Released originally for the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC 8-bit computers, the original Joe Blade was a typical flick-screen adventure game where mustachioed military-man, Joe Blade, had to locate a number of prisoners and achieve other objectives, prior to finding the exit; it was a fairly typical explore 'em up of it's day, albeit one that didn't really exhibit any real standout qualities. Whatever the case, the developer must have felt that there was some mileage in the character, for the game spawned a couple of sequels, the first of which I'll be reviewing today.
Following his military escapades, Joe Blade has been demobbed from the armed forces and returns to civilian life, only to find that his beloved city has deteriorated into a crime-ridden sewer, overrun with punks and muggers. Not one to shy away from civic duty, Joe decides to take matters into his own hands by pulling on his muscle top, slapping on his favourite peaked cap and taking to the streets to undertake some major ass-kicking in a one-man clean-up operation.
Much like the original game, the player must guide Joe through series of interconnected screens in a quest to locate and save a number of civilians from the marauding punks. The city streets are a complete maze and one of the chief difficulties will be in mapping out the game world, which is no small task since each screen looks practically identical to the last; this is not going to be an easy task by any means.
Many of the game's screens contain locked doors that guard new areas, but these can only be opened with special keys. These doors miraculously lock themselves behind you, so it will still cost you a key to renter a door even if you'd used it previously - this makes the task of mapping the game all the more important since it's easy to run out of keys and come to a standstill. It is possible to earn additional keys by collecting floating dustbins located in certain screens - Joe is taking out the trash in the physical and metaphorical sense - but it still pays to be conservative in their use.
|You can almost smell the testosterone!|
Controlling Joe is pretty simple affair using the joystick. Pressing left/right moves Joe in the relevant direction, whilst pressing up or down will enter doorways in the background or foreground (provided he has enough keys to unlock the door). Pressing the fire-button will cause Joe to jump into the air, a move that is used exclusively to defeat the punks by leaping over their heads, upon which they disappear in a miasma of pink smoke that eventually dissipates to reveal a bonus collectable that awards 200 points when touched.
Reading the above, you'd be right in thinking that the actual fighting and combat sounds a little lacklustre. The punks run in a straight line, jumping at random until they until they reach a brick wall, upon which they turn around and run back the other way - with no health or lives, Joe is completely invincible and the existence of the punks is purely a source of points to secure a better standing on the high score table when the game ends. The game's instruction sheet suggest that once Joe defeats 60 bad guys, the rest will give up in despair, leaving Joe to go about his mission unhindered; whilst there's no on-screen counter to keep track of how many you've killed, I do recall that the rest of the thugs magically disappear from the streets once the magic number has been reached.
The reality is that, in this game, time is your real enemy. You'll spend a lot of time covering old ground, running into dead ends and getting lost in the rats nest of identical streets while looking for the civilians. The game begins with 10 minutes on the clock, which ticks steadily down until it reaches zero, upon which the game ends. Dotted about the various screens are alarm clocks that will reset the timer, but these are few and far between - a good strategy I found is to try and memorise their location and only collect them when running low on time.
When you do finally locate a citizen (easily identified by their blue coats), Joe is thrust into a mini-game that must be beaten in order to rescue them; fail to win and the game ends instantly! Each game involves arranging a set of numbers in correct order of sequence within a strict time limit; the numbers constantly update and the player must hit the fire button at precisely the right time to freeze the current tile, locking in the current number displayed. Lock in the correct number and you move on to the next tile, whereas getting the sequence wrong will reset all progress, sending you back to the beginning again. These sequences start out simple enough, but later ones are significantly more challenging and require the player to develop a keen sense of timing; hitting fire at the wrong time is an easy route to failure, so the best strategy is to take things slow and not to panic. Should you manage to rescue 16 citizens, the game will end with you as the victor.
|Mini-game: death in 60 seconds?!|
Joe Blade II was originally released a budget game and, let's be honest, it's not the most innovative or exciting game ever made. The 'combat' is practically non-existent and the identical screens will drive you barmy as you try and navigate your way around. Really, the game should have fallen flat on it's face, yet, somehow, the game has a certain charm that I find difficult to explain!
First off (and others may disagree with me here), there's something catchy about the game's music. It's not exactly Rob Hubbard levels of sophistication, but the humming bass line and main lead just sounds right on the SID chip. Then there are the graphics, which are also pretty decent (even if everything is slightly brown) and the sprites are nicely animated; they're definitely an improvement over the original game and beat out the Spectrum version easily. There's also an undeniable sense of satisfaction (not to mention relief) when you manage to beat one of the tougher mini-games, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat.
Zzap 64 magazine praised the original game and berated this, which I think is unfair. I found the original Joe Blade to be pretty bland (not to mention impossible to complete), but I actually quite enjoyed Joe Blade II, in spite of it's niggles. I wouldn't go so far as to describe this as a hidden gem, but you might just be surprised at what you find if you give it a chance.