You can tell a penguin by what he has to say

Arcadey one-screen platformers need a hook. A clever gimmick to keep you enthralled and feeding that coin slot with 10ps despite the limitations of the mechanics, or perhaps because of them. It’s a tough market to crack, which explains why so few have survived the test of time to become ubiquitous classics. Bubble Bobble and Pacman are two of the aptest examples to spring to mind.

Enchanting the world with a similar runaway success story was likely no more than a daydream for Italian publishers, Idea Software. Nevertheless, they had a dabble with the little-known Amiga puzzle-platformer, Crazy Seasons, and hoped for the best. It was actually developed by Proxima Designs and released in 1992 at a time when games were rapidly moving away from simple premised ‘one more quick go’ style arcade games.

Whether you’re familiar with it, or have never even heard of Crazy Seasons, you’ll have a good impression of how successfully Idea managed to capture the public’s attention.

Taking its cues from Pengo it’s all about the blocks (and penguins would you believe?). Your goal on each of the squillion and one levels is to check out the sequential order of four blocks displayed in the HUD, and then replicate the arrangement in the game environment.

To do this you must shove them along and off the platforms, avoiding or squishing the baddies in the process before the clock ticks its last tock. When all four are adjacent and in the right order we’re whisked away to the next level.

Why? you ask. Well, we’re one of a duo of anonymous penguin scientists (obviously!) who have been tinkering with a DIY time machine in their space station workshop… because time travel is the holy grail of scientific experimentation, and never goes out of fashion.

Unfortunately, any attempts to conquer the feat throughout the ages have without exception ended in disaster, so don’t expect a couple of cutesy Pingu clones with no opposable thumbs to master the fine art. How are they supposed to grip a screwdriver or wire in a flux capacitor? In any case, nature doesn’t take too kindly to its laws being meddled with, so it’s a doomed pie in the sky from the outset.

Nature is the watchword in fact. A bit of a Recurring Dream you could say… I mean theme, since the game is divided into seasons as well as geographical and architectural motifs within them. As we progress our Pengo pals transition between spring, fall, bright-light-bright-light, and brrr, it’s blummin’ nippy outside. Cerrr-razzzy!

Plot! That’s where we were before I got sidetracked. Flippering away at the keyboard, inevitably disaster strikes, signalled by a homage to the Amiga’s guru meditation error. Capsules containing the miraculous ‘time fluid’ shift out of alignment resulting in a seismic explosion that scatters them to all four corners of the oblique spheroid we know as earth.

To avert the temporal displacement from sucking the universe into a boundless black hole we must reconfigure and recover the blocks, somehow restoring peace, order and balance to the force.

Where Crazy Seasons differs from Pengo (time travel plot aside) is that rearranging the blocks is the main focus rather than using them to shunt into and crush baddies. In Pengu, the levels are beaten when all the adversaries have been wiped out, whereas in Crazy Seasons killing them is more of a collateral damage byproduct. It’s not mandatory to kill them at all, though doing so makes it much easier to navigate. Also, when they pop their clogs they deposit various useful power-ups so it pays to engage in a spot of mindless slaughter.

As with all the best one-screeners, Crazy Seasons is optionally a two-player game, making the (mostly) effortlessly easy game even easier. Some levels are semi-submerged, altering our speed of travel, otherwise, it’s business as usual.

Dispatched baddies leave power-ups behind for us to p-p-pick up (such as the screen freezers or hunter’s hat and revolver), we have the option to reset the position of blocks if we screw up, and bombs can occasionally be found to clear the entire playfield in one fell swoop.

Later on, some of the trials get a fair bit tougher. Typically though the hardest aspect is deciphering the suspect English in the intro and cut-scenes. Translated from Italian, likely by a non-native speaker, the dialogue could be a tad clearer to avoid furrowed brows and sideward glances all round.

Not that it really matters; the plot is so simple you can get the gist mostly by watching the animation. Space-time continuums have no bearing on the gameplay so you won’t need a PHD in physics to make sense of it.

Otherwise, the only thing holding us back from completing Crazy Seasons is the mid-game copyright obstacles. Interrupting the action are occasional anti-piracy checks that require us to input a code from the manual. It’s MIA these days so good luck there unless you’re using the cracked version. A rare title where the authentic, physical original is concerned so it’s unlikely to be much of an issue.

There are simply too many to have end-of-level bosses so instead there are end-of-season ones. These include a posh chap donning a top hat and tails with merry old England’s Big Ben serving as a backdrop, a helicopter (as in Rainbow Islands), a giant chattering-toothed, glowing-eyed decapitated skull, and ultimately a demented scientist boffin who looks a bit like Doc Brown. These are all exterminated by sliding blocks into them from above. No block alignment is necessary for these sections.

Cute albeit basic graphics initially make Crazy Seasons seem appealing, though after playing for ten minutes we’ll have seen most of what the game has to offer. Similarly, music largely comprises Vivaldi’s Four Seasons intermittently interrupted by a selection of original pieces. A bit more variety in terms of both gameplay and audio wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Even so, the sheer number of levels on offer, the newspaper-reading idle animation and endearing cut-scenes suggest plenty of care and attention was channelled into the production.

Had it been a PD game, Crazy Seasons would likely have received an 80%+ score from the critics of the time. For a premium title originally priced at £25 there isn’t nearly enough on offer to have made it worth our (not very) hard-earned pocket money.

That said I do like the dark ending, if only for the stark contrast it juxtaposes with all the cutsyfication that had gone before. We realign the final set of blocks, duff up the prof and fly off into the sunset in a biplane. Then the engine splutters, cuts out and we nose-dive into the mountains, plunging to our death.

 

All that toil for nothing. Well, we saved the universe first I suppose. It’s no sacrifice at all. It’s two hearts living… in two separate worlds.

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