Right, then. I'm kicking off my relatively-frequent series of game write-ups with a suggestion from a mate... and that suggestion is Star Paws, on the Commodore 64.
I actually own this game, courtesy of said mate and a house clear-out a few years ago. It has a blue cassette. That's the computer game equivalent of a coloured vinyl LP, that is. Very flash, especially considering the game only cost £5.95.
Written by John Darnell, it came off the back of his highly successful Dragon's Lair II: Escape From Singe's Castle. That game learned from the mistakes of its predecessor: everyone involved realised that you couldn't possible convert the arcade machine and instead produced a series of highly-playable mini-games bases on arcade sequences. It proved that, with computer games, playability is key.
It's odd in some ways, then, that John Darnell's next game was a completely original property. Star Paws put you in the space boots of an inadvertent hero... Captain Rover Pawstrong. Don't you hate it when someone makes a typo in an official memo? There we were, with an emergency in space, and Neil Armstrong was left twiddling his thumbs.
The premise of the game saw Pawstrong sent into the far reaches of the Galaxy, where unscrupulous mercenaries have been secretly breeding the Tasty Space Griffin. Why is that so weird, you ask? Well, the Tasty Space Griffin is a rare delicacy, and if these mercenaries flood the market it will destabilize the monetary system of the entire universe, causing untold chaos and mayhem. They must be stopped!
You have to love a game that gives you instructions on how to cook your adversary on the title screen. Couple that with the scenario and you realise that you're not dealing with an entirely serious game when you play Star Paws. That's in no way a bad thing, though... gaming doesn't need to be po-faced all the time. It certainly wasn't in 80s Britain, and the games industry only recently seems to be recapturing its lost sense of humour through the indie scene.
The object of Star Paws is to capture or kill the rogue Tasty Space Griffins, thus saving the economy. It's a bit of a shame as they're docile, friendly and loyal. And tasty. It seems a shame to slaughter them all, but that's the way it has to be. To help you in your quest, spaceships constantly drop by, leaving an array of useful equipment behind. I'm wondering if this is the first instance of a game giving you “care packages”? They're the norm now, but this was quite novel back then.
These care packages are critical in ensuring the game doesn't get boring. If you were endlessly running after the dim-but-fast birds, you'd get a bit fed up. Instead, the different weapons mean that playing Star Paws is a bit like playing Road Runner in Space. It has lovely cartoon graphics and some great music, which are always plus points, but the crazy chase capers are a lot of fun to play. Especially when you have a Zap Death Ray Gun. Every game should have one.
Star Paws is a really good little game. It's one of just a number that John Darnell wrote, and they're all of a very high quality. I'll be writing a piece on each one in the book, and would love the opportunity to ask John a few questions too. We'll see if I manage that in time...