Frustration, Madness, Fun and Alfred Chicken
So for this instalment, we are going to take a look at a truly wacky NES classic that stands the test of time, Alfred Chicken. It was released over various systems, but the NES version is the one I remember best.
Perhaps a random name or a play on the dish, ‘chicken alfredo,’ the title of this game is about as unique as the rest of the game itself. In fact the plot and storyline of the game reminds me of the type of scenario I may have came up with in the early hours of the morning at a festival whilst far from sober and clear thought…but it just works so well!
This game sees you take the role of a pleasant chicken whose life has been turned upside down by the diabolical ‘Meka-Chickens!’ These bad boys have ‘eggnapped’ Billy and his friends to use in their experiments…and they also have Floella! There’s no real explanation to who they are but you don’t need that because the moment you press start, you are thrown into a world made of cheese which is populated by mechanical mice, forming the first level.
You have to jump and dive bomb enemies, the ones that can be killed. A simple controller action but not a repetitive one, especially on the fast enemies as you need to time it just right. The aim of each mission is to get all the balloons to ascend to the next level. Every 2 levels there is a Meka-Chicken boss which Alfred must combat in his spaceship, they get progressively more difficult and it doesn’t take long to figure out their weak point though the lack of damage it does will have you feeling that you haven’t exactly found a ‘weak’ point. As you get near the end of their health they speed up but you can easily learn the pattern, by the time of the last boss though, sometimes knowing the pattern isn’t enough as Alfred’s ship wasn’t designed with speed in mind!
There are a number of challenging levels where one mistake can really cost you but there are ways to earn more lives. Collecting an eggcup, a watering can, 50 diamonds, or 50 presents in the bonus game will ensure thar Mr Peckles awards Alfred an extra life for his bravery as they meet between levels in his space lab. Who is Mr Peckles? A giant flower who is keen to help our feathered hero of course! (I did warn you this games makes little sense!) He even has a secret room in each level where, if found, he will give you a pot of jam which allows you to fire bombs at enemies and use them for hard to reach switches. This makes the platforming side of things much more simplistic but still challenging. The secret rooms are not easy to find. Remember, this game was made long before most people could just look up a hint online, it was by chance that you found such things as a hidden block above a host of deadly spikes!
Another helpful item is a can of worms. By collecting this, a protective worm would float around Alfred and even collect diamonds for him whilst destroying most enemies in the process. Though this worm does not rotate quickly so if you are unfortunate enough for a speedy enemy to sneak past the worm when it is on the opposite side, you’ll soon be swearing as you see poor Alfred turn into a bunch of feathers and get sent back to the last balloon he pecked!
For me, the underwater/alphabet block level was the most challenging just because I always hated the clunky underwater levels of games of old, in fact I still hate them now on modern games, maybe I’ll never earn my virtual sea legs but I always manage to get past such atrocious instalments. Getting past the laughing whales with speedboat engines on their backs was a particular test as were the cunningly positioned spiked balls. Even though they followed a simple sequence they could still be horrible to dodge, especially underwater.
The third level was probably the most fun as it sees you have to work your way through some kind of wood workshop complete with screws and for some reason, ice cubes! With these you could take a flying dive at them and if Alfred picked up enough speed, he’d turn into a rocket and plough through them all before hitting the ground with a thud. It sounds so simple now but was a good laugh in the day. Another funny feature is if you left Alfred standing still for a long time he would do a few funny moves before eventually giving you a little wave, clearly he enjoyed the break from being forced to peck through dastardly mechanical mice, perennially happy snails whilst dodging spiked balls and a collection of other perils in this truly ridiculous world he lives in. The snails may look happy but they are snails that also like to turn their shells spiky at the last moment so you lose a life as you’re about to dive bomb them… (insert expletive).
The fourth level is some kind of book store and is possibly one of the most challenging in terms of platforming. You ride around on these green things which I’m not sure what they are, the instruction booklet gives no clue either. (Did anyone else read instruction manuals for games back in the day? They were always so well designed and complemented the games well and I recall this one fondly.) It’s a very difficult level timing wise and puts your reactions to the test. There’s also horrible smiling/frowning blocks which make Alfred a magnet for a spiked ball which at one point has to be manipulated to hit a switch, evil indeed!
The final level is the laboratory lair of the evil Meka-Chickens which includes spiked floors, many spiked balls, snails with spikes and is just very spiky in general, top that off with pools of water that need to be navigated and you’ve got yourself a final level that has the difficulty hallmark of old school games. Reach the end of this and you even get to see the source of your foes, a ‘monster masher’ which is spits out snails at an alarming rate. Maybe it’s just on the snail setting as none of the other baddies come out of it, I even waited once to see.
So onto the final boss, the last Meka-Chicken who once again gives a long crappy speech that Alfred is going down. It follows generally the same pattern as the others and speeds up when near death but is a generally easy kill. After plenty of shooting off flies the head, that was a nice last boss wasn’t it? NO IT WAS NOT because on this occasion a spiked ball appears above the body and proceeds to circumnavigate it, following that the body starts shooting fireballs from four holes whilst moving uncomfortably fast across the screen. I actually cannot defeat this part of it. I even went back and had a go right now in between writing this review and the fury of old returned to me. One day I’ll do it. There’s not much of an ending to the game but there never was with the classics, I used to be happy just to get to the credits. Mr Peckles delightfully informs you that you’re quest is over and presents you with Floella. We were never told who she was in the first place but love hearts come out of her and an exclamation appears above Alfred, the sex scenes of modern games have got nothing on these two! Though if you watch all the way to the end of the credits there’s quite a surprise regarding Floella!
I’m a huge fan of the 8-bit sounds and this one has a zany title track that when heard, you could easily imagine a few chickens dancing around to…I can anyway! The different background music in each level fits in with the goofy designs perfectly and provides a pleasant gaming ambiance amidst the frustration of dying from one slip of the hand on the controller.
This is one of those games that highlights the amazing platform releases that were all so common on the NES. The game was reviewed back in the day as an ‘average platformer.’ Maybe back then that was the case with so many great games along the same lines being released but to me, it was short, it was sweet and most importantly, it was fun and that’s what makes it one of my favourite NES classics.