In my morning trawl of the internet, I find myself double-taking. I see that there’s a demo of Qwak on the Mac. Which excites me, not just because I’m excited by the rhyming of “Mac” with “Qwak” – but because I can’t believe someone’s remade the ancient single-screen platformer. Surely it’s just someone re-using the same name… but no, it’s the original, remade, by original developer Jamie Woodhouse. And I somehow missed the PC version coming out towards the end of last year. Fucking hell. Qwak was simply one of the best games that Team 17 ever published and its Bubble-Bobble-sheen remains beautiful today.
I also didn’t know it originally was published on the BBC. It entered my life when Stuart Campbell gave it 88% for Amiga Power saying something like “the more I play it, the more I like it”. And, of course, being an AP-fanboy and at my height of Rainbow-Islands-is-Divine period, my “Multiplayer games are the core of the medium” fanaticism and just entering my “games should be cheaper – the price of albums. Production costs don’t matter. Albums recorded for forty quid cost as much as albums recorded for millions” period… well, a budget-priced, two-player intricate single-screen platformer may have well been called “This One Is For Kieron Gillen”.
It holds up today partially due to its intricacy and partially due to its pace, which demands you to both do things in an incredible rush while actually forcing you to consider your every move carefully. At the higher level, it’s a puzzle game. At the basal play level, it’s plain frenetic. So each room is both a challenge to survive and a score-chasing challenge to beat. You can complete each screen by collecting all the keys to open the door – but to maximise your score you have to utilise every tool in there. All too often you realise too late that the extra-high-jump potion you picked up – which let you take a single great bound into the vast sky – should have been used to reach a certain ledge. And now there’s no way of getting that lovely stuff. But of no matter – you had to rush, because if you stopped to think, enormous metal spiked balls would start falling from the ceiling to encourage you to get a move on. This is exactly what happens when I’m late with my copy for Eurogamer, by the way.
The tight limit on your actions creates a couple of effects. Firstly, there’s a real demand on your skills to try and get as much as you can – and this means that replaying early levels maintains interest. It’s heftily challenging through it, but even with iffy skills, you’re able to romp through a mass of levels. You get the reward of easy progress and seeing exciting new things, but still keeping a real thing to aim at. It’s a game which asks you to think, and never gives you a chance to do that – it’s an exciting, joyous, exhilarating blur.
The demo includes a tutorial set of levels and the first ten missions from the game proper – which is available for thirteen quid from the website – and includes some interstatial “will you buy?” screens and a one-hour total limit. I’d strongly recommend people give it a shot. It’s just a lovely retro videogame.
Oh – and here’s some footage of the 1993 amiga version, just so you can get the feel of it.