Merry-go-round broke-down (a video-textual review, no really)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Ah, a question as old as the movie with the eponymous title. What was it called again?

Anyway, it’s not important. Judge Doom (played by an unblinking Christopher Lloyd since Christopher Lee wasn’t interested) in cahoots with the main man at Maroon Cartoon Studios, R.K. Maroon, is the answer. As for who was responsible for the Amiga game being such a turkey – the developers, Silent Software, or publishers, Buena Vista – let’s pretend I don’t already know, and we’re embarking on a journey of discovery together to untangle the convoluted threads of evidence to reach a definitive answer by the end of this article. That’ll make it all the more dramatic.

As in the movie – a spoof of Chinatown – we’ve been fitted up for the murder of inventor and founder of the Acme Corporation/owner of Toontown, Marvin Acme. He was caught red handed playing patty-cake with Roger’s wife, Jessica, so when Marvin is discovered squished to death under an industrial-sized, heavy-duty safe, naturally the wabbit is the pwime suspect. In Toontown patty-cake isn’t in fact a euphemism. We really are talking about patty-cake, the kid’s nursery rhyme and hand-clapping game. This is a PG movie after all.

…erm, despite all the innuendo.

Not so mysteriously, amidst the subterfuge, Marvin’s will – believed to confer ownership of Toontown to the Toons – has gone AWOL. If it can’t be recovered in one hour, Judge Doom’s Cloverleaf corporation will have free reign to swoop in, wave the cheque book (the story being set in 1947) and transform Roger’s home town into a freeway. One sharing the real Interstate 10’s route through LA, trivia fans.

With the LA Pacific Electric Railway aka Red Car trolley service already in his property portfolio, and scheduled to be dismantled, he’d have the monopoly on the city’s transportation options. A plot device inspired by the real life ‘General Motors streetcar conspiracy’.

To bring the true perpetrator to justice, exonerate Roger, and save Toontown, Marvin’s will must be located and leveraged. Unlike in the movie, private detective, Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins since Eddie Murphy turned down the role), isn’t on hand to take the case. So – assuming the role of Roger – we’ll have to go it alone to save his Looney Tunes neighbours. Who are also absent from the game in spite of the movie’s plethora of crossover cameos. I’m not going to try and put a figure on them!

Thus commences a three level series of loosely connected mini-games inspired by scenes from movie.

Up first is a side-scrolling driving mission in which we take the wheel of anthropomorphic Brooklyn cab, Benny. He’s not known as ‘Benny the Cab’ for nuffink you know!

On a hare-raising jaunt through Hollywood we must outrun Judge Doom (the Kentucky Derby style progress bar informing our current status) whilst dodging his ‘Toon Patrol’ weasel goons and lethal, weaponised chemical ‘dip‘ concoction. Outside of Wacky Races this is possibly the only driving game that allows you to leapfrog over vehicles, land on top of tall buildings and ascend into the sky on a concertina suspension mechanism.

Sadly, not for any real benefit, however, as we don’t have the capacity to drive over the enemy or avoid deadly dip puddles by splaying out our wheels. It’s purely for show… like all those QVC gadgets that look like a good idea on TV, until you actually try to use them. Perhaps this was a drawing board concept that was never fully implemented.

Bridges – as warned against in the manual – are a bit of a red herring too, seeing as they don’t actually make an appearance at any point. Something else likely on the to-do list never to be ticked off.

The Ink and Paint club featuring Jessica’s crow backing band (of Dumbo fame) is host to level two. Acme’s will is believed to be amongst the reams of receipts, napkins and cheques laid out on the tables, but since it’s written in invisible ink we must attempt to scoop up all the clutter to find it.

Complicating what should be an easy task, penguin waiters scoot back and forth replenishing the litter, whilst Bongo the Gorilla bouncer attempts to sabotage our frantic efforts by ejecting us from the back door of the club.

Each species are borrowed directly from the movie, the penguins in turn on loan from Mary Poppins I believe. Remember the dance scene in the park with Bert played by Dick Van Dyke?

If you know the movie you’ll know that Roger isn’t compatible with booze, so if you see a glass of whisky appear on one of the tables it’s best avoided. Gulp it down accidentally on purpose and Roger leaps into the air, his erupting rubicund head swells and morphs into a train steam whistle. Before bursting under the strain, the release valve opens and Roger deflates with an almighty toot as he returns to tera firma.

Well, that’s actually an amalgamation of what happens in the movie and the animation seen in the game. It’s close enough. Maybe one of the game’s artists was a keen train spotter.

All is lost if the music stops before we find Acme’s critical will. A crying shame in itself since the soundtrack is impeccable, evoking fond memories of the trailblazing movie as effectively as the immaculate artwork.

Trailblazing? Is that a tad too grandiloquent? Perhaps Roger Rabbit’s animation technology was more evolutionary than revolutionary. The Enchanted Drawing – a silent film released in 1900 – was the first to combine live action scenes with (stop motion) animation sequences.

Well, actually, despite the music grinding to a halt, the game plods on regardless having wasted some time that apparently puts us at a disadvantage later. Upon reaching the Gag Factory we should have more of a head-start on Judge Doom if we can complete the first two stages rapidly.

If successful – following a carbon copy driving section – it’s onto the Gag Factory where we must defeat Doom’s posse of weasel goons wielding no other weapons than comedy props and the power of laughter. We must temporarily disable them with minor guffaws, then break out the big guns to literally laugh them to death to progress.

We’re talking about…

  • portable holes
  • extendable boxing gloves and mallets
  • glue puddles
  • boomerang baseballs
  • shrinking and invisibility potions

not just cliche…

  • slapstick palm buzzers
  • roller-skates
  • exploding cigars
  • reverse controls
  • pogo-sticks
  • mustache/glasses/big conk disguises
  • banana skins

A full catalogue of Acme’s wisecracking wares accompanied the original retail package, alongside a complimentary poster, making the £24.99 price tag a teeny-tiny bit easier to swallow.

With the path now clear to Judge Doom – his lackeys having sprouted angelic wings and ascended to heaven – it’s finale time; our one and only chance to save Toontown from being razed to the ground to make way for a newfangled ‘freeway’. Plus gridlocked traffic and the magnet that attracts it; a string of strip malls, casinos, retail outlets and so on. Arroyo Seco Parkway was in fact the first freeway – built seven years prior to the movie’s time-frame – so it shouldn’t really have been front-page news.

Along the bottom of the screen you’ll notice Doom’s dip-dispenser cannon edging ever closer to a bound and gagged Jessica Rabbit, spurting its turpentine, acetone, and benzene cocktail (all paint thinners – geddit?). This stands in for a timer – once the gap between the two is closed she’s a goner and the game is over. As it doesn’t reset automatically at this juncture we’ll have to reboot to try again.

Next time, if we’re lucky, we’ll manage to intervene by dropping through the floor via a portable hole, land on the dip-dispenser and turn the tables on Doom.

As he turns out to be a cartoon himself (spoiler alert!) he’s as susceptible to its caustic properties as any of the other hand-drawn characters.

I’m melting! Melting!

Throughout the game slip-ups are punished by adding dip buckets to our accumulated tally. So for instance, a collision on the driving level, being unceremoniously flung out of the Ink and Paint club, or finding ourselves on the receiving end of a joke in the Gag Factory all edge us closer to the game over screen.

Five ought to do it. Nevertheless, collecting diamonds on the driving stage reverses the damage one dip bucket at a time, while rubber gloves render us invulnerable to the toxic dip puddles.

And as the phrase goes, “that’s all folks!“. Thanks Porky.

WFRR – as all the cool kids are calling it – is more of a desktop diversion than a game in its own right, and there’s a very good reason for that. It was cobbled together in just one month so as to coincide with the rapidly approaching release of the movie. Graphics artist and all-round Amiga legend, Jim Sachs, had something else up his sleeve that would have been more worthy of the cherished license, yet wasn’t granted the necessary time to see it mature. Instead we were fobbed off with three mini-games held together with a bit of Blutack, Jim only contributing the title screen in the end. A beautiful one at that! It’s the game’s best asset, smooth animation and authentic speech samples earning the runner up prize.

As poor an excuse for a game as it is – not in the least aided by ridiculously excessive disk swapping – it did give rise to an in-house animation tool known as ‘Backlight’. This was so groundbreaking at the time, Disney recognised its potential, bought the technology and re-branded it ‘Disney Presents…The Animation Studio’. It revolutionised computer-based animation, introducing techniques that are still used today.

You’ll find the full story – as told by Jim – in a thread posted on the Lemon Amiga forum in April 2013. I doubt any other gaming misfire throughout history has made as significant an impact as Silent Software’s Roger Rabbit. If only I could fail half as successfully!

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