Monday 25 January 2010


Yep, it's time to unearth some forgotten 90s abandonware for the sake of nostalgia. Oscar, a game that stars Disney reject Oscar on the search for Oscars that look like Oscar but aren't actually Oscars. Released in 1993 by now defunct Flair Software (whose main base of operations wasn't too far away from here), Oscar managed to be released for three different Amiga systems, as well as appearing as part of the ever expanding DOS market. It also showed up late for the Super Nintendo, but by that time (1995) most people were looking ahead to the next generation of video games. But despite Oscar's face re-occurring time and time again for the Commodore fans, the game was quickly forgotten about due to the hoards of other similar (and better) platformers of the time.

Though you would expect me to stray into Amiga territory for this one, it's the DOS game that I'm going to cover today as it's that version that I remember... and also the Amiga version's copy protection is a hurdle I can't be bothered to jump over at this time. On the downside, the music in the DOS port isn't quite as good as what the Amiga offers, and there can be issues with the sound if you haven't configured your setup properly (though to be fair, that's mainly an emulation thing).

As the fourth generation of video game hardware came to a close, platformers were often the subject to very detailed, colourful graphics. They were often sprinkled with heaps of special effects largely adopted from the computer demo scene, thus looking significantly better than games released in the late 80s for the same hardware, but in this case it turns out that an excess of fancy graphics can actually backfire with small resolutions. In Oscar, the main character, items and enemies will often blend into the background and there's often not a clear distinction between the two, causing all sorts of problems. It's not so much the case if you're running it in full-screen on an old IBM PC, but in these days of super-sharp HD LCD monitors the problem is very difficult to avoid without the use of filters. Ironically because the DOS version has the most detail, it's arguably the most difficult to see.

As with many Amiga -> DOS conversions of the era, lots of unnecessary cuts were made to the DOS game, so the intro isn't quite as fancy for example. However, it's worth noting that the DOS version has a surprisingly good EGA mode, so at least it can be ran on a variety of IBM compatibles with very few issues.

Oscar travels through various levels based on movie cliches, such as a GENERIC SPACE LEVEL and a GENERIC HORROR LEVEL. But it's not all predictable - there's an unsaturated level based on World War II and another that steals chunks of music from Jurassic Park. The concept of travelling between movie genres would be picked up again in games such as Spot Goes to Hollywood and of course the Gex series, though I'm fairly sure Oscar is one of the first, if not the first video game to give the main character a new costume for each theme in an attempt to convey some sort of personality. As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, Oscar can run, jump, go through doors and sometimes use his yo-yo. You collect "Oscars" which also blend into the background and occasionally find checkpoints in the form of big red elephants, but other than that it's a simple game that only requires the use of one hand.

Though it's clear that the game was somewhat inspired by the Sonic the Hedgehog platformers, I'd place more money on Bubsy the Bobcat being the main source of inspiration. Both Bubsy and Oscar have since been abandoned by their creators, and both have appeared in somewhat mediocre platform games that fell far short from becoming the next Mario, unlike what was originally intended. They also both have annoying voice clips, and left their audiences with mixed opinions. The only difference between Oscar and Bubsy apart from aesthetics is that despite not living up to expectations, Bubsy is known for inspiring a few sequels and even a television show pilot. Bubsy 3D for example, has become a gaming legend for being so bad, whereas because Oscar was neither extremely bad or extremely good, it's disappeared into a world of obscurity, and is hence nowadays deemed abandonware.

Similar to Socket/Time Dominator which I talked about a few months ago, the main attraction to Oscar is the musical score (especially on the Amiga). The graphics aren't always that appealing (and Oscar himself isn't exactly a pleasure on the eye) and the gameplay is fairly average as said, but the music isn't too shabby. Having said that, it was made with the Commodore Amiga in mind, so to not have a good musical score would be a crime. It was later bundled with the failed Amiga CD32 console with a CD soundtrack, which according to Amiga fans, is the best copy available.

Though Oscar isn't amazing, it's still a very solid platformer and was a good choice to bundle with Amiga computers. It has plenty of "tacky" moments but I do admire the water effects and it does have some nice concepts tucked away. Too bad the first Gex game does everything significantly better.

Oscar runs in DOSBox but it won't run very well under the default settings. You'll have to pump it up to 5000-ish CPU cycles with Ctrl + F12 to avoid slowdown, and there's a few graphical problems later on in the game. Also, as I've said already, if you choose to go down the Commodore path, the Amiga versions have an annoying copy protection system in place which requires you to hunt down an official manual to play the game. Sadly that's just another nail in Oscar's coffin when you can't play it easily on the hardware it was intended for. The easy route of course is to invest in the Super Nintendo version, though that's certainly not the most interesting version out there.


  1. Recently, this game was ported to DSiWare, so if you want to play a newish version, it's only $8.

  2. I remember one of my brother's friends years ago showing off this game along with a Dennis the Menace (the US Dennis) game. I think they were SNES games or something.

  3. What's particularly puzzling is that, in porting this game to the SNES, the developers somehow managed to make the music worse. That's quite a rare occurrence, particularly given that Amiga music has been ported flawlessly to the SNES before (see Zool, for example).