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Gribbly's Day Out (Commodore 64) artwork

Gribbly's Day Out (Commodore 64) review

"Gamers are strange animals. A game may give us state-of-the-art graphics, an excellent soundtrack, lots of different options and whatever else we may be looking for, and we can still write it off as boring. Another game may look like nothing to the casual observer, but for some reason people fall completely in love with it. In the end, what matters is if a game is fun to play, and it is not always as easy to grasp why it is or why it isn't. "

Gamers are strange animals. A game may give us state-of-the-art graphics, an excellent soundtrack, lots of different options and whatever else we may be looking for, and we can still write it off as boring. Another game may look like nothing to the casual observer, but for some reason people fall completely in love with it. In the end, what matters is if a game is fun to play, and it is not always as easy to grasp why it is or why it isn't.

Gribbly's Day Out is one of those rare games that manage to put it all together. It has an original game concept, a great atmosphere set by its graphics and sound, and a great degree of challenge. All this has been put together extremely well, and together these elements form one of the best Commodore 64 games in existence. While the difficulty level may be a bit high for a new player, the game will quickly draw in its players and then keep 'em hooked. Case in point: I played this game ten years ago, I play it today, and I daresay I'll still be playing it ten years from now.

In this game, we take control of Gribbly. He's an odd, hunch-backed green creature that can either hop around on his foot (who needs two feet anyway?) or fly, apparently through the use of psionic powers. His only weapon is a bubble breath which can kill or stun his enemies. In every level, the goal is to find 8 small creatures called Gribblets and bring them to a cave at the edge of the level, where they are safe from a host of monsters trying to get their hands on them. A level of Gribbly's Day Out is far too large to fit on the screen at once, and scrolls by smoothly as you move through it, always keeping Gribbly near the center of the screen. Every level is filled with solid ground at the bottom, floating platforms spread throughout the level, and lots of obstacles including hills, trees, laser beams, rough terrain and buildings. While hopping around on solid ground, these obstacles do not bother you in any way, but while you are flying you must avoid them. Gribbly can only take off and land in clear spots.

Gribbly's strength is measured in 'psi', which increases as you pick up powerups spread through the level, or bring Gribblets to safety. It decreases if you bump into obstacles. It's possible to raise your psi over what you start with (up to a maximum), and any ''excess'' psi you have at the end of the level is added to your reserves. This is this game's way of giving you bonus lives: as long as there are psi points left in your reserves, a new life can be drawn from it when you die.

While navigating through each level, carefully avoiding obstacles, you must locate all the 8 Gribblets as well as the cave you are to bring them to. The first time you play a level, you'll likely have trouble because you don't know where to look, and obstacles may surprise you. Only when you've seen a particular level a few times will you be able to navigate through it smoothly and quickly. The first level is always the same, but from there on, new levels are presented to you in a random order. I've seen at least 15 different levels, and there may well be more. Later levels have much trickier obstacles (like narrow tunnels to navigate through) and the Gribblets tend to be in hard to reach, out of the way places. In addition, every level has enemies and they become more numerous and aggressive as you proceed through the game. The most noteworthy opponent is a huge black spider, who sticks in one place for the first few minutes, but then starts to chase you around the level. The spider can fly just as you can, but unlike you, he can pass through obstacles just fine. That, and the fact that he cannot be killed, makes him a severe pain, and the best way to deal with him is to just complete the level before he gets free. Once he does, things get hairy, especially in tight tunnels where you have to maneuver carefully to avoid the edges and he just comes charging right through the tunnel walls.

The other type of enemy isn't after you, but after the Gribblets. They start as a small, flying insect descending from the top of the screen, and through a rather complicated system of evolving, they eventually turn into an enemy type capable of capturing Gribblets. Usually you can stop them long before that happens; but the levels are large, and you can't be everywhere at once. Gribblets are bound to be captured sooner or later, forcing you to free them by killing the monster that's holding them. This has to be done carefully as you can kill the Gribblet in the process. All in all you have two things to worry about: your own survival - endangered by the spider and the various obstacles - and the life of the Gribblets. Only by saving at least six out of eight Gribblets can you advance to the next level at any time. Failing that, you get to play the level again until you manage it.

While on solid ground, you can make Gribbly hop around in 'bouncing mode'. He can then safely pass through any obstacles and navigate rough terrain. Most of the time, however, you will be flying. How fast you fly is determined by how far you push the stick. Effective flying requires fine control, as flying too fast is a sure way to run into obstacles. Worse still, the harder you hit an obstacle, the harder you will bounce back off it, and it is very easy to get into an endless bouncing loop between two obstacles and get yourself killed that way. Going slow is always the safe method - unless, that is, the spider is hot on your trail. He's great at hurrying you up, and you're going to love that when you're in a tight spot where you need all your attention on navigating. The spider can be temporarily stunned with the bubble breath, but never destroyed.

The game's concept is pretty well done, and the level design is awesome. Every level comes with its own colour scheme and memorable locations. There are straightforward stages like the first one, tight ones with tricky corners and obstacles, and completely open ones where the scenery is no threat, but the enemies have a much easier time capturing Gribblets and the spider goes after you far sooner. The levels are brought alive by a loving attention to detail and great use of colours. Gribbly's Day Out manages to create a somewhat mystical theme by steering clear of overly bright colours, but at the same time none of the levels are bland or dull. Some levels, like the Flooded Cavern or the Infinite Waterfalls, radiate a quiet magical energy, while others are intentionally bright and upbeat. Almost every level is filled with rocks, trees, bushes, water, and other scenery that serve as obstacles and background at the same time. The amount of work that has gone into each level is simply amazing.

Equal effort has gone into the characters. Gribbly, while silly looking, is an admirable little creature. You see his eyes roll in his sockets, and he clearly smiles or frowns whenever something goes right or wrong. The spider is done in amazing detail and looks downright scary. The Gribblets, though I've heard three different people refer to them as pancakes, are cutesy little critters that jump around nervously waiting for you to collect them and bring them to safety. One nitpick here is that Gribblets tend to be rather well camouflaged, and it's easy to miss one if you don't keep your eyes peeled. They just blend in a little too well with the background. Perhaps intentional, but it is an annoyance.

Gribbly's Day Out has a fair set of sound effects that are clearly recognizable but somehow they also manage to stay ''in the background'' without breaking the game's mystical mood. They have great practical value as well: both Gribblets (which make a distinctive sound while they jump around) and enemies can be heard before you see them, giving you more reaction time. The spider, in particular, makes an ominous hissing sound. I guarantee you that, when you are carefully navigating through a difficult tunnel, trying not to hit the edges, nothing is more likely to make your skin crawl than the sound of the spider approaching! Background music is regretfully limited to a recognition tune on the title screen. It's an amazing piece and I tend to listen to it a couple of minutes before playing. It's a pity that the game itself has no background music, because this tune fits the atmosphere really well.

Gribbly's Day Out is a fairly difficult game to learn, and you'll probably have to sweat through the first hour or two before you manage to get anything done. Once you've learned the basics, however, the fun begins. Some levels are definitely more difficult than others, and while the order of levels is mostly random, the more difficult levels tend to come later. Also, the farther you come, the more monsters will spawn in a level and the quicker the spider will move from its original spot and start to chase you around. Saving enough Gribblets and staying alive yourself gets more and more difficult as the game proceeds.
I myself have spent many hours on this game since childhood, and I still haven't beaten it. Many levels give me trouble and make me lose at least one life, and there is one at least (appropriately named 'Gribbly's Bane') which I have never bested. When old school gamers say games used to be more difficult in the old days, they were referring to games like this one. And that's good, because Gribbly's Day Out makes you come back for more with its mix of solid gameplay and awesome atmosphere, and it'd be a shame to finish it in an afternoon or two.

To this day, Gribbly's Day Out remains one of my favorite games on any system. It manages to paste together a couple of good elements and create a brilliant game out of them. This game is simply a lot of fun to play and replay, and in the end, that's what counts. Absolutely recommended!

sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (June 19, 2009)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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