A bit of Ruff

Ruff and Reddy – the unlikely cartoon cat and dog buddy duo – were yet another Hanna-Barbera license Hi-Tec Software deemed worthy of a video game translation. They’re certainly not the most memorable characters to have emerged from the revered partnership whose award-winning body of work includes The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear. However, as they were the first in the lineup, dating back to 1957, perhaps Hi-Tec felt they deserved special acknowledgement.

Largely sidelined today, Ruff and Reddy were in their heyday considered especially eminent for being early adopters of the pioneering ‘limited animation’ method. This was a technique devised to drastically reduce the number of frames required to portray believable motion, borne out of the necessity to reduce the time and financial resources employed to produce cartoons at a time when studios were cutting budgets, laying off artists, and promoting re-runs of existing shows as opposed to investing in new ones.

This was in fact what instigated the foundation of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s own studio. They had previously worked for MGM for 18 years when the decision to close their cartoon division was taken in 1957, leaving them unemployed. Down, yet certainly not out. They bounced back under the guise of ‘H-B Enterprises’ in the very same year with cashflow constraint considerations at the forefront of their operation.

Given this context it becomes clear why Ruff and Reddy was initially only produced in black and white. Nevertheless, being sponsored by Post Cereals can’t have hurt their bottom line, making the transition to colour in Autumn 1958 feasible.

Embracing the limited animation style, cells are recycled and only core poses drawn, lending the resultant production a stilted quality that would be considered subpar by today’s CGI standards. By way of compensation Hanna and Barbera pushed premium quality voice-overs into prominence, recruiting Daws ‘Yogi’ Butler and Don ‘Boo-Boo’ Messick to play multiple characters throughout the show’s three year run.

Between them they are best remembered for bringing to life Scooby-Doo, Bamm-Bamm Rubble, Astro Jetson, Muttley and Dastardly, Ranger Smith, Papa Smurf, Elroy Jetson, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Spike the Bulldog, and Huckleberry Hound. On the radio alone the veteran actors would have drawn a crowd, so any additional visual stimulus was merely a bonus.

Spanning three series and 50 episodes, each pun-laden Ruff and Reddy short lasted only about three and a half minutes so the stories – aimed squarely at young children – had to be punchy snapshots of entertainment. Even so, they followed a developmental arc, largely steered by Reddy’s ineptitude and general muppetry, and Ruff’s role as his wiser, more astute chaperone. No idea why Ruff isn’t the pooch – H-B missed a pun-tastic opportunity there. Woof, ruff, you see? That would have been hil-ar-i-ous. 😐

Themes ranged from the mundane and earth-bound, for example, visiting a fun fair, to out of this world space travel to alien planets, and an underwater adventure in a submarine. Don’t forget this was the inaugural year of the ‘Space Race’, catalysed by The Soviet Union launching into orbit the first artificial satellite, known as Sputnik 1.

Despite the snappy run-time, each of the previous episodes was recapped in the introduction to the next, which I’m sure would have driven fans nuts if they’d ever had the opportunity to watch them back to back. DVD box sets were quite a way off at this stage, and episodes were only shown on NBC once a week on Saturday mornings.

OK, hands up if any of this is ringing a bell? Would reciting the opening theme tune help?

“Get set, get ready,
Here come Ruff and Reddy.
They’re tough, but steady,
Always rough and ready.
They sometimes have their little spats,
Even fight like dogs and cats,
But when they need each other,
That’s when, they’re rough and ready.”

Any deja vu twinges at all? No? Oh, I give up. Let’s move onto Hi-Tec’s game shall we? Developed by Twilight and published in 1990, it’s full title is ‘Ruff and Reddy in the Space Adventure’ and it’s directly based on half a dozen or so serialised episodes of the cartoon. As the manual explains…

“Ruff and Reddy have agreed to test Professor Flipnoodle’s Pocket Rocket. At blast off, something goes terribly wrong and the rocket spins wildly out of control, heading off into deep space. It crash lands on a planet inhabited by small blue aliens known as Lilli-Punies. Some of these have decided to go exploring on a nearby planet and have become either lost or captured.

The Lilli-Punies kidnap Ruff and Reddy and tell them that the only way to regain their freedom is for Ruff to go and rescue all the missing aliens. Without much of a choice the Lilli-Punies take him to the planet where their friends are. The search begins!”

Your mission

“Ruff has to search through four areas of the alien planet, beginning on the surface and working his way underground. Each level comprises of various puzzles to solve and varying amounts of Lilli-Punies to find – 20 in all.”

This translates to bounding around platforms against the clock, pouncing on the propeller-powered critters in peril to liberate them. A menagerie of quirky alien troublemakers have to be avoided in the process as you aren’t equipped with a weapon of any kind, this being such a kiddie-friendly affair.

Bonus points are accrued for grabbing bouncing fruit and gemstones, as well as rescuing the Robo-Tinkerbell thingies. Other objects such as an oil canister, a swipe card, dynamite and a wotsit (what is that supposed to be?) can be scooped up and employed in various puzzle-solving hijinks. All the while a single tune plays that bears no relation to the cannon intro music composed by Hoyt Stoddard Curtin.

You visit a number of diverse locations… the planet surface where you’re required to wear a goldfish bowl for a space helmet, an underwater section you explore in a bubble-marine, a mine and a space station control centre. It’s possible to ride a floating balloon to ascend to higher platforms, and a spring is yours to be, erm, sprung, for the same purpose. Strap on a jetpack and you can also cross unjumpable areas.

In the cartoon, Ruff and Reddy crashland on the mysterious planet of Lunar Gooner, soon discovering that they aren’t alone. Scuttling about the surface are ‘six-headed dealy-hoppers’ and ‘eight-legged king-sized fleepers’, reigned over by a four-legged, horn-eared ‘Blop’ with an antennae for a tail. I haven’t just suffered a stroke, this is all true.

As with all the episodes, the narrator commentates on what we’ve just witnessed as if we’d nodded off and needed a recap to understand the plot. It’s a lot like watching Evan Davies on Dragon’s Den. He serves no purpose other than to patronise the viewer, yet somehow gets paid to be there.

Sometimes he’ll even offer advice to Ruff and Reddy, which is heard by Ruff, but only subliminally by Reddy, who acts on it without understanding why. Ruff has to relay the message to his pal for the penny to drop, so we’re all on the same page. I thought that was pretty witty for a cartoon kitty.

What’s odd is that the companions never stop to contemplate why an invisible observer is passing judgement on every move they make in the first place. It’s all a bit ‘Truman Show’, four decades before the Jim Carey vehicle came to pass.

As an 8-bit game it didn’t look too shabby. This is the C64 edition. 

Overlord – big bad Blop – is sent packing, fleeing the scene to escape his comeuppance. Inadvertently he runs right into the cockpit of Professor Flipnoodle’s pocket rocket for cover, accidentally colliding with its control panel, causing it to take off, destination unknown. It’s never explained why the Prof’s invention is referred to as a ‘pocket rocket’ when it will comfortably accommodate a dog, cat and a mad scientist (or a Blop). This is the sort of vexing conundrum that keeps me awake at night.

Once the Lilli-Punies have been emancipated they’re so grateful they offer to make Ruff and Reddy their leaders, only they have other plans; the double act want to get back to their home planet ASAP. Earth that is.

The Lilliputians – I mean Lilli-Punies – respect their wishes, offering a mini flying saucer to transport them, while the narrator suggests there will be more otherworldly adventures to come.

In the game the conclusion differs slightly in that the Lilli-Punies release Reddy from captivity, allowing him to board Captain Slopbobble’s space doofer to await your arrival. They gladly re-program it to return the heroes home safely, and Ruff and Reddy lived happily ever after. The end.

Your Commodore ‘skored’ the C64 version 82% in September 1990. C&VG felt the Spectrum iteration deserved 68% in November 1990, while Your Sinclair undercut them by one percent (well, degree) in September of the same year.

The Speccy version with colour… for the Amstrad.

Only Amiga Power reviewed the Miggy version of Ruff and Reddy and that was part of a joint look at the Hanna-Barbera Hi-Tec collection. In January 1992 Stuart Campbell awarded it a paltry 59%, commenting scathingly…

“Ruff And Reddy (In The Space Adventure) keeps up the platform count with an embarrassingly straightforward effort which looks like it was programmed with some sort of game construction kit. Animation is minimal, the screens flick instead of scrolling (and the positions of all the enemies reset when you leave the screen, making clever timing impossible and unnecessary) and Ruff appears to play no part in the game at all. Rubbish, quite frankly.”

He meant Reddy of course, though I’ll forgive him for the understandable slip-up since Woof should have been the mutt. And anyway, what was Reddy doing perennially gurning at us in the GUI if you can’t take control of him? Was this originally going to be a two player game?

Otherwise I have to agree; RnR is a shoddy excuse for a game, even for a quickie bargain bin release. It certainly wasn’t Twilight’s finest hour. If you’re in the mood for a decent platformer you’d be best advised to knock on Alfred’s coop to see if he’ll come out to play. It kicks the Paxo out of this clucking tosh. Sorry for the fowl language.

2 thoughts on “A bit of Ruff

  • May 28, 2018 at 2:52 pm
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    I have been a long time cartoon fan..and I swear to you I have zero recollection of this one. Hanna Barbera was a licensing machine!

    • May 28, 2018 at 3:31 pm
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      It’s certainly one of the lesser known ones. I think lots of people stumble across it looking for Ruff ‘n’ Tumble. It would be nice if there was some better quality footage available.

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