In the early days of the computer games industry, there was a real sense of "anything goes" when it came to game concepts or what people might include in games. And yet, nobody was particularly surprised by anything they'd find in a game. Killer toilets, mutant moles and metagalactic llamas were all perfectly acceptable characters, as far as we were concerned.
I mention all this having just played a game that, at first glance, appears to be perfectly normal. The game in question is Wheelie, which was released by the classic Spectrum software house, Microsphere.
Wheelie, catering to every young boy's dream, sees you riding the powerful Zedexaki 500 motorcycle. So far, so ordinary. But when you see a sign tempting you onto a private road with no speed limit, things take a turn towards the strange and surreal...
The private road leads into a series of caves which are split into different levels. That makes it a lot harder to just roar along at top speed... this subterranean network is littered with ramps and dead ends, all of which spell danger to the tearaway biker.
Still, bikers live for thrills and speed, so that wouldn't normally be a huge problem. It's the other obstacles along the way that are the real issues here. Ice patches prove deadly if passed at too great a speed... slow down for them, or else. Then there are the huge jumps over cars and buses. Take them too slowly, and you'll fail to clear the jup and wipe out on the vehicles. Too fast, and you'll lose control of your bike and fall off.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the tunnels appear to have been the subject of some kind of nuclear testing at some point, as huge bouncing hedgehogs block your path at regular intervals. You can pass these by timing your run to perfection, but if you're not confident in your ability then you can freeze them for a limited time... at the cost of some of your fuel.
You have to wonder if the owner of this road has CCTV trained on the tunnels, watching your every move for his own amusement. You come a cropper so often that it would be a shame for nobody else to see it! As is usually the way, though, the only way to get over it is to get straight back on your bike, and Wheelie is addictive enough that you'll do that time and again.
There's no indication as to who programmed Wheelie, but I'd have to guess that it was David S. Reidy and Keith Warrington, founders of Microsphere and the brains behind their other classics such as Skool Daze and Contact Sam Cruise. Wheelie is playable, fun and packed with classic old-school charm. It's well worth a bit of anyone's time.