Review: The Bear Essentials (C64) by Pondsoft
When I first started to get into the resurgent C64 game scene after discovering the likes of Psytronik and Protovision, there was one game that everyone seemed to be talking about. Graham Axten’s platformer, which starred a rather charming bear, was looking great and was eagerly anticipated.
The game draws heavily from Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, with a graphics style reminiscent of Creatures. The influence of Matthew Smith’s classic games is clear right from the start, where instead of housekeeper Maria turning Willy away to go tidy the house after a massive party, it’s Bear’s wife wanting enough apples to get the family through the winter.
There are 350 apples to collect, dotted around over 60 screens. The game world is divided into 6 areas, each with its own graphical style and enemies:
In between the Forest/Cloudy/Rocky/Jungle/Mine areas are checkpoint screens which award a continue on the first visit. These also allow the player to choose the order they tackle areas.
The controls are straightforward, with basic movement and jumping. The jumping feels good - the fact that the player retains some control during jumps makes it possible to get out of some hairy situations.
This is one of those games where you need to keep your cool and not get impatient - often I would lose one life, then attempt to rush through the room again and lose a couple more in the process. I enjoyed several hours playing it, but in the end I relied on a cheat code that granted infinite continues in order to complete it (there are several cheats listed in Freeze64 issue 7). While that is a bit of a cop out, it was still a good challenge and was ultimately satisfying. The mine area gives the player infinite continues by default, and trust me: you'll need them.
There are a few extras on the disk which are rather good:
- Bonkey Kong (4k & super versions... a super simple game but actually a lot of fun)
- Bear 2016 (an almost identical version, but lacks some of the screens and has 326 apples to collect)
- Bear 1st Preview (just one screen, no enemies or apples, but shows off the platforms & player movement)
- Bear 2nd Preview (multiple screens with enemies and apples to collect)
- Attack of the Mutant Cabbages Music Demo
- Bonkey Kong Music Demo
- Super Bonkey Kong Music Demo
One really cool thing is that Graham posted a developer diary as the game started to come together:
Overall, I think this is the best recent C64 game I've seen so far. There are times when the jumps required are complete bastards, and it can be frustrating, but I never felt like the game was unfair. The graphics are very good, with quite a bit of variety throughout the areas, and the sound & music are top notch. Even if you need to use a cheat, stick with it until you reach the Mine area...