Platform games have traditionally been vehicles with which to launch marketable videogame icons. Mario, Sonic and countless others found fame in he genre before moving onto other things. So why didn't Hen House Harry achieve bigger things?


Despite the original Spectrum concept being designed by Nigel Alderton, the many different 8-bit versions were actually coded by different members of the A&F team including co-founder Doug Anderson who developed the BBC Micro version. Interestingly, this led to each version of the game having slightly different physics models that affected the way the game played. Some versions, like the Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro/Electron edition had realistics physics while others, such as the Spectrum version, were more unrealistic. Each different version was as well loved as the last though, except for the Amiga version, which was abysmal.

Amiga Version of CHUCKIE EGG
The Amiga version of Chuckie Egg was completely different to the 8-bit editions.

Chuckie Egg: How those birds climb ladders without arms we'll never know

Release: 1983
Format: 8-bit Home Computers
Publisher: A&F Software
Developer: Nigel Alderton

It wasn't the first. Donkey Kong and Pitfall beat it to the punch. But if those games were the premiere genre entries for Japan and the US respectively, then Chuckie Egg is the UK equivalent. Okay, so Manic Miner was released in the same year but let's be honest, it wasn't as good. Chuckie Egg could have been an arcade game. The controls were loose but reliable, the graphics were bold, if a little basic, and the level design was perfect.

Charged with collecting all the eggs from his chicken coop, Hen House Harry had to climb ladders, jump gaps and dive into elevators all in the name of egg hunting, while avoiding the oversized hens that roamed the house like angry ostriches. It may have looked relatively simple in still screens but Chuckie Egg was, and still is, a complex and demanding platformer. From the third level onwards, the game asked the player to perform all kinds of tricky manoeuvres. Timing jumps to land on the moving elevators was one of the toughest moves to pull off, while learning how to second-guess the roaming birds - that could inexplicably climb ladders - because essential to progress. More advanced players would later learn the best spots to jump from ladders as well as master Harry's ability to bounce off platforms if he hit them at the desired angle.

Yes, it was much deeper than it looked, especially in the scoring system. Harry could earn extra points and, eventually, lives by collecting the bird feed scattered around the level. The catch was, however, that the birds often ate the feed if they got to it first. Therefore, the smartest players would hunt out the vulnerable bird feed before heading for anything else, in order to maximise their socre and earn plenty of extra lives.

Those who managed to overcome the trickiness and thwart all eight levels were in for a big surprise. Like most arcade-style games of the period, the game 'looped', once finished, for all the levels to be played over until all lives were lost. Unusually though, the levels had a small but significant change that shocked those who saw it for the first time, and totally changed the way the game played. The abnormally large duck that had silently watched over the game from the top left-hand corner of the screen suddenly liberated itself from the cage and took flight around the level, chasing Hen House Harry with the relentlessness of a poultry Terminator. Unhampered by platforms or any other obstacles, the unnamed duck would roughly circle Harry, making direct and deadly dives toward him at regular intervals. Contending with the giant duck was bad enough but Harry still had to collect the eggs, dodge the blue hens and avoid plummeting to the bottom of the level - all enough to ensure that players were kept well and truly on their toes until all remaining lives were lost.

You may be forgiven for thinking that Chuckie Egg wasn't all that special initially. Crash magazine awarded the game 80% but failed to mention the 'duck twist' from Level 9 - presumably because they didn't reach it - this resulted in a review that largely missed the point. Still, British gamers soon discovered the greatness of Chuckie Egg for themselves, and word of mouth propelled the game to over one million nationwide. Considering the piracy that was rampant at the time, this was a huge achievement and should have cemented Hen House Harry as a bona fide star. So why didn't it happen? There are several reasons, not least the fact that publisher A&F Software failed to capitalise on the licence.

Things get pretty hectic once the giant duck breaks loose!

A sequel was produced in 1985 but was a messy videogame that lacked the charm and playability of the original, which perhaps put gamers off as they moved onto better platformers. A&F Software eventually went bust in the late Eighties, having failed to break into the booming console market or even crack the 16-bit computer scene. The Amiga conversion of Chuckie Egg, meanwhile, replaced Harry with a walking egg-man, which made little sense and ruined any chance of building him into a recognisable and marketable character.

It's a shame as the quality of the original game meant that Hen House Harry should have lived on throughout the Eighties to star in even more games. Now we can only wonder what might have been.