Wednesday 18 July 2012

Monty Python's Flying Circus

This is what the kids want - a platform/shoot-'em-up game based on a then-twenty year old comedy sketch show. Monty Python's Flying Circus for the Amiga, released in 1990 by the future creators of Tomb Raider.

My brain hurts.

Squirrel maths suggests that in 1990 you'd have to be at in your 30s to have experienced Monty Python's Flying Circus when it was fresh (and to have understood it). The show began in 1969 and ran for a few years until 1974, before the three films in 75, 79 and 83, respectively. Obviously this stuff has aged remarkably well and stands as an important milestone in alternative comedy, but you can't help but question if there was an appetite for a video game based on the series.

Lets analyse some facts. Flying Circus was a sketch show - it had no overarching story and lacked the material suitable for a prolonged video game adventure. It also features half a dozen comedians... none of whom make an appearance in this game at all. It was also entertaining, and this game... isn't. We're not doing very well, are we?

What we have instead is something inspired by Terry Gilliam's drawings and animations from the late 60s, starring Mr. Gumby, one of the few fictional constants of the show. You shoot fish at various Python characters from the series' five year run, and you run (or fly) around surreal environments in a bid to reclaim parts of your brain and start a career in chartered accountancy. More games should be like this.

And I suppose it's fair to say that Core Design tried with this one, even if it's debatable as to whether they succeeded. The game is interrupted by trees at a distance and arguments, but fails to remember one extremely important factor - it's an Amiga game, and the Amiga can't do comedy.

That's unless the original £19.99 price tag (~£40 in today's money) is the joke! The objective is to move across levels shooting at blocks and enemies, trying not to be killed in the process. It sports similar gameplay to Alex Kidd in Miracle World, albeit with a Python twist, and is far less memorable. Occasionally you encounter a boss which will drain large chunks of your energy, and then you'll move on to the next world to shoot more things. Python pushed the boundaries of comedy, but don't expect this release to do the same with gameplay.

Monty Python's Flying Circus is a challenging game, but despite attempts to mix up the experience once in a while, it comes off as nothing mediocre. The gameplay and enemies rarely change, and even the art struggles to keep you captivated due to system limitations. The Amiga cannot replicate the early-70s cut-out styles of Gilliam - it compensates by painting the world in murky shades of brown, and it's difficult to say the result is attractive.

In the Amiga version, you have a choice between music and sound effects, but as the former involves the constant repetition of The Liberty Bell March (a shortened version, I should add), you'll likely be choosing the latter. Don't expect to ever hear any jokes, just some disposable samples triggered as you shoot and explode your way through the four or five worlds on offer. An good alternative would be to turn off your speakers off altogether, or play something different.

Monty Python's Flying Circus pre-dates some of the more groundbreaking Amiga sidescrollers such as Turrican, so much can be forgiven in terms of aesthetics. But on the gameplay front it's easy to flag up its repetitive nature - surely nobody could have had a great deal of fun playing (or testing) this one, and that's a shame, because aside from this and a handful of interactive movies, we have to rely on Monty Python's Cow Tossing (a poor man's Angry Birds) for our Python video game fix. Surely something so iconic deserves better treatment.

Nevertheless I admire the backwards-counting scores and surplus amounts of hidden areas. Clearly with a release on every major computer of the day, the Amiga copy of Monty Python's Flying Circus is being hindered by the activities of weaker systems, but even then it's not a terrible game, just a pointless one.

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