Insert Disk collects Harlequin for the Commodore Amiga.
Today’s retro game review is Harlequin for the Commodore Amiga. This retro gaming classic has become a well loved Gremlin studio game over the years. Boldly marketing itself as “Probably the strangest game ever” may have been a bit of a miss-step though. Harlequin is a bright, bold and technically sound retro platformer, it just lacks the strangeness factor in certain areas. Alll in all though it is a solid game for any Amiga collector to track down.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Today I’ll be taking a look back at a game that proudly claims to be “Probably the strangest game ever!” Be prepared as we travel back to 1992 to rediscover Harlequin for the Commodore Amiga. This week’s retrospective has been a real challenge for me. I’m a big fan of the Amiga and the platforming genre in general but I also have an interest in games that go the extra mile to be themselves and a bit different from the crowd.
On the surface Harlequin is all of these things. Time and time again Harlequin also scores very favourably in past magazine reviews and fan reviews. So, why have I had a difficult week? Well, having last played Harlequin in my youth and remembering good times, the party now seems to be over. Could it be that the game just hasn’t aged very well in some areas? I appreciate that I may get a bit of backlash for this review but it is just an opinion. I know there is strong fan support for this game and Gremlins other titles. I must say it’s that not a bad game, just not quite as good as I remembered.
So, what’s it all about? The box informs us. Can you mend Chimericas broken heart? Harlequin has returned to his beloved homeland Chimerica to find it locked, inaccessible and broken hearted. Calling upon a myriad of methods, Harlequin must travel across this vast ever-changing land, to seek out and replace four segments of Chimericas broken heart. Harlequin’s determination in his task in this, ultra dynamic game is matched with equal venom by the weirdest assortment of characters ever known. Harlequin is played across 850 screens that will stretch even the most ardent games player’s skills. For what it’s worth the game does have a plot and claims a lot of its bright and crazy credentials. The boot up sequence is very promising. High quality music and some sharp menacing graphics. The game play is reasonably solid. As expected you’ll be platforming, collecting powerups, flicking switches and discovering secret areas. It’s all very much what you might expect from an early 90’s platformer. The graphics are good but not outstanding, the cheerful music does keep the game buoyant though.
After about 10 minutes of play it dawned on me though that I personally found the game to have a distinct lack of “strangeness”. Ok, there’s jumping clocks and thunder clouds but nothing really off the wall to write home about. The game does cover some interesting backdrops and scenarios but I feel it never really lives up to the bold statement of “Probably the strangest game ever!” Compare 1992’s Harlequin to 1989’s Weird Dreams by Rainbird and they are in different leagues altogether when it comes to strangeness. The box itself is perhaps better presented than the game. The bold imagery, stylised fonts all make it very appealing whilst he game disks came in both green and blue depending on the print run. Gremlin have done a good job with the manual as it does explain the power ups well but again lacks any real strangeness. When other games such as weird dreams came packed with supplementary material, the Seven Gates of Jambala was hand illustrated and Theme Park Mystery provided a whole occult section, a simple monochrome manual just doesn’t cut it for me if you are making claims around probably the strangest game ever. There’s no doubt in my mind that Gremlin have created a raft of high quality games. Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 being perhaps my favourite of them all. Harlequin itself is a high quality game, it perhaps just doesn’t live up to its own hype at times.
If you are looking to put Harlequin in you r collection expect to pay around the £10 to £15 mark here in the UK. The game is a little harder to get hold of in North America due to this being a British studio release. Still don’t expect to pay in excess of $20 though. As I mentioned earlier though, Harlequin does receive very high fan appreciation. It’s partly what has kept the collectors price above average for your standard 90’s platformer. That and there is a dedicated group of Gremlin software collectors. At face value Harlequin promises a lot. Outwardly it’s bright and appealing and all a bit crazy. When you get down to it though the actually experience is rather more of a technically savvy game that forces you in to playing methodically to complete each stage. As much as the internet reminds me that this is a classic, crazy experience, after all these years I still feel that I’m missing the joke when it comes to Harlequin.
If the game experience itself was truly strange then the player wouldn’t have to be kept being reminded that it is meant to be strange. It should emerge naturally. It’s very much like when someone wants to introduce you to their crazy friend. You’re told that they’re really cool, hilarious and the life of the party and that you’ll really get on. When you actually meet them though you realise that you don’t find them that entertaining, you just can’t click, those claims of being really crazy is really an enforced view rather than the truth. I won’t write Harlequin off as a retro game recommendation though. The game is bright with solid game design and a really good length. Despite the jumping being a bit floaty for my tastes it’s not a broken and it’s definitely possible to have fun with this one.
If you are looking to pick up a copy of Harlequin lower your expectations on the strangeness but be prepared for a fun, challenging afternoon of retro platform gaming.