By Dave E Published In EGG #003: Spectrum
When I was a little boy, there were only four TV channels and the highlight of every Friday night was the half-hour Benny Hill Show. Essentially there were two Benny Hills - the stand-up comedian whose one-liners and stories were reasonably funny, and the Benny Hill "character" who was a fat, balding, lustful loser who, in fast-paced cartoon-like sequences went on a rampage. His rampages were accompanied by some fast-paced circus-themed music, and typically involved one or more ladies with short skirts plus a frustrated old battleaxe who may or may not have actually been Benny's wife.
No-one really knew. No-one really thought about it. It was comedy from a different era. My parents thought the show was hilarious, as did much of the nation and, as the cartoon sequences were so childish, I quite liked it too.
Skip forward thirty years and, in the UK at least, there's no appetite for this sort of comedy at all... and the Spectrum computer game released back in 1985, when played out of context, seems decidedly creepy. You play Benny, and your quest is to steal items from a clothes line. You know you see a stranger's bra and panties hanging there and it's like... "Phwoah! I gotta have them!" Well, if you're maladjusted and your paraphilia is all-consuming, that is.
So... this was the storyline of a commercially released computer game in 1985, and no-one batted an eyelid, it seems. That rascal Benny Hill, eh? That's just the sort of thing he would do, the cheeky little pervert... but don't you worry, he'll get his comeuppance in the form of the fat grandma who'll catch him and give him a punch or two, and we'll all fall about laughing at how ridiculously stupid it all is. Ha ha ha.
Well, if you're chomping at the bit to relive such magical times as these, Benny Hill's Madcap Chase has been recently upgraded by Highriser Software. The game remains the same but the infectious background music has been added to it, turning the completely silent hilarity of the original game into a sketch that more closely resembles the TV show. And, if you're someone who enjoyed the show back in the day, I have to admit it actually works quite well, making the game a lot more engaging. And that's the case even though the music does fluxuate in speed according to the amount of action on the screen.
As for the game itself, well, if you're not expecting much (after the above description) then you won't be disappointed. All you have to do is manoeuvre Benny backwards and forwards through a few screens. All the way right to the clothes line and its temptations, then all the way left again to place the stolen bra into your laundry basket. The difficulty is that the game features giant sprites and so each screen gives you very little room to manoeuvre. Hence you keep getting accosted by the vexated grandma or bumping into the various scenery that litters each screen.
Although the action is viewed from the side, the game is played in a very odd fashion with Benny being able to jump 'up' and 'down' through three 'rows'. If you've got grandma steaming towards you and you're standing on the top row you can leap 'down' (about eight pixels) to the middle row, and down again (another eight pixels) to the bottom one. Then you should be safe from having your collar felt by her. Likewise, the lampposts, walls, telephone boxes and poles of the clothes line need to be avoided in the same fashion, otherwise you'll run into them and fall dazed to the ground, costing you precious time. You only have 99 seconds to steal all the items from the washing line, and you can only fondle one of them at a time.
To be kind to the game, it is sort of knockabout fun of a type you don't really see anywhere else. Benny Hill actually looks like Benny Hill, and mad grandma actually looks like his TV show nemesis. The big sprites allow for a lot of detail and the animation, whilst not brilliant, is reasonable. Benny getting jumped on is amusing, at least the first couple of times. The background music makes it all feel very much like a crappy TV sketch that's devoid of real plot, and in that sense it does capture a lot of what people liked about Benny Hill in the Eighties (and yes, he was super-popular!).
However, the problem with all this leaping about is that it's very boring and it's also very frustrating because obstacles are purposefully placed just as you move from one room to the next. So you jog across one screen and run slap-bang into a lamppost on the next one... with no time to stop and switch rows at all. And no, you can't just remember a route across the screens because the positions of the obstructions change all the time.
Overall, the original Benny Hill's Madcap Chase was a crap game, and this is a slightly-less-crap upgrade of it. The so-called storyline is, of course, majorly offensive hence it's only going to appeal to Benny Hill fans, perverts or those people unfortunate enough to have owned the original back in the day. And frankly, although it might be bearable for five minutes or so, I don't think the additional music will convince anyone that they don't have better things to be doing with their time.