Point and click adventure is a genre that few right-minded developers would even consider broaching. A consummate offering takes a proficient player many hours to complete on the first run through, and a talented, multifaceted team at least a couple of years of hard slog to knit together in the first place.
Right from the Amiga’s inception, LucasArts, Sierra and Adventure Soft between them pretty much had the market sewn up, casting into the shadows the output of any upstart rivals who dared to share their undisputed trophies. Thus 1995 would have been a particularly tough year for a fledgling graphical adventure dabbler to find a foothold given the concept was in decline (along with the Amiga itself), and fans of the genre had long since become wary of any contenders to the throne not emblazoned with one of this trio of illustrious labels. For good reason! Most were embarrassing. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the first two Monkey Island games, Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, The Dig, and Simon the Sorcerer I and II set the high water mark, so why would you even attempt to compete?
At the time Interactive Binary Illusions were recognised as the third largest software producer in Australia and known as comic book authors in other circles, yet were still considered neophytes in the global market. So whether madness or bravado led them to devise their Indiana Jones/1940s celluloid pastiche spoof, you have to give them credit for following their hearts and making it happen… eventually.
Paying tribute to Abbott and Costello films and cliffhanger serials, Flight of the Amazon Queen began production back in September 1991. Written initially in AMOS at the pinnacle of the genre’s popularity with only three developers on board and this being their first commercial release it wouldn’t emerge in a finished state until the summer of 1995. Which explains why Amazon Queen – conceived, written, and drawn by two former comic book artists rather than career coders – received far more magazine previews than comprehensive reviews.
Set in 1949 you play arrogant, wisecracking Noo Yoiker and owner of the Amazon Queen airplane, Joe King (I’m not joking!), a pilot for hire who has been commissioned to deliver some very precious cargo. She goes by the name Faye Russel (modelled on Faye Ray), a glamorous Hollywood movie starlet who must be chaperoned to the Amazonian set of her next film, Jungle Passion, a location chosen as a kind of genuflection towards The Boys from Brazil movie. According to one preview she was originally to be called Faye Ruffle, though much like a selection of other principle characters, her name was tweaked before finalising the script.
Joe and Faye’s strained relationship appears to have been inspired by that of Indiana Jones and nightclub singer, Willie Scott, played by Kate Capshaw in the 1984 Indy movie, Temple of Doom. In preparation for the role she watched The African Queen and A Guy Named Joe, perhaps not such coincidental influences on the development of Amazon Queen. In 1991 Kate married the movie’s director, Steven Spielberg, and they are still together today. Between them they have seven children, a mix of their own, those from previous marriages or adoption.
“As well as Indiana Jones, we took inspiration from many other sources – Monty Python, classic fifties monster movies, Japanese Kaiju films, the Commander Cody serials and films like Star Wars, The Seventh Seal, The African Queen, The Rocketeer and Amazon Women on the Moon.” – Amazon Queen co-designer, John Passfield
Arriving at a hotel in Rio de Janeiro to make the pick-up macho man Joe is immediately Shanghaied by his power-hungry business rival Hans Anderson (aka The Flying Dutchman) and locked in a curiously secure magician’s dressing room to enable Anderson to take Joe’s coveted place and “rule the skies”. Cue evil laughter.
Long story short, with the help of Lola (she was a showgirl, music and passion were always the fashion etc.) and a spot of cross-dressing, Joe escapes captivity. In attempting to fulfill his assignment he pilots his presumed infamous plane with Faye and mechanic buddy, Sparky, in tow. Note the plane’s ‘360 BRA’ insignia and see if you can work out the obscure joke.
Before arriving at the airport the trio are chased by Anderson’s mobster goons, Rico and Eddy. It appears that Rico and Lola are a couple judging by the lipstick writing on the mirror in her dressing room. In a rare action-ish scene, riding in the back of a ‘ute’ or flat-backed truck driven at hair-raising speed by Sparky, we must dispatch our pursuers by hurling obstacles in their path. Whatever we can lay our hands on is fair game.
In the same Amiga Power issue in which Amazon Queen was reviewed (51, July 1995), the game was featured on the cover. This is the scene it seeks to recreate.
Putting the Amiga game through its paces critic Jonathan Nash discovered a major bug that prevented Joe from advancing any further; he wasn’t able to pick up the key to Lola’s room from the reception desk. Jonathan reported this to the developers and consequently the game was held back from publication while the creases were ironed out. Nevertheless, as the article and cover were already a fixture in the issue in question, Amiga Power ran with it regardless, unintentionally breaking their promise never to review unfinished games, or PC versions in place of Amiga titles. We forgave them and waited patiently to avoid paying £25 for a demo.
Meanwhile, now in the air, an unexpected tumultuous storm causes our plane to crash land, appropriately in the Amazon jungle, and Joe finds himself thrust into the midst of a rescue operation. Well, we think that’s his mission, except the situation is about to get much more complicated as pulp fiction ’50s sci-fi meets Raiders of the Lost Ark in a quest that ironically mirrors Indy’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull escapade.
Supposedly mystical or extraterrestrial crystal skull lore dates back to the late 19th century, though it wasn’t until thirteen years after Amazon Queen’s release that the concept was revitalised on the silver screen. By George Lucas in fact, who wrote the screenplay to the latest entry in the Indiana Jones franchise, the one where we the moviegoers all asked, “aliens, really?” and Harrison Ford wearily declared, “I’m getting too old for this £#&*!”… or was that Bruce Willis? Nevermind.
The connection is first forged in a conversation with a six foot tall fake Pygmy who reveals that the temple on Sloth Island was built by Prince Almaxaquottl to honour the gods who “came from the stars”. As in outer space, not the descendents of Hollywood royalty.
“Just between you and me Joe, we’re not really Pygmies. Pygmies are from Africa! We’re Indians. Bob thought a Pygmy village would be a good way to attract tourists…”
Revelations aside, it should be noted that we can still talk to them using the ‘Pygmy to English translator’. Kerrr-razy!
Exploring our unfamiliar new territory, in homage to Star Wars we encounter a parrot named Wedgewood (named after Steve’s stuffed toy, also a parrot) who has a critical message to relay to Trader Bob, the proprietor of the local 24 hour convenience store.
“Princess Azura is in trouble!
I’m being held captive. You must save me.
Help me Trader Bob. You’re my only hope!”
Obviously the parrot is standing in for R2D2’s hologram projection, Princess Azura for Princess Leia and Trader Bob for Luke. It should go without saying that Flight’s designers, John Passfield and Steve Stamatiadis are massive fans of George Lucas’ space opera franchise.
Princess Azura it transpires has been captured by Dr Frank Ironstein (originally to be Dr Frank Einstein according to the previews), a deranged scientist operating under the camouflage of the seemingly innocent Floda lederhosen company. With the aid of his DIY DinoRay contraption he intends to kidnap and transform Amazonian women into an army of brutal, unrelenting dinosaurs; the forerunner to his despicable scheme to (engage dramatic movie trailer voice-over) conquer the world!
Unsurprisingly we’re drafted in to ensure that doesn’t happen so our revised brief is to rescue the two new women in our life and get back to civilisation, preferably not in a man-sized wooden box.
Unfortunately this entails bending to the unhinged doc’s blackmaily will by tracking down the fabled Crystal Skull on his behalf in exchange for the freedom of Azura and her tribe. But can he be trusted to keep his side of the bargain? Not so spoilery spoiler alert: of course not. Where’s the fun in everything going according to plan and fruitcake inventor-megalomaniacs being polite and reasonable?
As it happens, removing the skull from its hidey-hole in the ancient, sacred temple neuters the power to the force-field protecting the Valley of Mists, brought into being by the gods at the beginning of time, beyond which a population of dinosaurs reside. Yes, that’s right, towards the end it all gets a tad Jurassic Parky. Undergoing development as the worldwide blockbuster hit the cinemas it was bound to have an influence on such a spoof-heavy game.
Bringing down the barriers to the consecrated, heavenly sanctuary allows Ironstein to plunder the dinosaur DNA he requires to fine-tune his maniacal experiments, splicing it with the captured Amazon women to create a super-charged genetic hybrid army. You know, to rule the world and all that mullarky.
Modelled on the old cliffhanger serials, Amazon Queen was initially created with an Amiga 500 using AMOS and Deluxe Paint, and later ported line by line to the C programming language by Tony Ball.
Interactive Binary Illusions approached the route to commercial release by mailing copies of their work to prospective publishers, all 11 disks of it! Luckily for the end user Amazon Queen was designed to be HD installable, I should point out.
Electronic Arts were the first to take the bait, yet reneged on the deal when an American senior VP who doubted Flight’s economic potential in a fluctuating market tore into the game, putting the kibosh on the deal.
Turning the calamitous incident to their advantage John reveals, “This gave us an opportunity to incorporate a new character into the game – Mike Laris – a sniveling bellboy inspired by the obnoxious EA executive who was incredibly rude to us.” Icing the cake, Mike works for ‘Uncle E.A.’ who is co-owner of the Copacabana hotel – now you see why our ex-partner showgirl is called Lola? Any Barry Manilow fans out there?
Undeterred the team kept plugging away and eventually struck up a partnership with Warner Interactive, who agreed to back the game’s US release, and Renegade, who would publish it in the UK. Following the 32 colour floppy disk edition IBI proposed to release an enhanced version for the A1200 along with a talkie disc for the CD32 to compliment the 256 colour DOS release, though the ECS was the only Amiga version to emerge. You know the score by now; Commodore’s bankruptcy, blah blah blah.
“Not a chance of your dead CD console seeing a version of this in the near future.” – an excerpt from The One’s review
Believe it or not a Game Boy variant was also proposed, before John and Steve came to their senses and knocked the idea on the head, saving their own heads much aching I’d imagine!
Whilst the ETA slipped on a number of occasions, Amazon Queen eventually materialised in August 1995 to a less than rapturous reception according to John, dejectedly writing in his diary at the time…
“Well, Amazon Queen has been released. It’s flopped in the UK but may break even in the rest of the world. Whatever, we won’t make any royalties. Oh well, at least it’s over.”
In fact that didn’t go so smoothly either as John goes on to explain…
“To make matters worse, Warner Interactive acquired Renegade, and then ignored the creative approval that Renegade had given developers. They launched the game in the US with this awful cover.
Steve and I couldn’t believe it. After all of our hard work they quietly shipped the game out to the US market with a cover featuring pygmies (not in our game!), a cobra (not found in South America!) and Joe King drawn from what looks like a stock baseball pose. It was embarrassing.”
Yet despite his initial disappointment the game entered the Gallup sales charts at number 9 in March 1996, climbed a notch the following month, before dropping slightly to 10th position in May (source: Amiga Format). Furthermore, Amazon Queen received four extremely complimentary reviews from the Amiga critic fraternity.
“But it wasn’t all bad news. My diary update on the 15th of June 1996 reads: “Ignore the previous pages remarks about Amazon Queen not making royalties! We actually made over $30,000 so far – with perhaps more to come.
And more did come. It kept us in business until 1999 when we became Krome Studios and began a massive growth spurt, producing numerous console games. But that is a story for another day.”
Marketing was indeed Renegade’s fort, accordingly they did their utmost to promote the game. An artist’s impression of the getaway chase scene that occurs after escaping from the hotel was featured on the cover of Amiga Power issue 51, whilst inside there was a competition to win paper replica models of Joe’s plane that would soar through the air thanks to their weighted noses, much like the ones you used to be able to buy from any newsagents. You probably still can.
Moreover, at one point it was suggested that Bruce Campbell would be the perfect candidate for the protagonist role, though in the end that idea fell by the wayside. He was likely too busy making B movies or simply too expensive.
That said, a number of recognisable actors did sign up to voice the other members of the cast. Penelope Keith (best known for her roles in To the Manor Born and The Good Life) who plays the temple guardian, and Bill Hootkins, the maniacal voice of Dr Ironstein, are the two most notable examples. Bill is most fondly remembered (he passed away in 2005 following an unsuccessful battle with pancreatic cancer) for his minor, supporting appearances in Flash Gordon, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Batman.
Germans are often cast as the bad guys in movies and games for conspicuous reasons, so it should surprise no-one that the doc’s persona is imbued with a strong German accent. Early on during the blueprint stages of development he was conceived as a Nazi to be supported by SS soldiers (likely based on Dr. Josef Mengele who fled to South America to shirk recompense for his horrific human experimentation). It was publisher, Renegade, who suggested it might be best to steer clear of such controversial tropes, probably to avoid censorship in Germany. Thus Frank was massaged into the leader of a James Bond style evil agency instead.
Then there’s Debbie Arnold (voice of Princess Azura, Lola and an Amazon Guard) who has had at least a cameo in seemingly every British TV show that has ever existed. Debbie’s portfolio also encompasses theatre and advertising work.
“We even created an interactive interview using the game engine that came on the cover disk of some magazines. Readers could play the role of a magazine journalist and visit us on the set of Flight of the Amazon Queen to ask us questions about the game – after solving a few adventure game puzzles of course!”
One such magazine John is referring to would be CU Amiga’s January 1995 issue, in which they promoted it as an ‘exclusive demo’. It’s here that it was revealed Joe was at first to be known as Jack T. Ladd. Possibly this was changed when the developers realised that the anti-hero protagonist in Innocent Until Caught – published a year earlier by Psygnosis – goes by the same name.
I can’t decide which would have been more irritating funnily enough. The problem with this throwaway gag is that you can’t. Leave it behind that is; it follows you around like a shadow, with a rotten smell. The smell of an overwrought lame joke. I mean, come on, it’s like something I’d come up with. 😉
Princess Azura: “I didn’t have a clear view of what he was doing, but I think he pressed the blue button, then red, green, blue, then red again.
Joe: “Wow, that’s a very impressive memory you have!”
Princess Azura: “Why, thanks Jack.”
Joe: “Ah, that’s Joe.”
Princess Azura: “Yeah, whatever.”
Appellations aside, Joe’s character was written in tribute to Jake Cutter who starred in the US TV series, Tales of the Gold Monkey, alongside his friend, Corky, who yielded the inspiration for Sparky.
As for the game itself, it plays much like any old school graphical point and click adventure, though with the icon-driven equivalent of LucasArts’ SCUMM engine. It’s the system Adventure Soft adopted for Simon the Sorcerer II, and also the direction LucasArts themselves took around the same time. No translation of verbs would be required, you see; one HUD to rule them all.
Almost in reverence to LucasArts, Interactive Binary Design had their own game engine acronym; the rather less pejorative JASPAR, standing for ‘John And Steve’s Programmable Adventure Resource’.
One glaring deviation from the classic adventures is to be found in the conundrums we’re tasked with solving. In Amazon Queen they’re typically far more logical and grounded in common sense reality than the Sierra or LucasArts suite, often being signposted a week in an advance, accompanied by a pay-attention-this-is-important gong to ensure you’re kept on track.
On occasion the clues are so blatantly wafted under your nose that you’d have to be deaf and blind to miss their significance. The upshot is that you’ll more than likely complete the still-lengthy journey without resorting to trial and error experimentation, or a walkthrough, though perhaps not feel like you’ve had your grey matter stretched to breaking point. Whether that’s a positive or negative thing, I’m not entirely sure. Monkey Island is deliberately obtuse, artificially extending the time it takes to unravel, often leading people to cheat… and that’s not especially gratifying either.
An example to illustrate the point might help. Discovering a notepad in Ironstein’s secret underground lab inscribed with the imprint ‘safe’ and a six digit code, we use a pencil to make a rubbing. This reveals the key word and numbers which were perfectly legible to begin with despite only being the lasting impression of a note made on a page previously torn from the pad.
All of which takes me back to primary school. You’re probably not interested in listening to me reminisce over the churches we’d visit on field trips, and the rubbings we made of various stone monuments, so I won’t even mention it.
Anyway, Flight of the Amazon Queen. Puzzles. Cryptic messages. Hmm, I wonder what this could possibly mean? Wonder no more: Joe, verbally – out loud since he vocalises every waking thought because that’s how adventure games work – informs us that he’s found the combination to a safe! Shocking I know. Who could have predicted that bombshell? What we’re still left pondering is who do the bodily measurements 36-24-36 belong to? Alas, one of the universe’s vast impenetrable mysteries.
What’s refreshing is that Amazon Queen is fairly non-linear. There can be multiple ways to solve the same puzzle and often it’s possible to tackle them in the order that suits you, genre-trope prerequisites aside.
In the second half of the game as we enter the temple there’s a dramatic shift away from orthodox ‘use bedsheets as rope’ type solutions to more mechanical Fate of Atlantis ‘access the secret tomb with divine runes’ style challenges. A similar mystical ambience and quietly looming sense of disharmony is evident in each, without being quite so indecipherable in Amazon Queen.
Some puzzles make absolutely no sense, seem to achieve nothing and nevertheless are mandatory to ensure progression. Why – for instance – you’d have to tempt a brontosaurus into getting out of your way with a bouquet of edible vegetation rather than just shimmying around him is beyond me.
Bizarre as it is, it does give Joe the opportunity to show off his curiously never explained encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs. I suspect someone in the development team caught dino-fever shortly after watching Jurassic Park and prehistoric plotting found a way.
Feeding Cheese Bitz ™ to a dino-rat as a bribe to guide you to the exit of a high-rise, pit-based maze is another brain-twister. How? Why? What? So many questions, so little time. In any case, if you know the correct direction to take on each screen your chaperone and its craving for Wotsits become irrelevant.
Furthermore, you’ll find that ostensibly pointless actions have repercussions in the future which determine your choice of solutions. For example, rescuing Ian from his fiery-pit-dangling cage in return for the Crystal Skull achieves nothing because he lied about it being in his possession. Nonetheless, escaping from the scene he’s pulverised by a giant pillar that comes crashing down from the ceiling, consequently blocking your exit from the temple, forcing you to find an alternative way out.
Earning money in adventure games is a commonplace, albeit tedious fixture, one that IBI acknowledged and then turned on its head by making it so easy to come by that it’s hardly a consideration. People are forever throwing ‘heaps’ of money at you, or giving you things for free. It’s certainly a welcome detour from the hackneyed norm.
Regrettably the team didn’t apply the same cliche-busting magic to the obligation to constantly backtrack between locations on various inventory-oriented fetch quests; a real chore which would benefit from some kind of teleport system a la Simon 2.
Under some circumstances it’s wholly possible to reason your way out of a predicament by talking alone. To a gorilla no less in the perfect example. A gorilla who engages us with a game of charades, before it dawns on us that we’re playing charades with a gorilla.
Allow me to elucidate. One is blocking your path and the only way to make him skedaddle is to argue that technically he can’t be there because gorillas live in Africa, not South America. Defeated by your infallible rhetoric, as if by hocus-pocus voodoo, he deflates into the ether.
Only to return later to guard a hollow log we need to pass through wearing a pink and purple polkadot ‘vicious dinosaur’ suit inspired by Mr Blobby. Again we make him vanish by countering his illogical dialogue concerning the mechanics of his very existence. I bet you never guessed you’d be getting a lesson in philosophy from an ape!
I’m sure any fans of Monty Python will approve of the inherent absurdity of the tete-a-tete, even if solving the ‘puzzle’ fails to test your mettle in any shape or form.
Many of the most revered adventures feature red herrings and pointless characters and yet we lap ’em up. It’s all about the narrative, and our immersion in the fantasy world it engenders. It explains how people can still recite lengthy paragraphs of Monkey Island’s script on autopilot 27 years after it was first gifted to our scurvy coterie of wannabe pirates.
Hangar 51 from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the US government’s repository for classified artefacts such as the Ark of the Covenant
Analogously, upon being jailed for the… how many times is it at this point? I’ve lost count. Anyway, incarcerated in Floda’s underground lair, Joe is set free by Faye who conveniently finds a laser gun in the cupboard right next to his cell, deploying it to vaporise the solid steel gate in its entirety.
Admittedly IBI were aiming to pay tribute to all those corny, half-baked B movies and TV shows that existed prior to CGI and more rigorous screen testing. Bingo! They nailed it. Amazon Queen is hammy where it intends to be, and if it’s also cheesy where it’s not, who would know where to position the cheese wire to separate the slices?
It certainly sings from the same hymn sheet as Simon the Sorcerer II where sexual innuendo is concerned, making it confusing for the youngsters, if not inappropriate. You really wouldn’t want to have to explain some of the jokes to your naive son or daughter. Nevertheless, to Flight’s credit Joe does acknowledge that it’s not very politically correct… before being won over by the argument that it’s the 1940s and asbestos is still being used for insulation. In other words, Que Sera Sera.
Running through the core of the plot is a sex slavery theme involving alluring Amazon women who capture men and ‘subject’ them to …erm, reproduction rituals, to ensure the survival of their race. Their dilemma being that ever since a curse struck the village no more male children have been born.
Unsurprisingly the tourists you meet are happy to oblige, whereas the ones ejected from their ‘incarceration’ for developing chafing rashes are determined to be recaptured, recruiting you to source a remedy for their unfortunate medical condition. Is there a witchdoctor in the house? Well, funny you should ask.
One Amazon beauty (or ‘dame’ in Joe’s lingo), in all seriousness, explaining her role in the village informs us that she “oversees all erections in the fortress”. While she showers at the foot of a waterfall we run with the theme by pointing out, “I think you dropped the soap”. Clueless she responds by asking us if we “happen to have another bar”. Why has she got a German accent just like Frank?
If it’s supposed be knowing and tongue in cheek it certainly isn’t conveyed in the voice acting, which is largely wooden, stilted and unconvincing. I’d imagine it wasn’t recorded with much in the way of context, coaching or with the actors even in the same room simultaneously. Perhaps, on the other hand, they really don’t understand the influence they have over men and that’s the joke. It certainly has been the case in the kind of mythology the scene aims to parody.
Sometimes you play the wide-eyed, gullible child misunderstanding other characters’ conservative euphemisms to their exasperation, while on other occasions you’re the one making suggestive comments with a glint in your eye *nudge, wink, nudge*. It’s all rather muddled to be frank (not that one), and that’s the joy of Amazon Queen. It’s creaky and the sets may topple over, squishing you at any moment. I’d hope it’s all deliberate and ironic; it’s a clever game if it is.
On the flip side, in certain scenes IBI go out of their way to be demure. When we see Lola in the shower she doesn’t begin to remove her clothes until after the hot water has steamed up the transparent glass shower screen preserving her modesty. It’s a neat touch, a throwback to all those cheap, bawdy comedies that steer clear of nudity to comply with broadcasting regulations, while pushing the ‘sex sells’ motto at every opportunity. Or just because strategically covering people’s private bits in synchrony to bouncy music has been considered funny since the dawn of time.
Joe rehashes the same gag when he changes into a dress behind a portable modesty screen, although that could simply have been a case of reducing the frames of animation required. It does often appear quite rigid and minimal, yanking you out of your suspension of disbelief zone. Again, if it makes the cast seem like stage dummies, then it’s in perfect harmony with the motif, is it not?
Adventure games tend to be targeted towards geeks who have wider pop culture interests and thus are often jam-packed with allusions and parodies. Flight of the Amazon Queen is no different so immediately earns Brownie Points for allowing us to play spot the spoof and feeling jolly pleased with our clued-up little selves.
Upon meeting magician/ferryman Charon (definitely not pronounced Sharon), Flight’s interpretation of the Grim Reaper, impressed by his bunny-based hat tricks we ask, “Could you get my plane out of the water?” Unaccommodating he responds, “That’s not my department. What you really need is a short green guy who is strong in the Force. But that’s an old story.” There’s no mistaking that one, and the elocution is immaculate.
When asked why after all this time we’ve returned to see our ex-girlfriend, Lola, Joe conjures up a few potential quips including a reference to his “mad aunt Dorothy from Kansas”, clearly a nod towards The Wizard of Oz.
Joe’s off the cuff, “Oil be back”, having unleashed a slick to send Anderson’s goons skidding off the road and into a ditch, and “Hasta la vista Frank” after finally bumping off the doc are obvious allusions to Arnie ‘Terminator’ Schwarzenegger.
John and Steven’s affection for Monkey Island is immortalised when Joe goes down into a basement room in Ironstein’s lab and starts poking around at the items on the shelf… “It’s a strange mummified skull with a blue beard… Eurgh! The beard’s wriggling.”
Is that Gumby and his sidekick pony, Pokey, on the top shelf?
Blood sucking vampire bats feature in both Amazon Queen and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, except in the latter they’re technically vegetarian fruit bats. Let’s not split hairs though, we’ll leave that to the movie goof-spotting sites. In Amazon Queen they’re used as evidence to support Joe’s argument in favour of Faye staying out of the hazardous jungle. Sufficient to swing the balance as it happens.
In fact, while there’s no end to the parallels between Joe and Indy, Joe would like to emphasise that he “ain’t afraid of no snakes”, elevating him a step above our ophidiophobic pal, Indy, in the bravery stakes.
“That’s not a baseball bat, it’s a stick. This is a baseball bat.” Remember the “that’s not a knife” scene from Crocodile Dundee? Indubitably an Aussie film through to the core, it was a massive hit here in the UK too. We still quote that line today, it’s timeless.
“Big stick joke courtesy of Eric Matthews” reads the end credits. Eric is one of founding members of the Bitmap Brothers, Renegade was their publishing label, and Renegade published Amazon Queen. It wasn’t much of an enigma to begin with, but since we’re in the mood for solving ‘puzzles’… ooh, that was mean, sorry.
Our destination selection map screen is comprised of a panoramic clifftop pinnacle with Joe at the centre surveying the yonder travel options. Clicking on any one of them triggers the roaming red dashed line to plot the course of your journey, just like in the interstitial scenes from the Indy movies.
Despite the environmentally adaptive music partially being the work of video game virtuoso, Richard Joseph, it’s not nearly as impressive as that found in Monkey Island, or any of the other competitors mentioned earlier for that matter.
A jaunty tropical holiday retreat ditty that loops every ten seconds or so whilst exploring the Pygmy village section is the most memorable of the tunes… for all the wrong reasons. It’s so irritating it feels like a scampering dino-rat gnawing incessantly at your earlobes. It bugged me so much I hacked mine loose with a sawn-off baseball bat. Whatever, I’ll live.
Likewise, voice-overs are a hit or miss assemblage, often sounding too much like monologues that fail to take account of other’s responses, with completely discordant intonation and emphasis.
Aussie 24 hour convenience store owner, Trader Bob, played by Jon Coleman is particularly weak. Nothing fazes him, even when explaining Princess Azura’s perilous plight he sounds like he’s reading a bedtime story to his grandchildren. His air-headed girlfriend, Naomi (played by Jessica Martin) is even worse, sounding like she’s just come round from major surgery, the anaesthetic has yet to wear off and she’s still away with the fairies.
If you have a bachelor party on the agenda in the near future you might like to know that Bob stocks a range of ‘Swedish nature films’. They’re just for ‘special customers’ and kept on the top shelf. This public service announcement was brought to you courtesy of Everything Amiga Studios. We’re here to help, service with a smile.
Arkansas expats, Missionary Jimmy and his wife, Mary Lou (played by Regina Reagan), are equally caricatured, cardboard cutout stereotypes, never letting their deadly-slow, dimwitted southern drawl slip for a second. They were not so loosely based on the TV evangelist, Jim Bakker, and his wife, Tammy.
Our mechanic sidekick, Sparky, is another entry in the ‘phoning it in’ category, failing to inject much personality into the part. Every line uttered is flatter than a pancake, leaving you wondering if Tom Hill (who also played Jimmy) had any idea of the context.
Responsible for our fearless hero’s voice was Bradley Lavelle. Given he commands the lion’s share of the air time he should really be the most engaging, endearing character behind the mic. Sadly he’s also a bit prosaic, and worse still, irritating. Who thought designating the lead as a know-it-all New Yorker would be a good idea? Bradley was actually a Canadian, born in Toronto, Ontario. I say was because he prematurely and unexpectedly died of a heart attack in 2007.
If any of the voices really bother you, it’s always an option to disable them entirely or temporarily, or play the Amiga version which doesn’t feature any at all. Good luck supplying your own substitutes once the originals are lodged in your brain!
At the other end of the spectrum there’s the sarcastic, nitpicker misanthrope, Charon, who is as well scripted as he is portrayed by Scottish prolific actor and writer, Enn Reitel. Delivering his bleakly humorous lines filtered through what I’ve decided is a Darth Vaderiser voicebox with the gravel, raspiness and metallic sliders boosted to max, you can assuredly believe he’s the Amazonian equivalent of the Grim Reaper. Charon is the dark comedy relief, gift-wrapped in a novelty coffin, garnished with a sticky spider’s web just in time for Halloween. Don’t believe him for a second when he tells you “This is no time for levity.”
Lisa Valdez too does a commendable job playing peevish, yet mellowing Faye Russell, as well as Rita who only appears in the introduction sequence, sounding rather like she was modelled on waspish receptionist, Janine Melnitz, from Ghostbusters.
If you only play through the first few scenarios you’d be forgiven for thinking the dialogue is a bit mundane, lacking the wit and je ne sais quoi of Monkey Island or Simon the Sorcerer. Stick with it, however, and it does get better.
One of the best of the worst early examples is the schoolboy-playground quid pro quo exchange between Joe and Anderson that arises having rumbled him for attempting to commandeer our plane and once in a lifetime assignment.
Anderson is put on the spot and thus struggles to formulate a witty retort before the moment passes and he’s left looking like the class dunce. Only that shouldn’t happen in the movies or video games because they’re scripted and presumably rewritten if the dialogue isn’t up to par.
Anderson: “You couldn’t pilot your way out of a paper bag.”
Joe: “At least my plane doesn’t have training wheels.”
Anderson: “That’s not true! You’ve really done it this time King…”
If that was contrived to be deliberately banal to make Anderson look like a fool, it’s totally credible.
Some of the dialogue takes place in cutaway scenes drawn in a cartoony style, much like the close-ups in Monkey Island. In each case they’re a bit awkward given the limited frames of animation (and lack of synchrony between the mouth movements and voices where Amazon Queen is concerned). Even so they’re extremely effective, dovetailing perfectly with the comic book vibe and aesthetics. As such the goal was never to make them photorealistic. Now that would look ridiculous, even it were possible in 1995.
Sparky’s quest to replace his water damaged comic, delegated to Joe provides us with the solution to several puzzles, also imparting the developers the opportunity to animate and voice a living, breathing superhero comic that springs into action whenever you examine it. It’s an imaginative, humorously overacted diversion that’ll stop you in your tracks the first time you see it. Suitably exaggerated voices for these segments were provided by Jocelyn Voldovoz and Joe (aka Bradley Lavelle).
Skipping ahead by roughly a zillion mouse clicks and as many steps and conversations, we reach the denouement in the breached Valley of the Mists. By threatening his friends, Frank manipulates Joe into inserting the Crystal Skull into the face of a statue to bring the dormant manga-inflected Crystal Robot to life, failing to factor in that “the most powerful device on the face of the earth” would vow a pledge of allegiance to whoever awakens it from its slumber.
Godzilla vs Megalon, the 1973 kaiju Japanese science fiction movie.
Immediately offering to obey our every command, the pliable ‘bot becomes a prime weapon in the crusade to vanquish the doc’s tyranny. Obviously the first thing on the agenda is to instruct him to squish the doc like a bothersome bug.
Lamentably our quarry has other plans; realising his mistake Frank attempts to shoot Joe with his mobile dino-ray gun before he can take affirmative action. Luckily RoboCop is our guardian angel – he absorbs Frank’s ray beam and boomerangs it right back at him, unexpectedly intensifying his powers. Ironstein is transformed into a kind of inflated dinosaur-minotaur mash-up and the two lock horns in a Clash of the Titans proportioned duel to the death.
Both combatants now super-sized, a Primal Instinct-esque epic battle commences in the background while Sparky, Faye, Princess Azura and Joe gawp in disbelief. The larger than life skirmish rages on, and on, and on, and on, ad infinitum, suggesting that we need to actually do something to bring it to a halt. Joe’s efforts to blast Frank into the afterlife only result in Faye or Sparky being morphed into dinosaurs following Ironstein’s unflinching ray beam rebounds, so it’s time for plan B.
Giving the reflective death mask we snagged from the mummy’s crypt earlier to Sparky and instructing Faye the direction in which to aim her vanity mirror we fire our dino-ray gun at Frank once more. Its laser beam ricochets around the clearing from Frank to Faye’s mirror to Sparky’s death mask to the Crystal Skull powered cyborg and finally back at Frank, wiping out our nemesis for keepsies… or does it? Stick around for the credits to find out.
Anderson finally arrives in a zeppelin once all the loose ends have been tied up, and the group escape into the sunset as the Transformer uses the Crystal Skull to reactivate the protective barrier around the Valley of the Mists to keep out the riffraff.
“If only he’d used his powers for niceness instead of evil.”
Assessing Amazon Queen’s legacy is tricky seeing it has never had the opportunity to fade into obscurity, denying us the time and space to separate the rosy-specced nostalgia from the reality. Unlike George Lucas, however, IBI never tried to erase from the historical chronicles the original version in all its mid-nineties pixelated glory, which should please the purists.
Amazon Queen has been available as freeware via ScummVM since 2004, while iPhSoft’s 20th anniversary edition introduced the game to a new audience through the iTunes pulpit, catering exclusively for iOS devices. Accordingly it runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.
As of 2013 the adapted game – accompanied by a ‘making of’ guide authored by John Passfield and the soundtrack – can be purchased via Good Old Games. It’s designed to run on modern Mac and Windows systems.
2016 ushered in another rehash for the iTunes and Amazon Appstore and Google Play courtesy of John and MojoTouch. HD enhanced and redesigned with touchscreen control in mind, it includes a playthrough of the interactive interview mini-game complete with audio commentary, John’s ‘making of’ guide, the original manuals and a step by step walkthrough written by former Amiga Power editor, Cam Winstanley.
It’s anyone’s guess who added the extra Simon the Sorcerer button to the Android game where the exit option resides in the iOS version. If it’s a Photoshop joke it was carried out by an insider – this is an official screenshot taken from Google Play.
If you approach Amazon Queen expecting an excursion as slick and roll-on-the-floor-hilarious as its inspirational forebears you’ll be sorely disappointed. Judged instead in its own right (with the voices safely disabled) as an intentionally cheesy potpourri of movie, TV and gaming irreverence, it begins to grow on you. Enticed by the painstakingly crafted graphics and engaging B movie schlock, before you know it, you’re hooked, scouring the scenery for hidden meaning and in-jokes, primed to keep slugging away to see if the farcical villain of the piece will get his comeuppance.