ST Format Review
So the first Rick Dangerous was a bit of a surprise. ST Format didn’t even bother to review it until its later budget re-release, while ST Action waited til over a year after the budget. The One gave it 88% at the time, CVG gave it 87%, and Amiga Format gave it 89%. One review expresses surprise that it took the game so long to arrive on the ST, which may well be because of an aborted release. The ST Format review for Rick 2 refers to the original release of Rick 1 being too hard with a ‘recent’ re-release which added the ability to play the levels out of sequence. Despite a challenging release, it became something of a cult classic for Core Design who would later find fame for their Tomb Raider games, while also serving as inspiration for the wonderful Entombed which would appear on a later ST Format cover disk and likely also the modern classic Spelunky to which its initial free version bears a striking resemblance.
The first game scrolled vertically in stages (the action would literally pause as the screen scrolled down) while flipping screen to move horizontally. This same approach was seen on the Commodore 64 version, and indeed the two versions are very similar with the C64 having somewhat blockier graphics. The Amiga version was visually identical to the ST version, as was often the case in 1989. In many ways Rick 1 is a perfect example of a game being held back by the lowest common denominator though it’s hard to tell whether that was the C64 or the ST.
The sequel improves things on a technical level by making the vertical scroll smooth and continuous and changing the horizontal flip to a rapid scroll. Sound is still the usual chip tunes comined with awesome samples (waaaaaaaah!). Visually the update is a treat, with the original’s Indiana Jones theme swapped for a more futuristic sci-fi superhero theme, perhaps a hint of Flash Gordon, a product of a flimsy plot about alien invasion. His pistol swapped for a ray gun and his dynamite is no longer left where you stand but can be thrown, like all the best sequels Rick 2 adds a little to the formula while avoiding the mistakes of the Lemmings sequels which bravely evolved but lost sight of the simplicity that made the original an all-time classic.
In an earlier issue (issue 14) ST Format interviewed Core Design there’s much talk of improved cinematics between levels but these are simply little vignettes. The fact that they also appear on the C64 shows they’re not necessarily anything special technically, even if they add a little flavour artistically. However the other highlight of the interview is discussion of the new trap system where traps are triggered by dynamite, bullets and enemies rather than just the player. This creates the kind of emergent gameplay which made Spelunky such a smash.
For this review I chose the Medway Boys menu 93 – it’s got a fun graphic and the standard chip tune and scrolly text, and when you pick Rick you get the traditional scene greetings. It seems like everyone knew everyone else on the scene and while there was some beef I think it was mostly characterised by a spirit of friendly competition.
Gameplay is still old-school hard, even if it is easier than Rick 1. Progress means learning each of the traps but you’ll almost certainly get bitten by them multiple times first. In many ways this isn’t dissimilar to a modern Souls game – the enemies and their tricks are the traps and just as with Souls you will die frequently but each death will teach you something. The thing about hard games is that they offer a sense of satisfaction, and the success of the Souls games shows there is still a market for that sense of satisfaction. Remember that each little bit of progress is in itself a small victory, a small hit of satisfaction at beating this vicious bastard, something which even beating the entire game might not offer if there’s no challenge. I’m shit at Souls and I’m shit at Rick, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
If I were to offer some criticism it would focus on two things. The first is the decision to allow access to all five zones from the start. I understand why they made the choice, a reaction to the first game being too tough and the positive response the update had, but it takes away the excitement of seeing a new area for the first time. It’s more exciting when you’ve earned it and you know you’ll have to walk over hot coals to see it again than if you just select it from a menu. The second is not entirely the game’s fault but rather an issue with the single-button nature of joysticks on the Atari ST. The controls to move are straightforward enough, and I can understand the reasoning behind Fire+Downward-Diagonal to slide a bomb along the ground or Fire+Down to just drop it. However Fire+Up to shoot seemed to cause me quite a few issues and led to me not getting a shot off due to poor co-ordination. A simple fire would have sufficed. And I’d like to fire while falling too. Overall though these are nitpicks, minor gripes in the overall scheme of things.
Rick 2 is unashamedly old-school, a game stuck in the 8-bit era but given a 16-bit lick of paint with some extra presentation layers. It’s hard, and on a technical level you might wonder if it has much merit. In truth it pushes no boundaries in graphics or sound, but the gameplay is wonderful. The way traps function gives an early glimpse of the emergent gameplay which has been on trend in recent years, with a certain chaos coming from that. Its predecessor may have had more influence graphically (see Spelunky) but the sequel is likely where more of the gameplay beats were cribbed from. Rick is, like many of the best games, a simple game done brilliantly well. I can heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a challenge.