Requirements: Apple II series and Commodore 64.
Who among us has not become intrigued by a comic book hero? Who hasn't spent a rainy afternoon holed up with a bale of Captain Marvel or Batman magazines, wishing life could be more like the comics?
But the comics always had a few drawbacks. The art rarely rose above the mediocre, the dialog would sound moronic if anyone but Bruce Wayne and Dick Greyson spoke it, and the story lines were pretty predictable—particularly after you'd thumbed through the same classics ten weekends in a row.
Comics Comes To The Computer
With art and dialog wide open to parody, and the interactive quality of videogames, the match between comics and computers seems made in heaven. However, the translation of comics to the electronic medium has been slow.
Accolade's Comics offers humorous dialog, animated graphics, and arcade action.
Accolade's Comics finally bridges the gap. It's representative of the new wave in adventure software. No longer are adventures morbidly grim and set in caverns peopled by ogres and halflings. This representative of the new generation of software is brightly lit and humorous, and sophisticated enough to poke fun at itself and its genre.
One might be tempted to comment that this software is not true to life. And particularly as software strives for ever greater verisimilitude, the cartoon drawings and far-out situations that Steve Keene (the hero of Comics) finds himself in, leave this action/adventure/role-playing game open to such criticism. But what could be more true to life than a story line that hinges on seemingly insignificant turns of phrase or choices of action? And some of the choices and turns of phrase are hilarious.
Immediately after the program boots, you're given the choice of practicing the videogame sequences or playing the adventure game. My recommendation is to get as much practice as possible with the videogames before attempting anything else.
Steve Keene On The Case
As the story opens, private spy and thrill seeker Steve Keene has been summoned to headquarters (which is cunningly disguised as a small-time pet alterations business) where the thinskinned chief tells him of an assignment he must complete. As the conversation progresses, you have the opportunity to choose Steve Keene's banter. Will he use wisecracks or respond in a low-key, respectful manner? The decision is yours. But be careful. The chief is not only thin-skinned but also mildly paranoid (as it pays to be in the private spy business). Even if you stick to straight responses, he may get the feeling you are ribbing him, and you'd better apologize when he gets steamed. A word to the wise.
If you survive the conversation, you might be sent on one of two missions. During the course of the missions you will have the opportunity to swap badinage with bad guys, get sapped, be eaten by a vain shark named Harry, get shot by robot copters, have gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, and play some truly challenging arcade-style games.
One storyline requires that you track down a kidnapped professor who has just made a discovery that will benefit mankind far into the future. You are faced by such obstacles as an airheaded car salesman named Laughin' Al (who must have been a joy to create), toughs who drive Mercedes and Jaguars, a nerdy lab assistant, and even a vampire who appears incongruously from nowhere.
Errors in judgment are handled in true comic-book style. You don't simply perish (except in the arcade sequences). Rather, you are treated to a graphic representation of your demise, as you wait on death row for that fateful call from the governor, or as an ill-tempered French taxi driver throws you from his moving cab. Fortunately, loss of a life doesn't always take you back to the beginning of the adventure. As long as Steve has lives remaining, the adventure simply "rewinds" a few scenes and allows you the opportunity to make different choices along the way. If only life were like that.
Comics comes on six disk sides. Passage through an adventure will require a considerable amount of disk swapping. The panels are in colorful medium-resolution graphics (on the 64) and they load slowly, although I believe the game is assisted by a fast-load program. As each panel is loaded, it is accompanied by some kind of animation. In the chief's office, the overhead fan turns slowly, and the chief absentmindedly spins a globe while speaking. The mouths of the characters move (particularly in the early sequences) with a kind of "Clutch Cargo" motion. My guess is that for each panel, three or four panels must be loaded in order to accomplish the animation. If this is true, it is worth suggesting that any future version of Comics forsake the nonessential animation in order to speed up the plot.
In both humor and straight-ahead action, timing is everything. Though funny and impressive at times, the animation just doesn't move the story forward.
Fortunately, you can click the joy-stick fire button to stop the animation of each panel and move on to the next. Still, it can take several minutes to get through the preparatory sequences to arrive at the challenge that stopped you on a previous game.
One other suggestion I would make has to do with a feature I though was enormously funny the first time through. Many of us remember the Fearless Fosdick pitches for Wildroot Cream Oil or the Charles Atlas ads that came with our comics. They featured a short comic and a coupon for a body building course, or a real cardboard tank. Comics has a section like that, complete with a coupon to cut out of your television screen.
The animation and story of this advertising section are funny and provide a break from the tension. However, I never felt I had to read the Charles Atlas ad through every time I read a comic book. In Comics, you have to go through it, panel by panel.
I hope there will be future versions of Comics. There are all kinds of themes crying out to be lampooned—western comics, superhero comics—and I'd love to see what Comics' creative crew would do with "Tales from the Crypt."
With features that will appeal to children and adults, videogame addicts, and adventure aficionados, Comics is a winner from beginning to end. Or as close to the end as I was able to get after several days of trying. I'm still trying.
If you see the kidnapped professor, tell him not to give up hope. I'll rescue him soon.
20813 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Cupertino, CA 95014
$39.95 Commodore 64 version
$44.95 Apple II-series version