New Zealand home to the Maori people, location for the Lord of the Rings films, birthplace of the world renowned mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and the setting of a late 80’s video game. Today’s sidenote takes a look back at the very first video game that I ever played, so be prepared for me to wax nostalgic about retro pixelated side-scrolling gameplay. The New Zealand Story is the game in question or Kiwi Kraze as it was known in the US. The game was created by Taito that same game developers who made Space Invaders and Double Dragon, it was original released to the arcade in 1988. The game was later ported to numerous different devices and even had a remake for the Nintendo DS twenty years on from its initial release. It was the 1989 Amiga version that I played, which wasn’t too different from the original arcade version. For those of you who might be too young to remember or had just forgotten about them, Amiga was series of PC’s built by Commodore back in the late 80’s. They were defunct a decade later, resulting from the downfall of Commodore and then later Escom. The Amiga PC is oft forgotten by many but it did feature some of the best graphics hardware on the market at the time, which made it popular with graphic designers and early CGI artist. The particular Amiga that I owned or more specifically my brother owned was the Amiga 500, which was the low budget version of their more powerful machines. Not to get too side tracked on the topic of Amiga computers but one interesting thing was that the company had a bit of an obsession with the band The B-52’s and subsequently had the names of their songs printed onto the circuit boards of the computers they built. The Amiga 500 in particular had the song “Rock Lobster” printed onto its circuit boards. Not to critic their musical preferences but why would anyone be that enamoured with the B-52’s too plaster their songs on all your PC’s circuit boards.
“Boss battles were always fun, you actually got swallowed up by the whale and had to avoid getting hit on the head with water droplets”
The games story involves a sneaker clad Kiwi called Tiki who has to save his girlfriend and his other Kiwi friends from the evil clutches of a malevolent leopard seal named Wally. Personally I have always thought Tiki looked more like a baby chick then a Kiwi bird, where’s his distinctive long beak. The game itself does offer some variance on the side-scrolling genre with the addition of multiple vehicles that can be used to fly around the level. The levels themselves are not in the traditional linear pattern that most side-scroller’s follow, but instead are laid out like a maze that often can only be navigated by the use of the balloons, blimps, UFO’s or other various means of airborne transport. The game offered a reasonable level of difficulty although honestly from what I remember of playing it, I don’t think I made to the end and saved all my Kiwi brethren. Admittedly I was very young at the time and continual failing over and over didn’t seem to bother me as much as I know it would now. The novelty of whizzing round the levels on a balloon dodging projectiles was enough for me, how things were simpler back then. This is a game made by a Japanese company so the art design reflects that cultural influence. Relatively speaking I think it still holds up in all its 2D pixelated glory and who can argue against vampire cats, bears in aviator gear or koalas wearing sunglasses. Obviously nobody told the games creators that koalas were from Australia, with some enemies even using boomerangs as projectiles.
“The final boss was often mistakenly viewed as a Walrus instead of the intended Leopard Seal, although calling him Wally doesn’t help clear things up”
For those of you wishing to take on the role of a revenge fuelled Kiwi, there no need to go searching eBay for Amiga relics that are often overpriced. There are countless emulators that will allow you to play this arcade classic with MAME a good choice for those with a penchant for classic arcade titles. I’m sure many of you will have never played this game let only played it on an Amiga PC, but for me it was the start of a fixation with video games that has continued for the last twenty years.