Hard Hat Harry is a modern spin on one of the early eighties' most famous computer games, Chuckie Egg. Originally written by Nigel Alderton for the ZX Spectrum, it was quickly ported to the BBC, a machine arguably more associated with it today. And no wonder when you consider how the BBC was the standard computer of secondary schools in 1984, a year in which bored BASIC students found in Chuckie Egg a piece of programming far more interesting than the shape-drawing mediocrities served up by Sir and, for budding machine coders, far more educational too.
Part homebrew and part homage, the title derives from Chuckie Egg's main character, "Hen House Harry", and amusingly enough, the author has really tried to capture the sprit of the times down to the extent of giving Hard Hat Harry a fictional release date of Autumn 1983! He even claims to have made the graphics "terrible" to add authenticity. While I sense some calculated modesty there, the game does indeed look and feel like a typical release from the period (though Spring 1984 would probably be more accurate).
The self-consciously daft story follows the tradition of other eccentric British games of the era, with the usual references to tea, the midlands, pubs and even a "sod off" that'll have some Americans reaching for Babelfish. Apparently the animals from the local zoo have escaped and decided to stay in an unfinished twenty story tower right next to it. What's even worse is they have stolen the construction workers' tea. Harry's mission is to bring the cups of tea on each screen back whilst avoiding the animals lurking in the tower. Birds, pandas and even Kong himself make their mischief over sixteen levels, but it's the monkeys who are the most dangerous. The psychotic simians have armed themselves with deadly factory tools which they throw across the screen in an attempt to smash Harry's face in. Seemingly, these particular monkeys are not too busy singing to put anybody down.
A HARD HAT'S A GONNA FALL
Harry is quite a clever fellow though, because unlike just about all his other platform jumping pals, he's decided to take this mission on in the bright BBC blue daylight. Now he can see those chunky Atari-2600-on-a-good-day monkey sprites a lot clearer, as well as the other animals and projectiles. There is no tune during play, but the spot effects fit in with the mood well enough. It all plays at a quicker than average pace; Harry zips around the screen, yet remains easy to control with his movement up and down the ladders being particularly slick. This doesn't make avoiding the monkey missiles any easier though, and that's what lifts the difficulty level a notch above any other in the genre I've played. It takes just a second for one of these things to fly across the screen and kill your character, so you need careful planning to avoid their flight path, because if you don't, Harry's face is gonna meet metal. The punishment is severe, since losing a life also means losing every cup of tea you've collected on that stage. It's enough to make you wonder whether you've loaded up Very Hard Hat Harry by mistake.
Anticipating those missiles becomes key to even modest success in the game, and after a bit of practice, it's finally possible to make progress through the early stages. What a pity that some rough edges in the program make it more difficult to accurately measure that progress. The top position in the high score table has 100,000 points, but I bet most people who play this game won't even reach 30,000, so for the majority of players the nice looking table will remain untouched beyond position nine. Not only that, the programmer has made the same faux pas that the otherwise brilliant UWOL did in having the screen go black immediately on the game ending; the result of these two flaws is that on most games you won't see your final score! To be fair, these kinks were probably a result of the harsh deadline programmer Tom Walker set himself to complete the game, but what a shame he didn't notice them before putting it out.
With a plot that reads like a PG Tips advert gone horribly wrong, Hard Hat Harry's platform jumping, tea collecting and monkey avoiding antics will appeal to seasoned veterans of the Chuckie Egg genre. Everyone else should proceed with caution: go in prepared for a challenge and you'll get one, but anyone expecting a pleasant nostalgia trip through the bleeps and blips of high school might soon find that it's more than eggs they'll be chucking out the window...