Rock stars just can't help themselves. Having conquered the music charts, the next step is to widen their appeal (and their bloated heads) further by gatecrashing other media, such as TV, films, and yes, videogames.
In quite literal fashion our journey begins with Journey. You surely remember this US rock band? You might not have owned one of their albums, but you've no doubt heard at least one of their tunes - probably Don't Stop Believin' - on that soft rock collection you purchased from a motorway service station in a moment of weakness. Over in the States Journey were huge during the early '80s, with their 1981 Escape album going nine times platinum. So it's perhaps not surprising that they were the first band to be miniaturised, Innerspace-style, and blasted into a videogame cartridge.
The game was Journey Escape for the Atari 2600, and the guilty party behind this unholy union was Data Age. Licensed videogames were something of a new phenomenon, especially on the 2600, where carts based on The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark had done mega-business. Data Age wanted a piece of the pie and reportedly stumped up a serious sum to sign the band, before spending an equally exorbitant amount on advertising the game. However, Data Age was obviously rubbing its hands together in such glee that it completely forgot to create anything remotely resembling a game.
"You're on the road with America's hottest rock group," ran the ad. "You're the only player who can help Journey make it to their scarab escape vehicle. Only you can outsmart the promoters, avoid the photographers and fight off the love-crazed groupies..." Despite the fact that the boys were on the road, riding the wave as one of the top rock acts in the country, we're led to believe that the last thing Journey wanted to see after a sell-out gig was a sweaty throng of sex-crazed female fans. Still, a job's a job, and yours was to guide each of the five band members from the stage door to their vehicle, dodging the aforementioned 'threats' on the way. Featuring awful graphics and repetitive play, the game did at least feature a passable rendition of Don't Stop Believin', which was something of surprise considering the primitive hardware.
Having jizzed away so much money signing the band and promoting the game, only to see the game miserably fail, a stony-broke Data Age desperately sold the rights to Bally Midway. Having enjoyed success with its multi-part Tron game, the arcade company concocted a bizarre compendium coin-op, this time based around the band's 1983 album, Frontiers. The story goes that the band has somehow lost its instruments in the depths of space (they really were going out on a limb to avoid those love-crazed groupies), and you must venture into the unknown to get them back. Unlike the 2600 game, each band member had their own game, based on popular titles of the day like Galaxian, Scramble and Donkey Kong. The results were interesting, enjoyable even, but the most memorable thing about the game was that it actually featured the band's digitised faces stuck on tiny stick bodies. The cabinet was also fairly unique in that it housed a cassette player which pumped out real Journey music during a 'live concert' bonus round. It was almost as if the band were crammed inside the cab, playing just for you.
If that had indeed been the case they would probably still be trapped in there now, banging miserably on the plywood interior, as punters gave the game a wide birth. The Journey arcade game disappeared without a trace, and with it the prospect of future rock-videogame nuptials.
Shaking all over
Over in the UK, meanwhile, the charts were being rocked by one Shakin' Stevens. You've got to respect Shaky, and that's not a sentence I thought I'd ever commit to print. He deserves respect because he saw the appeal of 'retro' before many in the record industry (Jive Bunny, Levi's Ad executives etc.) by releasing cod '60s rock ‘n' roll songs in the '80s. He looked back, yes, but one eye looked forward to the exciting new world of computers and videogames.
Seeing the potential marketing opportunities of endorsing his own computer game, Shaky starred in his very own title - The Shaky Game. But rather than go to all the trouble and expense of creating and releasing a standalone game, Shaky sneaked a Spectrum game onto the cassette version of his 1983 album, The Bop Won't Stop. So it was a freebie, but that's no reason to forgive him.
Beginning with an introduction from the man himself, the game cleverly incorporated references to his lyrics. "Hi, I'm Shaky!" it began, just in case you were in any doubt. "It's late, close to midnight," he says, setting the scene and slowly building atmosphere. "You have to help me reach this ole house of vampires before my fuel runs out. Watch out for the flying bats - they will drive you crazy!" he jokes, with a pun that fails to break the tension. "If you reach the house quickly you might win something. Do your best - give me your heart tonight." It seems that even in the witching hour, Shaky still tries it on, which once again is a reason to respect the aging rocker.
To recap then, the player has to drive around a maze to the 'ole house', finding the quickest route possible to save fuel (Shaky, even in those days, was aware of environmental issues), while avoiding bats. Written in BASIC, The Shaky Game wasn't exactly what you'd call survival horror, although playing it was a pretty horrific experience. The planned sequel, a celebrity wrestling match between Shaky and Richard Madeley, is currently stuck in development hell.
Shaky wasn't the only pop icon to hit the Spectrum scene. Being named after a pair of poncy French detectives from the poncy Tin Tin stories, it stood to reason that poncy new wave popsters The Thompson Twins would star in their very own poncy text adventure game. The Thompson Twins Adventure came on a flexi-disc and was given away with Computer & Video Games magazine.
The adventure began with the floppy-haired threesome on a beach with exits north, south, east and west. Sadly, telling the Twins to 'go west' didn't see them bump into Peter Cox or Richard Drummie, but with further exploration they would find such delights as a jar, a newspaper and a kite, as well as finding themselves up a tree. Those with the patience of a coma victim could no doubt spend hours typing in commands and exploring sandy beaches and forests, trying to find the 'Doctor', but inevitably most would end up tapping in obscenities instead. Funnily enough, if you sent the Twins north from the starting position they'd drown in the sea. Wishful thinking maybe?
Former punks The Stranglers were another band who released a text adventure for the Spectrum. Appearing on the band's 1984 album, Aural Sculpture, and written by the band's keyboardist Dave Greenfield, Aural Quest placed you in the shoes of The Stranglers tour manager, and saw you collecting parts of a giant ear. Anyone expecting to chuck tellies out of hotel windows, drive cars into swimming pools, or even secure some Golden Brown for the band, would be seriously disappointed by this sedate affair.
Somewhere more daring, but no less odd, was Ocean's Frankie Goes to Hollywood game. Videogames aren't well known for their representation of minorities, especially when it comes to sexuality. So you'd be forgiven for thinking that Spyro the Dragon was the world's first gay gaming icon. Not so; Frankie Goes to Hollywood, leaders of the '80s pink pop explosion, stepped into the games arena in 1985, thanks to licensing kings Ocean Software.
It was a rather surreal adventure game in which the player had to become a 'real' person, thereby escaping everyday life and finding peace in the 'Pleasuredome'. You became 'real' by earning pleasure points from doing nice things, such as giving a cat some milk. Honestly, there couldn't have been a friendlier game. Of more interest, and slightly more archaic, were the arcade mini-games found inside the Pleasuredome (which were accessed by stepping through TVs and computer screens). Once inside you got to control President Reagan's head and spit in Gorbachev's face. Like you do. You also had to defend the city of Liverpool from a wave of German bombers.
Frankie stands out as one of the most bizarre games ever released, which is perhaps befitting of such an odd licence. Half the time is spent trying to work out exactly what the hell is going on, and neither the band nor the eponymous Frankie make an appearance. Thankfully Ocean had the foresight to include an audio cassette which could be synched up to play along with the game, giving a spoken tutorial as the player explored a Liverpudlian suburb.
Let's fast forward several years to 1992 and the release of Motorhead on the ST and Amiga. The guys behind the game were obviously crying into their beer over the dominance of dance music in the charts, presumably leading to an alcohol-fuelled fantasy which saw rock demigod Lemmy beat some sense into a jilted generation. This fantasy quickly became a scrolling beat-'em-up in which Lemmy wipes the dance floor with ravers, country fans, karaoke singers and anyone else foolish enough to question the virtues of hard rock.
Featuring great cartoon graphics and packed with humour, Motorhead is easily the best game to be found in this feature (which isn't really saying much). How much input Lemmy had is unknown, but I can only assume that he issued a grunt of approval - particularly as his character downs bottles of whisky to top up his health.
Meanwhile, over in the States, EA was busy doing a deal with notorious rockers Motley Crue. Over the years many acts have lent their names to pinball machines, and pinball videogames have always been popular, so it stood to reason that a celebrity endorsed pinball videogame would be a winner. And so Crue Ball was released for the Mega Drive, and it wasn't half as bad as it sounds. Featuring renditions of 'classic' Motley Crue tracks such as Dr. Feelgood, Home Sweet Home and Live Wire, Crue Ball was your everyday pinball game, except with the added hairspray and skulls that came with the territory of the musical man-whores. The intention was to hit various targets on screens one and two, which opened up the third tier where the real scoring could begin. With the third screen completed, the player gained access to the volume control, and in the true spirit of rock 'n' roll, was able to crank it up to 11... although to be honest you could just turn up the volume on your TV.
In 1994 Pacific Gameworks put a proposal together for a Jaguar game that could have single-handedly changed the fortunes of the ailing machine. Had it been made, that is. The Jaguar is best remembered for the excellent Aliens Versus Predator, but had Pacific not been ignorant to the power of Aussie rockers AC/DC, the story may have been very different. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the best game that never was - AC/DC: Defenders of Metal.
The basic premise was not too far removed from the Motorhead game. The band, collectively and as individuals, would fight their way to musical supremacy by battling the best of each musical genre, taking on representatives from disco, hip-hop, pop, jazz, and country, until they had proved themselves as the rampaging, hard-rocking, crown rulers of music. The thought of a digitised Angus Young in his schoolboy uniform versus MC Hammer and his giant pants, battling each other for world domination is almost too much to comprehend. Or maybe Brian Johnson, sporting his trademark flat cap, facing off against Bruce Springsteen with his rubbish ripped denim, swinging microphones like deadly medieval knights in a true fight for the right to ROCK is sadly something we'll never experience. They say that some of the best games are never actually made, which was surely the case when a big, fat, suited executive stamped the Defenders of Metal proposal with a huge rubber rejected stamp.
Walk that way
We all know that since the 11th September 2001 attacks the world has changed. Governments are now more alert than ever, and each ruling nation has plans for terrorist assaults including such terrible scenarios as chemical attacks, dirty bombs, hi-jacked planes and suicide bombers. But there's one frightening situation that I suspect no nation has adequately prepared for. What if aging US rockers Aerosmith were kidnapped?
Luckily, Midway approached this controversial subject in 1994 with Revolution X. This infamous arcade game introduced the New Order Nation, an organisation whose goal was to enslave 'the kids' by suppressing all forms of entertainment. Of course in 1994, when NON was looking to kidnap leading figures from the world of music, it stood to reason they'd snatch leotard-rockers Areosmith, who were having something of a resurgence at the time with their Get a Grip album. I can only imagine the kidnappers used up an entire roll of duct tape on Steven Tyler's gigantic mouth and famously groping hands.
It was up to the player then to save Aerosmith and free the world's youth by firing guns loaded with CD ammo ("Music is the weapon", see) at badly digitised sprites, all to the accompaniment of such genuine classics as Walk This Way and Toys In the Attic. That's right - Revolution X was a light-gun game, and I'm sure that the publisher, developer, coding team, cabinet maker and the band members themselves would not mind me pointing out that Revolution X is easily the worst light-gun game ever made. And instead of trying to contain this filth, Midway allowed it to seep onto the home console market.
And it's with Revolution X that the curtain falls. Other games followed, including the crazy four-player beat-'em-up Wu Tang: Taste the Pain on the PlayStation, and the tenuous FPS Kiss: Psycho Circus on the Dreamcast. And besides, Revolution X is a good place to wrap as it proves beyond a doubt that music/videogame crossovers will never, ever work. Bands should stick to what they're good at, rather than desperately trying to appeal to the kids by appearing in a badly implemented, poorly produced, embarrassing effort of a game. Play rock 'n' roll. Play videogames. But don't try and play them together.