quite so well. The gameplay mechanics are rather basic, and the fact that you can only carry one piece of the machine at a time means that the vast majority of your play time will be spent repeatedly traipsing back and forth across the same screens as you slowly ferry each piece back to the centre of the mansion. The other characters seem purposely programmed to get in your way as much as possible, and even if these collisions aren't fatal they at least hold the game up for a few seconds while the game forces you to endure the same few song lyrics repeatedly. The randomly-placed collectibles are a nice touch, but the time limit is so harsh that it is often genuinely impossible to collect them all before it runs out. And if all that wasn't annoying enough, the game also features a number of glitches and bugs ranging from irritating animation glitches to full-on Spectrum resets.

Collectively these things weren't enough to label it as a 'bad' game, but you certainly got the feeling that given a little more time and polish it could have been so much better. The magazines of the day were seemingly of the same opinion - Sinclair User awarded it a middling three out of five, although it fared a little better in Crash with 79%.

And yet... there was something about The Rocky Horror Show that kept bringing me back, and still does to this day. If I was to try to put my finger it, I would suggest that while CRL didn't manage to create particularly interesting gameplay, what they did get exactly right was the difficulty level; at a time when games were usually furiously hard, playing The Rocky Horror Show was a much less stressful experience (despite that slightly misjudged time limit) which relied less on reflexes and more on forward planning and familiarity with the environment - it was fun to sit down for half an hour, switch off your brain and just play. Couple this with the random layouts and you have a game which is relatively easy to be quite good at, and which is different enough each time to help stave off the usual boredom associated with repeated plays.

 


It's difficult to judge just how well the game did for CRL as it vanished from the top end of the charts after only a couple of months, but it obviously did well enough for them to have another stab at it - a 128k remix with AY music and enhanced graphics and animation followed the year after alongside Sinclair's new machine. This refined version also fixed most of the bugs from the original 48k release so it's definitely the one to play if you get the choice, although it did unfortunately introduce a few new glitches of its own.

The Rocky Horror Show is never going to make it into a list of all-time classic games, but much like it's source material it is most definitely a cult favourite. In terms of gameplay it might not be a good enough to cause you to break into a song and dance routine but, like me, you may find yourself fondly remembering doing the Time Warp - even if you're not entirely sure why.

 

Writer Info
Blerkotron
Author: Blerkotron
Reviewer
User Blerk - gamer, writer, retronaut, chiptune fan, professional moaner. Available for birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. May contain nuts.
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Parent Category: Spectrum
Category: ZX Spectrum