Sunday 13 June 2010

Alfred Chicken

More birds. What could be better?

Here's a game that keeps showing up, Alfred Chicken, a 1993 game developed by Twilight Games. One of the many titles trying to take advantage of the mascot wars catalysed by Sonic the Hedgehog. Because who needs blue hedgehogs when you can have red chickens?

As it was built with the Commodore Amiga in mind, all Astro Chicken screenshots today come from the (AGA) Amiga version of the game. But because one platform wasn't enough in the early 1990s, it was also brought to the pointless Amiga CD32 console, the Game Boy and Nintendo Entertainment System. A slightly altered version in the form of "Super Alfred Chicken" showed up on the SNES... and again there's nothing really that "super" about it apart from different level layouts. Most strikingly of all, a very late PlayStation 1 port/remake of the game arrived in 2002, sporting "2.5D" graphics and a CD soundtrack. Bet you can guess how well that did.

The differences between the versions, are minor. In some versions (Amiga), the gems are bigger, and the level design is sometimes altered for the benefit of different resolutions. The controls can vary slightly between versions also, so for example, to enter a door in the Amiga version you need to press DOWN, while in the NES port you need to press UP. Despite it being a British invention, the game strangely the game managed to bypass Sega's consoles, despite Sega having the bigger market share in the UK at this time. It leads me to question the existence of the NES port, which though is very accurate for the hardware, does seem a tiny bit redundant and would have stuggled to sell in large quantities. A 1993 (1994 in the US) release date for a mid-80s console must have been a bit risky.

In the game, you control Alfred, a chicken on a quest to do save other chickens (or eggs), who will travel between various themed worlds releasing... balloons. Collecting gems will eventually lead to lives and collecting watering cans boosts the final score. The balloons are tied down all over the map, and need to be released in order to progress. In order to get to these balloons you need to flick switches and solve various other puzzles to access new areas. There's also various enemies that can get in your way as Alfred only has one hit-point (though he can crush them by using a dive-bombing move). It's fairly standard stuff.

What the developers failed to realise however is that though it's a solid platformer, it really doesn't do anything revolutionary, which means it never quite reaches the same level as Mario or Sonic. But though everything is exactly how you'd expect it to be, the clue in the above sentence is "a solid platformer". It might have been done a thousand times before, but Alfred Chicken is a very well put together game, and saw quite a lot of good reviews because of it. The NES version is especially impressive, as it doesn't sacrifice half as much as you might expect.

Of course, this may have something to do with the colour scheme. All the levels are set in-doors and most tend to have very dark backgrounds. The first two levels only use the primary colours red, blue and yellow, and lots of things share the same palette. In short, the restrictions that this game was put under are quite obvious, and though the graphics are by no means bad, you can't help but think the developers weren't really pushing Amiga hardware to its limits.

The music is also a bit mediocre. Again, nothing bad, but nothing that slaps you in the face as being the best video game music ever. There is always this feeling of "averageness" lingering around Alfred Chicken, and it seems out of place as the gameplay is very well done.

Alfred Chicken is legendary for other reasons though. In the 1993 by-election in the Christchurch, Dorset constituency (UK), Karl Fitzhugh, the product manager of the Amiga version, ran as a candidate for the "Alfred Chicken Party". A grand total of eighteen people voted for him, but it still prompted change to the system in that more signatures were now needed to nominate a candidate for election. The marketing attempt was fairly successful, and it just goes to show that video games can indeed influence politics.

But even though it was a reasonable success for Twilight, it didn't save them from disappearing off the face of the earth within a year or two. As said, Alfred Chicken did return in 2002 as a budget title for the PS1, but it doesn't add anything new to the formula. The graphics have been stylised a bit differently and the game uses 3D models on a 2D plane, but this version has actually aged worse than the 1993 editions. And lets not forget, the PS1 was not the top console to develop for in 2002, just like the NES wasn't the top console to develop for in 1993.

Nevertheless, Alfred Chicken is a fine game, though it arrived a bit too late for it to be appreciated by the masses.

No comments:

Post a Comment