Core Design are perhaps most well known for creating the Tomb Raider games. By combining 3D action adventuring with puzzle solving and introducing a young lady with a massive pair of bazookas as its main character, Tomb Raider was an instant hit. Undoubtedly, the presence of Miss Croft alone probably helped shift a few copies. The success of the Tomb Raider games means it's all too easy to forget what Core Design did before Lara Croft blasted her way into the bedrooms of teenage boys across the world. So, this seems like as good an opportunity as ever to refresh our memories.
Before Tomb Raider's appearance and Core Design's resultant 32-Bit world domination, the Derby-based outfit were perfecting their art on the home computers of the 16-Bit era. They produced games aplenty for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, and even dabbled a bit in games for consoles too. Products included Chuck Rock, Rick Dangerous, Thunderhawk, Jaguar XJ220, Corporation and Asterix amongst others. Today's game of choice is CarVup, a title released for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST in 1990.
CarVup is a side-scrolling game featuring a car called Arnie. The idea of the game appears to be to free animals from traps. Not sure who's set the traps or why, but it's probably some weirdo without whom the world would be a better place. Animals are freed simply by completing each stage. Stages are split into six levels and to complete a level, Arnie must travel across each platform in them. Once he has driven over each section of the platform, it changes appearance in some way to indicate that Arnie has already been there. Once all the ground on the platforms has been covered, it's onto the next level. Each level wraps around, meaning that if Arnie continues to move in the same direction, he'll arrive back where he began. Controlling Arnie is simple. You can move him left or right, and press fire to make him jump. Hold up to do a high jump, down to perform a small jump, or left or right to perform a long jump in the respective direction. All manoeuvres are simple to pull off but essential to master to get to each part of the level to clear them. Arnie can't fall off platforms, and just turns and travels in the opposite direction when he reaches the end of one unless you direct him otherwise.
Getting in Arnie's way are a number of enemies which he must either avoid or defeat with collectable weapons. These enemies vary depending on the theme of the stage although they all do pretty much the same thing. The first level, set in a building site, features things like wheelbarrows, barrels, and diggers. Level two has a horror theme and features zombies, bats, mummies and ghosts. Other level themes are garden, country and western, musical, toys and prehistoric with characters that mostly suit each level, although there are some slightly surreal exceptions. Space Invaders in the prehistoric stage for example.
Defeating the enemies can be done by collecting weapons which drop from the sky on each level. There is quite a variety of weapons which mostly appear to resemble car parts. Most of the weapons are deployed automatically when an enemy comes into position. For example, if you have the gun and are driving towards an enemy, the gun will fire. Another weapon will destroy an enemy above you, so if you drive under it, it will release and fire at them. Weapons can also be deployed by pressing space.
It's not just weapons that drop from the sky. There are also fruits, letters and other power ups. Fruits simply give you points, letters spell out words - either BONUS which gives you extra points or EXTRA which gives you an extra life - and power ups do things like freeze all the enemies in the level, turn them into Pac Man-like ghosts, or transform them all into carrots. Also on most levels is what appears to be a monkey man pulling a face at you, who doesn't do any harm but bounces around the level when hit. And then there is Turbo. Turbo is a demon-like thing who appears if you take too long clearing a level. He is indestructible and fatal to the touch but serves as a way of speeding you up.
There are no end of stage bosses. The sixth level in each stage is just an opportunity to collect points. The only boss is on the final level and takes the form of a head bouncing around it, and can be defeated using weapons that appear during the battle.
CarVup looks and sounds fantastic. Each level captures its theme very well and features a large variety of well-drawn and animated sprites, including Arnie himself. Levels are very colourful and the changing types of themes and their associated backgrounds and platforms means that a game which is actually quite samey throughout, doesn't really feel it. A special mention must go to the music which is amazing. Jolly upbeat tunes maintain the frantic nature of the game. If you don't want music, you can listen to sound effects instead which complement the game well and feature clear samples, including voice samples.
CarVup is a great computer game. It is incredibly easy to pick up and there is something satisfying about having to cover all ground to clear each level. It's a completionist's dream, although the never-ending appearance of fruits might send you crazy if you have particularly obsessive completionist tendencies! As each level is quite short, it really is just a case of covering all the ground as quickly as possible, taking out enemies en route and so on. As it is basically the same thing throughout, the game risks become dull, but the short levels and changing themes prevent this from happening. It starts off easy but gets quite challenging with you having to keep your eyes peeled to make sure you don't accidentally jump into an enemy when finding parts of the levels to clear. It really is a game which represents its era very well. So, if you're looking for a Core Design game that doesn't feature a lady with a pair of excessively large boobs as its main selling point, then it might be worth taking CarVup for a spin.