This article is written by Staresy.
In 1987 Ocean released Head Over Heels, an original adventure/puzzle game by programmer Jon Ritman and graphics artist Bernie Drummond. The game takes place in the surreal world of Blacktooth where two dog like creatures named Head and Heels adventure to save a variety of planets from an evil emperor.
The story is about as thin as you could get as there is no real way to explain some of the wonderful bizarreness that is ensconced within this game but kudos for the team for trying.
Head over Heels is probably one of, if not thee best game for the Z80 family of 8-bit computers.
A striking release, the game is set in an isometric ‘3D’ world where our heros must travel from room to room, seeking out various tools which will help them on their way such as doughnut shooters, handbags and most importantly each other. Each of the characters has different abilities and the player can switch between them at any time even if they are in completely different parts of the game. Head can jump tremendously high and float down giving him a superb advantage at jumping obstacles and reaching high places but on the ground is very slow moving and clumsy. The gruffer Heels has mighty feet which enable him to run on the ground at very high speeds but can only jump a very small height and distance. When united head and Heels can ‘join’ to become one creature (although they can separate at will) and this marriage combines the very best of both their skills.
Graphically the game looks amazing. Some nice dissolving effects on the title screen gives way to some wonderful backdrops and the sprites are all beautifully drawn. Some palette swapping trickery is used between rooms to give a sense of variety and it helps maintain the otherworldly feel. The designers have obviously had some fun in this department with some WTF moments especially when you come across a Dalek with Prince Charles’ head and various other oddities. The best thing about the graphics is not only the way they are super cutesily drawn but the animation is all beautifully silky. Heads waddle is reminiscent of the ‘walk’ animation in Super Mario Brothers 3 except Head Over Heels was released a good year before M3 was even seen in Japan.
The sound consists of various blips and bleeps representing actions and movement and while not stunning they provide adequate padding for the proceedings. Music is limited to small bursts of presumably royalty free music such as ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ and only appears when you change rooms or meet an untimely death.
The playability is where it really earns it’s gold star. The game is huge fun to play, with all sorts of puzzles, exploring and pearls on offer. The enemies are brilliantly programmed and range from droids who randomly move about the room to killer jetpack robots who mirror your movements while edging ever closer. Being stuck in a room with both of these while waiting for the lift to come down to take you to another room is hair-pullingly panicky. Add to this dissolving platforms, spiky floors and deadly walled mazes and there is a massive amount of game to keep your adrenaline levels at maximum and THAT’S where the game gets good.
To call ‘Head Over Heels’ original is a bit of a truth and a bit of a contradiction as well. The game is really nothing more than a suped up and more polished version of ‘Batman’, another game from Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond released a few years earlier and the gameplay is near identical, but really at the time there was nothing, nowt, nada that came close to the originality of this particular style and for that It earns it’s full marks with extra credit.
In my opinion ‘Head Over Heels’ is a much better and deeper gaming experience than Mario, Sonic etc. but a small British games company making a game for a British computer company in the 80’s was never going to get the worldwide attention of a Japanese or American made release. This is sad because it’s exactly the type of über cute characterisation that tends to get massively popular in this culture only here it’s got the meat to go in the sandwich.
Head Over heels is a game that everyone needs to play at least once in their life, and that one go will probably last a few days! 😉
Staresy is a long time gamer and chiptuner. You can listen to chiptunes from classic games systems and covers of classic game music. You can listen to some of them at Prototron.
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