As a kid who spent a big chunk of his childhood playing games which were simplistic or on a computer, I didn't have to deal with passwords as much as my more console-oriented friends. My Commodore 64 offered save games on just about everything lengthy enough to justify them.
The very first password I can remember earning in a game is from Agent-X 2: The Mad Prof's Back. I'll always remember it. It's GORMENGHAST, a passing reference to books I was far too young to know about at the time. The password lets you access the second chapter of the game and part of the reason I remember it so well is that I really had to earn it. I never even cleared chapter two.
I'm determined to know what happens in chapter three.
Agent-X 2: The Mad Prof's Back is the sequel to what appears to have been a fairly popular title in the UK known for quirky humor. The background plot is that the villain of the first game has returned with a new plan for global domination. Situated in his moon base, the Mad Prof plans to unleash the fury of his new Zit-Ray to cause worldwide panic as people break out with pus-filled skin. This will cause a rush on skin care products, which the Mad Prof intents to profit from.
It's silly, but I'm kind of glad that the story is there. While there's no implicit need for a background story with a title like The Mad Prof's Back in a game featuring arcade-style gameplay, sometimes an overly goofy one still beats out none at all. Plus, the pimple-popping game over screen would have been a bit confusing.
The first of the three chapters is a horizontally-scrolling shooter. Waves of enemies fly around the screen and you have to shoot them. They don't fire anything at you, but their attack patterns are pretty erratic and running into them drains health quickly.
For every wave you wipe out, you get a power-up for your gun. At first it becomes faster, then the length of the beam extends and passes through enemies, destroying all in its path. Eventually, each of these power-ups becomes a smart bomb that wipes out the next wave. But, your gun also powers down when you take hits and the enemies become faster as the level progresses, making it hard to regain power once you've lost it.
There's nothing overly complicated about it, but it just feels good to play. The chapter is challenging but by no means impossible and control is pretty responsive even on the spongy C64 controllers. What really makes it feel epic is the soundtrack, which has stuck in my memory for all these years.
Once you've reached the moon base, the gameplay switches. Now you control Agent-X on foot, trying to reach the Mad Prof's inner sanctum. Each screen has three floors and there are eight screens stacked utop one another. The object is to catch this ball that flies across random levels to get an access code to open the door. Then, you must find which of the 8 computers is online and enter the code.
Of course, if you enter the wrong code, it's game over. And you're being chased by strange spore things as well as this somewhat Giger-like creature which will have to be destroyed before your can escape. The thing takes a ton of hits to kill but if you've managed to survive the onslaught across floors, actually get the code and enter it, the worst is already past.
At least, that's what you would be led to believe. The true horror comes in chapter three. This is nothing more than a piss-poor Breakout clone. Instead of losing the ball when it passes the paddle, it bounces off the floor and you lose a bit of energy. There are a ton of blocks to clear, a quickly moving opposing paddle and a small target area near the top corner of the center area where the ball must eventually break through.
It's tedious and dull. There's no great music to enjoy, just the same sort of bleeping I could have had in the game it so shamelessly rips off. The first two levels showed promise, even if the latter is highly frustrating. This just smacks of lazy design and utterly destroys the rest of the experience.
Agent-X 2 is ruined for me. I'm glad I never managed to reach such a disappointing conclusion in my younger days and wish I'd avoided it even now. I have an mp3 of the theme music, the only memory largely uncolored by how awful the third chater wound up being. Even still, there's a bit more melancholy in that tune now.