In the spirit (awful pun intended) of Hallowe’en, I thought I’d pen this missive about a game most people probably won’t remember: Blinky’s Scary School. A budget title for the C64 and other formats released by Zeppelin Games in 1990, Blinky was never destined for greatness, but perhaps deserves a little bit more recognition than it now has.
The eponymous Blinky is a ghost undergoing his final exam at Scary School. The school’s curriculum seems to require a practical exam to finish the course, as Blinky is tasked with causing a fright to Hamish McTavish, current denizen of Drumtrochie Castle. Blinky has one night to accomplish his task, otherwise he’ll have to wait one hundred years for his next chance to resit the exam. Seems rather harsh to me, but presumably none of this is properly regulated by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
At first sight it’s easy to dismiss Blinky’s Scary School as a Dizzy wannabe, especially since the main character sprite looks so similar (even down to the red boots). In actuality, the style of the game is different. There is some light puzzle-solving and object collection, but this is more of a very, very light Metroidvania title, albeit minus any of the RPG elements. Blinky collects objects to create potions that grant him a handful of extra powers, such as being able to transform into a bubble and move underwater, allowing him to get to previously inaccessible areas. There’s a lot of platforming involved too, and many more nefarious beasties lurking around the castle than you’d find in your typical Dizzy title.
Graphically the game is neat, although nothing to write home about. The C64 version at least stands above the Dizzy games in that it makes better use of the hardware. It’s a flick-screen adventure, but movement between screens is nice and fluid. Blinky himself is remarkably expressive for a collection of 8-bit pixels, and the animation (where it exists) is neat. If anything, Blinky is too cute. How on Earth he’s meant to terrify anybody when he looks so adorable I’ve no idea. You’re more likely to want to pick him up and give him cuddles than you are scream at the top of your lungs and frenetically Google the nearest exorcist. He also doesn’t look anything in-game like he appears on the cover. The boxart shows what appears to be a picture of Casper the Friendly Ghost drawn by someone coming down from several days of heady drug use. Somewhere in the transition between the box and the game itself he appears to have lost all his limbs and discarded his red nose.
Blinky features many of the problems that early games (particularly budget releases) are known for. There are deaths caused by elements that can only be known about through trial and error, enemy sprites that are unavoidable due to their appearance at the edges of screens, jumps requiring pixel-precision, and more. Still, this is all par for the course given the era it comes from and everything is livable with.
I always felt that Zeppelin wanted Blinky to become a mascot for the company and the presence of a sequel – Titanic Blinky – seems to confirm that a little. Sadly I don’t think either title ever performed as well as the company hoped, either critically or financially. Reviews at the time were pretty average, I seem to recall. A shame, really, as with a little most investment of time and imagination it could have been a decent series. Still, if Bubsy the sodding Bobcat can come back from obscurity maybe it isn’t too late…
If you happen upon it via emulator or similar, Blinky’s Scary School is worth a play. It’s a diverting little game that won’t take you long to finish; I remember completing it as a kid, so it can’t be that difficult, and a ‘longplay’ of the game on YouTube sees someone polishing it off in about fifteen minutes. It won’t change your life, but it might just raise a smile.
[Pictures courtesy of MobyGames].