He’s the hairy-handed gent who ran amuck in Kent

In January 1988, ACE – referring to Werewolves of London – wrote…

“It’s presented on the ‘no instructions – work it out for yourself’ format.”

“As far as gameplay goes, there’s an awful lot of trotting about screens which all look exactly the same. The objects may be useful in the end, but first you need to work out what they are – a Swiss roll, an electric toothbrush? – as the graphics are certainly not all they should be, and animation perfunctory.”

Absolutely, that likely explains their mediocre 573/1000 review score. No documented help whatsoever except for the following manual which explains the what, why and how of the bloodcurdling challenge that awaits…

“The object of the game is to relieve yourself of the lycanthropic curse by slaughtering all the remaining members of the family that cursed you. Each time you find yourself near to one of the yuppies a cross will flash in your icon row – seek out and destroy! If you are successful, the cross is yours to keep; collect all eight and you have rid yourself of the curse.

Each time you kill, the police become more determined to put an end to your nocturnal activities. Everybody is a potential snackette and you may find some corpses carry useful objects such as tickets for the underground or keys for the jail or park. The torch helps you see in the sewers and the underground and the manhole cover lifter allows you access to those smelly places. The file might be useful on the jail windows and using bandages can help stem blood loss.

 

Getting thrown into jail is a fact of life if you happen to be a hairy carnivorous beast, and this could curtail your night-time activities if you’re not careful. But you could be clever and conceal a few handy objects in the cell during the day in order to help you escape later. Prolonging your munching time is the name of the game… happy hunting!”

Controls and loading instructions for all three 8-bit versions of the game were appended, leaving us in no doubt how to get started. Maybe Christine (the reviewer) tested a pre-release copy. I only really mention it because it’s an excuse to paste in a wad of text to save me covering all the nitty-gritty of the mechanics. Genius! Right, I’m off to campaign for a silver bullet amnesty.

Well, there’s probably a few other details I could add. Werewolves of London, whilst sharing the name of the top 40 Warren Zevon song released in 1977 and borrowing a few chords from it for the opening tune, has nothing else in common.

Warren died aged 56 in 2003. Werewolves didn’t get him, it was a troika of pleural mesothelioma, alcoholism and iatrophobia.

In the UK at least, Zevon’s whimsical track is best known for being the winner of a contest held by BBC radio 2; one that sought to discover the nation’s favourite pop song opening line.

“Saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain, he was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s, going to get a big dish of beef chow mein.”

Werewolves of London, the game, heads off on its own tangent, it was all about notoriety. Much like Viz Design’s other title based on a copyright-free character adopted and contorted as a Universal Monster, Bride of Frankenstein/Frankenstein Jnr. Viz was just another label devised by Ariolasoft, they were one and the same thing, along with 39 Steps, Starlight and Reactor.

Such ancient character concepts are fair game as inspiration for spin-off creative works, sans any obligation to pay royalties, as long as there’s no attempt to capitalise on a particular, more recent, trademarked adaptation. Viz then were perhaps sailing a bit too close to the wind by adopting Lon Chaney Jnr’s ‘Wolf Man’ look for the cassette box cover. Although dating way back to 1941, the movie is part of Universal’s back catalogue so you can be sure it hasn’t been forsaken.

Werewolves of London has an even looser connection to the comedy-horror movie you’d think might be associated, American Werewolf in London. Bet the title alone convinced you to buy the game back in 1989 though, didn’t it? Mission accomplished!

“Did this ever come out on full price? Tell me if I’m wrong (would you do otherwise?) but I think not. Werewolves, as you may remember, gave us one of our best ever covers about 18 months ago, when I went over to Ariolasoft (then launching yet another of their new labels, Vix Design) to have a look at the game in its early stages. It looked savagely fab then, but something seems to have gone wrong in-between times (as well as Ariolasoft going down the tubes).

Essentially it doesn’t work at all – what was envisaged as an atmospheric arcade adventure unofficially based on An American Werewolf In London is just an aimless chase-about with drab graphics and terminally tedious gameplay. As always you pick things up, travel from place to place, use them and so forth, but there’s no real logic to it all, or, after a while, any real point in going on. A curious failure in many ways, as the ideas behind it were so good. So much for our ability to spot a winner, eh, guys? (Shut up. Ed)”

Your Sinclair (April 1989), clearly peeved that they meticulously previewed a game back in November 1987 that fell by the wayside for so long. According to their uniquely illustrated teaser article, they expected to be reviewing the complete game within a matter of weeks.

When I come home feelin’ tired and beat, I go up where the air is fresh and sweet…

 

Anyone who witnessed its inaugural unveiling during the September 1987 PCW show at Olympia in London would likely still remember the promises for other reasons.

“Viz Designs – stand 1611: Newly emergent Viz Designs will be displaying demos of its new game Werewolves of London. A real live werewolf has been promised too.”

Sinclair User (October 1987)

Imagine the bloodbath! Health and safety regulations would never allow that today. Not without having a plentiful supply of wolfsbane to hand.

“There’s a touch of the gruesome about this first title from Ariolasoft label Viz Designs. Taking its inspiration in roughly equal parts from American Werewolf in London and a whole load of Hollywood shockers, Werewolves has you scouring the capital for food. Because you’re a werewolf ‘food’ means human flesh – Sloane Rangers, preferably – so you can expect some trouble with the law along the way. Your Fiona-hunt takes in rooftops, tube stations, parks and sewers…”

ACE (December 1987).

C&VG (January 1988) also mentions “an arrogant family of Sloany-types” whilst Your Sinclair (November 1987) refers to “the head of an aristocratic and rather Sloany family” and “eight Sloany descendants”. I just thought the emphasis was odd since it’s a term I never hear people using. I’ll ask Steve Howard – stay tuned for the interview! OK, carry on.

You could have had a copy of the game in your excessively hairy palms two years earlier had publisher, Ariolasoft, not gone bankrupt. You’d be a bit miffed if you’d won Your Sinclair’s competition back in October 1987 by submitting “a picture of someone you think is a werewolf” (the illustrious prize was a copy of the MIA game and a freaky werewolf mask in time for Halloween).

Despite what ACE said (February 1989), a limited run of the Amstrad original was sold at full price at some point during 1987, though it’s mostly known as a later budget Mastertronic release, seeing as they purchased the rights to re-issue the grim adventure jaunt. Only the Amstrad instigator enjoyed its moment in the sun initially, this being the lead platform. Spectrum and Commodore 64 translations were to follow later. From the outset, the plan was to designate Werewolves of London a premium release classification with a top-rate price tag. Back then this would have entailed spending £8.99 on the Speccy cassette, £9.99 on the C64 equivalent, or £14.99 on the more obscure Amstrad title. The Amstrad was always much more popular over the pond in France.

“Using objects as you explore the town is quite fun at first and eating people up is a nice change, but the game lacks something to keep you motivated to play it. The idea is fine, but there is just not enough game in there.”

Second opinion

Reminiscent of Bride of Frankenstein from the same team. That too was an enjoyable game as far as it went, but they both lack depth. It needs to move away from the arcade concept and get more adventure action incorporated. I loved the record, but the game isn’t as goo (sic)

Green screen view

No problems, unless you don’t like green blood.”

Amstrad Action issue 27 (66%, December 1987). The first assessment really does end with ‘goo’. Typo or deliberate boo-boo? Maybe an allusion to gore? I’m not sure.

We’re wolves

Werewolves of London was originally released by the now-defunct Ariolasoft and received a goodish review (AA 27, 66%). Now you can sink your teeth into the game for a mere £1.99 from Virgin Mastertronic.”

Amstrad Action 41 (February 1989) (You see what they did there with the pun? That’s not a mistake.)

As if £1.99 wasn’t enough of a steal already, with Mastertronic’s ‘Flippy Flippy’ edition you’d receive the Spectrum version on one side of the tape and the Amstrad code on the other. Did anyone own both systems? I mean other than my cousins who had every console and computer system on the planet at the time. Still a bargain, the C64 cassette was a standalone arrangement.

If you bought a copy of the Amstrad or Spectrum release (I can’t be sure about the C64 conversion), the B side of the tape included a recording of the ‘Werewolf Rap – Silver Bullet Mix’. Probably not on the Flippy Flippy edition though, surely? It’s all a bit confusing. If you check out the cassettes/inlays on eBay or wherever you won’t find any reference to this bonus music. Whatever the case may be, you can now find it on YouTube for your aural edification.

Even so, critical appraisals from the gaming magazine fraternity weren’t overly enthusiastic. In some quarters, Werewolves of London was castigated for what were deemed poor graphics, as well as for its frustrating, repetitive, repetitive and repetitive gameplay. They thought it was repetitive, you see. Frustrating too.

“Heaven knows how many full moons have been and gone while we’ve been waiting for screenshots of Viz Design’s Werewolves of London and they’re finally here. And don’t they look great? Well, as a matter of fact, it doesn’t look particularly great at all, does it?”

“All very gruesome and tongue-in-cheek and soaraway we’re sure, but the graphics do look a trifle shakey.”

Sinclair User (December 1987)

It has its pros too – 120 locations in the C64 interpretation and leading Amstrad version, and a whopping 200 on the Speccy. Also, an early example of a day-night cycle and a refreshingly non-linear approach to the solution. Plus, up to eight characters on screen at once, resultant slowdown dependent on host system.

“Oddly, there’s something very pleasing about running around, eating passers-by and dodging the bobbies. The game uses the basic elements of an arcade adventure, coupled with over 100 screens, and combines them to good effect. The action can slow down quite a bit when there’s a lot of people on screen, but eating them soon solves that problem! The graphics are relatively simple considering what the Amstrad is capable of, but they work well; the way the lycanthrope lopes along is especially convincing.”

The Games Machine (75%, Amstrad, December 1987)

Certain glitches, and more terminal crashes plaguing the Spectrum and C64 conversions, however, do suggest that these versions were let loose unfinished. Impossible to beat even, where the Spectrum game is concerned; it cruelly keels over upon confronting the final foe… and on a dozen other occasions in the lead up to this point.

If you try it now and wonder what on earth I’m howling on about, you may well be playing a bug-fixed version that has been lovingly remastered by an independent third-party retro fan and shared online via World of Spectrum.

Oh, and being perfectly able to commit murder right before the eyes of a copper without them arresting us, should we happen to transmogrify back to our human incarnation at that precise moment. That’s highly suspect, but then that happens in all versions.

Perhaps though this was by design? It wasn’t ‘corrected’ by the reissue in any case. We can only gnaw people to death as a werewolf and only be arrested and incarcerated in the local prison as such. As soon as we morph back as dawn breaks, we’re free to go, as if humans can’t be guilty of murder. I know from personal experience that’s not true. Er… umm… aah. I have this friend… they were involved in an incident and…

Otherwise, we can shortcut the process by breaking in through the bars from outside during daylight hours, concealing a file inside, allowing us to easily escape once trapped at night.

It’s also possible to be accidentally locked in Hyde park as it closes after dark (how poetic!). Unfortunately, the same tool has no effect on the exit fence here. Must be a Jail File (TM).

It’s not just a matter of having the patience to wait for release – as blood supply constantly drains, time equals life force. If we can’t access human blood before our storage bag runs dry we perish. Anyone will do, they don’t have to be designated aristocrat targets (helpfully dressed in black).

It’s not difficult to identify them in any case. Crosses appear in the HUD interface as soon as they’re in the vicinity, then blink epilepticly as the marks draw closer. A sort of ‘posh people detector’ if you like. Alternatively, we could earwig in on their conversations; if they discuss being “up on the ruff”, “parsing the sault” or “taking a barth” we’ll know they’re a bit poncy and can be executed in cold blood with their own silver spoons. It’s all they deserve.

Another way to die is to be shot three times by a police officer – they carry guns, as in the movie. Well, only the special ops team we see right at the end, who will be packing silver bullets if they have any sense and an appreciation for the rules of lycanthropic engagement. Cops can be mauled like anyone else, although it’s obviously not advisable.

Whatever the case, to stem the flow of blood from our wounds we can wear a plaster. Works every time, as we’d expect! I gather the idea is actually to plug the hole in our blood bag. Science, innit. Did you know that the technical term for a blood bag (as used in transfusions etc.) is, in fact, a ‘blood bag’? You’d think there would be a more cleverer way to describe it, wouldn’t you? Nope.

Intriguingly, the mythos surrounding the potency of silver as a werewolf-decimator didn’t emerge until the 20th century, popularised by – appropriately enough – silver screen adaptations. Likewise, moonlight-induced metamorphosis is a fairly recent addition to the folklore.

Plasters, unfortunately, don’t work so well on injuries sustained by falling off the roof, which we’ll do fairly frequently since the jumping mechanism is a bit finicky. And I thought lycanthropes were supposed to be proficient acrobats?

 

We’ll need to be pretty limber for this next tip. To progress, we’re supposed to use cash to buy a ticket to access the subway (if we don’t steal one first), though considering the barrier can simply be leapt over Bart Simpson style, we may as well skip this part of the puzzle.

It’s a bit of a red herring (or clever, non-linear Easter egg if we’re feeling more generous), analogous to the plural ‘werewolves’ in the game’s title; only one features in the entire saga. Curiously, there is a singular ‘Werewolf of London’ movie too. A black and white one released in 1935 courtesy of Universal – it was the first Hollywood, major motion picture to make a werewolf the headlining attraction.

 

Possession of a torch is advisable before delving into the crepuscular underground. Without light we’re still free to roam about blind, stumbling onto electrocuted tracks and bumping into cops gunning for our blood. You’d think a nocturnal animal such as a wolf would take this in their stride! Sack the fact-checking department immediately! 😉

Despite initial impressions, it is possible to clamber up from the track recess to the platform above. Key to reaching (relative) safety involves switching from pick-up/use to jump mode via the relevant icon. Cinematic examples of werewolves are often depicted as harnessing superpowers so we should be able to cope with a spot of light leaping. I demand that my 8-bit translations take all this into consideration! 😉

Truck Driver: That way is Proctor, and over here is the moors. I go this way.

Jack: Thanks for the ride, sir. You have lovely sheep.

Truck Driver: Boys, keep off the moors, stick to the roads. The best to ya…

David: Thanks again.

(then to the sheep)

David: We’ll miss you.

David: Bye girls…

People tend to dismiss the connection to American Werewolf in London, only glancing over the premise and surface details, however, there are a number of similarities.

In the movie David (played by David Naughton) is attacked by a werewolf while out exploring the moors with college friend, Jack (Griffin Dunne). Jack, mauled to death, becomes a ghost, while David survives with only a few nasty gashes to his chest and one cheek, assuming the inconvenient burden of now being a werewolf.

Hound of the Baskervilles himself is shot dead by the patrons of the ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub the students met earlier (actually a cottage converted for the set). From a dead werewolf, it immediately transforms back into a dead naked man. Not the one below, to avoid any confusion if you haven’t seen the movie.

Former wrestler, Brian Glover, in one of his more subtle, restrained roles.

 

Jack: Now, I’m really sorry to be upsetting you, but I have to warn you.

David: Warn me?

Jack: We were attacked by a werewolf.

David: (putting his hands over his ears) I’m not listening to this!

Jack: On the moors, we were attacked by a lycanthrope, a werewolf. I was murdered, an unnatural death, and now I walk the earth in limbo until the werewolf’s curse is lifted.

David: Shut up!

In the aftermath of the friends’ ordeal, David is taken to hospital where he spends three weeks in a coma. Upon awakening he meets his nurse, Alex played by Jenny Agutta, falls in love and they soon move in together. Now he has a confidente with whom to share his fears, guilt and so on, which is jolly handy for the audience because monologues don’t work so well outside of Shakespearian plays. Alex serves as a well-developed love interest without falling into the cliched, gratuitously exploited screamer role. She’s also so posh her dialogue is painful to listen to. Maybe she’s a Sloaney type… one of them… one of them…  

In his tormented, gnarled and decaying state, Jack repeatedly encourages David to commit suicide to sever the bloodline of the werewolf that attacked them, thereby releasing Jack’s spirit from purgatory. Aside from preventing him from savaging any members of the public once The Change inevitably occurs, dictated by the lunar cycle. Which apparently is illegal and probably a bit morally dubious too. It’s not clear how Jack knows that David is the last of his attacker’s ‘descendants’. There could have been a whole pack stalking the moors.

David: Nurse!

Jack: Listen to me!

David: (crying) Nurse!

Jack: The undead surround me. Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring! I’m lonely! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others.

(David continues crying)

Jack: Please don’t cry.

In contrast, where the game is concerned, our anonymous anti-hero is transformed in the more traditional manner of being cursed by elite members of society – in medieval texts werewolves were often depicted as significant authority figures such as kings, queens, princes and other dignitaries. That explains the focus on aristocrats, it’s not just us vs them uppety discrimination. Either way, the outcome is the same, and the perpetrators need to be eliminated to lift the curse.

I know this isn’t very convincing, so I’ll keep digging. What else? There’s the setting. Not just London per se; both works involve visits to the London Underground, and post-transformation, the slaying of innocent members of the public on the streets. In the movie, it’s an unconscious, instinctive drive that leads to these vicious incidents, whereas prowling and slaughter is the name of the game in the playable interpretation.

David wakes up the following morning naked and dazed inside London Zoo’s wolf enclosure, unmolested since he’s one of them. I suppose the game’s gated park enclosure substitutes for this scene.

David: (David has returned to Alex’s flat wearing a woman’s coat) Good Morning. I’m freezing.

Minnie, you’re home! Oh, my mistake.

 

Alex: David. Where on earth have you been?

David: (excited) Alex you won’t believe this. I have lost my mind. I woke up at the zoo.

Alex: The zoo?

David: (confused) What did I do last night?

Alex: You don’t remember?

David: Well I remember seeing you to the door and waving goodbye, and getting locked out of the flat and coming in through the front window, I started to read then I woke up naked at the zoo.

It eventually dawns on David that he’s responsible for six random murders, committed whilst in the throes of lycanthropic entrancement. He’s suddenly wracked with terror and remorse so attempts to incite arrest in Trafalgar Square by confessing, then causing a disturbance of the peace.

David: Queen Elizabeth is a man! Prince Charles is a faggot! Winston Churchill was full of s*”t! Shakespeare’s French!

Nevertheless, his wish to be sent to prison – to protect the public and be punished for his crimes – fails miserably since the police officer accosted refuses to take him seriously.

Not morally righteous themes you’d want to emulate in a horror-themed game! – instead, we attempt to evade the police and shirk accountability for our crimes by spending as little time as possible in jail at her majesty’s pleasure. David’s carnage spree is finally curtailed by way of lethal force – the police shoot him dead. So there’s another movie-game corollary.

It’s a movie that has stood the test of time, assuredly earning its place in the pantheon of schlock horror classics. Mostly for its then cutting-edge special effects that impressed Michael Jackson to such a degree, he commissioned the man responsible – Rick Baker – to work on his grisly, undead-themed Thriller video. In collaboration, what they unleashed is still heralded as one of the most memorable music story-videos of the 20th century.

With a plot that can be summarised in a couple of sentences, it’s remarkable that American Werewolf in London remains immensely enjoyable today, notwithstanding, the prosthetics and physical effects employed having long-since been eclipsed by more advanced – yet not necessarily more convincing – CGI techniques.

David: I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf.

What swings it for me is its unnerving fish-out-of-water atmosphere, evoked by the backwards ‘little England’ village David encounters, its inhabitants including a curious cameo from the sadly late Rik Mayall. Their hostile presence is unfathomably menacing in a similar sense to Wicker Man, only with the additional unapologetically jet-black comedy angle, we can expect the unexpected.

Bludgeoning us over the head with brute force, the special effect ‘money shots’ engender some of the most casually macabre and outlandish moments witnessed in cinema history. They exude madness from every pore (paw?). If in doubt, refer to the throat-slitting Nazi werewolf gang that feature in one of David’s delirious dream sequences.

And the undead corpses of David’s victims who helpfully – some gleefully – offer suggestions as to how he should approach committing suicide for optimal results…

Harry Berman: A gun is good.

Judith Browns: You just put the gun to your forehead and pull the trigger.

Gerald Bringsley: If you put it in your mouth, then you’d be sure not to miss.

David: Thank you, you’re all so thoughtful.

Hmm, OK, so the naysayers were probably right all along. There isn’t much of substance to connect the movie-game dots. I can’t imagine writer and director, John Landis, would have claimed any royalties for his contribution.

Regardless, overall it’s a worthy addition to classic monster counter-culture that can be fun to unravel as long as you take the time necessary to read the manual thoroughly. Rather than ranting about mechanics you’ve failed to grasp as a consequence of investing no effort whatsoever in the experience. Although, of course, this being the basis of some of the most popular YouTube videos, why break the curse now?

Promising too are the conversion propositions. With enough time to fully develop the indications of innovation that – against the odds – found their way into the WIPs, I’m sure Werewolves of London could have been something really special on the C64 and Spectrum too.

Its open-world nature is certainly appealing, as is the anything-goes political incorrectness. Which is why it’s such a shame Mastertronic didn’t bother fine-tuning their acquired asset prior to release. For them, it was clearly a quick cash-grab with minimal investment in the quality of the ‘finished’ product that left werewolf fans howling at the moon with regret.

Leave a Reply