Day 238 - Meep! Meep? How's that for a Cliff Hanger?

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

I distinctly remember the first time I played the Road Runner arcade conversion at home.  It looked great, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the simplistic gameplay.  Controlling the Road Runner, you ran along a series of roads, avoiding the ravenous Wile E. Coyote who attempted to catch you in a number of mildly amusing ways.

I think the problem with that game was that you played the Road Runner.  You don't watch Road Runner cartoons for the Road Runner, after all.  The fun comes from Wile E. Coyote's misadventures, mishaps and catastrophes.  Why would you play a game that doesn't feature any of that?

See, I just wanted to let the coyote get the Road Runner.  Wile E. is great!
Luckily, none of that mattered, because may years earlier a company called New Generation Software had released a game called Cliff Hanger.  And it was the only Road Runner game you'd ever need.

I doubt I'll ever forget the first time I loaded Cliff Hanger on my C64.  It was buried in the middle of a C90 that I'd borrowed, and as I'd never heard of it before I'd primarily loaded it to get to whatever was next on the tape.  Those feelings appeared to be confirmed when a droning tune burst into life and a crippled looking character (Cliff Hanger himself!) appeared and hobbled across the screen.  The fact that his brother was called Coat almost sealed the deal...

I'm looking at this and thinking that a lot could go wrong...
Still, I'd spent five minutes or so waiting for it to load, and in those days we all had more patience.  So I decided to give it a go.  What would another couple of lost minutes be, really?

Of course, I had no idea what to do.  The first screen appeared, and my character stood in a desolate-looking desert backdrop, appearing to be as clueless as I was.  I pushed the joystick right, and accidentally walked over the ledge.  Wow... what a rubbish game.

Well, that could have gone better. But at least I'm still in one piece.
The game took me back to a title page, but I noticed it had a different name this time.  I pressed fire, and a different scene appeared.  And this time, something was moving!  It was getting closer... a bandit!  I hurriedly ran at the precariously-positioned boulder, knocking it off the edge of the cliff... and squashed the bandit!

OK, so it was a pure fluke, but in that moment I realised what this game was all about.  Set up like a film set, Cliff Hanger has you playing a series of outrageous scenes or stunts in which you, as Cliff, must stop the evil bandit from making his getaway.  Some are relatively straightforward, merely asking you to roll a boulder off a cliff and onto the fleeing criminal.  Others, though, are very complicated and lead to a bit of head-scratching as you try and figure out what you need to do.

Alright, now I'm a bit stuck.
Graphically, the game is very simple... which is perfect.  It helps to generate the look and feel of the Road Runner cartoons.  The simplistic desert settings, although not of the finest quality, could almost have been ripped from your favourite episodes.

Interestingly, the tables are turned in terms of how the characters work.  The bad guy is now effectively the Road Runner, with the hapless Cliff Hanger taking on the role of Wile E. Coyote.  That's why the game is so much fun... you get to act out all the crazy stunts.  When you first start playing, you're never quite sure what's going to happen.  Sure, there are sometimes clues in the title, but when you're faced with a sparse landscape and just a couple of objects, it's all down to trial and error as to whether or not you'll be successful.  And when you set off one of those traps, you're almost hiding your eyes as you do it, wondering how it might go horribly wrong...

Alright, who put that giant rock there?  Thanks, whoever it was!
Cliff Hanger is hilarious and a heck of a lot of fun.  I suspect it was overlooked when it was released, which would be a shame as a lot of people missed out on a great time if that was the case.  There's not much to choose between the Spectrum and C64 versions... for me the Commodore version edges it with its slightly more authentic backdrops and the fact that screens are a lot more randomised, keeping it fresher.  Either way, though, if you like Road Runner you'd love playing Cliff Hanger.

Cliff Hanger was programmed by James Day, who didn't write much else.  I'd love to get his thoughts on the game, and also from New Generation's Malcolm Evans and their other programmers.  New Generation didn't release a lot of games, but there were some genuine groundbreakers among them, and they deserve to be featured in this book.  One can only try...