Replaying Rick Dangerous on the Commodore 64

PC

Rick Dangerous, developed by Core Design and released in 1989, is a platform game set across 4 levels - a South American Cave, an Egyptian Pyramid, a German Castle and a Missle Base. 

Article by https://twitter.com/retrotap aka Richard Tappenden

Each level has many screens consisting of devious traps, pixel perfect jumps and a variety of different enemy types that you either have to avoid or destroy. 

Rickdangerous Loading Screen

In addition, level 3 (Schwarzendumpf Castle) is a kind of labyrinth, where certain screen exits lead you back round to previously visited parts of the map. Rick is armed with a pistol that holds 6 bullets, 6 sticks of dynamite and a (surprisingly useful) stick.  The aim of each level is really just to make your way to the exit, but there are also collectible artifacts to pick up for points.  As you progress through the level, you can find refills for your ammunition.  The restriction about the ammunition and the placement of supplies means there’s a resource management element to the game too - you need to make sure you have sufficient supplies to get through the screens ahead. The graphics for the game are great - most of the sprites are really well drawn and the backgrounds are varied and interesting. 

Rick himself is a well drawn cartoon character, and the game is full of humour throughout.  There is also a really nice use of foreground scenery - Rick (and enemies) sometimes walk behind columns and the posts, which is an effect I’ve not seen to often in C64 games.  The sound is ok - there’s a short thematic intro ditty to each level, then it goes to sound effects - all of which are decent enough. However, it is a difficult game that can quickly get frustrating.  Many of the traps are not sign posted, and you have to take lots of leaps of faith, which will often end up with you impaled on spikes or at the feet of an unhappy native.  There are times the jumps have to be close to pixel perfect - either due to the distance, or due to obstacles around you.

The developers obviously recognised this by giving you 6 lives to start with when most games at the time gave you 3. Some people call Rick Dangerous an “unfair” game.  I don’t agree - it’s devious for sure, but it is consistent - the traps are always in the same place - which makes a significant difference to me.  You can learn the game.  The first time you lose a life to a trap, that’s annoying.  Maybe even the second time.  But there comes a point in the game where you should know that trap is there and if you still get caught by it, that is on you - not the game. When the game was released in 1989, I would have been 10 and there’s no way I would have bought it then - so I either picked up the budget version or a second hand copy some years later. 

I remember loving the idea of Rick Dangerous.  Here was an excellently drawn cartoon version of Indiana Jones, trotting around an exciting cave, armed with a pistol and dynamite.  You are thrown straight in with a boulder run reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

Rick Dangerous C64 Artwork

But it was so incredibly hard, and as a kid aged somewhere between 10 and 12 (at a guess), I wouldn’t have stuck with it for very long.  I had a pretty big collection of games, so I would have turned it off the minute it got hard, and loaded something else up or gone outside to play football. So back in the day - although I thought it looked wonderful, I didn’t really like it.

Replaying Rick again....

A few months ago, I met up with a friend of mine, and we started playing Rick Dangerous on the Amiga.  We took turns, and it quickly got a little competitive, with each of us trying to get a little further than the other. 

Rick Dangerous C64 Cassette Case

By the end of the session, we still hadn’t made it through Level 1, but I felt I had got to grips with the game and wanted to play some more.  I don’t have the Amiga version, so we both turned our attention to the C64 version and kept up the competitive edge - sharing our scores and progress with each other to egg us on.

As I started to learn where the different traps are, which leaps to make, when to use dynamite and when to shoot, the game became more and more enjoyable.  Instead of getting frustrated with the game when I saw the game over screen (which I saw a lot), I got frustrated with myself for wasting lives on things I should have avoided. 

It didn’t take too long to get through Level 1. Level 2 broke me for quite a while.  There’s a screen where you have to perfectly time two jumps across platforms whilst avoiding rapidly firing arrows. After many, many attempts - I took to youtube to watch someone else play it.  This helped immensely as I could see how they tackled it, and replicated it myself. 

Not long after, I completed level 2 and felt pretty elated.  Incidentally there’s an enemy type on Level 2 that chases after you - and I couldn’t quite work out what it was supposed to be.  To my eyes, it looked a bit like Dr Zoidberg from Futurama!  However having looked at the Amiga version it’s a guy in a Fez! Level 3 kicked my arse straight away.  It was bad enough that you have to avoid a hurtling dog as soon as it starts, but then you have to negotiate a trigger happy rifleman. 

Once you figure out the timing to get past him, it does get a bit easier - but the whole level is a labyrinth.  Many screens have multiple exits, and if you take the wrong one, you are routed back to an earlier screen - with all the enemies back in place.  Eventually, I found the right way through this level, and I made it to level 4. Level 4 is another one that starts really fast - with an enemy quickly closing on you, another rifleman firing away and the only platform to jump to has a guard on it.  The traps are really devious and caught me many times. Because I needed to get better at this level, and I didn’t want to have to repeatedly do the previous 3 to be able to practise, I turned to a trainer with infinite lives.  T

his was a massive help, as I could keep practising the levels to learn the traps and the jumps, until I got to a point where I felt I knew enough about the level to give it another ‘legit’ playthrough. Eventually, after many attempts and quite a few ‘close but no cigar’ moments, I made it. 

I completed the game - playing right through without any cheats or save states. 

I was absolutely chuffed to bits with myself - but it has to be said after such a long time playing the game, the ending is pretty disappointing. You are presented with a text screen, a short tune, and then the game over screen - what a let down!

My opinion of the game has definitely changed - having the patience to keep learning the game was a key factor.  Every time I got a bit further I felt a sense of achievement. 

Ultimately, it’s a game that requires persistence, but is worth putting the time into.

Article by https://twitter.com/retrotap aka Richard Tappenden 

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