The Commodore 64 world thought that Chris Butler’s immense 1991 drive ’em up, TurboCharge, was his swansong for the machine. Chris had been behind pivotal Commie moments like Ghosts & Goblins and Commando. Famed for getting the very most out of the machine and going heavy on beautiful, thoughtful presentation, TurboCharge seemed like his natural 8-bit conclusion. Its lengthy intro includes overhead satellite shots of the landscape you’re about to smash through, and the roads themselves feature over 20 different kinds of vehicle. There’s a real sense of speed as helicopters swoop from above and even the light on the road changes. It feels like the culmination of a Commodore 64 career; a showcase of one of the scene’s biggest talents.
But then there was Arnie. £3.99 Arnie, looking a bit like Commando and with some blippy sound effects and tiny graphics and loading in a single go. It turned up out of nowhere in mid ’92, and was as far removed from big budget TurboCharge as you could imagine.
But it was awesome. Here’s the deal:
Once you hit fire to start the game, a helicopter drops you into the jungle and flies off. You grab your AR-15 assault rifle and begin to shoot the merry hell out of everything, en route to defeating an evil general. And that’s it.
Each of the baddies in the rain forest and military camps you encounter don’t actually shoot that much at you. But there are tons of them – plus tanks, helicopters and soldiers manned in guardposts. The interesting thing is that sometimes the best route through is patience. By not shooting at everything, you can usually take stock and plan a way through the carnage. The thing to do is to take it slow through the weaving roads but keep moving, lest you get over-run by enemies.
You can pick up new weapons by killing off any soldiers you see flagged up in pink. Usually it’s something cool like a flame thrower or even a rocket launcher. They’re really important for destroying bigger stuff like tanks.
It’s an addictive thing, is Arnie. “One more try” taken to extremes, ‘cos you usually learn something every time you’re killed off. You just want to keep going back – and can there be any greater achievement for a game? The isometric graphics are cool, even if some of the visuals are a bit small and disproportionate. And the sound effects, though initially kind of weedy and seemingly inappropriate, somehow kind of fit the game. They’re very video-gamey and just work. The explosions when you finish off something huge are particularly satisfying.
Arnie is a bit short, but it’s a £3.99-er. That fact has been lost in the 23 years since its release, and “being on budget” shouldn’t be held against it. It feels like the game Chris Butler always wanted to write and finally got ’round to, and the fact that the sequel – based on this game but nothing to do with Chris, and immeasurably poorer for it – is testament to the man. A great final hoorah after all. CF
WAS ARNIE REALLY A CHRIS BUTLER GAME?
Arnie took so many people by surprise that even today you’ll find it referred to as a bit of a mystery, even with his name right there on the titles. “It’s definitely THE Chris Butler”, says C64 expert Frank Gasking of Games That Weren’t. “The whole game has that style of his … even the title screen seems to be similiar to Thunderblade/720…Oh, and the high score too! It’s the same circular selection process. I really do honestly think that Arnie takes a lot of routines from 720 in particular! Nice bit of code recycling.”
And what about the game’s timing, so soon after TurboCharge? “Something like Arnie would have been quick for him to knock up (maybe only in a few months or less), especially if he was chucking together old routines.”
So there you go. Arnie – definitely by THE Chris Butler.
CF SAID: “Once you get the hang, you can’t leave it alone.”
WE SAY: The ultimate “one more game” game. If you’re a proper C64 nerd it’s fun to play it and then go back to some of Chris’s other work to see the joins, too.