Trouble with a capital D

On whichever side of the pond you reside, Dennis is a Menace. In fact he’s the Menace. Both of him. Our own British variant (hailing from The Beano comic, sporting his trademark devious grimace, black spiky hair and red and black jumper) terrorises the neighbourhood armed with his catapult and Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound, Gnasher. While the ‘cowlicked’, blond-haired, blue-eyed American incarnation terrorises the neighbourhood armed with his catapult and Airedale mix, Ruff, and evolved from newspaper comic syndication fame courtesy of Hank Ketcham. British Dennis, in contrast, was designed by committee, a variety of artists and other creatives having contributed to his distinctive appearance and character.

Superficial traits aside, the two (loveable?) sproglets are very different in terms of temperament, integrity, physical appearance and so on. US Dennis is essentially a good-natured, pleasant kid who intends to do the right thing, be helpful even, yet causes catastrophe wherever he goes due to misunderstanding situations beyond his juvenile experience, or failing to execute a plan properly.

British Dennis is the harbinger of similar calamities, yet fully intends to cause mischief, turning it into a professional, full-time sport. He’s malicious and scheming, revelling in schadenfreude without any regrets. Emanating from The Beano – a kind of diluted ‘Viz’ for kids – his creators were aiming for an edgy anti-hero protagonist rather than a traditional good guy to plonk on a pedestal and worship.

Despite the uncanny resemblance between the two entirely separate concepts and IPs, each came into being on precisely the same day, propelled by numinous cosmic forces even Stephen Hawking couldn’t fathom. An unholy alliance committed to the X-Files library of unsolved cases way back on 12th March 1951, though rather than being considered relics of the dim and distant past, each Dennis remains a going concern, inspiring a plethora of multi-format spin-off revivals and merchandise. This of course has extended to video games.

Dennis and Gnasher‘ for the Amiga was first previewed in January 1994 with a view to a Christmas release. Unusual for a licensed title, it was to be an isometric adventure game, published by Yorkshire-based outfit, Alternative Software. Alternative still exist today, mostly specialising in sports-oriented simulations for contemporary platforms, though were previously known for their prolific adaptations of children’s cartoon and comic book IPs. Huckleberry Hound In Hollywood Capers, Pixie and Dixie, Sooty and Sweep, Postman Pat, Count Duckula and so on.

Nevertheless, due to the downfall of Commodore and gamer’s shift towards console platforms, Dennis and Gnasher never saw the light of day. ‘The Bash Street Kids‘, a work-in-progress platformer, also being produced by Alternative, similarly fell by the wayside, leaving Ocean to carry the mantle as the only developer/publisher to have successfully released a gaming homage dedicated to one of the Dennis the Menace characters for any platform. More recent smartphone games don’t count because these are my rules.

Simply titled ‘Dennis’, it takes its cues from the US Menace and is based on the movie of the same name released in 1993. At least this was the title used in the UK to avoid confusion with the British Menace who was perhaps better known at the time. In America the same movie was known as ‘Dennis the Menace’. Confusing matters further, when the movie was later re-issued in the UK it was assigned the original title, while the British Menace became ‘Dennis the Menace and Gnasher’. It’s a mystery why on earth one or the other wasn’t renamed ‘Fred the Rascal’ or something similar back in 1951 before either franchise had truly taken root in kid’s psyches.

Starring Mason Gamble as Dennis Mitchell and Walter Matthau as his long-suffering Illinois neighbour, George Wilson, the story centres on the accident prone child’s propensity to leave chaos in his wake wherever he goes, and whoever he encounters.

One weekend both parents, Henry (Robert Stanton) and Alice (Lea Thompson – Marty McFly’s mum) are obliged to jet off on separate business trips, leading them to launch into a desperate scramble to find suitable child care for their precocious 5 year old delinquent, I mean misunderstood son. Notorious in the community, Dennis has been chaperoned by numerous babysitters, all of whom would never wish to repeat the experience. You won’t be surprised to learn that Matt Groening took inspiration from the havoc-wreaking tyke when laying the groundwork for Bart Simpson’s reign of terror. Considering Dennis’s brand of mayhem anaemic he set out to create a truly menacing, anarchic whirlwind (see the DVD commentary to ‘Two Bad Neighbors’, series 7, episode 13).

Against his better judgement George offers to help, and naturally soon regrets the decision. Having an aspirin fired down his throat with a slingshot while fast asleep likely made an impact!

Martha (played by Joan Plowright) somehow manages to swerve the aftermath of Dennis’ misguided mishaps, which explains why it’s easy for her to assume a surrogate grandmother role. One she relishes having been unable to bear children of her own.

Martha’s tolerant approach is invariably contrasted with George’s steadfast resolve to remain a crotchety curmudgeon; a demeanour he’s been cultivating as long as his rare, treasured, night-blooming orchid. As a retired, keen gardener with time to burn, it’s his world.

While Dennis is left to his own devices to amuse himself, George is responsible for hosting the Summer Floraganza, during which he intends to finally unveil his horticultural magnum opus, showcasing the fleeting moment of its bloom and almost instantaneous decay.

Meanwhile, a common crook known as Switchblade Sam (played by Christopher Lloyd aka Doc Brown) has been witnessed prowling the neighbourhood. A filthy outsider with rotten teeth and a signature weapon (obviously) who has descended on Evanston via train to plunder and then make a sharp getaway.

While the party is in full swing Sam spies his opportunity to sneak into George’s house and steal his cherished gold coin collection from a covert safe hidden in the bookcase.

When Dennis – albeit too late – discovers the crime he announces it in the midst of George’s 5 seconds of fame. Just as his 40-years-in-the-making orchid blooms and dies, all eyes are on Dennis and the once in a lifetime moment is ruined.

To say George isn’t too happy would be a bit of an understatement. He rants at Dennis, leaving him in no doubt that his presence is no longer welcome. Now or ever again. Thus Dennis makes like a tree and leaves… on his bike destined for the local ooky, spooky woods, triggering an almighty search party involving friends, neighbours and the police. George is particularly keen to locate him and make amends, now realising that Dennis was telling the truth about the lowlife crook who had invaded his house.

While in Coventry (having been sent), Dennis stumbles across Switchblade Sam who intends to exploit the situation by holding him hostage to reap the ransom money. Serendipitously however, Dennis being Dennis, he accidentally turns the tables on his captor, setting fire to him twice, tying him up with rope and handcuffs, and bludgeoning him within an inch of his life.

Directed by Michael Myers of Halloween fame, you wouldn’t expect Dennis to be brimming with light-hearted slapstick! His alterego, Nick Castle, must have been behind those decisions I suspect.

Once it dawns on Dennis that Sam is the thief who caused him to be ostracised and shunned by his best friend, he hauls in the bound vagrant on his bike’s tow truck. Much to the delight of the grateful community who hail Dennis a hero.

Kids apparently loved the movie, the critics not so much. Some hated Christopher Lloyd’s overly sinister Switchblade Sam persona, whilst others dismissed the movie as a second rate reimagining of Home Alone. Considering its obvious parallels, and given that both movies were written by John Hughes, this was inevitable. It does of course negate the historical fact that Dennis predates Kevin McCallister by nearly 40 years so deserves some recognition for getting the ball rolling.

Critical opinions notwithstanding, Dennis was a financial success. From a budget of $35 million, worldwide it generated $117,270,765 worth of revenue at the box office.

Ocean’s potential market then for a gaming accompaniment was looking fairly healthy, and they further stood to profit from a lucrative hardware-software bundle deal struck with Commodore. Anyone forking out £350 for the Desktop Dynamite Amiga 1200 pack in October 1993 would have received copies of the enhanced AGA versions of Dennis and Oscar in addition to various premium productivity titles.

As was to be expected for a PG-rated licensed title aimed at the younger end of the market Ocean devised a traditional scrolling platform game allowing the player to run, jump, explore, neutralise baddies and collect objects in order to complete levels and progress to the next. What makes this one stand out from the crowd is that it’s absolutely enormous due to its non-linear routes to exit, ability to scroll in eight directions and the devious placement of essential pickups.

In as much as a platform game can follow the plot of the movie on which it’s based, this one does so fairly closely. Admittedly largely because it includes a (slightly modified) synopsis in the opening section of the manual for anyone not familiar with the film. How this applies to the game revolves around the coin collection mechanic, also a pivotal plot device on the silver screen.

It does make you wonder how many people watched the movie because they played and enjoyed the game rather than the other way round. Ocean should really have had a kickback arrangement in place with Warner Bros. Although as Simon Butler – lead artist on the SNES project – told me, they weren’t especially helpful so perhaps that too would have been a dead end.

As you know, “Hey Mr Wiiiiiiiilson” has had his prized possessions pilfered and it’s our duty to retrieve them. Small gold, unmarked coins are haphazardly scattered throughout the internal and external landscapes. These are worth 500 points each, yet it’s the larger ‘D’ coins we’re more interested in since they boost our score by 5000, and also bring us a step nearer to completing any given level.

Upon tracking down the fifth of the larger coins (framed with orbiting smaller varieties) we’re whisked onto the next challenge. It’s not possible to collect the fancy one until the others have been pocketed. I know this because I’ve read the manual. Mike Matei and James Rolfe clearly hadn’t. 😉

Each themed area is further divided into separate levels making a total of… lots, comprising scenery and furniture commensurate with locations such as Mr Wilson’s living room, cellar and creepy attic, a boiler room, the park, woods and sewers. I won’t put a number on it since this varies between versions.

Momentarily leave Dennis to his own devices and this charming idle animation kicks in.

Some of these feature heavily in the movie, others not at all. Ocean must have run out of authentic locations to draw upon, which explains why we must traipse through the murky depths of a crocodile infested ‘underworld’. It’s enough to drive you ‘Round the Bend’. Artistic license, you know how it goes.

Perhaps a level set in Dennis’s suburban street could have worked, though wouldn’t have been nearly as daring and adventurous for an intrepid young explorer. If this one entailed riding his red tricycle it might have been a different matter. Along with Ruff he’s rarely seen parted from it in the source material. You know I’ve not thought about Toby Mangle and Bouncer for eons and now… never mind, we’re busy.

Weapon choices are as appropriate as you’d hope; using the space bar it’s possible to switch between a water pistol, peashooter and slingshot (the latter two becoming available once found in Mr Wilson’s house). No prepubescent terrorist’s toolkit is complete without them. Each has its advantages and drawbacks, though unfortunately none are especially effective.

Dennis’s water pistol will stun some enemies or even kill them eventually, though not others and has minimal range. It is essential however in that some switches can only be activated with a blast of water.

His slingshot with its arc trajectory travels further, does more damage and is useful for tackling adversaries perched on lower platforms.

Better yet is the peashooter as its ammo is launched horizontally, making it easier to target critters as we would with a traditional gun.

Whichever we adopt, multiple hits are required to dispatch Dennis’s foes making him look like one of the Softies. Sorry, wrong Dennis.

Each set of themed levels reaches its crescendo with an obligatory boss battle, rotated and scaled via Mode 7 where the SNES clashes are concerned. Given that Dennis the movie only really features a single villain, you can expect these to stray off the beaten track somewhat to flesh out the challenge.

We’re pitted against ‘Betty Sue Dubrovski’ in the park who seems to be entirely a figment of the developers’ imagination, although no-one I asked can be sure who came up with the name or what the significance might be.

If Simon Butler once knew it’s possible the memory has been subconsciously expunged; he tells me this wasn’t the happiest period of his career to put it lightly.

“I remember parts but not the naming of this character which possibly means that someone else did that. I was responsible for the game ‘design’ such as it was. The whole affair was coloured by the fallout from Total Recall and one person in particular had strong grievances against me. Perhaps I threw that name together at some point, who knows? I was the main SNES artist for most of the project until Ivan Horn returned and matters took a decidedly strange turn.”

I covered that story myself, Simon and Mark R. Jones salvaged Total Recall from catastrophe so I was confused as to why Simon might be in the dog house over that. Simon explained…

“There was a certain Irish ‘producer’ at Ocean who had, for reasons best known to himself, lied throughout the entire development process of Recall about the amazing progress when there was none whatsoever.

I had been working with Andrew Deakin, me on graphics/design and him on code. We were sat mere feet from each other and things were going swimmingly. Ivan, his old dev-buddy returned and instantly it was “Ivan, ask Simon if he has finished the gfx for level x”, or “Ivan, tell Simon the gfx need resizing”.

It was all very awkward, and when you throw the producer of Recall into the mix then it got very unpleasant. He was after my head. At the end of things I oversaw the various versions, put in 60-80 hour weeks on this, even though it fell apart and stunk, but ultimately I was called into Gary’s office and told I was out.”

Wondering why the quality of the product wasn’t prioritised over personal gripes and how this affected Simon’s contribution, I put the question to him.

“Ocean was a swirling maelstrom of adolescent hormones and ego. Add to that the backstabbers and there were times it was the worst place on the planet.

Dennis needed to be released. We were given no input from the movie studio, and once I lost ‘control’ it just needed to get out of the door. I lost heart during this project. My last days/weeks/months with Ocean made me want to leave the industry.”

This isn’t remotely relevant. My stream of consciousness doesn’t have an off switch, sorry.

Meanwhile, the Betty Sue enigma persists. There’s a scene in the movie involving three kids being pushed on swings, yet we’re not introduced to them. They’re merely a backdrop for the scene in which Switchblade Sam skulks round the perimeter of the playground with a view to stealing their mums’ handbags. He makes off with one of them hidden under his manky, festering tramp-coat before being moved on by the local sheriff. Rest in peace Paul Winfield. Diabetes is a killer, kids.

In-game Sue swings back and forth with a goofy, mischievous grin on her gormless face causing acorns to rain from the sky. She can be defeated by dodging her sweeping arc and projectiles, whilst whittling down a Street Fighter style energy bar, as can all the subsequent bosses. During these skirmishes we too are assigned an almost identical health-o-metre to tie the bow on the one-on-one fighting parody.

Leading up to our confrontation the game encompasses an interesting mix of platforming styles. Aside from the predictable runny-jumpy scenarios starring the Nesquik bunny and Flip the Frog (?), we must contend with forced scrolling sections. These engage Dennis’s Ruff-propelled tow-cart in clambering over fallen trees and other obstacles in a similar way to the train in Addams Family.

It passes undisturbed beneath or through hollow logs where we’re unable to follow, emerging from the other side allowing us to continue using it as a mobile springboard. Sometimes we can leap high enough to manage without it. Elsewhere it’s indispensable so we must keep pace to avoid being squished by the dreaded edge of the encroaching screen.

Even during the conventional platforming sections a degree of nuance is added by a seemingly Nebulus-inspired navigation system which sees Dennis teleporting between doorways built into trees. We’d be up the creek without a paddle otherwise since he can’t jump distances seven times his height, not being Aquaman.

Funnily enough that leads me neatly onto another dimension of the park stages, swimming. What a subtle and totally unexpected segueway. Huh.

Nobody likes swimming in platforming games so it’s a relief that these interludes are very brief getting from A to B type affairs. Appreciated almost as much as Dennis’s cute underwater mannerisms, in particular the way he puffs out his cheeks while holding his breath. It’s a nice touch that shows attention to detail was a priority.

Not the only example I should have mentioned either. I’ve forgotten to point out the “hey Mr Wilson” digitised audio sample played over the title screen, and also the way Dennis holds his hands over his head, cowering in fear whenever we duck. I’ll kick myself when I realise.

Coach Beeferman, Dennis’s gym instructor, serves as the boiler room boss so I expect this is located in his school. A level not too dissimilar to the furnace seen in Addams Family, patrolled by anthropomorphic walking flames.

Like ‘Susie’, Beeferman appears to be a character dreamt up solely for the game. Bouncing back and forth between the vaulting box and buck on his backside, features warped by the stern grimace of a drill sergeant, he torments Dennis with a limitless supply of medicine balls. Baseballs too in the SNES version.

Our static back-dropped port gets short shrift in the sewer department sadly. Once we’ve finished marvelling at the rapidly flowing sludge and ‘picture in picture’ archway-framed parallax scrolling backgrounds, pulsing slime and floating bubbles, the main challenge to overcome is the humongous jumping rainbow trout, surely a mutant. I’m surprised it hasn’t got three eyes, all crammed together like Blinky. Mr Burns has a lot to answer for!

A wheel of rotating platforms floats in the centre of the screen with another single, mostly fixed one at the bottom on either side. I say ‘mostly’ – don’t get too comfortable as they slide away out of sight from under us as soon as we think we’ve found a safe vantage point, forcing us to adapt our attack maneuvers.

Unwittingly providing a cheater’s unreachable zone was a schoolboy mistake made by many platform game developers in the early days so it’s refreshing to see it sidestepped here. We receive fair warning that they’re about to vanish to remind us to keep moving and thinking outside the box. It’s not vindictive in that sense, another plus point.

These bossy guardians certainly don’t believe in dying subtly. Fish-face for instance turns to stare at the audience, then dives out of the screen with its fang-filled mouth agape. In the SNES rendition anyway.

In the woods the entire animal kingdom has it in for us; bees, chipmunks, mice, ants, bats, squirrels, bulldogs, doggy-dogs, frogs, Golliwogs, you name it. Maybe not that last one. What is this, Day of the Animals?

Even so, the scariest wildlife is yet to come. Who’d have thought Judge Doom would be the one to haunt little kiddies nightmares?

Of course the final boss is Switchblade Sam, who looks remarkably like Freddy Krueger.

This is no accident, it’s an excellent likeness of Christopher Lloyd’s character in the movie who appears as dishevelled and decaying as Robert Englund, albeit minus the finger-blades, melted face and penchant for separating people’s limbs. This is what ruined it for Roger Ebert. Dennis I mean.

You may be wondering why his only weapon is an endless supply of apples and Sam never brandishes his trademark switchblade. Well, firstly it’s a kid’s game and knifing five year old boys isn’t very friendly or age appropriate.

Secondly Sam is seen in the movie stealing an apple from a young boy called Gunther in the park. Rather than using it as a weapon he slices it up with his trusty knife and gobbles it, leaving the boy distraught and appleless. I did a double-take when I first saw him because he looks like he could be Mason Gamble (the actor who plays Dennis) a couple of years earlier. It’s not though, just a weird casting decision – he’s actually played by Hank Johnston who also had a tiny role playing ‘boy’ in Miracle on 34th Street a year later. He reappears towards the end of Dennis too so quite a decent cameo for such a minor role.

Speaking of which, Jeannie Russell (more recently a chiropractor) who played Margaret Wade in the original 1959 TV show, plays a teeny-weeny part as an unnamed neighbour. A winking nod for the mums and dads to spot.

Once he’d hung up his catapult, Jay North (who played the original Dennis) continued to act in movies and TV, as well as lending his voice to animated children’s cartoons. He’s now largely retired, sporadic cameo appearances aside, choosing instead to support young actors to help them avoid a similar troubled childhood to his own.

Dennis’s pals, Joey and Margaret, feature in the 1993 movie, though not in the Amiga game. Curiously they do exist in the SNES original; Sam has kidnapped and tied them to a tree in the woods, offering us an extra incentive to duff him up. Another case of artistic license seeing as they never come into contact with Sam in the movie. It’s Dennis who is kind-of-sort-of kidnapped, accidentally staying in control at all times.

Mr Wilson pays us a flying visit in the first level (in his own house of all places!). He’s not a boss in the usual sense, though turfing us out by the scruff of the neck like a bag of trash does have the power to deplete our allocation of lives; a range of 1 to 9, tweakable from the options menu.

No idea why they’re labelled ‘rests’. Oh, wait, I suppose it’s to avoid talk of Dennis dying so the kiddiewinkles weren’t upset by the idea. Instead of losing a life he takes a brief time out before bouncing back. Until Dennis is no longer capable because he’s de… detained elsewhere. On a top secret junior CIA mission I expect. That’ll be it.

If he looks uncannily like Saddam Hussein (there’s no ‘if’ about it) it’s because Walter Matthau does too. Another brilliant caricature of a Grumpy Old Man.

A further difficulty modifier can be found in the options menu. This doesn’t change anything other than Dennis’s susceptibility to absorbing hits. In easy mode his ‘courage’ aka energy can sustain more of a battering before Dennis is unmenaced (eating sweets will sustain this too if you’re still struggling). A welcome advantage seeing as the difficulty curve is so unforgiving and the levels – populated by respawning baddies – so expansive and convoluted. It’s really no wonder so few people manage to see it through to the end to discover that the deliberately broken final level myth is exactly that; a fairy story spread by Chinese whispers.

When the realisation dawns that some blind drops lead to hidden areas harbouring critical pickups it does become slightly easier. This explains why that last elusive coin appears to be AWOL and you’re wandering round and round in circles achieving nothing.

Ditto for the geisers, rumbling boiler lids, Jack in the box, shuntable boulders and springs that can be exploited to reach higher ground, or trampoline over Mr Wilson. Tricks possible in all of the game’s many SKUs.

Speaking to Ben Walshaw, the then 17 year old coder of the Amiga version, I learnt that the SNES was the lead platform while our Amiga incarnation was considered a port. Each was worked on by a different development team, neither a particularly joyous process given the ridiculously tight schedule imposed, and staff rivalries involved in Simon Butler’s case.

Ben also kindly provided some insight into his experience bringing Dennis to market…

“I was working on the game on my own with graphics coming over from another studio who were doing the console version and having to try and copy the gameplay by eye.

I’m guessing the other names were contractors of some kind – I noticed they spelled my name incorrectly in the credits!!

I can’t really remember the process that was used to send over the art assets and game play requirements, other than fax machines were used a lot! I’d imagine there was a courier sending stuff over along with some other platforms’ version to copy from.

A few months were suddenly shaved from the development schedule to get the game into the Commodore Amiga pack for Christmas and they burned me out; working all night, sleeping under my desk during the day while ocean bug tested. For weeks!”

Had the critics appreciated their toil it might all have been worthwhile. Sadly the reception wasn’t encouraging. Stuart Campbell of Amiga Power fame savaged Dennis, awarding it a dismal 8%…

“…it’s the most dismal thing I’ve seen a respectable software house come up with in quite a long time. Where shall we start? Let’s start at the beginning.

The first level is unutterably tedious, it is platform stuff, but to call it bog-standard would be a serious insult to bogs. The graphics are sparse and tiny, and most of the platforms seem, for no adequate reason, to be just too high for Dennis to jump onto, forcing you to take the most tortuously convoluted route possible to get anywhere. Useless stupid baddies litter the level, bouncing dumbly between two points or running pointlessly from side to side.”

…While Amiga Format’s 25% verdict courtesy of Rob Mead was barely an improvement.

“It is hideous and certainly not worth £25 of anyone’s money. The gameplay is little better. The nasties keep coming back every time you kill them and your so-called special weapons (a pea-shooter, catapult and water pistol) are virtually useless. There are plenty of power-ups and courage-building sweets but Dennis still dies remarkably often anyway.

By far the worst bits are the appalling soundtrack and teeth-clenchingly bad sound effects. And the CD32 version is little better. Ocean must have paid a lot for this licence, but since the movie was a flop the game is likely to go the same way. Avoid.”

Enhancing it for the CD release didn’t really help Dennis’s cause; 3 out of 10 was the bottom line from CD32 Gamer.

“There are five large levels leading to Switchblade Sam, from Mr Wilson’s house to the woods, but they’re all graphically plain and unimaginative, leaving you free to marvel at the dodgy collision detection and fun-free gameplay. Everything in this game is unoriginal and uninspired, failing to match up to even the poorer CD32 platformers currently taking up so much of my precious review time.

The fact that collision with enemies only makes you flash for a few seconds, rather than being pushed back makes playing this game a joyless affair. The seemingly wanton apathy of the game designers, evident in every lazy programming technique and lacklustre graphic, is vividly communicated to the player, as you run around without any real sense of interaction. If you’re a fan of the film, you may glean some excitement from playing your hero, but this dull platformer is off limits to anyone looking for fun.”

Its SNES counterpart fared much better in some assessments…

“The graphics are excellent, but the control needs a bit of work. As a whole, though, the game is somewhat unappealing, with a main character that just doesn’t come to life.”

– Electronic Gaming Monthly (56%, January 1994)

“Dennis the Menace is the game to play if you like long, involving side-scrollers (kind of like a blond Cool Spot) and if you have plenty of time. You’ll be challenged by the extensive gameplay and by the difficulty of certain parts of the game. Dennis is a menace any way you look at him.”

– GamePro (70%, December 1993)

“A pretty good go-right game with good graphics. The way Dennis jumps is pretty cool. He even jumps on shelves. A lot of interesting objects to shoot and to avoid, like bowling balls and a nice squirt gun too.”

– Video Games & Computer Entertainment (80%, April 1994)

Personally I don’t think it’s terrible. Dennis possesses the kernel of a fun, top quality game, sabotaged by repetitive gameplay, curt and loopy music, and formulaic enemy AI. Had the weapons been more potent it may have been worthwhile to use them rather than trying to dodge everything that moves. No weapons at all, introducing the Mario-esque head bounce instead might have been preferable. It worked out very nicely for Gomez in his Amiga family-rescue outing.

Hipoonios (the expert gamer who recorded the A1200 longplay), enjoyed Dennis, and he’s seen and played it all to completion. Obviously.

Graphics and animation are undoubtedly the high point. Extremely polished, they rival any competing SNES product from the era. Dennis in particular has enough frames of animation to maneuver convincingly, his acrobatics easily as fluid as the 1986 cartoon I grew up watching.

Parallax backgrounds are equally eye-catching, those in the park areas setting the bar unreachably high for pint-sized cartoon characters, even balancing on the top rung of an extendable ladder, on tip-toes.

Several stratum of cloud glide by at varying velocities over quaint, mountainous hamlets overlooking a picturesque lake’s shimmering, undulant reflections. Well, the backdrop is motionless in the Amiga interpretation. Stunning either way! Just bare with me while I make that my new desktop wallpaper.

Controls often let the side down in action games. Not here, they’re almost as refined as in Addams Family, the pinnacle of tight, competent coding in my opinion, at least where the Amiga is concerned. Dennis does what you expect him to do in a responsive, predictable manner. Collision detection seems accurate too so it’s not that making the game such an uphill battle. That we can put down to my incompetence, a never-ending stream of respawning baddies, and a journey so long it would make Frodo Baggins turn green with trepidation.

Although Ben was still very young when he coded Dennis for the Amiga, it was by no means his first rodeo. This wouldn’t be immediately apparent from looking at a games database such as Moby, Hall of Light or Lemon Amiga because the information wasn’t available to them.

“I’d already worked on a number of games at this point (although only Potsworth and Co. has me on credits as I was sole developer). That was fair enough as I was only 16 when I started, but I’d say I’d helped ship 4 or 5 games before Dennis came along! Nowadays remote teams are simplified by technology but in the 90s not so much!”

If you find yourself in a masochistic mood you might like to see for yourself if you can recover Walter’s precious antiques. He won’t thank you for it of course since he has now shuffled off this mortal coil, hopefully retiring to a better place. One where the neighbours don’t produce the infant offspring equivalent of a hurricane ripping through a ‘house of cards’ convention.

Somehow I suspect Simon won’t be returning to it at any point during this lifetime or the next. He’s too busy podcasting and pixel-pushing in any case.

Ben – now the managing director of Fusion242 – has mostly been off the gaming grid following his stint at Citizen Software operating as a remote subcontractor for Ocean based in Sheffield, though has recently made a comeback with plans to release his own RPG.

“For me, I actually went back into games later in the 1990s, working for a studio in San Francisco called Visual Concepts. The story for being hired there is one to be had over beers. I gave it a year and then decided that I wanted to go back and finish some the work I’d been doing in North Africa.

I’ve kept up with everything though and have recently set up a small Indie studio to develop an action RPG game – we’ve spent the last couple of years learning the Unity game engine and developing tools to sit over it and add open world etc. so it’s exciting times!”

Mason’s acting career extended well into his twenties encompassing core-cast appearances in a number of big budget titles such as Rushmore, Arlington Road and Spy Hard, shaking off the stigma and stereotyping that usually accompanies cute childhood roles. Just ask McCauley Culkin about that.

Nevertheless, more recently, Mason has been out of the silver screen limelight, choosing instead to focus on his studies. In environmental science and engineering at the University of California, rather than anything of a thespian nature. His long-dead web site offers a glimpse into the far-flung life he once lead.

The next time we see him it could be playing the ADHD-addled science boffin dad of Dennis junior in Dennis the Menace 17, subtitled ‘it’s in the genes’.

4 thoughts on “Trouble with a capital D

  • April 8, 2019 at 10:09 am
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    Nice game, not that bad in my opinion. It was my second game on A1200, got it with Oscar in Desktop Dynamite. Only cons I find was that I have learned with time that Ocean actually give Commodore not finished game. Desktop Dynamite one lacks one boss, forest levels, dog and cart levels and ending credits. I was bit disappointed after defeat last boss to see how game reboot it self to main menu, even Oscar got congratulation screen. Other con is fact that Amiga version lacks some effects that was in SNES, animated background in The Park levels, alpha effect fog in Boiler levels and whole background image in Forest level (at least there was some nice gradient).
    Also, this time yet again You have write awesome article, long, in depth with nice comments from developers 🙂 I love that kind of stuff.

  • April 9, 2019 at 2:27 pm
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    Thanks very much. Good to hear it went down well. 🙂

    Interesting. In all the research I did for this article I didn’t come across that detail once re: the pack-in version. I wonder if that’s been made available online in ADF format yet. In any case, that’s pretty shabby considering how abridged it was – practically a demo! I don’t suppose there was any warning on the package about this either. With a more popular game I expect the outrage would still be discussed on the web today.

    I didn’t own the Desktop Dynamite pack or any other A1200 pack as a kid because back then I drew the line at the A600. I’d quite recently invested in that when the AGA model came along and couldn’t justify the jump.

    Yes, the graphical differences between the SNES and Amiga versions were pretty dramatic. I put that down to different teams being involved and a lack of time. What’s missing from the Amiga game seems to be the elements that would need to be adapted to suit the hardware rather than simply inserted when porting the SNES original. I’m sure those aesthetic tricks could have been duplicated on the AGA Amiga at least, given the resources to do it. As Addams Family proves though, if the gameplay is solid, it’s OK for the graphics to be less impressive than the host system is capable of.

  • April 14, 2019 at 5:17 am
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    I would not call Amiga downgrade that much dramatic, both versions are ok. Maybe if they got more time they could squeeze more from Amiga version.
    I am sure whd download site got Desktop Dynamite version.

  • April 14, 2019 at 5:55 am
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    Either way I think it’s a great looking game. One that would definitely appeal to kids (and adults!) who love cute platformers. It’s mostly the backgrounds that differed and they’re not exactly a deal-breaker.

    After you mentioned it the other day I went looking for the DD version and found a couple of variants (ADF ones), although neither has a built-in trainer so I’d struggle to test them to the end to check for the impossible jump, or make any other comparisons.

    I noticed too that there’s a crazy number of different trainers available for the standalone releases. Dennis likely breaks the record there! 😀

    Apparently there was an unfinished version of the game doing the rounds at the time, but I can’t tell which one it could be. Again I’d have to play them all right through to find out and that’s a tall order even when you’re cheating.

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