When Oscar arrives at the cinema, he walks into the foyer and sees the entrance doors to the various movies now showing.
Oscar is a platform game, originally bundled as a launch title with Commodore’s CD32 console. The aim of the game is to take control of Oscar (who looks like some kind of chipmunk) and find a set amount of Hollywood statuettes spread across the level, and then reach the exit marked by a clapperboard.
This game has a nice upbeat soundtrack, which is the only good thing that I can say about Oscar. CD storage was just introduced to the gaming world back then, and the increased storage space allowed the authors to include high-quality music. Sadly it all goes downhill from here.
Each stage is themed on a specific movie genre. There are nine stages with three levels each. You can choose to attempt any of the stages in any order you like. This may sound like it’s giving you the freedom of choice, but in fact, it also means that there is no difficulty curve as you progress through the levels. Unfortunately, the challenges in Oscar are due to all the other problems listed below.
For example, spikes shooting up beneath your feet without any warning, and breakable platforms which drop you down to your doom, again without any warning or way to recover. This forces you to play the game multiple times to memorise all the ways that the game attempts to kill you. If by any chance you manage this, there are also some enemies like the bees, who fly around the screen fast and randomly to distract you and force you to die anyway.
The graphics could have helped to make the game feel better. The CD32 was a new machine with the AGA chipset, which allowed for 256 colour modes from a palette of 16 million. The backgrounds are in fact breathtaking. However, Oscar manages to make a mess with all the colours, with most things getting lost in the background making enemies impossible to see until too late.
Then there’s the power-ups and bonus levels. Some of the power-ups are useful; a yoyo which can be used as either a weapon or a hook to swing your way across platforms, as well as other power-ups giving you temporary immunity, higher leaps, or the ability to fly. However, there are also bad power-ups. Invisibility hides Oscar from the screen, meaning certain death. Picking up a Gameboy power-up turns the screen into a monochromatic green which is pretty pointless. Then, the less said about the bonus and bogus levels the better.
So the game was warning me that it was not going to reward me for my perseverance and achievements. But I moved on. When I managed to actually beat a level, I had to wait until it counts down all the bonus points that were picked up instead of awarding them directly to your score. Although this can be skipped, so I moved on. There is no way to save the game, so you have to finish 27 hard levels in one sitting. And by the way, there are no boss fights whatsoever to spice it up. Finally, if you manage to beat it all, you are rewarded with a text message to congratulate you on your efforts.
But my interpretation of Oscar’s message is that the developers had a deadline which was the launch of a new console. All the effort was spent on creating nine different stages, with a differently-themed main character for each. This left no space for finishing all the other characters, for gameplay testing, and for the ending. Avoid like the plague. Heck, even Oscar’s creators knew that they had to perform a miracle to save this game, as indicated in this screenshot.