1994 Alternative Software
Platforms: Commodore Amiga and PC
I wasn’t a huge comic book fan growing up, but I still liked to get the occasional copy of the Beano in the UK, where my favourite part was always Dennis the Menace. Probably because I was a kid who used to get up to all kinds of trouble around the same time.
It was news to me then that Alternative Software were planning to release a game based on the character and his dog Gnasher back in 1994, and it was thanks to @mcbpete and @yorecomputer for the heads up. Various magazines including The One, Amiga Power and Amiga Format would preview the game, showcasing a neat isometric style title.
Even Alternative admitted to one of the magazines that they were pleased with how things were progressing, with a game that was “something different”. Usually it was flick screen and platform style games that Alternative were accustomed to in the past.
Trying to find your friends
According to Amiga Force, the game was set within Beanotown, a massive environment with every character from the comic having their own house for you to explore. The aim of the game would be to locate four of Dennis’ friends who have mysteriously disappeared, and to find them before your Dad catches up with you.
Getting in your path though is Wimpy Walter and his gang of Softies, though you were to have Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger and Rasher (your pet pig) to help you out and solve various puzzles within the game. Finding Gnasher, you can control him with a dog whistle and get him to bite through areas of the landscape to access other routes in and out of the town. Within the game would also be an array of weaponry such as catapults and stink bombs to defend yourself with.
It seems most of the details came from a press release given to the magazines at the time, where Amiga Power’s Stuart Campbell seemed to bemoan the lack of details about the actual game, and that the screens were in fact just static screenshots they were provided. That becomes clear when you see the same screens across the different magazines.
The One magazine seemed to talk more to Alternative, and in particular the game’s project director Richard Naylor. Richard revealed quite a bit about how the game would play (helping to produce the description above), and even described some of the world’s more odd screens with upside down areas and spooky buildings. Apparently there would be a challenge of cramming 1500 screens of graphics into the game.
Although some magazines said the game was now available, no reviews of the game would surface and certainly nothing did of the game itself either. So what happened?
Disappearing, just like Dennis’ friends
The One magazine suggests that the game was started in July 1993, and was due for release in December 1993 – which coincides with the January 1994 coverage. It seems odd though that magazines were only shown static screenshots and not an early demo to see the game in action. What is odd also is that the score is always 00000 in all the screens too.
Surely something had been developed by this stage? Why otherwise tell magazines that the game was due out around the time of their coverage? Another interesting co-incidence, was that Ocean were releasing their own Dennis the Menace game, based on the US character. Could this have caused some kind of issue? We doubt it – but it is something to consider.
It is hoped that Alternative will be able to shed more might, but also that we can find the development team “Absolute Image”. Little is known about them, but interestingly they seemed to have worked on another game that may not have been fully released, but is available online called RAH 66 comanche flight simulator.
That game was developed by Andrew McRae (Programming), Dicon Peeke (Artwork) and Scott Cook (Sound) – who could well be the team behind this very game and are leads to follow up on at least. Dicon seems to have previously worked at Level 9 on a number of titles.
Not long after publication of this post, contributor Uka got in touch to reveal that he had found a prototype PC edition of the game and provided a copy to GTW to add to the site and take some fresh screenshots. You can find a download below, which you will need to disable EMS and XMS modes if running in DOSBox. Thanks to Uka for help with instructions to get things working.
The game is quite bugged and clearly unfinished, so it may crash occasionally and glitch like hell. Thankfully if you leave the title screen long enough, a demo will run and show you a lot of the game.
It is a fantastic finding and gives a real glimpse of how the game was shaping up. It feels a bit like a cross between Fairlight and Great Escape, with a cartoon comic overlaid. As a budget kids title, this could have been a reasonable game had it been finished. So now we need to find out why it was seemingly never finished and released.
If you know anything more about this development, then please do get in touch!
With thanks to @mcbpete and @yorecomputer for the heads up about the title, HOL for one of the scans, Stephen (Mort) Stuttard for the hi-res scans, Uka for locating the PC prototype and helping to run and LiqMat and Ripsaw8080 for further assistance.