Crapshoot: Dizzy, the eggcentric English platformer mascot
From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, who wants some eggs?
When you think of heroes, you probably don’t think of eggs. For a while though, Dizzy was one of the faces of the UK computing scene—his smile legendary, his adventures popular, and his games mostly a load of complete arse. It’s amazing how much less that mattered in a time when most games came on cassettes and only cost pocket-money though, so let’s take a look at some of Dizzy’s greatest hits, and most egg-scruciating misses.
Yeah, okay, that’s a bad pun. But I’m almost positive there won’t be any others.
From the start, Dizzy enjoyed the title Prince of the Yolkfolk—though I’d take him with a pinch of salt, along with maybe some ketchup. There’s never any real sense that his eggy kingdom has much power. They don’t even have proper soldiers. Each of the main games is something of a platformer mixed with treasure hunt, where Dizzy must scramble himself to get to some new location—a treasure island, a fantasy world, another, slightly different fantasy world—where he has to jump around and solve the kind of puzzles that made you glad computer magazines at the time printed full solutions.
With his big smile and cheery attitude, Dizzy may not have been a hard-boiled character, but that didn’t mean his games were over-easy. Far from it. He was the rare kind of egg best served spoiled. With incredibly limited lives, sprawling worlds and often brutal difficulty, most players cracked early under the designers’ brutal yolk—and that’s no joke! In early games at least, for example, Dizzy would continue rolling at the end of his jumps, often sending him out of the frying pan into another, slightly different kind of frying pan. It was never very egg-citing, though it could quickly get egg-sausting. Not least because the games were plenty damn challenging even if you chickened out with some cheats.
(I hear at least one designer was very anti-this. «Ovum-y dead body!» he shouted at the first player who tried it, before realising he was being shell-fish, and deciding «Okay, omelettin’ you off with a warning.»)
Individual games varied in quality from bad to mediyolkre, though most had their fans. Most were ported from inferior platforms like the ZX Spectrum, with Codemaster’s best-laid plans for PC finally hatching in the form of The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy. It tried to be friendlier than its predecessors and flow better, but it was still the same basic game, and many were subsequently left very pissed oeuf.
One of the many problems with the series is that while it initially offered free-range exploration, really you were subject to a battery of very precise jumps and irritating object puzzles. In Treasure Island Dizzy you needed a snorkel to breathe underwater, but the suicidal, ordered inventory meant that Dizzy would happily take it off and instantly drown if you hit the wrong key. Talk about shell-shock.
It’s for reasons like this that the series was best played with a friend by your side—your heads in one basket, if you will—rather than being cooped up on your own. At least then you could sympathise with each other without feeling hen-pecked by the game’s dainty little «Whoops!» messages. As for the monsters lurking on the levels, they were a different matter entirely. Dizzy could sometimes take hits, sure, but fight back? You could try, but only if you wanted to see breakfast get served.
On the plus side, dying did mean getting to watch Dizzy’s brutal death. I’m not sure if anyone else took a certain sadistic pleasure in screenshotting this, but I have a whole albumin my Flickr account.
Incidentally, the plot of at least some of the games involved Dizzy trying to rescue his girlfriend. I don’t think we ever found out what they did together afterwards, but the lack of controversy suggests there wasn’t any hardcore forking. Maybe some light spooning. After facing life and limb to rescue her from whatever threat held her captive, the least he deserves is the chance to get clucky… though being an egg, he probably has a greater than average chance of being cock-blocked if he tries. At least we know he’s managed to get laid once though, right? That’s still a better average than, say, Link.
(If only his girlfriend had been a chicken, so we could find out who really came first…)
Not all the games were platformers, of course. Some were simpler arcade games, like Fast Food Dizzy, which sounds disturbingly like an Egg McMuffin, but was actually a maze game. There was also Bubble Dizzy, Kwik Snax Dizzy, Dizzy Panic… the designers’ heads spinning as they made themselves Dizzy. Clearly, everyone’s favourite personality-free foodstuff was a fertile source of inspiration that ended up a real nest-egg for everyone involved, though personally whenever I saw Dizzy, I just thought «ovoid.»
In fairness, they did at least generally try to come up with new ideas instead of just poaching others, and good or bad, players didn’t have to shell out much to play any of them, but don’t mistake that as egging them on. That would be an egg-regious mistake! I didn’t like Dizzy back in the day when I played it, and I can’t say my feelings have changed since then.
By the standards of the time though, they were better than they may sound. Compare them to, say, Rick Dangerous—a popular game, but one built on death and memorising level layouts—and you can see why their cheery, sunny-side up-roach helped make Dizzy a star that a great many players look back on incredibly fondly. Dizzy. Monty Mole. Jet Set Willy. Simpler games, for simpler times.
I think the main reason I never much cared for Dizzy was that a neighbour had the series, and would insist on playing it for hours upon hours while I was at his house, never mind that he had farm-more exciting games on platforms like the NES. Knowing that we could have been playing something cutting edge like Super Mario Bros instead really brought Dizzy’s gameplay problems home to roost. If you didn’t have that kind of companion experience though, and if you were playing on platforms like the ZX Spectrum, you probably didn’t, you’d never have any idea what you were missing. Like games on cartridge that loaded in seconds, not minutes… and on this machine, maybe one-in-three times.
Me, I always wanted more. For starters, exciting adventures, not egg-sitting ones. And who the hell needed Dizzy when we had hardcore platform action like THIS to fill our hearts with joy?
You know what, scratch that. I’m sorry, Dizzy. You meant well, and for the time, you were okay. I’d rather pull out my toenails than actually play you, but I guess you’re not such a bad egg after all.
Now, who’s up for a nice plate of fish?
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