One thing I like to do, perhaps foolishly, is scour eBay for 8-bit games. I don't particularly need them... after all, pretty much every game I could want to play is available through emulation, and I have to play them that way anyway, to get the best screenshots I can. But I have this thought in my mind that I might want to use images of some of them in the book, so I want to have them to hand anyway, just in case. It costs me money I shouldn't really be spending, but there you are.
It proves even more costly, too, because sometimes you spot something you hadn't even thought of and snap it up on impulse. Or perhaps that game you want is in a bundle, but it crops up on eBay infrequently so you pay a bit extra and get games you don't want just to secure it.
And then, every once in a while, you see something you've never even heard of. Now, I like to think I'm a pretty well-versed gamer. I played loads of games at the time, and I've played many, many more since. I do like to think that there aren't too many games that I've never heard of before. But I find myself constantly surprised. And so it was when I was on eBay this morning, and I saw a game called Mondu's Fight Palace.
I was intrigued by this. I wondered if, perhaps, it was a game I knew that had had its title changed for the US market. There's plenty of precedent for that... there are loads of games that had perfectly serviceable and acceptable names in Europe that had their names changed to some baffling US alternative. But after some investigation, it did appear to be a US-only release. That being the case, I had to give it a play.
First impressions were both disturbing and terrifying. An animated title screen loaded up, displaying a character that simply must have been the inspiration for Austin Powers' 'Fat Bastard' adversary. I'd almost be willing to bet money that Mike Myers had a Commodore 64 and owned this game, and the title screen scarred him for life. Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look for yourself.
Pressing the fire button clears this nightmare and starts to load the game. Or rather, you think it does. It's at this point where you realise why this game didn't make it to the UK... it's a disk-only release for a good reason. Every single section, screen or interlude is loaded from the disk. Not a good sign for what is supposed to be a fast-paced fighting game...
The first thing the game asks you to do is choose a fighter. There are eight to choose from and they're all paraded in front of you on a rather poorly-defined screen. A spotlight hovers above the characters, which you use to highlight the one you want to use. So why doesn't it move?
It's then that you decide to read the instructions, where they tell you how to select a fighter but then go on to explain that you can't do that and must start as the weakest humanoid character. I probably wouldn't have a problem with that, but why, in that case, does it even load the character selection screen at this point in the game?
Still, once you "pick" your character, it'll be into the game, right? Wrong. You have to plough your way through a number of individually-loaded screens where you're insulted by the Palace's various occupants. And when you've finally clicked through them, you're taken to a shop/menu screen, where guess what? Any option you choose results in yet more loading.
I'm not sure how American kids could put up with this. I suppose the initial load time for disk games was much quicker, but so many needless interruptions would have driven me around the bend. At least with a disk game like The Bard's Tale, you could have hours' worth of play once the loading was done.
Anyway, back to Mondu's. The shop screen actually reveals some ideas that are interesting, at least in theory. If you have the funds, you can buy weapons to take into your fight. This actually sounds quite exciting. It's a pity that the weapons are all rubbish. If this aspect of the game had been implemented well, it could have made Mondu's really memorable.
You also have an option to bet on your fight. Again, this is an interesting little extra. The options are not great... basically you can bet an amount on how quickly you think you will win. From my experience, though, you'd just be wasting your money...
Eventually, once you've waded through all this sickly icing, you get to the cake... the fighting game itself. Aaaand... it's bad. Really, really poor. For a start, it confuses you by starting you on the right. I was almost defeated by the time I realised what was going on!
You quickly notice that the fighters glitch horribly, which isn't terribly endearing. The animation is rubbish too, and as a result the game plays very badly. There aren't a lot of moves available, and pulling them off can be tricky at the best of times. So when you're never quite sure if a move is going to hit, or even work, you end up sticking to old favourites like the flying kick. This means the game gets boring very quickly.
When you lose, and you will lose, you'll discover that you have three lives. That's very sporting, although if you're still on the first fighter you might as well start again. I suppose you get to see some different backgrounds, but continuing just puts you at a disadvantage for when you do finally get that win.
It took me a few goes to beat the first opponent, but when I did, I managed it with my first life. I thought I might have a decent chance of getting some way into the game after that. I was whisked off to fight my second opponent, Rubic, a robotic character made up of cubes (ho-ho!). Unfortunately, his cubes were the same colour as the background, so I could barely see what he was doing and I lost. Oh well, I thought I'd do better with my next life.
Wrong again... when you are beaten, you go back to the first fighter! This was enough to convince me that I'd seen all I needed to see.
Mondu's Fight Palace is a really bad fighting game. It's a shame, actually, as it has great potential. If the weapons system had been better, the graphics much more polished, the multiload less intrusive and the fighting much, much more convincing, then it really could have been a good game. But those things are what they are, and the game is not good, not by a long shot.
The programmer currently works at Code Mystics, so he has obviously improved over time. That's great, and everyone has to start somewhere. I'm left wishing that I hadn't spotted this on eBay and had spent my time with something much more worthwhile.