Duck Super: Qwak

Gears of War's new artistic direction surprised many

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.

22 Comments

  1. Jim Rossignol says:

    Gillen was lamenting to the Hivemind that no fucker would play Qwak. He may be right.

  2. Hermit says:

    Amiga nostalgia overload.

    What we really need is a remake of Wizkid though.

  3. oddbob says:

    I love it.

    I’m not so hot on the smoothed out graphics but the game is still as great as it ever was and that’s all that really matters to me. I can’t ever be diddled with WinUAE, and with the Mac version out there now that means I can sit on the sofa and have some Qwak loveliness come payday.

    That’ll do me.

  4. gnome says:

    A great game on the Amiga that seems even better now in its PC update. Thanks for the review oh wise Mr. Gillen.

    BTW, Stuart Cambell liked it too? High praise indeed…

  5. Fetthesten says:

    Never heard of this before, but I did give the demo a try on your recommendation, and for that genuine retro experience I hooked up my Competition Pro USB joystick (finally, something to use it for besides MAME shooters).

    I certainly didn’t mind playing it, and there’s something inherently satifying about collecting pieces of fruit that are more than twice the size of your character, but I did feel that the random hazards seemed to have been added solely to artificially increase the challenge. Probably just a matter of practice though, I’ll play it some more and see if it’s addictive enough to warrant a purchase. Thanks for the tip, in any case.

  6. Kieron Gillen says:

    Fett: I meant to say that the random falling things are the thing which edges it too hard. That said, it’s armour system covers up for that a lot too.

    KG

  7. hydra9 says:

    For those who enjoying having a sneaky Qwak on the bus, or whose hands are too small for PC keyboards, you can also buy Qwak for Gameboy Advance (comes on a real cartridge and everything)!

  8. Helm says:

    I think I’ll buy this. Does it have an original graphics mode, though? The smoothing hurts it lots.

  9. jsutcliffe says:

    Team 17 were the business for a while. They made a lot of my favourites — Alien Breed, Project X, Superfrog (really), Worms, and this little gem which I’d pretty much forgotten about.

    They also made Body Blows, which kind of sucked but my brother discovered a cheat that won us a free copy of Supercars 2 from (I think/hope) Amiga Power, which made it worthwhile.

    What is it about RPS that makes me all nostalgic?

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    I actually had a soft spot for Body Blows Turbo, though realised it was only because it was the best fighter available on the PC. Which really wasn’t saying much.

    KG

  11. Helm says:

    Body Blows played really terribly. One Mast Fall 2099 was the only fighter for the PC. Was… is?

    What was really hilariously wrongly made though was Elfmania, Pretty extensive art assets (though with strange animation choices) used in one of the worst games ever.

  12. Hermit says:

    @ jsutcliffe

    Good old Superfrog with his magic Lucozade. There was an odd period of game to confectionary tie-ins around that time. Zool and Cool Spot also spring to mind.

  13. Schadenfreude says:

    Don’t forget the surplus of Penguin bars in Robocod.

  14. Blather Blob says:

    GameDev.net recently had an interview with Jamie Woodhouse about Qwak. It’s interesting and slightly depressing, as so many interviews with ’80s or ’90s gamedevs who are now trying to make it as indies tend to be.

  15. El Stevo says:

    [Edit: Blather Blob already posted it]

  16. Markoff Chaney says:

    Pfft. Amiga? In my day, we played in 4 colors and WE LIKED IT! We had tinny crap coming out of our one speaker and WE LIKED IT! Seriously though. I envied the hell out of Amiga owners, but I couldn’t get my dad to spring for one since the PC fit his needs and I sure didn’t have the money that thing cost as a kid. After we moved up from that 8088 to a 386 though, I never looked back for my gaming fix, though there were a couple IIGS and Mac titles that tried to sway me.

    This is kind of fun though. I fiddled with it a bit earlier this year, but maybe I need to give it a full session. I enjoy puzzling more than platforming, but it’s nice to see a developer still refining a game after so long, apparently.

    Fighting games on the PC were abysmal. I seem to remember a DOS Street Fighter port in the late 80s that sucked horribly (to be kind), and that’s even worse than SF1 was in the first place. At least my arcade I could bike to had the huge ass buttons you had to hit with SF1 that were pressure sensitive. That was something fun, at least. Until they broke, that is.

  17. Radiant says:

    He needs to remake Nitro!
    I bloody loved that game.

    ALSO! The finest fighting game [apart from ik+] on the amiga was Panza Kickboxing.
    Oh my god was that game good.

  18. Paradukes says:

    I wish someone would make Blobbo for the PC…

    Man, that was an awesome Mac game.

  19. Ben says:

    Someone needs to remake Zool (sponsored by Chubba Chups!) and second samurai (time travelling slash em up)!

  20. mashakos says:

    nobody remembers Full Contact? The title intro alone was teh awesome.

  21. Shadowcat says:

    I liked Quak on the BBC. I didn’t realise it had gone further a-field, so was a bit confused when I tried the PC demo a while back, as I found it far harder than I remembered. I think he must have added a bunch of new hazards when it was ported to other systems.