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The Top 7... Maddest British old-school games

When you think of insane video game design, Japan probably springs immediately to mind. But “Pah!” say we. British games have a far more unhinged history of dribbling head-sickness, and it’s about bloody time their delightful nonsense was paid tribute.

Maybe it was due to our isolation on a small island. Maybe it was because the conventions of game design hadn’t been so cruelly strapped around our innocent hearts. But during the ‘80s, Britain put out batshit insane games as a matter of course, and barely seemed to even notice the lunacy. Some were mad because they were just mad. Some were mad due to massive artistic experimentation. And the most quintessentially British ones were mad because they were based around the most mundane activities imaginable, without a jot or irony.

This is their story. This is their madness. Brace yourself and enjoy.


7. Hover Bovver (1984)

How mad is it?

Modern games play on our natural rebellious instincts. They know that we like to break the rules, so they let us. Whether it’s the criminal-as-you-want-it-to-be Grand Theft Auto or the developer-enforced murder of the innocent in Prototype, we rightly love games that let us partake in caddishness, bounderdom and fiendery. Hover Bovver however, takes it one step further than either of the above titles and gives us the vicarious thrill of borrowing a neighbour’s lawnmower and not giving it back! You may think that's no big deal, but in England it’s an affront second only to questioning the Queen’s taste in hats. They’ll cut out your guts and use them to strangle you ‘til your face pops off. And they’ll be right to.

In Hover Bovver, you have to mow for your life while avoiding the rapid advances of your neighbour. Yes, that’s right, you even flaunt your soul-destroying crime right in his stupid face! On top of that, you can even mulch the living shit out of flower beds, inciting the further rage and pain of a gardener character. And those GTA hookers think they have it bad... At least they have crack to cheer them up. The noble English suburbanite must suffer his hardships with naught but a small sherry after 7PM.

It should come as no surprise that Hover Bovver sprang from the bottomless lunacy pump that is the mind of psychedelic video game auteur Jeff Minter, creator of Gridrunner and Space Giraffe. Do not be surprised, oh connoisseurs of fetid delirium, if his name comes up again during this article.

How did they sell this lunacy?

 

Graphics representative of gameplay.

Bonus madness

Released in 1984, Hover Bovver features one of the earlier examples of Minter's recurring "sheep as power-ups" motif. But Minter's games aren't the only place that sheep and psychadelia meet. Take for example, this mind-blowing (though faked) Samsung promo:



6. Super Trolley (1988)

How mad is it? 

Just as the anarchy of lawn-mowing had dispelled your allusions of the British as a reserved and mundanity-obsessed race, along comes a supermarket shelf-stacking simulator to ruin things. And it’s a game created by one of our young youth-folk too! It’s no wonder that this guy was our answer to Elvis.

Let’s put this game into even more stark contrast with a little history lesson. Between 1975 an 1994, there was a British TV show called Jim’ll Fix it. Every Saturday evening, stalwart radio DJ and TV presenter Jimmy Savile would answer the prayers of the kids, they having written in asking him to realise their greatest and most extravagant dreams. Some performed live with their favourite bands. Some appeared in their favourite TV shows. Young Andrew Collett however, had an idea for a game, and he was bloody well going to get it made.

Above: You even got to price up tins at the start. You can smell the anarchy!

His medium-changing thrill ride of digital wish fulfilment? A game based around working in a super market, involving the pushing of a trolley during an epic quest to put things on the right shelves. While avoiding old ladies and removing stray dogs from the premises. The kid knew how to party.

How did they sell this lunacy?

 

With white-label, own-brand produce and an cigar-chomping celebrity OAP.

Bonus madness

Jimmy Savile is widely accepted as the inventor of club DJing. Seriously. He started playing records in dancehalls in the early ‘40s while live bands were still the norm, and was the first person to use two turntables for continuous play. He also claims to have invented rap, though that proclamation is a little more dubious:

Topics

Top 7

33 comments

  • LikaLaruku - January 31, 2010 8:44 a.m.

    I am baffled & confuse, good sir. @_@
  • jnewco81 - October 25, 2009 4:08 p.m.

    I remember having Flunky on the Spectrum - hard as nails and pretty unforgiving - as most games were way back then! Good fun though
  • super0sonic - October 25, 2009 7:57 a.m.

    Oh man I totally played the crap out of "Attack of the Mutant Camels" Man I forgot that game ever existed!!
  • theres1dentevil - October 25, 2009 1:01 a.m.

    i want a modern remake of hover bovver like yesterday. watched the vid and nearly died laughing. ace!
  • JohnDD - October 21, 2009 5 p.m.

    This is why I love UK and Jap games - US games are too RAWK AN ROLL! HELL YEAH I HATE Y'ALL British music in the 80s was pioneering, just like the 80s games scene (must have been something in the water back then). I like my games to be unique. Another great read from the Houghton - thanks.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - October 21, 2009 4:04 p.m.

    Yar: That's why I bought an American SNES in the early '90s and started importing.
  • Yar - October 21, 2009 3:53 p.m.

    This blog does well to illustrate why I don't like being a gamer in Britain. You lucky yanks over there got I-Ninja, Megaman Anniversary Collection, Earthbound, the SNES Chrono Trigger, and 3 Final Fantasy Games before FFVII. Meanwhile, we got... Hover Bovver. Hover Bovver.
  • noobeater - October 20, 2009 8:18 p.m.

    haha article made me smile, thank god many were before my time as i dont think i could stand it, besides the 90's were a peach of a decade to grow up in. Obviously us british rule with are tea and constant nagging and fish and chips and inferior dentistry, and looks like the british Gamesradar are becoming the leading gamesradar article writers. 'GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!'
  • IHateMakingUserIDs - October 20, 2009 5:27 p.m.

    Did anyone else see Barack Obama in the Flunky game? Look again, he's on the right, ridign the rocking horse.
  • Xplosive59 - October 20, 2009 3:02 p.m.

    gah these games make me feel bad for being british
  • crumbdunky - October 20, 2009 2:05 p.m.

    rxb-I'm surprised there was neither JSW NOR Manic Miner on this "inspired by the "real Retro" featyre from Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe from BBC the other night! Practically all of this can be pulled back to that TV show and that's no bsad thing when you think of the clever way around lack of 3D Sentinel managed at that time. Old British C64 and Speccy games are the muts nuts for me as far as retro goes even IF Jet Set Willy was broken in two places and you needed to glitch it twice(and know where to do it too) just to get to halfway through the damn game(just after The Banyan Tree level IIRC-could be wrong it's long time since I allowed this game to ruin my mood!). But even if it was criminally broken it was still hyper mad and imaginative and deserved a place here as a game some more folk would have played. Even the old £1.99 C64 games could be good AND mad. I remember a rip off version of Paperpboy crossed with NMX bandits type thing which wasincane and you got points for avioding city gents and grannies who would stick unbrellas and walking sticks into your spokes respectively. You could always rely on a mental celevration screen wit cool 8bit music too when you beat a game-usually with crap pretend fireworks too! We brits know what mental is-comes from being on an island surrounded by vountries you constantly go to war with for thousands of years. Paraniod invention I calls it! Recaptcha-nebraska bye
  • rxb - October 20, 2009 1:15 p.m.

    Ahh the good old days. I loved Ocean as a company they put some good Amstrad games out. Im surprised Jet set Willy didnt make the list. Ive meet Sir Jimmy Savile a few times. One time he had a Doctors ID card with a picture of Robert de Niero on it. True fact.
  • brickman409 - October 20, 2009 2:25 a.m.

    haha I should be drinking me some tea while playing a bitish game eh
  • Amnesiac - October 20, 2009 2:16 a.m.

    @TestDDs: PLEASE tell me you were trying to be a black hole of funny.
  • AMayer - October 20, 2009 1:49 a.m.

    Holy crap. British people are insane. I'm glad I live in America where the people are much less crazy. Ha, ya right.
  • Onedown - October 20, 2009 1:36 a.m.

    Maybe its just me but none of the videos are working. :/
  • TestDDs - October 20, 2009 1:31 a.m.

    @michaelmcc827 because your mom was a the top 7 of best times in bed last night
  • Unoriginal - October 20, 2009 1:07 a.m.

    Read the whole feature with Guru Larrys voice in my head. A good feature becomes better.
  • michaelmcc827 - October 20, 2009 12:06 a.m.

    why do I not care about this top 7 at all...
  • garnsr - October 19, 2009 9:54 p.m.

    John Pertwee's my second favorite Doctor, after Peter Davison. Odd song. The sheep video was awesome! Any chance any of the Brits will be on Talk Radar? This list definitely seems to need a British perspective to discuss it. There were a number of typos (presumably) in this, like saying our "allusions" were shattered, instead of illusions, and saying the music was the most "interested" part of Sentinel Returns. Aren't those the sorts of things we just heard that the American guys don't take lightly?

Showing 1-20 of 33 comments

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