Crapshoot: The Monty Python games

Monty Python

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. This week... wait for it... wait for it... It's...

If a man's worth can be judged by how many drunken students and parents have repeated their material, the Monty Python team is rich indeed. They've not done too badly in terms of more mundane success either. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Dead Parrot, to the cinematic masterpiece that was Life of Brian, there's no sense pretending you don't know who they are.

But did you know there have been Monty Python games? Five of them to be exact, four on PC. How do you turn the anarchic surrealism of a sketch where anything can happen, but will probably get forgotten due to not being about Vikings singing about spam, into a game? Let's find out.

Monty Python's Flying Circus

A relic from the days before developers could even dream of just digitising a load of clips and stringing them together in vaguely interactive form. The original Monty Python game is notable for coming from Tomb Raider creators Core Design, and honestly for existing in the first place. How could you possibly make a good game about the insanity of a surreal sketch show way back in 1990?

Simple! You make a shooter and platform game that defies anyone to use the word 'generic', starting with a Gumby being turned into a fish and forced to travel through an endless pipe maze of Gilliamesque monsters, Inquisitors, and occasional pauses for the screen to go blank and say "No #1 — The Larch" or make you have An Argument, in the hope you'll get the reference and go "Ho ho, very funny."

It doesn't, however, defy any attempts to use the word 'rubbish', 'boring', 'stupid' and 'as much fun as a wire pipe-cleaner up the penis tube'. It's a seriously obnoxious game that succeeds at being weird and wacky, but doesn't have much to back it up after the first few minutes. For the time though, it was a brave attempt at what was always going to be a nightmare license to make into a game.

Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time

A relic from the days when developers realised they could in fact dream of just digitising a load of clips and stringing them together in vaguely interactive form. Complete Waste Of Time is another of those dreaded multimedia experience things, though at least one that tried not to suck.

It's broken into multiple rooms, all excuses to rehash some old footage in low-res ways, sometimes in the form of games like a One Armed Bandit that uses screencaps of various sketches instead of cherries and BAR symbols, or trying to fly a head that turns into a chicken across a field of spikes and into a gaping maw. You can also 'Pythonise' your desktop by inflicting all manner of rubbish screensavers and wallpaper backgrounds on it, and take advantage of the included sound samples to make your non-computer savvy friends' lives a living hell every time Windows boots up.

There was one genuinely fun room when it first came out though, and somewhat unfortunately, it was the one they gave away in the demo—the Loonatorium. This offered a weird landscape full of Gilliam art like bottomless can-can dancers and a glaring policeman's head, and was all about clicking all over the place to make it bounce and jump and play assorted clips, from the opening round of Spot The Loony (a target shooting game) to a quick lecture on The Ant, our most disassemblable friend. Worth buying? Hell no. But the demo was quite fun to play with back when multimedia was still cool and magical.

(There was actually more to it, but I'm pretty sure most people never realised...)

Monty Python's Invasion From The Planet Skyron

A relic from the days when developers realised dreaming of just digitising a load of clips and stringing them together in vaguely interactive form was something too good to keep to the PC. Unfortunately, the platform they chose to bring it to ended up being the CD-I, making it irrelevant. My experience of the CD-I being limited to the brilliant Zelda games that showed even Nintendo a thing or two about creating awesome stories and adventures, I see no reason not to assume it was something like this:

Even if not, I'm not too bothered I never got to play it. Next!

Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail

A relic from the days when developers realised that just digitising a load of clips and stringing them together in vaguely interactive form was a somewhat limited dream, especially when they could be spending that time thinking about boobs. Holy Grail was a half-way house between the pure multimedia of before and something vaguely approaching a game, though it was closer to an interactive storybook with occasional games like a version of Tetris set in a plague pit, where the 'pieces' would occasionally protest "I'm not dead!" and wriggle around as you tried to fit them around the actual corpses.

Here's a handy Let's Play. From the PC this time, thankfully.

It's... actually better than you'd think. There's some excellent meta-humour for the time, like the fact that the title screen offers a "Collect The Grail" button that lets you win immediately, or the option to watch the entire movie... at about 100x speed. It also doesn't hurt that by following a story and having specific characters instead of having to do things with a pile of completely unrelated sketches, there's more scope for the developers to add their own jokes and background bits, as well as make original work from the team feel like part of the experience. Great? No. But for what it was, not too bad.

And now for something completely different.

Where were we? Ah, yes. Of course...

Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

A relic from the days when developers realised that just digitising a load of clips and stringing them together in vaguely interactive form wasn't remotely going to cut it any more. This was the last of the series from 7th Level, and against all the odds, a reasonable game in its own right.

For starters, it was huge, being broken into three massive chapters—The Stages of Life, The Goals of Life and finally the Cottage. Most of the game is spent poking around assorted spinny-roundy dioramas full of well-done cut-outs of the cast and assorted extras, all full of interactive bits. Bored kids sitting in a church while Cleese's stern schoolmaster drones on all have a couple of text-only lines via thought bubbles, background images play silly voices or cue strange animations, and one wall decoration promising good times for believers promptly cues up that bit from the movie with the naked women chasing the guy off the cliff, only in slow-motion, and without the guy. Why? Because.

All the surviving members of the team contributed new bits, and the meta-humour was still in full force—the highlight being Eric Idle narrating a gentrified English quiz called "You Don't Know John" based on another, slightly ruder quiz whose identity you should probably be able to work out if you are not, in fact, a potato. It's also an actual game rather than just a collection of bits, with inventory items, non-linearity and a couple of admittedly dreadful mini-games that mean you can't just finish it off in an hour like the others. Unfortunately, that could be because you ran into a couple of nasty bugs, which make it almost impossible to finish without a walkthrough to guide you precisely around the trouble spot. Shame.

And The Rest...

There have been a few web things too, and a Facebook thing that looked pretty dreadful. But have the games so far lived up to the Python spirit? Surprisingly... yes. Even the platformer tried to hit the right notes, and 7th Level's multimedia games were at least solid for their time, with The Meaning of Life going above and beyond considering what they could probably have gotten away with even in the mid-90s. Sure, they all shared the obvious problem that if you were in the mood to play a Monty Python game, you've already seen the main sketches and know all the jokes, but what do you expect for games about a comedy troupe whose final movie was released back in 1983?

Are any of them worth tracking down now though? Nah. Just watch the DVDs yet again. At least they won't take hours of arsing around with virtual machines to get running on your PC.

And now, a completely pointless link that plays fart noises. And that is all.