Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Underwurlde - Deep In The 8-Bit Underground

I was obsessed with the family Commodore 64 in my childhood and spent many a happy hour playing my favorite video games in front of that tiny (by today's standards, anyway) monitor.  As much as I loved the games I owned (and I owned quite a few!) there was still an entire world of games that seemed just out of reach.  

My father subscribed to Compute!'s Gazette magazine.  Among the varied articles on anything and everything Commodore, there were also a metric shit ton (yes, that is an actual measurement!) of ads for new games and such.  I would pour over these ads and marvel and the wild and often beautiful box art.  Sometimes you were lucky enough to get a screenshot with the box art.  Sometimes not.  I vividly remember the first time I saw an ad for Underwurlde.  There was something about the art that told me that this game was geared more for adults, or at least older kids.  There were no cartoon characters or spaceships, just a demonic looking entity front and center.  There was something otherworldly about it to be sure and in my young adolescent mind, this was a game that would be intense.

As fate would have it, I never got to play a copy of Underwurlde.  Whenever we went to a store that sold computer games, I would scour the shelves looking for it, but to no avail.  This was the case with many a game that I would spy in gaming adverts in Compute!'s Gazette or other computer mags.  Life went on and time went by and eventually I forgot all about Underwurlde.  

It wasn't until I was researching something entirely different that I came across that box art again.  A flood of nostalgia ripped through me and I knew that the time had come to finally realize a childhood dream.  Thanks to the invention of emulators, I was finally going to play Underwurlde.  I was surprised by the fact that I had butterflies in my stomach as I booted up the game.  I was no longer a thirty-six year old man sitting in my office, I was a ten year old boy and I was about to experience something that seemed so intangible for so long.

The title screen booted up and a fresh wave of excitement hit me.  I had no idea what was coming next and my fingers twitched in anticipation.  Was this going to be an RPG of sorts, like the D&D games that SSI used to put out?  Was it an action game?  Adventure?  More than likely action as I noted that it was from Ultimate and Firebird.  I had fought the urge to look it up online before playing.  
The title screen!  

The game began and I was a little surprised to find that I was looking at a little solid colored sprite.  He kinda looked like he was wearing a pith helmet.  What in the hell?  So.....I'm like a jungle explorer?  Huh, didn't see that coming.  It would appear that I'm in a castle or mansion.  There are flying jellyfish and birds coming at me.  They are also monochrome....but each is a different color, which is nice.  

Huh....not what I was expecting.

The grey bird is a statue you can jump on.  Green bird and pink jellyfish are enemies.

I run around for a bit.  Jump on some stuff, but can't seem to get anywhere.  The enemies don't seem to damage me, but they do knock me around and cause me to tumble like a Boston College student on St. Patrick's Day.  After about five minutes it becomes clear that I'm going to need some assistance.  I find the manual online and give it a read.  Now we're getting somewhere!

With the controls now understood I pick up a slingshot (that sort of looks like the outline of a bird) and start to shoot monsters with a never ending supply of rocks.  I start to explore the castle and find that simply jumping into a wall will cause you to tumble.....and that's when I discovered that this game is VERY vertical.  Not only must you explore the castle, but there is a vast underground network of caverns to explore as well.....an.......wait for it.......UNDERWURLDE!  The aim is to find three special weapons (the slingshot is NOT special) to defeat three different guardian monsters and then escape the castle through one of three exits.

Whoa! Man eating plants!

You can ride bubbles!

I'm not going to lie,  At first, I was a bit disappointed with the game....it was absolutely nothing like I envisioned.  That beautiful and otherworldly artwork was used to advertise this cartoony and rather frustrating game.  The game has some glaring flaws....the controls are a bit off (though to be fair that could be because of the emulator) and the hit detection was a bit glitchy (also...maybe the emulator).  Something kept me playing though.  I wanted to see what was on the next screen.  

I have not completed the game, but I am somewhere around halfway through, I guess.  I have just found the second weapon (a bow and arrow...the first was a dagger) and I have defeated the first guardian (wasn't very had.  He just stood there while I shot him with daggers.  He was a squiggly kinda octopus/bug looking thing....I don't know....he had tentacles and/or legs!)  Thanks to the emulator, I was able to save my position and I will continue on later tonight.

You can also go all Spelunker and use a rope in the caverns.

The First Guardian!

After playing I went online to do a bit of research and discovered that Underwurlde is part of the Sabreman series of games that Ultimate released in the 80's.  Very popular on the ZX Spectrum and it looks like it was fairly popular on the Commodore as well.  That would explain why my little fella didn't look like he belonged fighting demons in the Underwurlde, I guess!  At any rate....it's a glitchy game and it's a bit frustrating, but it's worth a look I think.  This has truly been quite an experience.  I wonder how I would have reacted to the game when I was a kid?  Would have been upset that it wasn't the grown up game that I thought it was, or would I have embraced it's cartoon-like atmosphere?  Interesting question.......

An Underwurlde Map that I found online.  I don't know if it came with the game or if it's a fan creation.

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