Imogen: The Best Video Game You’ve Never Heard Of

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chris-littlechild - May 3, 2012

Imogen was originally released for the BBC Micro in 1986. This hideous Frankenstein's monster of a machine (floppy disk, cassette tape, and all kinds of decomposing technology was involved) is one I have no experience with. Even so, one look at the fatass thing today is enough to convince you it'd be kinder to just give it some oats and shoot it in the head to put it out of its misery. (The standard procedure for a racehorse that missed a jump, landed on its ass and mangled its leg, or so I'm led to believe.) Almost two decades later, Ovine by Design created an admirable remake which is simultaneously fantastically faithful to the underlying concept, yet is pertinently not as ugly as a Bulldog's balls. The original, after all, provided a graphical experience you could replicate by staring through filthy glasses into a murky fish-tank. That someone's shat in.

Imogen is the tale of the eponymous midget wizard. When a big-ass dragon attacked the people, Imogen simply transformed himself into an even larger one. (Touché indeed.) Before the aforementioned dragon could even complain "that's unfair! I wasn't expecting one of the man-morsels to do that! If you can become a giant fire-breathing creature with testicles like cannonballs like myself, why would you ever change back to a scrawny old dude in a really shitty hat and dire need of a shave?", it received a sound beating to the groin and the village is saved. Alas, the strain of transmogrification took a terrible toll on our hero. Returning to his shrivelled-scrotum-beardy-homunculus state, his mind snapped (so the Imogen intro tells us. It also shows the dude using his mad skills to summon a huge-ass lightning storm, as you can see above. Just in case you can't detect the subtle use of foreshadowing there, the shit is about to hit the fan. In large quantities. It's one of those high-powered ceiling fans too, I'll wager, so the shit is sure to go absolutely everywhere.) In fear of an even greater menace, a second wizard (who looks utterly identical to Imogen, but for his green garb. This is either his twin brother or lazy-ass programming) imprisons him in a cavern deep underground.

To escape this fate, you must conquer sixteen levels of balls-out weird puzzling pursuits. The areas are small, but packed to the rafters with comic brainteasers. In one example, you climb your way to the longbow on one side of the level, before returning to your starting point. Something that looks like a giant-sized living jelly baby brought to life at 3am by some unholy brand of necromancy in a mad scientist's laboratory awaits, hanging from a balloon. You utilise your rather funky new weaponry to shoot him right in the balls. He plummets and dies painfully-yet-amusingly, whereupon the balloon is able to float higher and becomes accessible. As you can see here, a later instance finds our man dispatching another Elephant Man-esque Jelly-Baby-Freak with a revolver. It's the Al Capone approach to problem solving, all told. The moral of the story is, woe betide any freakish abominations that try to get between Imogen and the Weird Shiny Teleporting Thing (as I've decided to Christen it) that takes you to the next stage. With all 16 of these in hand, you return to the surface and the game is complete.

The wizard's magnificent metamorphosis abilities are used throughout, in another unique twist. You can switch between human, cat and monkey forms. Each has a vital talent inaccessible to its kin. The ape can climb ropes and suchlike with patented primate persistence, while the cat can make huge jumps to distant platforms. Imogen would be screwed without these guys, as the old dude hardly seems sprightly enough to haul ass in the extravagant manner these devious levels demand. The caveat to these anthropomorphized shenanigans is that you have enough magic to change betwixt forms 150 times. Should you fail to complete the game before your stock runs dry, you lose. There's no game over screen, and you're completely invulnerable, but wandering about for a bit before sheepishly clicking the load game option or starting afresh is shameful enough. Get your ass in gear! This old bastard needs you!

So, certainly an esoteric experience. It's lurking deep in a niche, I don't doubt, (one infested with bat shit and cobwebs to boot) but it's undoubtedly deserving of attention. Imogen is one of a kind. Lateral thinking and humour are generally bedfellows as freaky as yourself and your grandmother, but here the combination is quite brilliant.

Visit the official site here to learn more.

Here's some Let's Play footage from Ovine's remake, courtesy of Youtube-er SaxdudeMaloyS26 (If the local kids stop pantsing me on a daily basis and explain just what precisely props are, there'd be a great deal of them heading this guy's way):

Article by Chris Littlechild

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