“I was asked to think of a cute character”, says CJ’s Elephant Antics graphic artist Jonathan Smyth. “So I came up with an elephant with big floppy ears. And just to turn the cuteness on its head, we had him chuck bombs and spit out peanuts.”
We first meet Genesis games’ CJ – Columbus Jumbo – in the first outing’s Indiana Jones inspired intro. The baby elephant is on board a plane, bound for a zoo in England. Breaking free, he jumps from the cargo hold with just an umbrella to break his fall. CJ lands in Paris, which is where you take control. There are four colourful platform-based levels to navigate, also taking in Switzerland, Egypt and our hero’s native Africa. Between stages, a bonus level in which you collect balloons for lives and points sees you on a, er, bike.
Each level is usually centered around a specific landmark. “I always wanted to draw the Eiffel Tower and pyramids!”, remembers Jonathan. The enemy sprites are impressive and funny, too: in Paris, for example, you must avoid frogs and ‘Allo ‘Allo style police. They are defeated with either a jab of fire (to spit out nuts) or a pull downwards on the stick (which’ll throw out a bomb). Both of these are accurate and effective means of attack; you’re more likely to lose a life by failing at some of the pixel-perfect jumps that are required, or getting impaled on a spike you can’t see until it’s too late. CJ falls in slow motion, aided by his umbrella, but it’s still sometimes not enough.
Those frustrations aside, what hits you about CJ is how slick it is. Commodore Format noted at the time it looked more like a full-price release, and therein lies a story. The original CJ game, we can reveal, started out life as the very first attempt at The New Zealand Story for Ocean – putting to bed years of rumours about the similarity between the two games.
“The Genesis guys had started on NZS but for whatever reason Ocean decided to pull it and bring it in-house”, says C64 expert Frank Gasking. “It’s possible the in-house team were short of projects, so it was brought in at an early stage to keep them busy.”
Richard Palmer dutifully began the game from scratch for Ocean (“it was very much, ‘here’s the arcade game, make that on the C64 will you?'”), leaving the CJ guys with a ready-made engine to use on something else. And that something became Elephant Antics.
So there you have it – it might be budget in terms of its mere four levels, but the engine and everything else is very much full-price. CJ was a huge hit, spawning a more-of-the same sequel set in the US just ten months later and conversions to the NES and Amiga. A third game, CJ In Space, was reported in Commodore Format‘s preview section soon after but was never released. It’s not clear if anything was ever started, but Genesis say they weren’t involved this time around.
Strangely, CJ’s Fourth Adventure did see the light of day. It was nothing to do with the original team either and isn’t a patch on the previous adventures. Codemasters pulled out of the C64 market before it was finished, and the game eventually appeared in Germany as Jimbo.
Right from CJ‘s fantastic intro, the first two games of the series ooze class. With an impossibly joyful soundtrack, colourful landscapes and a much under-appreciated two player option it is no wonder Jonathan’s “elephant with big floppy ears” became publisher Codemasters’ biggest 8-bit hit after Dizzy. CF
CF SAID: “It has the polish and playability of full price games.”
WE SAY: If you can’t enjoy CJ, you really must be trying. Worth loading up for the soundtrack alone.
- Read Roger Frames’ full review of CJ 1 here, and 2 here. Play Jimbo here.
- Go back to the CF’s Best Of Budget homepage
- Play CJ 1 here, and 2 here (requires C64 emulator)
- Additional words and research by Frank Gasking, Andy Roberts and Sam Dyer. Visit Frank’s archive of unreleased C64 games here and buy Sam’s C64 book here.