I’m not sure why I’ve been in such a mood to write about ZX Spectrum games recently. It’s hardly my favourite games platform ever, and it wasn’t when I was a kid, because while I did have a Spectrum I didn’t get one until way after the system’s heyday and there’s no way a Spectrum is going to compete with a SNES. Jet Set Willy versus Super Mario World ain’t exactly a fair fight, you know? So, I think my current Spectrum mania comes from it having so many really weird games. That’s what I’m craving at the moment, daft games with bizarro premises. With that in mind, here’s Mar Entertainment’s 1990 beat-em-up Bloody Paws! It’s the story of a man who sets out to rescue his kidnapped wife by beating up everyone in his path. I know that doesn’t sound weird, but when I tell you the hero is a werewolf who sometimes fights Superman you’ll see why I decided to play it.
Here’s the werewolf now, flipping off anyone with the temerity to load up Bloody Paws. How rude. I was going to call him a swearwolf, but then I remembered that was a joke from the vampire comedy movie What We Do in the Shadows. There needs to be a special word for the unique disappointment of thinking you’ve come up with a good idea only to discover someone has done it before you. I suppose South Park’s “The Simpsons did it” bit is the closest we’ve got. Relatedly, it’s a shame there’s already a movie called “What We Do in the Shadows,” because now you can’t use that title for a Hank Marvin biography.
Anyway, back to Bloody Paws, and here’s a bit of plot for you. It’s in Spanish, because this is a game developed in Spain. They loved the Spectrum in Spain, and aside from the UK it was probably the country that took the Spectrum most to heart (it was pretty popular in Italy, too). Bloody Paws lays out its story gradually, with text appearing at regular intervals as the game unfolds, but I managed to find it all written down in one place so I slapped it into Google Translate. Here’s what I learned: our hero is searching for his kidnapped wife Samantha, and he’s going to track her down by the scent of the perfume that he bought her as an anniversary present. So far so straightforward, but you also learn that the werewolf’s given name is actually Bloody, which makes this the second Spanish ZX Spectrum game I’ve played where the main character is a monster called Bloody. Also, there is absolutely no mention of Bloody being a werewolf. That… that kinda seems like an oversight. Does his wife even know? She must do, there’s no evidence that Bloody ever turns back into his human form. Also she married someone called Bloody, that’s a big clue that your romantic partner isn’t just an average person.
Awóóóó, werewolves of Barcelona! There goes Bloody, prancing through the city streets at the beginning of his quest. I appreciate the irony of a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” poster for the Invisible Man with a picture of the Invisible Man on it. That’s pretty great. It's just a shame it doesn't say "have you seen this man?" on it. Anyway, Bloody Paws is a side-scrolling single-plane beat-em-up, so that’s more than enough to pique my interest. I love beat-em-ups, and I love famous horror movie monsters, so let’s hope the game itself isn’t terrible. Bloody can walk, jump and crouch, but he only has one attack. I think it’s supposed to be a mighty rending swipe from his razor-sharp claws, but it looks more like someone throwing “paper” in a half-hearted game of rock-paper-scissors. Still, it’s enough to get the job done and most enemies are defeated in one hit anyway.
Enemies such as the invisible man himself! He’s wearing a hat, coat and glasses to make himself not invisible, which is kind of a surprise. I’ve played enough brutally, joylessly difficult Spectrum games that the inclusion of genuine invisible enemies would not have surprised me. But the invisible men (for there are dozens of them) are clearly visible and are thus susceptible to being defeated by Bloody’s rather feeble-looking slaps. All the invisible men do is run towards you so beating them is nice and straightforward. Those wanted posters promised a fifty thousand dollar reward for the death of the Invisible Man, too. I don’t know if that’s fifty grand per dead invisible man or for killing all the invisible men, but either way Bloody is going to have some good news for his wife when he does find her.
After slapping a few invisible men around and moving a couple of screens to the right, Bloody is attacked by a new foe: the backwards-flying reclining Superman. No, really, that’s what this sprite is supposed to be. It took me a while to parse it, but it’s Superman – or at least a caped superhero who is clearly supposed to be Superman – flying through the air while laying on his back with his arms folded under his head. These men of steel fly horizontally across the screen like M. Bison performing a “lazy Sunday afternoon” version of his famous Psycho Crusher, and you have to either swat them out of the sky (because werewolves are stronger than Superman, apparently) or duck underneath them. I’d recommend ducking, it’s a lot less hassle.
No explanation is given as to why Superman is trying to kill Bloody. Bloody’s fighting on the side of justice here, Superman should be helping him out, not crashing into him on an invisible flying sun lounger. Perhaps Superman is upset by Bloody’s methods, i.e. tearing his enemies to ribbons with his werewolf claws. That seems like the kind of thing that would offend Superman’s moral sensibilities, but because Bloody is trying to save his lost love Superman attempts to chasten him with an extremely lethargic headbutt rather than by punting him into the Phantom Zone.
The third type of enemy in this first area are these chaps who chug a bottle of something and then throw up at you. Probably a bottle of White Lightning, then. They might seem less interesting than Superman or the Invisible Man, and from an aesthetic standpoint I suppose they are – I thought they might transform from a Jekyll into a Hyde after they’d finished drinking, which would fit in with the game’s theme, but no. They just vomit at you, which at least makes the gameplay a touch more interesting. With the other enemies, you’ll want to wait for them to come to you so you can eliminate them at your own pace, but because these winos can projectile vomit across the screen the best way to deal with them is to get up to them as quickly as possible and give them the ol’ werewolf slap before they can finish drinking. That kind of thing helps to keep the action just that little bit more engaging.
Once you’ve got a handle on how the three types of enemies work, this first area consists of slowly inching forward to make sure you’re not taken by surprise when one of them suddenly appears in front of or even behind you. Bloody is reasonably responsive, but the play area is cramped and the enemies move quickly, so you need as much time as possible to react, particularly when you’ve got to duck underneath something.
Speaking of ducking, Bloody looks way more like a dog when you’re crouching. I think it’s his ears. You could also be forgiven for thinking he looks kinda like a pig. Perhaps the more he relinquishes his human side, by refusing to walk on two legs and scrabbling around on all fours for example, the more bestial he becomes.
There’s nothing so interesting as a boss or anything at the end of the area: once you reach a certain point it just… stops, and you get the next piece of flavour text concerning Bloody’s journey. It says that Bloody’s ferocity is limitless but he still has a long way to go. Neither of these things are true. Bloody Paws is a short game, and Bloody attacks with the ferocity of an old man trying to shoo away a fly on a muggy summer’s day.
The next place you visit – calling it a “stage” feels a bit too generous – appears to be some kind of public park. Your two main opponents here are bouncing balls and kids on skateboards. Not exactly sticking to the fantastical themes of the first area, huh? At least the bouncing balls make sense: being half-dog, throwing a ball near Bloody is probably the best way to distract him without spending a fortune on strings of sausages. As for the skateboard kids, well, while some of the other villains in this game are inspired by the freaks of classic literature I don’t think they’re supposed to be Quasimodo or anything. They’re just not very well drawn, in a way that makes them look like hunchbacks. Radical, gnarly hunchbacks.
On the other hand, this fountain is rather well drawn, don’t you think? It’s as though this park has its own neoclassical folly, complete with urinating cherub. Okay, not urinating, there’s no, erm, spray coming out of that thing. I’d have trouble going if a werewolf was watching, too. And don’t worry, there are also dumpsters and crashed cars scattered about, I wouldn’t want you thinking that this ZX Spectrum game which began with a rude werewolf performing an offensive hand gesture was going to get classy or anything.
The appearance of the skateboard kids makes Bloody Paws a much more difficult game, because they don’t just roll around on the floor: they can spring up to chest height as well, which means you’ve got to rely more on reacting to their movements by either clobbering them or ducking under them when they jump up. This is in direct contrast to the cautious, patient style of play that saw me through the first area, and I must shamefacedly admit that once or twice I panicked and tried to outrun the skateboard kids. You cannot out run them. They are faster and more aggressive than a werewolf, and will surround and annihilate you. The lesson I took away from this is that Bloody Paws is a game where memorisation is key, and that you really, really shouldn’t hammer the attack button. If you do, Bloody will momentarily forget how to attack, leaving you defenceless as he tries to figure out which of the fifty times you told him to punch is the punch he should be throwing.
We’re at the half-way point, and you have to flip the tape over and load up side two to continue. The game gives you a password at the end of the first half that unlocks the second half, just in case you thought you’d be able to bypass the first half of the game completely, you unscrupulous cur.
There’s more plot text, too – Bloody has travelled all the way across the city but hasn’t found his wife, although he can still smell her perfume. Hang on, still? I know he’s got the heightened senses of a werewolf, but his wife must have poured that perfume on like a fourteen-year-old kid dousing himself in Lynx before his first date if Bloody can still smell it.
The second half of the game takes place in the great outdoors, with forests, raging waterfalls and aggressive birds that swoop towards Bloody’s face for no adequate reason I could see. I say birds, on closer inspection they might be small robot pterodactyls. Whatever they are, they jerkily flap towards you and you have to awkwardly slap them out of the air in a battle that makes a mockery of the supposed grace of both wolves and birds.
Much more entertaining foes are the mummies who use their bandages as a skipping rope. Bloody Paws really can’t seem to settle on a consistent tone, huh? You’ve got a “serious” plot about a werewolf trying to rescue his kidnapped wife, who is hampered on his mission by murderous invisible men and leaping reanimated skulls… but then there’s backstroking Superman and the skipping mummies that would be more at home in an episode of Count Duckula. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint. I wanted a weird Spectrum game, and Bloody Paws has delivered.
There’s some interesting statuary out in the woods. You don’t often see artists creating monuments to handless, mullet-sporting pro-wrestler types emerging from what seems to be a pile of manure in a parody of the works of Ancient Greece, but here we are. Even Bloody seems to have been taken aback by this powerful piece of art.
So, I made my way through the stage from left to right, meticulously dodging the bouncing skulls and clawing at the skipping mummies until I reached what can only be described as an evil staircase. A veritable ziggurat of gargoyles stand before me, which is a problem because Bloody can’t climb it. He can jump, and unlike the first half of the game there are some platforms in the woods that you can climb on to, but he cannot jump high enough to make it onto the gargoyle staircase. I tried many, many times, because I’ve played Spectrum games before and I figured there was an ninety percent chance it just wanted my to get my jump absolutely pixel-perfect, but no – this is a dead end. What you’re supposed to do is travel from right to left. Right to left? What kind of madness is that? It’s against all videogame laws! This means I’ve got to slog my way back through the half of the stage that I’ve already been through – and the enemies respawn, because of course they do – just to get back to where I started. I actually tried loading the second half of the game again, and you can indeed completely ignore this side of the map and just go left from the start. This entire area is totally superfluous, and if it hadn’t been filled with grinning, mobile skulls and mummies using their own wrappings as jump-ropes I would have felt rather aggrieved about having struggled over here in the first place.
Okay, now we’re actually making progress. However, progress is slow, thanks to the sudden appearance of spikes all over the sodding floor. They can be quite hard to see – there’s some just behind Bloody in the screenshot above – and you have to be extremely careful about jumping over them as they move in and out of the ground, bringing a game where progress is already very slow to a grinding halt. Less spikes and more kinds of weirdo monsters would have been better, I reckon.
On the bright side, here’s a cool statue of the grim reaper harassing a skeleton. This is very much My Kind of Thing, although on a conceptual level it doesn’t make much sense: if the hooded figure with the scythe is Death, and that seems like a reasonable assumption, then he’s wasting his time trying to harvest the life of this skeleton who has clearly been dead for quite some time. Not to worry, I have an alternative explanation. This is a vignette from the lives of a family of grim reapers. The skeleton on the plinth is actually a teenage grim reaper who’s struggling to get out of bed before noon, and the other grim reaper is his mum, flinging open the curtains and telling her shiftless sun to get up and get his robes on because the soul of these mortals aren’t going to harvest themselves.
Then I reached the final boss, and it’s a rollerskating Frankenstein. There’s not much more you can add to that, is there? “Rollerskating Frankenstein” is a phrase that needs no extra explanation or discussion, apart from maybe “why don’t more videogames have rollerskating Frankensteins?”
As for the fight itself, it’s all about timing. Rollerfrank moves towards you, and you have to slap him just before he reaches you to knock him on his blasphemously stitched-together arse. Then he gets back up and rolls towards you again, so you slap him down again, and so on and so forth until the boss realises his plan isn’t working and he gives up. Congratulations, you’ve just finished Bloody Paws. Hang on, if “Bloody” is his actual name, does that mean “Bloody Paws” is his full name? Please, call me Bloody, Mr. Paws was my father and also a dog.
The ending of the game is rough on poor old Bloody… I think. My Spanish is not great, and Google Translate only goes so far, but I think what’s happening here is that Bloody is being told that his wife didn’t actually love him and discarded him like a “vulgar object” (and also because he’s a goddamn werewolf, one would assume) but also that she’ll come back one day begging for forgiveness. How depressing, I sure am glad I slogged my way through this game for that ending.
Speaking of, did I actually enjoy playing Bloody Paws? You know, I kinda did. It’s certainly better than Sabrina, and aesthetically it’s not so much “my cup of tea” as it is “my Olympic swimming pool filled with PG Tips.” However, there’s not much to it, and its biggest problem is its difficulty and the need to memorise the position of every upcoming enemy to make progress. Modern games have ruined me in this regard, and I simply don’t have the patience to sit down and learn every nuance of a mediocre Spectrum beat-em-up. If I’d had this when I was a kid, though… then I would have spent hours mapping it out in minute detail, eager to see what weirdos and freaks lurked on the next screen. Plus, you can’t argue with rollerskating Frankenstein.
Before I leave you, I just wanted to show you Bloody Paws’ cover art because it’s amazing and has surprisingly little to do with the actual game itself beyond including a werewolf. Bloody himself is the main focus, of course, but other than there’s a lot to wonder about. Is that grim reaper supposed to be the statue from the second half of the game? Is the bikini-clad woman Bloody’s wife? Whoever she is she seems to be the glamorous assistant to the grim reaper. Why is Lex Luthor making an appearance at the bottom left of the image, just next to a maniacal policeman? There are no answers to these questions, but I’m certain I once saw this cover in the horror section of my local video rental place. If I could find an extremely high resolution version of this image, I’d be out shopping for printer ink and picture frames right now.
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