"I had it on the Amiga. And the Game Boy. It was wicked." - Jonathan Lester, April 6th 2012
Damn. Those words had scarcely escaped my lips when I realised the gravity of my casual statement. Nearly two decades have passed since I completed The Blues Brothers tie-in, back when the Amiga 600 was the pinnacle of my gaming experience. Years that could have served to blind me with rose-tinted lies. I remember enjoying the Blues Brothers wholeheartedly before jaded was even an Aerosmith song, let alone a state of mind, but surely there was no way that a rushed cartoony platformer (from the developers who went on to code Superman 64, no less) could do justice to one of the best musicals - nay, best films - ever made?
Luckily, I keep my trusty Amiga and a Game Boy handy for just such an occasion, and thankfully the ravages of time and magnetic fields hadn't yet leached the floppy tape of its precious, transient cargo. Hands trembling, I inserted the disc and proceeded to judge my childhood hero under 21st century standards.
Well, it turns out that The Blues Brothers was pretty good. But "wicked" might have been pushing it.
Before we begin, it's important to note that I wasn't playing the NES version, and neither should you. Ever. Whilst the Amiga and IBM PC original utilised newfangled sound cards to produce some reasonable facsimiles of the Peter Gunn theme and other toe-tapping greats from the movie, the Nintendo Entertainment System was only capable of squawking out massacred 8-Bit monstrosities that completely butchered the original soundtrack. And to add insult to injury, the floating camera jerked around uncontrollably and resulted in numerous cheap deaths. If you found yourself vomiting uncontrollably and speaking in tongues as soon as you saw this article's title banner, chances are you probably played the NES version.
And bizarrely, it came out a year after Blues Brothers' 1991 Amiga/PC debut. Crappy ports are certainly not a new phenomenon, though in fairness, it was better than the Commodore 64 version.
With that disclaimer summarily dealt with, it's high time we moved onto the gameplay: which is every inch the traditional 2D platformer. Before First Person Shooters were the lazy go-to genre of choice for movie tie-ins, 2D platformers enjoyed that dubious distinction for themselves, and brought us such horrors as ET, Dracula, Last Action Hero and Cliffanger. Apologies if you spent several years and thousands of pounds to forget these godawful crimes against gaming through experimental psychotherapy.
But Blues Brothers was different. Titus were already a dab hand with crafting colourful and personable platformers (with Titus The Fox sadly never becoming a true mascot), and they set about making their most insanely colourful and adorably personable game yet. The story loosely starred Jake and Elwood Blues on a poorly-defined quest to acquire some instruments and equipment for an upcoming concert, but soon descended into dodging psychopathic grandmothers in shopping trolleys, evading sausage-wielding Elvis impersonators and floating merrily through the air on umbrellas. Because, hey, why not? Once you've made the decision to create a game experience that's entirely divorced from the film, you're free to put in sharks and green mutant blobs aplenty for the sheer merry hell of it all.
And it works, mainly down to the art direction and madcap variety. While most of the game revolves around throwing boxes at enemies or stacking them into platforms, you'll occasionally climb into a prison break, dodge egg-throwing birds while floating through the air, swim through sewers and have a well-deserved boogie under the spotlight at the end. Many of the levels featured indoor environments and secret rooms that could be accessed with a quick tap, often containing precious LPs and powerups. The sprites, at least in my opinion, really captured the fun of the movie, with some hilariously exaggerated animations and caricatured character design.
It was also very difficult. Properly, seriously, biblically hard. But with two players along for the ride, a problem shared was a problem halved.
At the end of the day, "wicked" is a relative term, and we had some absolute howlers to compare Blues Brothers to back in the early ninteties. It was never destined to achieve the greatness of Superfrog or Cannon Fodder, but it shone out like a beacon compared to the rank and file. As soon as the Peter Gunn Theme started to play, we knew we were in for a better class of tie-in, one that didn't make a mockery of the subject matter. Just mocked it in a loving, amiable sort of way. And, in those days, we could barely imagine the concept of a 64-Bit console... let alone the nightmare that Titus would eventually loose upon an unsuspecting world.
The horror. The HORROR. But that's a Blast From The Past for another time.