Coming as Commodore’s lingering death rattle was in its final throes, Wunderkind’s only release would be the run ’n’ gun platformer, Ruff ’n’ Tumble.
With the highly regarded Renegade on publishing duties, Robin Levy, Jason Perkins and Jason Page’s cutesy yet violent delight would release at the tail end of 1994 and give Amiga owners one of their final hurrahs.
The game itself is pretty much plotless, with the manual alone providing the set-up. Playing as Ruff Rodgers, the happy go lucky eight-year-old is transformed into a ruthless killing machine when he falls down a hole in the park, losing his marbles, literally. If that wasn’t enough, the evil Doctor Destiny has confiscated Ruff’s prized collection and challenged him to stop his plans of world domination by giving him a gun as he is besieged by a robot army.
Ruff ’n’ Tumble’s story is pretty non-sensical and the irreverent tone of the writing acknowledges its ridiculousness, with plenty of nods to the reader peppered within the prose.
Teleporting into the first level, the pixel art is of tremendous quality, utilising a palette of 32 colours to the fullest.
It’s incredible that the team managed to fit this technical tour-de-force onto only 2 floppies, running on any 1MB Amiga. Ruff’s bright and bold character design is given some nice little touches as he skids to a stop after building a head of steam or his cheeks puffing out as he holds his breath indefinitely during underwater sections. Our protagonists animation cycles are smooth and weighty, reflecting the momentum based running and jumping mechanics as he navigates the environments.
The Tinhead enemies are just as meticulously crafted with plenty of variety as grunts spin their way towards you and large mechs pound the ground. The transformation of enemy design throughout the worlds creates a real sense of progress as no foe is repeated from previous levels, with the ‘Whizzard’ being particular highlight. Explosions are napalm-like and chunky projectiles denote differing weapon upgrades. Even points based collectibles change based on the world you inhabit, with Competition Pro’s and floppy disks providing a change from the standard jewel trinkets, all while maintaining the strong cartoon aesthetic.
Ruff ’N’ Tumble has four worlds consisting of three levels and one boss fight, each one feeling more expansive than the last. Environments range from the Fantasy Forest to Doctor Destiny’s Castle with each one not only imbued with a different aesthetic, but also different environmental hazards such as electric fields and your typical spike traps. No parallax scrolling is utilised in order to maintain frame rates, but blurring trickery is employed to provide a sense of depth. Scrolling can suffer with a bit of judder when moving at high speeds but framerate drops are few and far between, even during the more anarchic moments.
The general presentation and Jason Perkins’ sprite work are quite outstanding, pushing the limits of what the Amiga could do even as it was being phased out of shop fronts and giving console champions something to think about.
The music and audio design by Jason Page contributes to Ruff ’n’ Tumble’s acute sense of polish, elevating the game’s general production values even further. The fusion of techno and metal elements combine to provide an energetic and well-produced soundtrack
It’s brash style and tempo changes amplify the on-screen carnage, intensifying further for boss battles. Overdriven guitars mix with processed drum loops giving off an early Ministry vibe while crunchy explosions signify a defeated bot. The sound effects work is very good, with samples being put to great use and making the combat feel impactful, such as when your projectiles hit one of the metal menaces with a resounding clank.
The audio package is certainly a product of its time – it’s loud and aggressive but shows a sense of restraint, never becoming overbearing and proving quite memorable, for a short time anyway.
Ruff ‘n’ Tumble’s gameplay is a familiar mix of shooting and platforming with multi-directional fire enabled by depressing and holding the fire button. While this works well for the most part, enemies on slopes can prove difficult to hit as your weapon’s 45 degree increments don’t quite line up with the pathing of the bot. Level design is relatively open as collecting all of your marbles, and the occasional magic marble, is the only way to activate the exit and progress to the next stage. Barriers that require keys will also halt your progress, forcing you to backtrack on occasion as will the allure of secret areas. It dispenses with the linear left-to-right of many games in the genre adding in plenty of verticality. This offers a great sense of freedom despite the levels not being overly large and it’s no wonder it was received very well by fans and critics alike.
At its heart, there’s nothing really genre-defying as you’ll collect items for points and extra lives, equip temporary power-ups, such as shields, and shoot everything in sight. But the game’s strength comes in its thoughtfulness and the synergy between all of its gameplay elements. Sprinting through levels is thrilling as you pick up the pace, and at full pelt it feels a little like Ocean’s ‘Kid Chaos’, but this might come at a cost as you skid into an enemy, depleting your health.
All gun upgrades are temporary, with the ammo bar constantly counting down regardless of how many bullets you spray around your pixel surroundings. However, retention of power-ups can be elongated through collecting items marked with a ‘P’ scattered around the play area, meaning there’s a trade-off between keeping powerful weapons and haphazardly running head first into a group of enemies.
There’s a wide arsenal at your disposal from flamethrowers to laser rifles, with each one feeling satisfying to use. The default gun has infinite ammo but an in-built overheat mechanic so liberal use of autofire will decrease the fire rate, making you vulnerable to the larger more bullet-sponge type enemies. None of this would matter if the controls weren’t tight. The inertia infused running and jumping will initially feel a little frustrating as you slide off a platform into an electricity field causing instant death, but with practice, you’ll soon be turning on your heels. There’s also quite a bit of ledge forgiveness present allowing you to rectify some mis-jumps quickly.
Boss battles are tough although they soon settle into rudimentary attack patterns. But the evolution of standard enemy design throughout the four worlds means the player will have to learn and adapt as they progress. Tinhead Generators act as respawn points for the rogue robots but do become exhausted ensuring any backtracking doesn’t result in any cheap deaths. The enemy AI is generally exceptional, preventing the action from becoming stale and gradually ramping up the difficulty
Ruff ‘n’ Tumble is quite a challenging game, but thankfully it’s quite generous in aiding the player. Metallic depressible buttons act as checkpoints, unless you lose all of your lives and it’s back to the beginning you go, and a password system is also present. As a result, the difficulty curve feels balanced and fair, with any failures normally being a result of player over exuberance.
And exuberant is good word to sum up Ruff ‘n’ Tumble. The sterling graphics are matched only by its spirit and addictiveness. Gameplay is energetic, enjoyable and when wrapped up in a presentation this attractive, it becomes hard to resist.
Check out the full video review below with added trivia about the game, including inspiration and cut content!
Wunderkind’s lone offering is one of the great parting highlights for the Amiga, remaining immensely playable and enjoyable today. It’s finely tuned action, almost flawless presentation and heavy soundtrack puts this at the pinnacle of platformers for the system.