You didn’t see so many games starring sweet, innocent female protagonists back in the Amiga’s heyday, and probably for logical reasons. Most games were tailored towards teenage boys who are known to have a penchant for blood and guts, and demolishing things with ridiculously over the top BFG-scope weaponry. Rod-Land was an anomaly.
Perhaps lamentably that explains why Lollypop was a lemon commercially. That and the drawback of only being released in Germany, and in 1995 when Commodore’s time of death had long-since been called.
Brain Bug’s ultra-cute 2D platformer also found a home on DOS computers the previous year. Unjustly it didn’t fare any better in terms of sales figures, despite having the backing of publishing veterans, Rainbow Arts (who in 1995 now owned Brain Bug outright), and being devised through the combined efforts of the talented C64/PC demo scene group, Vibrants.
You play as a cherub-like clockwork doll who appears to have been inspired by a stereotypical girly-girl from 1930s-era rural America. Little Orphan Annie, or Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz springs to mind.
“Lollipop lollipop, Oh lolli lolli lolli, Lollipop lollipop…”
Animated by a stray bolt of lightning she awakens with a ravenous lust for sugary confectionery that can only be quenched with a belly-bulging pilgrimage to candyland. A bit like Chucky then only minus the voodoo incantations and insatiable appetite for snarly stabbiness. Wanna plaaaaaay?!? Maybe the leery, gift-wrapped doll trapped inside that presentation case in the factory is lonely and at a loose end too.
In-between your toy factory abode and the final encounter you explore eight vast, often non-linear levels comprising multiple sub-stages, accessed by picking up an appropriate special item. Each is fashioned around a distinct environmental theme featuring unique assailants, obstacles, and lavishly drawn parallax-fueled backdrops, accentuated by relevant static foreground objects…
Clawing your way out from the Underground, vaulting the rolling Donkey Kong barrels as you go, you progress to a Rainy Forest. From there onto Spookville (check out those ‘RIP Giana’ headstones), The Mansion, and The Dreamland before pulling on your winter wardrobe to brave the extremities of Frosty Land, finally winding up in Candy Hill where you must scale a life-size tiered wedding cake. All of which must be conquered sequentially through the mobilisation of your upgradable lollypop projectiles, or lethal camera flash, wiping out everything on screen with the click of a shutter. Since only four can be carried at once you shouldn’t be overly preoccupied with stockpiling them for special occasions… or concern yourself with wondering how a paparazzi’s companion of choice is even relevant to a clockwork doll.
Objectively speaking you’re here to collect fragments of an assortment of mosaics dropped by slain enemies or discovered inside chests (four are required per level to progress). Access to some of them is thwarted by locked doors, and we all know what opens those. Yes, heavy-duty pickaxes wielded by drunken, spooked caretakers of course. Keys are generally more practical, nonetheless.
Each level terminates in a fracas with an enormous boss who guards the exit to the next area. These include foes as wackily diverse as Monk the Monkey, irritable fist-pounding Bernie, The Tree, Mama Ghost, Magician, Closet, Ice-Bear, and ultimately your nemesis, a Spacehopping Sugar Baby. Unless you rock up to some of the trickier altercations with an enhanced arsenal of multi-directional, rapid-fire Chupa Chups, you’re pretty much up the creek without a sweet shop.
Beneficial power-ups located within chests consist of extra time (that being limited), hit point sweets, bouncy shoes, additional lollies to hurl simultaneously, preferably with auto-fire locked in the on position, Dolly shields, or clockwork winding keys serving as 1ups. You can’t take the extra lollies with you when you die so make the most of these ephemeral upgrades while they last. Unfortunately, the Game Boys only endow you with points, as do the majority of pick-ups.
On the contrary, other power-ups (downs surely?) hinder progress by contorting your controls, or depleting Lolly’s three-hit lifespan (seemingly represented by Quality Streets), so should be avoided at all costs. Did I mention your sprite’s name is Lolly? Lolly the dolly. Don’t LOL at the doll, this is serious business!
More specifically, supping from the bottle labelled with a skull results in immediate death, collecting the 1-ton icon prevents you from jumping for a limited period, the mirror inverts the left and right controls, while the mushroom meddles with every directional movement to disorientate the cogs out of you. It works too!
“Lollipop lollipop, Oh lolli lolli lolli, Lollipop lollipop…”
This would normally be our cue to raise the one-button joystick issue and look longingly at the SNES and Mega Drive, except Brain Bug had the foresight to break with tradition by supporting the use of a ‘Sega pad’. That’s how they refer to the two-button joystick option in the menu anyhow. You can’t actually engage buttons A, B and C, just B and C so technically any joystick supporting two independent fire buttons would do, as long as it’s of the 9 pin variety.
With this control option selected, button B is assigned to chucking lollies, C is used to drop down to the platform beneath, while holding B and C together activates the screen-wiping ‘smart bomb’. In spite of this innovation, the oft-dreaded ‘up’ for jump still applies, if that’s a bone of contention for you.
‘Early adopters’ of the DOS version had slightly more cumbersome controls to acclimatise to; you’d need one key to pull a lever (down on the Amiga), a separate key for flashing your ‘smart bomb’ camera, another for running (alt), and an additional key for entering sub-level portals (literally enter to enter). Charging about to conserve time is less useful than you might imagine given that whenever you do so, the perpetually ticking clock also steps up a gear… much like the system in Lemmings, which you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole unless winning the level was a dead cert and couldn’t bear waiting for the pay-off. Brain Bug appear to have sensibly dispensed with the ‘feature’ altogether in the Amiga version.
Still, coders Morten Morup, Ole Mogensen and Soren Lund worked wonders to pull it all together to produce a slick, smooth, responsive game that stands head and shoulders above much of what had gone before in a very crowded, competitive market. Beyond superficial first glances it’s a naive, butter-wouldn’t-melt, double-edged sword with dark, macabre undertones, menacing portent skulking around every murky corner.
“Lollipop lollipop, Oh lolli lolli lolli, Lollipop lollipop…”
OK, I’ll stop it now, I promise.
In defiance of Lollypop’s OCS/ECS-only release status, its dotingly crafted pixel art visuals are truly mesmerising. We have graphicians, Bjorn Nielsen, Jacob Andersen, Jorgen T. Orberg and Soren Lund to thank for this. So seductively elaborate are the aesthetics in fact, they help to occupy a staggering five floppies… monstrous for a platformer. Luckily the final disk includes a hard drive installer so it wasn’t too painful to get up and running back in 1995. Assuming you owned one to begin with – hard disk drives were an exorbitant luxury in those days.
Being released this late into the winter of the Amiga’s senescence, Brain Bug had to do something to distinguish their baby from the crowd, aside from the gorgeous audio-visual presentation of course. One novel nuance they introduced to this effect was to switch Lolly’s outfit depending on her surroundings, so in the ‘The Dreamland’ level she’s kitted out in a nightdress, while in ‘Frosty Land’ she wears a heavy overcoat, mittens and toasty woollen bobble hat.
In a similar vein, weather effects help to convince us these are real landscapes that are susceptible to arbitrary influences, while adorably cute idle animations contribute towards humanising our already endearing heroine. If that’s not too oxymoronic a concept to describe a mechanical toy, even if she can turn to the camera holding her hands behind her back, batting her virtuous baby doe-eyes at us while tapping her ickle tootsie. Moreover, stand too close to the edge of a platform and she’ll teeter-totter precariously in an effort to stay upright. It’s attention to detail that counts when video game genres become this long in the tooth – Lolly nails it with aplomb. Walrus sentries don’t go amiss either. Check! Don’t look at me like that, you’ll see.
Music excels on either platform, yet worthy of exceptional note, the Adlib compositions recorded for the PC version were a labour of love for the acclaimed ‘Vibrants’ demo group, so naturally they have the edge. More specifically, credit where it’s due, Torben Hansen, Thomas Mogensen, and Jens-Christian Huus were the talent behind the audio.
One track in particular stands out for me; the Fantasia-esque piece that accompanies the Mansion level. It’s really two disparate compositions vacillated between through rapid, jarring shifts in key and instruments. Disjointed, schizoid even, it conveys a compelling sense of discord and unease, aligning seamlessly with the inhospitable setting, culminating in an unpleasant rendezvous with a gurning, malevolent magician. Playing host at kid’s birthday parties clearly isn’t his forte.
It’s only possible to listen to Jesper Olsen’s first-rate conversion for the Amiga in isolation; music or sound effects, not both simultaneously as with the PC original, yet they remain outstanding contributions in their own right.
Operating at a more sedate pace than your average run ‘n’ gun experience, Lollypop’s difficulty level easily rivals its genre cohorts, not least due to its demand for pixel-perfect, precision jumping, and evasion of terminal falls, regardless of what may or may not be lurking beneath. A constantly ticking timer hardly alleviates the pressure, especially since you lose one of your frail, three-hit lives when the clock reaches zero.
It’s possible to boost your life count via the options menu before you begin your quest, except, pump it up beyond a miserly three and you’re limited to only playing up to the third level. You won’t discover this until you get there! Was that Nelson Muntz ha-ha-ing from the cheap seats?
Lollypop’s saving grace is the inclusion of regular checkpoints, textual hints displayed in the HUD, non-respawning enemies, and passcodes that allow you to beam right back to the last level reached with your health and lolly launcher capacity intact. Even so, this isn’t a game for fragile, little girlies. Brain Bug are real stinky meanies, and I want my mummy! Wow, that was embarrassing. I must remember to edit it out later.
As much as Lollypop is an opulent, visio-aural feast for the senses, it’s the game-play that lags behind like the slow learner of the class. When all’s said and done it’s very much a traditional, pedestrian, plodding platformer employing mechanics indistinguishable from games released up to ten years earlier. Sadly, your lollypop arsenal is a one-trick wonder, and end of level guardians maneuver through predictable attack patterns posing little opposition, often with nominal frames of animation.
Nonetheless, to its credit, the diversity of the enemies in general is a gratifying celebration of Brain Bug’s furtive imagination. Seemingly boundless it is too – if you enjoy a challenge you’ll certainly find it here; Lollypop is a meandering, behemoth of an odyssey that will take many hours of hair-pulling to conquer.
Upon defeating the bouncing baby guardian – all that stands between you and an inevitable diabetes diagnosis – Lolly’s sumptuously sacchariferous adventure draws to a close. As a parting gift a ‘Candy Hill’ bonus mini-diversion in the guise of a Game & Watch LCD handheld is unlocked and made accessible via the main menu. Now that’s something I’ve not seen since Wizkid, and that really tops the eccentricity league. The aim of the game is to scoot left and right catching the falling candy in a bowl of some sort to earn a point per piece. Drop one and you lose, game over.
How many movies and games can you name that in winding down allude to making a comeback at some vague point in the future? Well you can now add another line to the tally…
You have brought Lolly to success. After defeating the evil hordes of Sugarbaby, Lolly dances off in the sunset filled with joy and happiness by being at the place of her dreams.
While plunging into the sea of sweets and climbing the mountains of chocolate, Lolly can’t stop wondering for how long this paradise will exist.
To be continued…”
Only it never was. Maybe there was never any intention of producing a sequel, who knows? It’s something you might say regardless because it leaves your options open, and a slather of vague intrigue tends to mitigate a trite ‘they all lived happily ever after’ finale.
And the award for 1995’s ‘Strangest and Longest Credit Roll Call in an Amiga Game’ goes to… Lollypop! Here’s just a short snippet of the ‘highlights’ taken from the 8 minute 30 second epic scroll:-
“Special thanks to…
John Anker for talking complete nonsense for hours and hours and hours and…
Finn for giving us a place to freak out and party… we hope he’ll keep his apartment after all.
The Lucas/Spielberg/Williams trio for ultimate entertainment!
Industrial Light and Magic and Pixar for making computer graphics history!
You for, hopefully, buying and playing this Lollypop original.
Jeff Minter for being different (if ya know what I mean)
Bart S. for being my little yellow pal
Thanks to my shrink for telling me that he can make me almost human within a couple of years.
I would like to thank:
Thomas Brockhage for showing us the big and cruel world of computer games industry
Andrew Braybrook for keeping those addictive games coming!
Beavis and Butthead, Simpsons and all other hardcore underground toons!
Monty Python, Bottom, The Young Ones for making Danish TV bearable
Did you know that your foot is approx. the same length as the length from your elbow to the wrist! This is good trivia you know!
Why, why, why did Aarhus local TV stop the Sledgehammer series???
I humbly wish to thank the following:
Excellent entertainment in the shape of Bottom, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones, Hammer, Allan B’Stard and Bad News.
Monty Python (for makin’ my life sophisticated and stupid). Keep this entertainment up and the world will be a better place… peace \/
Manfred Trenz for inventing the Turrican character.
My greetings goes to:
ID Software for making a super violent game.
Master Fatman for being so cosmic enlightened
I wanna thank the following:
Pink Floyd, Primus, Rage, Biohazard, King Crimson, Brian Eno and Mr. Bongle for making music I can listen to..!?
Zircus for making me stagedive!
Jeff Minter for making the software business more entertaining
All good beer for making me more entertaining
Zig for having the guts to make music with an attitude
English humour for being the best in the world. We’re talking ’bout Monty Python, Blackadder, Bad News, Young Ones and last but not least !Bottom! (must be the companys’ favourite)
I’m a programmer, not a writer!
Brain Bugs List of Things to Avoid:-
Beverly Hills 90123 or something!
Casablanca and other Bogart movies!
Diet Sodas or low caffein coffee!
Ingmar Bergman movies (this is however highly recommended if you have a sleeping problem)
Piratecopies of whatever!
Absolute Let’s Dance and Jump Around Like Complete Idiots Records! (including all numbers from 1 and up!)
Defcon 1 in coffee supplies!
A kitchen full of empty bottles
Sunshine on monitors or TV-screens
Wow! Thank <insert the name of your favourite deity here> for that!!! Like I said, this is the ruthlessly abridged version!
Lollypop was awarded an average score of 74.9% across 10 foreign language – mostly German – publications. Our homegrown English ones didn’t give it the time of day, neither did the Aussie or US-based magazines, not that many still existed in 1995. Having not been released outside of Germany there would be little point. How many of us bothered importing foreign Amiga games? Thousands didn’t even pay for the local ones.
In spite of the largely modest review scores, the Europeans lapped it up, as reflected in the annual honours commendations. In a 1995 Amiga Joker poll, readers voted Lollypop the 3rd ‘Best Dexterity Game’ (issue 02/1996), whereas it earned the same accolade from Power Play magazine for the previous year (issue 02/1995).
In weighing up Lollypop’s merits and lasting appeal,
One should consider Lollypop the Amiga’s Last Supper, I mean meal.
What could be more befitting than to adopt the style of a badly translated German review?
With the following erudite epilogue, I’ll bid you adieu…
“It is astonishing that such a simple knitted Jump & Run can be so long on the screen. Lollypop has the ability to make skill games on the PC salonable. Unfair points examined the puppeteer vain: Always there are obstacles by jumping hearty courage can get around each opponent bends a lollipop tactic.
Lollypop is a game for experienced platform-lollipops, which do not shrink from sensitive millimeter work! Not even in the first section, the toy land, is a fast success experience granted. On the one hand, this is due to the many unfair positions, but also to the extra-frustrating tax evasion.
The nice background is carefully scrolled in the German official speed. Careful jumps, constant balling and above all an eye for hidden boxes and level branches are in demand. Even so, it’s only for joystick fetishists and jump ‘n’ run fanatics.
Lollypop is the valerian among the action games. I like to play it, but if someone takes me away from Lollypop, I will not get a depressive phase. Fun, which can however an average player without Action Replay to the white heat. A real lupus!”