New Zealand Story went down a storm in the arcades and it was a big hit for Ocean when they ported it to the home micros in 1989. The problem was Codemasters didn’t make a penny out of it, naturally because it wasn’t their license. Not that they let that be a hindrance, the Darlings – two years later – simply drafted in Genesis Software to recreate it, swapping the lovable Kiwi for a lovable peanut shooting, bomb chucking elephant, and called it ‘CJ’s Elephant Antics’. For a game with such cloney origins it didn’t pan out too badly.
CJ has been Taken from the bosom of his adoring family and playing as Liam Neeson it’s your mission to track down his kidna… no wait, that’s something else entirely.
Actually he’s currently being airlifted to England to spend the rest of his days in a zoo when all of a sudden his plane is hit by turbulence. CJ is shaken loose from his cage, and instinctively does what any pachyderm escapee worth his salt would do; grabs an umbrella and leaps to freedom. A dainty little elephant and a sturdy parasol, what could possibly go wrong?
Nothing as it happens. CJ touches down safely in France and embarks on the long bipedal trek through Europe back to his home and distraught family in Africa. This is where you come in elephant herders. You’d already guessed that bit hadn’t you?
In Paris you duke it out with gendarmes, snails, frogs and poodles while swerving sentient clouds, spiky balls and other sharp protrusions ripped right out of Mega Man 3 and New Zealand Story. Keep an eye out too for promotional circus posters which should look familiar to Taito fans. The end of level boss is Quasimodo hanging from a rope discharging suspiciously coloured spitballs at you. As he’s only been trained to shoot from right to left it’s perfectly safe to stand behind him pelting him in the back with peanuts. Not the most cunning frog on the lily pad this one. Once defeated you earn a map for your trouble, as occurs following every guardian encounter.
In between the main levels are brief bonus stages where you’re required to bounce along on a mountain bike hurdling over death traps and catching balloons for points. Well why not? It’s got to be better than watching French TV with subtitles.
Now we have a map to hand we know our next port of call is Switzerland, which is themed around a snowy ski resort. Here, penguins (don’t ask!) and snowmen are our primary foes, whilst we ride in cable cars between chalets ascending towards the summit of the mountains. A bouncy wolf-yeti boss is the culminating challenge before visiting Egypt.
Pyramids, hieroglyphics and sphinxes decorate the desert purlieu providing an appropriate backdrop before which to duel with mummies, spear and boulder chucking natives, and the bounding pharaoh boss, who also has a penchant for boulders.
On all levels, fruit and cakes (cherry bakewells by the looks of it, because details matter!) can be collected for bonus points, and flashing blue pellets to confer temporary invincibility. Your trusty umbrella never leaves your side allowing you to float down dexterously from lofty heights without incurring injury, much like in Robocod.
Finally we reach home sweet home, the jungles of Africa, populated by wooden huts, animal carcasses, lions and monkeys. Our ultimate nemesis is two erupting volcanos that aren’t to be defeated as such, only danced around as you circumvent their molten lava projectiles. Do this for long enough (or simply hide in the corner) and you’re permitted to stroll away past them into the warm embrace of your doting herd. Well that’s a novel conclusion. If you’ve played all the games they play, you played them yesterday, walkaway, walkaway…
CJ is a tough, unforgiving game featuring a one hit death system, built upon the foundations of unfair level design, so if you’re struggling to reach the end despite being lavished with a generous nine lives, you could do worse than follow the abstruse advice offered on the title screen:-
“Some people may wish to cheat, but they will have to dig deep for such an enriching privilege.”
Engaging the two player option may help in this regard, though it does introduce an unexpected dilemma of its own; the screen scrolling only tracks player one, so should player two fail to keep up and disappear out of view, they lose a life! Death through obscurity if you like. Are we sure Andy Warhol wasn’t consulted when designing this aspect?
While CJ certainly adopts the feel of New Zealand Story it’s far from a worthy substitute, and given that the latter was already available as a budget release by this stage, you’d have to be an elephant short of a circus to recommend it. Now pack your trunk Nelly, we’re setting sail for the good old US of A!