Trolling’s for girls

One way to introduce a topic without having to go to the trouble of stringing words together in the right order to form coherent sentences is to insert relevant ready-made quotes, and let them do the talking for you. It’s cheap, lazy and tells you all you need to know about the calibre of a given writer. Let’s do it…

“Trolls sure have changed a lot since I was little, reading stories about the terrible ogres that lived under bridges and molested goats. Now, it seems trolls are small and sweet, with lovely, fluffy hair and a big smile for everyone they meet. Children used to be terrified, and now all they want are cute little troll dolls. This game doesn’t actually have anything to do with the mega-popular toy, but the main character is similar.”

83% – CU Amiga (March 1993)

“Remember when no exam hall was complete without the sight of desks full of ugly – masquerading as cute – little creatures, with button eyes and a vibrant tuft of hair, who went by the name of Trolls? Well, they are currently enjoying a revival, along with Abba and Thunderbirds.”

80% – Amiga Format (March 1993)

With hindsight Flair’s brainwave to turn a traditionally girly franchise like the Trolls dolls into a computer game targeted towards an audience largely comprising adolescent boys probably wasn’t going to be the hair-raising runaway success they’d hoped for.

While the game released for the Amiga, CD32, DOS and Commodore 64 in 1992 was met with widespread praise from the critics (an average score of 79.14% across 7 reviews), it failed to capture the attention of the game buying public. Who didn’t, buy it that is, and thus it was considered a flop by its Newcastle based developers. In the UK at least; apparently sales were more impressive abroad, possibly-maybe where gender stereotypes weren’t so prevalent, or more girls played computer games.

“In between the not-bad-at-all Trolls and the not-too-good-at-all Oscar, Flair released an A1200 version of the former game which turned out to be one of the Amiga’s nicest platformers to date. Now they have stuck on the traditional CD soundtrack and brought it to the CD32, and it is still one of the Amiga’s nicest platformers.”

86% – Amiga Power (January 1994)

Undeterred by flagging sales at home, and buoyed by the positive reviews, Flair were sure that given a fresh lick of paint and a bit more attitude the game could easily be salvaged and go on to take the charts by storm. Enter ‘Oscar’; a year on their gorky Troll protagonist was massaged into a, into a… well, is anyone really sure what he’s supposed to be? Even the manual doesn’t make it clear, and you’d think if anyone knew it would be Flair.

Curiously, in the same year, the reverse took place when American Video Entertainment’s 1990 NES action-puzzler, Dudes with Attitude, was de-tuded, the result being the much more effeminate Trolls on Treasure Island.

Our tooth-deprived hedgehog-plumber-kid has had all his Oscar movie awards stolen and it’s your duty to recover a predetermined number of them on each level in order to progress to the next. Mechanically identical to its platforming forbear then, except the mini Troll collectibles and branding have all been nixed in favour of movie themed paraphernalia and scenarios.

Levels are non-linear and can be attempted in any order by walking through the curtains to one ‘screening’ or another, as in Addams Family or Robocod. They include worlds based on cinematic genres such as horror, sci-fi (featuring Geiger-thieved aliens, albeit sporting Nike trainers and a Comic Relief red nose), wild west, war (which is partially monochrome to reflect the era), and jurassic.

Oh, and a very welcome, grin-loosening CBM themed stage, which is a nice touch. You’ll even encounter CD32 joypads as flying enemies; possibly a wink towards the owners of the system who knew all too well how awful they were and often wanted to make them fly… right out of the window!

It never hurts to ask if anyone loves Commodore at a Commodore convention. “Reel ’em in” indeed. Singing to the choir I believe it’s called… or is it preaching to the choir? I can’t remember, and I’m in a park with no internet access so can’t Google it.

For good measure there’s a kid’s TV-vibed level tacked on the end that strangely also features lots of Commodore related gizmos. One in particular stands out; a taped up blueprint of a CD32 with “top secret” written on it. It possibly still was to most of the public while Oscar was being developed.

Stages end when you reach the clapperboard having bagged the requisite number of Oscars, indicated by the director megaphoning “cut!!!” at you. A clapperboard that always has “take 69” chalked on it because some numbers are inherently funny… or sumfink.

For each trope-switch our hoggy chum slips into a germain outfit, rather like a chameleon, earning Flair several extra Brownie points for attention to detail. Brownie points that were quickly rescinded for cutting the scope of levels (and outfits altogether) from the SNES release. It takes a blummin’ eon to complete the Amiga version, yet half that for the abridged SNES release.

Coder, Mick Hedley, graphician/musician, Phillip Nixon, and graphician, Mark Sample, were behind both games, and it seems they faced some difficulties beyond their control in bringing them to the masses. Within the executable file of Trolls, the following message can be found:-

“This game was written on a very slow schneider 10mhz 286 with lots of wait states. If for some reason on your very fast xxxx 25mh 486 this game seems to be fast or unplayable, do no blame us for it was a penny pinching boss who would not buy us reasonable pc’s to work on. signed THE PROGRAMMERS OF FLAIR SOFTWARE”.

You still kill enemies by way of Mario’s head bounce manoeuvre (up to three per baddie), or using the grappling hook yo-yo power-up, and the startled elephant restart points (an elephant never forgets), and insanely gaudy, migraine-inducing visuals remain. Hopefully Flair fixed the issue that resulted in you being asked to input words from the manual that don’t exist in order to pass the copyright protection check, though I wouldn’t bet my Trolls pencil topper on it.

So in effect, which you chose to invest in boils down to your affinity for naked plastic trolls with insubordinate wayward fluorescent hair. Personally I never understood the appeal. On the contrary, the critics treated to a behind the scenes glance at a preview copy of Oscar would have been none the wiser because the early beta didn’t feature the main sprite! Oh dear.

What’s interesting is that this is one of the few examples where the ECS/OCS incarnation offers a better experience in that the explosion of backdrop ‘creativity’ is reigned in to conserve memory and you can actually see what you’re doing. All very pretty and well drawn of course, just not appropriate for a game where you need to be able to discern foreground objects from those in the background.

Don’t worry if you can’t find the manual because detailed instructions are presented on screen before you begin the game. Pirating the CD version wouldn’t have been an issue in 1993 so owning paper documentation would have offered no incentive to buy the genuine article. Either way it doesn’t tell you about the nifty Game Boy collectible that turns the screen an appropriately ghastly shade of screen, so I’ll have to do that. Check.

Something else it doesn’t explain is that this is a great game with which to play ‘spot the pop culture references’. In the game show level you’ll find Dusty Bin as a cutesy assailant. Optimus Prime and a cross between Zebedee and Short Circuit have cameos in kid’s TV land. The Shoe People are lurking in the background of cartoon world. You can pick out Flintstone’s vehicles and dwellings in the prehistoric realm, and the war stage is set in a derelict, shelled interpretation of London fleshed out with a pixel art recreation of Big Ben.

 

 

Oscar even takes the opportunity to offer kids helpful pointers like “tabs will kill you” and “lard will clog up your arteries”. Well, the jury’s still out on that last one.

With no licence to fork out for, or franchise owners to kowtow to, Flair stood to gain a greater slice of the pie when they approached Commodore once again to discuss pack-in opportunities (Trolls had previously formed part of the A1200 Race ‘N’ Chase aka Fast ‘N’ Furious collection). Oscar, alongside Diggers became one of the accompanying titles for the inaugural CD32 pack and went on to make further appearances in the Spectacular Voyage, Dangerous Streets (another of Flair’s offspring) and Critical Zone bundles. Vying for attention with Dennis, he was also the face of the Desktop Dynamite A1200 pack.

At least where the first pressed CDs were concerned, what early adopters received was actually a copy of the musically void A1200 version bunged on a shiny frisbee because the CD32 edition wasn’t ready in time for the launch of the new console. This was despite being in production for 10 months and fundamentally amounting to a hack of an already complete title from Flair’s back catalogue. That said, praise where it’s due, it is enormous and the lavish new graphics must have taken an eternity to pull together.

The upshot was that none of the bells and whistles gamers bought the snazzy new system to be able to appreciate were incorporated and even two of the nine levels were omitted, which was a bit of a swizz given that Oscar was chosen as a showcase of the CD32’s advanced capabilities.

“Oscar has all the makings of an excellent platform game, but it seems that Flair have tried too hard in all the wrong places. Not the best entry point to the world of CD32 games!”

64% – CU Amiga (November 1993)

An independent retail release followed, this time including the promised CD audio soundtrack. Disproportionately augmenting the mediocre game, the highlight is a composition evoking pangs of déjà vu that would have Mike Oldfield reaching for his lawyer’s phone number. Unsurprisingly Phillip Nixon’s re-interpretation of Tubular Bells accompanies the horror themed levels.

Another standout moment is the track that transports me to the wistful forest sequences in Simon the Sorcerer. Ponderously lingering and peculiarly thought-provoking for such a brash kid’s game, it punches well above the game’s weight.

In revamping Trolls, Flair had the opportunity to listen to feedback from the gaming press to ensure ‘Trolls 2’ turned out less irritating, and more subdued. Instead they swung even further to the dark side, introducing additional obnoxious sound effects and digitised speech, again by Peter Johnson.

An inescapable “thanks everybody” each and every time you snag an Oscar was never going to endear discerning gamers, even it did let them pretend for a second they’re at an awards ceremony being handed a plaudit for their celluloid artistry. That said, Troll’s “let’s go get ‘em” Kenny from South Park impersonation wasn’t far behind in the blackboard scraping department.

Controls are as cumbersomely sluggish as ever and the action noticeable grinds as more sprites simultaneously join the fray. Adding insult to injury, Flair even cut the end of level pig stops from which you’d be whisked off to the next challenge by a flying ‘Pigasus’, and glass of beer power-down that would turn your hair green and meddle with your controls, making them extremely unresponsive. They were the best bits!

“Oh dear. I am still finding this a bit hard to believe, to be honest. The CD32’s rather nice joypad has no less than seven buttons on it. Oscar uses ‘up’ to jump. Otherwise, this is, as far as I can tell, exactly the same game as the less-than-amazing A1200 version we reviewed last month. It is still almost completely impossible to see the bad guys against the backgrounds on most of the levels, it is still littered with bits where you have to leap off the screen and just hope for the best, only to end up plummeting down a bottomless lift shaft or similar, you still have to bounce on the soppiest baddies three times to dispose of them (a pointless annoyance that even the PC version ironed out), and it is still basically just a more garish version of Trolls with most of the good bits taken out.”

51% – Amiga Power (December 1993)

Trolls features no boss battles, ending abruptly with a static congratulations screen, and Oscar disappointingly follows suit, albeit by exiting the cinema to “join the immortality of the stars”. All things considered it comes as no shock that it received congruent assessments (an average of 74.75% across 4 reviews).

While Trolls reached no. 28 in the Gallup charts in April 1993, and no. 10 in the A1200 charts in April 1994, likely impelled by the kudos of the notorious license (they were the no. 2 best-selling toy in 1992, behind the SNES), Oscar failed to put in an appearance at all. For Flair’s sake then you’d hope the Commodore pack-in deals alone made the exercise worthwhile.

Flair’s Trolls license expired long ago and the developers themselves have since departed to the great pixel-pushing studio in the sky. But fear not Sonic stalkers; the rights to continue producing Oscar games has latterly been passed to Virtual Playground, a division of the same MicroValue group, still based in Newcastle.

Sanuk Games’ not so politically correct answer to Dynablaster.

So far a quintet of Oscar reincarnations have been published, all targeted towards the DSiware platform courtesy of Sanuk Games who occupy offices split between Bangkok and France. Oscar in Toyland (2009), Oscar in Movieland (2010), Oscar in Toyland 2 (2011) and Oscar’s World Tour (2011) are essentially tweaked remakes of their Amiga predecessor, and accordingly received underwhelming appraisals.

As for the Trolls, from 2013 onwards DreamWorks Animation have owned the IP outright, releasing a CGI movie based on the characters in 2016 starring Justin Timberlake, with a sequel planned for 2020. Now the franchise is no longer owned by creator, Thomas Dam, registered to his company, Dam Things, I sense the little blighter’s hutzpah has somehow been lost in translation.

One thought on “Trolling’s for girls

  • September 21, 2017 at 7:03 am
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    Nice article as always 🙂 I known those are average games, but You know what? I like them both a lot. Those are my first games for A1200 so I have a right to feeling nostalgic for them. It was revolution for someone who start gaming adventure with Commodore128. You are right about every point in Your article, yet I like a lot how those games look and sound. I could state at Trolls or Oscar intro with a smile on my face. Sure gameplay could be much more better and after playing other platform games I start to dislike those with fetch-quest mechanics. Sometime ago I have checked cd32 versions, You nail again what was bad and good. Those are good exapmles of adding content for cd version even if game still is at best an average.

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