Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Ruff 'n Tumble

Well, I regret to say that the Playstation 3 was a total bust. After a couple weeks it started acting up, to the point where it would overheat and freeze after just twenty minutes of use. The seller's taking it back, thank goodness, but it's still a crushing blow to someone who wanted the system for years. I was so close... so close!

At least my Wii U's been treating me right. I'm convinced running that SmashStack exploit was the smartest thing I've done with it in a long, long time. That's given me access to not only the GameCube's sizable library of games, but countless other titles through the use of emulators.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to break out an old release for the Commodore Amiga that I really liked. Or really want to like, at least. With its gorgeous animation and color-saturated graphics, Wunderkind's 1994 release Ruff 'n Tumble looks like it would be a better fit for the Neo-Geo than a personal computer from the mid 1980s, but there was something about this side-scrolling shooter that just missed the mark. I was determined to find out what that was.

Armed to the baby teeth.
But before I get to the agony, let's touch on the ecstasy for a minute. Ruff 'n Tumble was a late release for the Amiga computer, which was on its last legs thanks to Commodore's mismanagement and the impending release of the all-consuming Windows 95. You couldn't have asked for a flashier exit, though. Ruff 'n Tumble illustrates why the Amiga's modest fanbase were so fiercely loyal to the system, looking better than the lion's share of games for the Sega Genesis and Super NES. Vibrant colors leap off the screen, and the uzi-packing hero Ruff Rogers looks like he could have been a stunt double in Dennis the Menace 2 Society, with the tyke's chubby cheeks rippling as he unloads clip after clip of ammo into the robots that doggedly pursue him.

The gameplay's not too shabby either; an appealing pastiche of genres popular in the early 1990s. There's a little Sonic the Hedgehog in the way Ruff darts across each lengthy stage, a little Super Mario Bros. in the tons and tons of items tucked away in hidden rooms, and a generous helping of Contra and Metal Slug in the weaponry, which can be boosted with power-ups and aimed in any direction. 

Run. Then gun.
Unfortunately, that's where the problems start. Like too many other games for the Amiga, Ruff 'n Tumble was designed for single button joysticks, and this unfortunate decision takes a wrecking ball to the gameplay. Up does double duty as a jump button and a means of aiming your firearm, limiting your ability to run and gun at the same time. Just try fighting an airborne enemy like the bullet-spitting chopper droids or swarms of mechanical bees and you'll realize how badly you need to be able to do both simultaneously.

This lends an unwelcome stop-start feel to the otherwise breezy action, with the player frequently screeching to a halt to take out the enemies pouring out of flashing generators. With Ruff's limited supply of hit points and game overs that send you back to the beginning of the current world, you can't afford to do anything else. Even while creeping through each level at the speed of slug, it's tough to stay alive because Ruff's machine gun has such a low rate of fire. You'll need to constantly feed it power ups to get a decent stream of bullets out of it, and optional weapons like the laser and flamethrower sputter out too quickly to be of much use.

Cheats (like infinite lives, infinite ammo... infinite everything really) would go a long way toward making this game more Ruff than Tumble. However, the vexing control is an issue that can't be fixed by shifting around a few values in the code. While assigning up to its own button in the UAE Wii emulator helps, it still gets in the way of jumping and firing simultaneously. From the hard rockin' soundtrack to the arcade-quality visuals, there's plenty to like about Ruff 'n Tumble, but it's nevertheless one button (and a few design quirks) shy of greatness.

Images provided by Lemon Amiga, your citrus-scented source for news about Commodore's multi-tasking, multimedia computer from the 1980s.

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