It’s all getting a bit too weird now … each time I encounter someone of the age of 18-24 and bring up the Dizzy series of games, then they sort of give me this bemused look like i’m talking a foreign language (And also with the concept of loading games from cassette tape – sigh!). Sadly its true that since the last of the Dizzy games were released back in 1993/94, the franchise has been lost to the midst’s of time and new generations mostly haven’t had the opportunity to sample the simple adventure delights of the series. My own daughter loves the games, but only discovered them through my retro gaming past-time and general reminiscing.
Inspired by the recent Dizzy article in Retro Gamer magazine this month, I felt like writing some of my recollections of growing up with the Dizzy games (With a C64 specific spin – due to my roots) and why it seems sad that new generations are missing out on the little egg on legs…
The start of an adventure
Of course, the Dizzy games are somewhat of a “Marmite” series of games – with a group who wouldn’t hear a bad thing said against the games, and those who completely detest them. I was more in the first camp. Growing up with a C64 from 1990 onwards, my first experience of Dizzy was with the first game on the Quattro Adventure pack which my mum brought me many moons ago (In the days where I can remember Knightmare on the telly and smell of chicken stew cooking away for tea time).
It wasn’t the best Dizzy game by any means (Typical flaws for a first game in a potential series), and some of the screens were hard to get past without some determination and pixel perfect skill – but it was enough to give me a taste of a series which I could get into in a big way. Plus an animating cartoon egg on legs for a 8-9yr old was great stuff – as you can tell I was easily pleased!
It was when in a second hand shop that I luckily managed to source Fantasy World Dizzy (The 3rd adventure game in the series) for the silly price of 50p or something when the Dizzy craze really kicked off for me. The game was vastly improved in many areas, including the inventory system, introduction of interactable characters and some more child friendly puzzles with the fantasy/fairytale theme in the game. The game indicated a consistent theme of using the same developer on the C64 – Ian Gray (An Interceptor Software legend) became the main converter of the games to the C64, pretty much converting all the Spectrum based adventures over apart from the very last adventure on the C64 and possibly Spellbound Dizzy. Not sure if he was sick of the sight of the egg by the end of it all (Ian, get in touch if you ever read this!) 🙂
Early on I was pretty useless at the game, getting stuck on the screen with the fire breathing dragon and the bull in the cave in particular. Luckily some help and discussion was at hand when I went along with my dad to his pigeon club meetings every week. One of the other pigeon fanciers brought their grandson along, who happened to play the Dizzy games a lot on his Amstrad CPC . He was a few years older, and I managed to get valuable tips and hints off him each time when I got to a particular screen (Such as giving the meaty bone to the bull to get him to sit in the cave). I used to get very excited about finding out how to get past certain parts, in the days before there was the internet to look up the full solutions and this poor lad used to get interrogated each week as I progressed through the game, eager to find out what was on the next screen.
Sadly in recent years I found out the lad died in a car accident around early 2000 😦
Searching for the 30th coin
In August 1991, I discovered Commodore Format magazine, and one of the main reasons I started buying it (See reminiscing article on the magazine) was due to its cheats/tips column full of cheats for a load of games I had. The jewel in the crown was the full map of Fantasy World Dizzy in the issue I picked up, which showed every single screen of the game and a solution to it. At the time (I’m slightly more miserable in my old age these days) I was giddy with excitement and then proceeded to try and complete the game for the first time.
Unfortunately one of the big issues with Dizzy is with the idea of “Collect 30 coins to complete the game”. A popular addition to most of the later Dizzy games, for Fantasy World Dizzy it proved to be a huge pig. I always used to get to around 29 coins and never find the remaining one (Of which I only in recent years managed to find and finally complete things).
Same problem occurred with the Amiga series of the games, as my nephew brought them around the same time I picked up the C64 versions. The Amiga ones were slightly more fun in some respects, especially Treasure Island Dizzy thanks to its “I can fly” cheat which allowed you to fly around the game map. Sadly the C64 version lacked this cheat, but in an issue of Commodore Format there was a fun set of cheats for Treasure Island Dizzy and Fantasy World Dizzy which made you immune to Fire and Water, which meant you could drop out of the main game in drift through loads of odd screens with bits of scenery and coins dotted around – before landing in a really obscure part of the map.
Back to my “Dizzy journey” – Magicland Dizzy was next in the series. After reading about it in Lets Compute magazine (A strange BBC/C64/Spectrum magazine that taught BASIC programming) in its reviews section, I saved up £2.99 and my dad took me to John Menzies to pick it up. Everything from the puzzles, the locations and the music make it my favourite title in the entire series – maybe partly through rose-tinted specs, but when it came out, I was starting to grow up and work out the puzzles fully myself without asking others. I used to pretty much hum the theme tune from the game all the time too 😉
Although it was one of the first Dizzy games not to be written by the Oliver Twins, it was very well done and a good indication that Big Red Software was more than up to the task of carrying the torch for the twins. Of course, by the time I got my next copy of Commodore Format, they spoilt things a bit and had the full map of Magicland Dizzy, but it didn’t matter too much as I was almost at the end anyway.
It seems like Codemasters were my favourite software house at that time, as around 1991 they also released CJ’s Elephant Antics and Spike in Transylvania, both titles I rushed out and brought and have a soft spot in my gaming heart like the Dizzy games (Genesis Software were pretty awesome developers on the C64 – Check out an interview with one of the guys here).
Strangely it was after Magicland Dizzy and Fantasy World Dizzy that I finally picked up Treasure Island Dizzy (The second game in the series) in a second hand shop. After sampling both later games, the second game I didn’t get on with greatly. It was a little quieter with the lack of other characters, the inventory system was very crazy – with a cycle based system.
The system caused huge problems when under water, holding the snorkel to breathe and trying to pick up an object – which led to you dropping the snorkel and drowning. The 30 coin collect system was also present and those bloody falling cages!! Still, I played and managed to complete it – helped with probably one of the solutions in one of the magazines and the awesome Matt Gray tunes playing in the background.
More eggcellent adventures
After finishing with Magicland Dizzy and finally discovering Treasure Island Dizzy, I was craving some more. Luckily Codemasters obliged by starting to advertise a new Dizzy collection called “Dizzy’s Excellent Adventures“. Must have been around January/February 1992 (Issue 16/17) of Commodore Format when I spotted it and noticed several previously unreleased Dizzy games on this pack.
I had to somehow get hold of this new release, but luckily I had some unspent Christmas money (I think from my late Aunt) and enough to go and grab it when it came out. I kept anxiously checking John Menzies for a few weeks, and they kept saying they would get it in shortly. Sure enough it arrived and I nabbed it quickly and rushed home one Saturday to check out the various new adventures.
And I wasn’t disappointed…. Prince of the Yolkfolk was a great adventure (Albeit a little too short), Kwik Snax was a nice move away from the normal adventure games, Dizzy Down the Rapids was a fun little Toobin’ clone and Panic Dizzy was a good puzzler (Although slated, I didn’t mind it too much).
Spellbound Dizzy on the other hand I never really got fully into for some reason – although I completed it. The pack version was actually (and controversially) a cut down version of the proper game which had over 100 screens, but still it wasn’t the size of the game which put me off, but just something was missing or fiddly. All in all the entire pack entertained me for many days, all around a golden time for me growing up and getting new C64 games towards the end of its commercial life.
Focusing on the main highlights, Prince of the Yolkfolk was actually a bloody good little adventure in the series, with some neat puzzles,background story and lively in-game tune. But as mentioned, the whole thing was just that little bit too short and easy, featuring only around 20-30 screens in total. A shame really, why make it so small? – Had they increased its size slightly, then this could have been one of the best games in the series (Up there with Fantasy World Dizzy and Magicland Dizzy). Still, according to its popularity on the pack – Codemasters saw fit to release it individually and get a bit more profit.
Additionally the game was very good on the Amiga (Again featuring a great catchy tune by 4Mat) – which of course my nephew was almost buying in tandem whilst I picked up the C64 versions.
Dizzy Down the Rapids actually got a bit of a slating for being a poor Toobin’ rip off in many of the magazines. Of course, it did rip Toobin’ off heavily, but I quite enjoyed it and far more than the official C64 conversion of Toobin itself. It’s a bit of a pain in the backside to play (With some unfair parts), but is a good enjoyable challenge with a catchy title tune by Allister Brimble. Again it was another title that saw an individual release shortly afterwards.
Spellbound Dizzy also as well got its individual release, but as mentioned above – the released version featured all 100 screens compared to the pack’s cut down version. I later picked this up around a year later, but the game was that little bit too big to explore, with no save states or passwords to save progress. However, this problem was about to be rectified in Dizzy’s final C64 outing (See ‘Dizzy’s final C64 bow).
Shortly after the pack’s release, Dizzy made another non-adventure appearance in Bubble Dizzy, which like Dizzy Down the Rapids, was based on a mini-game from Fantastic Dizzy (A large,console’esq Dizzy game that made the Amiga/Master System/NES /MD etc – but sadly not the C64 for reasons unknown).
Although it got fair reviews, for some reason the game didn’t appeal to me and I never brought it – I guess that overall I preferred the adventures more than the arcade efforts that were released, and Bubble Dizzy looked boring. In recent times I finally picked up the game, and found it to be a bit of a frustrating (and boring!) affair overall – so probably wise that I saved my £3.99 that month…
Dizzy’s final C64 bow
Although not Dizzy’s complete final appearance, Crystal Kingdom Dizzy was to be his last C64 appearance. Now in 1992/93, I was starting to sadly see the demise of the C64 as a commercial platform. The magazines started to get less games to review each month and you just felt that the 16-bit platforms were finally taking stranglehold. Still, I was very much keen to buy new games and a new Dizzy title would be a good sweetener for a slow down of new releases.
After the excitement of seeing a new Dizzy game appear on Commodore Format’s “Early Warning Scanner” (A radar which had games listed at differing points – the closer to the center, the nearer the release was) some preview screenshots appeared a few issues later. The big surprise was the fact that it was to be the first full colour Dizzy adventure game, and not a straight Spectrum port! The game was also to be split into several parts by using a Game Genie code system.
Once released, the game got good reviews in the 80% region, but it wasn’t a case of just going out and grabbing it from John Menzies this time – this was the first full price Dizzy game at £9.99. Codemasters getting a bit greedy? – maybe, but the £3.99 budget days were drawing to a close for the UK company and there was an active move into the full price range. The C64 got a bitter taste of Codemaster’s new direction, and as a result, I had to rely on a caring sister to buy it for a birthday present that year (Thanks sis!).
The game overall played very well, and was enjoyable – but things had lost their sparkle a bit (Craig Kelsall talks more about things on the main GTW site). Maybe I was starting to grow out of the games at this stage, but I think it might have been more the fact that I completed things very quickly over the space of a day or so. The problem was that the puzzles were not that imaginative compared to the previous games, the jumping was changed so you could fully control Dizzy’s fall (Where as on the older games he would roll around and annoying fall into nearby water) and the Game Genie password system meant that you could complete the game in steps and not have to start at the very beginning if you died. It was just all a bit too easy, and really it wasn’t much bigger than any of the previous Dizzy games – it was just in full colour this time. It even featured a bit of innuendo in the form of a “whip” object that you could pick up from Daisy’s bedroom, which Craig confirmed was deliberate! 🙂
Still, the game was a good farewell for the C64, featured some nice graphics and jolly tunes by Gerard Gourley (The 3rd-6th seconds of the in-game tune always reminded me of sounds from ITV’s The Chart Show on around that time). Craig Kelsall did a great job, but sadly had a slightly lacking design spec to follow.
Going to secondary school and growing up meant that Dizzy became something of my childhood past. Although taking an interest at the release of Fantastic Dizzy (In particular wanting to get the Master System version, but never being able to afford it), I never managed to play it and that was the end for me. Dizzy became a game which on the odd occasion I would dig out over the years for a bit of reminiscing or showing a new generation. In the past few days whilst writing this I sat and completed Magicland Dizzy and Prince of the Yolkfolk with my daughter.
Sadly Codemasters decided to move away from Dizzy back around 1993/94 time when they wanted to change their image. People associated Codemasters with the children’s favourite, and now they wanted to appeal to a new generation with the likes of Micro Machines. Oliver Twins went on to set up Blitz Games, and over the past 10 years there has been talk of resurrecting the game for new generations. A 3D Mario’esq trailer was produced some years back by Blitz Games which gave a taster of what could be if the franchise was modernized, but Codemasters didn’t feel it would do well in today’s market (According to Retro Gamer’s article, this is due to it not being very marketable in the US – which games these days need to be to make a viable profit it seems).
Personally for me, a 3D game wouldn’t be Dizzy – it would need to be 2D based – but it could still offer opportunity for future generations of children to experience a series of games which I have very fond memories of. In recent timesi’ve dug out some of the old Dizzy games for young family members to check out – and they really enjoyed them.
The problem is that any new Dizzy game is always going to be a bit of a risk in the days where games have large budgets, but then we have the likes of the 360,Wii, iPhone and PS3 and their downloadable game services. The likes of Team 17 have had vast success by distributing updates to Worms, Alien Breed and others purely by this digital form without too much risk. Codemasters have already ventured into proceedings by doing a superb Sensible World of Soccer game – which was very much close to the Amiga original with some minor tweaks and although it was an old title, did very well overall.
Maybe therefore there’s room for an updated 2D Dizzy game for one of the services? … Something quick and simple for Codemasters/Blitz Games to knock out? Maybe just an update of one or two of the existing Dizzy games fixing some of the problems like the inventory systems, classic modes, history docs+bits and adding in-game graphics resembling Braid or similar. It would be doable, quick and I would have thought fairly cheap with a limited risk to test the water and the series on a new generation. With the size of the games and the popularity of episodic releases, each Dizzy game release could be seen in that way with a cheap price tag (Harking back to the budget days of Codemasters). Sadly though it will likely never happen and we may only ever see the likes of Micro Machines appear in the future.
Sadly as a result Dizzy may have to remain as a remnant of the past, and one where parents dig out their old 8/16-bit machines or emulators to show their kids what they are missing.
If you would like to read more about Dizzy, then as well as checking out issue 75 of Retro Gamer and its excellent Dizzy article, then the following websites may be of interest:
- http://www.yolkfolk.com/ — Dizzy fan site (And a petition to bring the series back!)
- http://www.codemasters.co.uk/downloads/details.php?id=17413 — Play Treasure Island Dizzy (C64) for free!
- http://www.fantasticdizzy.co.uk/ — Blitz Game’s 3D Dizzy video (A proof of concept)
- Magicland Dizzy ending – Thanks to C64endings.co.uk