How do you review a game that is deliberately aimed at a specific age range? This is the problem that befell me when Cosmic Spacehead turned up from those nice Codemasters people complete with a press release proclaiming that "Cosmic Spacehead is created especially to suit the ever-growing younger players market".
Blimey, problem city, seeing as I am rapidly crashing towards my mid twenties and the last time my age was in single figures was way back in the late 1970's. My argument was this - If this theory of targeting an age group works, then surely I am the wrong person for the job? However, the powers that be were having none of it, decreeing that it is my job to review games (and we do not have any nine-year-old writers anyway), so I'd better flipping well get on with it. Sigh.
The blurb behind the game reads like a typical platform game, with Cosmic being an adventurous type of juvenile alien who blasts across great tracts of uncharted space to land upon the planet Earth. Upon returning to the planet Linoleum he is shocked to find that everyone just laughs at him and goes "Oh, Chinny reckon" when he tells them about his previously undiscovered planet. No one likes being called a liar, least of all little Cosmic, who decides to get photographic proof of his exploits.
Oddly enough, (especially for the Codies, wo are famous for producing them) this is not a platform game at all, it is an adventure game. All the elements are there, the graphic window, the inventory, and even the list of commands such as 'pick up', 'look at', 'use' and so on. I played it for a good few hours, but still was not convinced that I should be reviewing it.
This conflict was eating me up, so I phoned Professor Matthews-Finn, the unconventional scholar who I admired greatly during my days at Bournemouth University. He listened as I poured out my problems, and asked me to visit him. Within hours I was at his doorstep, and a few minutes later he put me into a state of deep hypnosis. What follows is a transcription of a tape recording of these events:
Prof Finn: As you go deeper, you can feel the years fall away. Deeper, deeper. How old are you know?
Me: I'm 17. I'm sitting in a hal taking my A-level maths paper. It's hopeless, I've got two hours left and I've already answered everything I can. I'm drawing a cartoon on the back of my paper.
Prof Finn: Hmm, fascinating. You need to go abck further, much further. Ten years fall away in as many seconds. You are back in primary school. It is 1977 and you are dressed in a stupid tight T-shirt and ridiculous flared pants. You're talking with your friends. What are you saying?
Me: I'm saying that I'm Chewbacca, and that Paul is Han Solo. Rooawwwghhh!
Prof Finn: Excellent, now take a look at this screen, what do you see?
Me: I see Cosmic. He is a funny little man in an odd street. It is like a cartoon, it's like The Jetsons from TV.
Prof Finn: Indeed, the graphics are deliberately retro science fiction, aiming to emulate both The Jetsons and a 1950's vision of the future. Take this joystick and tell me how easy it is to control Cosmic.
Me: It is funny because you do not control him, you point to the part of the screen where you want him to go, and then press fire. It is horrid and nasty and annoying, because he won't go through doors, even when you point at them. You have to use the command 'Use Door' which is vewy silly indeed.
A lickle platform game wiv funny baddies
Prof Finn: Fascinating. Now move off the screen and tell me what is happening.
Me: Ha ha ha, it is a lickle bitty platform game full of funny baddies. All I have got to do is jump across the screen avoiding them and picking up Cosmic Candy. Oh look I've got 12 candles which gives me an extra life. Weeee, that was good, and now I'm at another place.
Prof Finn: Now that you have completed the particular arcade section, you can now move freely between the two locations. In all, there are 33 arcade sections, how do you feel about that?
Me: Wellll, I think that I might get a bit bored playing them, especially if they are the same as that one, but they are the only bit where you get killed. Also, there is the game of Cosmic Pie Splat, which is sort of a tank game. I like it and you do not even have to play the adventure to play it.
Prof Finn: Indeed. Supporters of these arcade sections might say that they add an exciting element to the game, and link your progress through the adventure with your reflex abilities. To the more cynical observer - harrumph - myself included, they appear to be there purely to increase the length of time it will take to finish the game. How are you finding the adventure?
Me: It's good. There's no disk swapping and new locations appear quickly. Some of the clues and puzzles are easy-peasy but I'm still getting stuck on others. It's fun but not vewy funny, and the jokes in Cosmic's joke book are vewy poor. I like this game lots.
Prof Finn: Hmm, fascinating. Is there anything you do not like?
Me: I hate that horrid bloopy music, can you turn it down please?
Prof Finn: With pleasure. I was wondering about the music, because you know, in my day it was all very different, we used to...
I will end the transcription of the tape here, but you may be interested to learn that under deeper hypnosois, Professor Matthews-Finn discovered that I was able to remember details and events of past lives with alarming clarity.
These include a wandering tinker in the mid 1850's called Joseph Fretwell, a Polish vodka distiller called Olaf from the time of Peter the Great, and a serving wench named Tess at the court of King Arthur. Professor Matthews-Finn and I will be touring the country in the early spring with our fascinating show and we are now taking bookings for birthdays abr mitzvahs, wedding receptions and hotel functions. I thank you.