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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.
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.
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:
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.
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: