[With the fifth issue of Retroaction now well and truly laid to rest, we continue to publish the articles that would have made it into those hollowed digital pages. Following our Retro Respect on Martian Gothic last week, we now continue our How To Cause A Complete Controversy series...]
When Stormlord was originally released on the 8-bit computers back in 1989, there wasn’t so much of a murmur about the game’s ‘au naturale’ fairies. Sure, there were the odd childish sniggers from a few reviewers, but most just passed it off as nothing overtly offensive – as it should have been. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that the game started receiving censorship and controversy.
Coming from legendary 8-bit coder Raffaele Cecco, who also developed classics such as Equinox, Exolon and Cybernoid, Stormlord is considered as a bit off a classic. Despite having some seriously rock hard game play, the game came away with a flurry of accolades from the gaming journalists: ‘C+VG Hit!’ (C64, 89% & Spectrum, 87%), ‘CU Screen Star’ (C64, 87%), ‘Crash Smash’ (Spectrum, 91%), Amstrad Action ‘Master Game’ (Amstrad CPC, 92%)… And when the Amiga and ST games were released a few months later, the outcome was even better.
The actual game is a curious mix of arcade, adventure and platforming action as the titular hero traverses four levels, releasing the impounded fairies before it’s too late. To do this, various puzzles have to be completed to progress through the levels. However, Stormlord is impeded by Venus fly traps, worms, flies, dragons and other foes on his travels. Thankfully, these can be taken out with a lightning bolt or sword from old Stormy.
The game is indeed a visual treat, and not just because of the fairies in question, but because the graphics are well defined and the colours used (certainly of the C64 and Amstrad versions) make the game look better than it actually is. Granted, the game may be well designed, developed and everything, but they forgot one thing… the playability. Despite having nine lives to play with, the player will no doubt find these decrease at an alarming rate. Stormlord is a difficult game, and frustratingly so, as a decent game lurks underneath the hostility of the gameplay. In the ‘Master Game’ rated review in Amstrad Action, Trenton Webb summed up the game perfectly when he stated that “Stormlord demands 100% concentration 200% of the time, and that’s during the easy bits!”
The whole censorship/controversy didn’t kick off until the game was ported over to the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis in 1991. RazorSoft, who previously released the equally controversial TechnoCop on the Mega Drive, ported the original Stormlord game over to Sega’s popular 16-bit console. However, despite looking like an almost exact replica of the Amiga version, the Mega Drive fairies were dressed up in silver bikinis. It remains unclear why the game was censored and RazorSoft had refused to admit if they were ordered by Sega to censor the game in such a way.
In December 1993, Amstrad Action gave the whole game away with their issue 99’s ‘Serious Action’ covertape. And yes, it was censored, with hilarious results. The censorship wasn’t quite as subtle as Razorsoft’s Mega Drive conversion, as the magazine had a programmer place black squares across the offending parts of all the fairies. This meant that the game played like it had a graphical glitch 100% of the time.
Well, one reader in particular was not happy. “I am fuming at you AA,” began the letter in issue 101, “Why in the world did you remove a part of the Stormlord game? Kids now see a lot more than the thing you censored. Even when you first reviewed Stormlord you showed the bit you censored. Remember, if in future you’re going to censor a game again don’t put The Complete Game as it’s not the complete game, is it?” Editor Dave Golder replied stating that “yes, kids can see things like that all over the place, but there are still some people who get offended – if not the kids then their parents. So in deference to them we made a slight alteration which IN NO WAY affected the gameplay.”
This may have seemed comical at the time, but Amstrad Action may have been trying to avoid another reader controversy that occurred with their issue 68 covertape in May 1991 with How To Be A Complete Bastard game (also covered in a Controversy article here at Retroaction). Whatever the reasoning, it didn’t seem to apply when Amstrad Action gave away the sequel, Deliverance, in its uncensored glory just a few short months later with issue 105 in December 1994.