Retro Game Review – The Blues Brothers

 

Factfile
Developed by: Titus Software
Released: 1991
Format played: Amiga 500

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Ruminations

The award for strangest film adaption goes to this gem on the Amiga.

For those of a certain age, The Blues Brothers is essential cult viewing but it doesn’t seem to naturally lend itself to a game. Plaudits then to Titus Software who took the ‘plot’ of the film and somehow tied it into a 6 stage platform romp, our heroes avoiding cops and collecting instruments in order to play at the climactic concert.

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Second Impressions

This is very firmly from the school of cartoon style platformers and it remains pleasing to the eye.

Based on a film as it is, rather than utilising an animal or other cute avatar, the graphical style is more realistic in its approach. The levels offer a passable representation of scenes from the film, from the shopping mall to the prison to the main stage itself whist the characterisations of Jake and Elwood manage to capture their essence. The most obvious point of comparison for me is with The Addams Family from Ocean.

The style is very much something of the time and therefore whilst subsequent platform games (Crash Bandicoot, say) clearly evolved the genre, this captures a point in time from the 16-bit era and has a certain timeless charm accordingly.

It is the little details too, Elwood seems to lean slightly forward in his running style, mirroring Dan Akroyd’s look and portrayal of the character whilst picking up mystery items might see you rooted to the spot for 5 seconds doing a little dance to the music, funny the first time it happens, a disaster when the police are stood there shooting right at you.

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Gameplay

Oh no! The local sheriff has hidden your instruments around town so that you can’t play the big concert tonight!

Each stage sees you tasked with finding and retrieving an instrument for your set and you can’t exit the level without it. Along the way you can collect records; grab enough and you can help yourself to an extra life. Just watch out for the broken records which knock off a chunk from your collection. Also dotted around are mystery bonuses, from the good (extra records) to the bad (deducted records) to the amusing (dancing).

After choosing either Jake or Elwood, the first level eases you in, a jaunt through the shopping mall and along the rooftops. Crates lie around, which can be picked up and lobbed at the security guards or rampant shopping trolleys whilst a couple of the shops can be entered, containing anything from angry guards, to records, to the all important instrument itself. Once on top of the mall, a bizarre sequence plays out where you grab an umbrella and half jump, half float your way across the sky, landing on some surprisingly solid clouds to make your way to the exit. I certainly don’t remember that from the film! And the mechanic isn’t some thing that reappears.

Level two sees us head to the chemical plant for some reason, introducing deadly spills billowing out of the ceiling and big crunching machines ready to grind your bones to dust. Level three sees the Brothers head to the local prison (oh no!) complete with guards, thugs and, er, showers. This is a tricky little level with lots of sharp shooting prison guards, fences to climb, corridors to crawl through and areas to explore in the hunt for all the bonus records.

Things get down and dirty as we reach level four and head down to the sewers. Graphically this is the weakest of the levels, the environment not lending itself to a gloriously technicolour palette. But despite that, it’s the most satisfying of the levels to play, offering some real variety as you are forced to head into the murky water and negotiate your way past various underground inhabitants before emerging back overground.

The fifth level takes us completely in the other direction as we head up the scaffolding of a building site, pursued by more security guards, this time accompanied by some rather angry looking dogs. Watch out for the fires burning, as well as the unfinished girders that will pinch some health if you mistime your jump.

And we end at level six, a short trip round the music hall as you try to find your way to the main stage.

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With only six levels, one a fairly gentle introduction and one (the last) an elongated end sequence rather than a true level, longevity is questionable. However the levels are pretty tricky with sharp shooting guards and dangerous obstacles littering the levels. With only three lives (up to a total of five if you can collect enough bonuses) you will need to manage your health carefully whilst restart points are less than generous, meaning that when you inevitably play your last gig, there will be a big chunk of level to replay. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you find yourself repeatedly confronted with the same section that requires split second timing to get past without losing some health.

Control generally is pretty good, the characters fast and responsive, none of that annoying inertia or slippy-slidey crap that seems to infest so many platformers. Using up to jump is somewhat jarring for the modern player but an understandable limitation of the one-button Amiga joystick, considering that the fire button is given over to picking up and throwing crates.

The characters feel subtly different with Jake having a weightier feel whilst Elwood feels slightly more nimble. Whichever you pick, the game moves at a good pace. Jumping is responsive, crates are picked up without fuss whilst the Brothers will drop to a crouch if you need to dodge a bullet or make your way through a tunnel. There are the occasional blind drops off ledges, a real bug bear of mine in platform games. At it’s best, this is a game that rewards skill and reflexes and so losing a life because you dropped off the end of a platform or a ladder to see where it goes is cheap and almost feels like the game punishing you for exploring.

But these moments are few and far between and are not enough to spoil your overall enjoyment. Plus there is a two player option for the more social gamers amongst you.

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Sound

General sound effects are limited but serviceable but, as you might expect with the licence, the music is the star.

All the familiar tunes present and correct as you play through the various stages. We are not in sampled music territory here so these are interpretations of the classics but they are all passable renditions that will have you tapping your toes not matter how frustrated you might get with the game itself.

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Bottom Line

There’s nothing groundbreaking here, just a simple, fun platform romp that benefits hugely from the source material.

They’re on a mission from God. Time to put the band back together.

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The Stealthy Doctor

Ah, yes. So many good memories about this game. used to play it all the time on Nintendo 64 with my neighbor boys. It’s nice to read this review. reminds me of good times. If you get a chance to play this game, do so. It is worth the time and money to find it 🙂