In 1984, Frankie Goes to Hollywood was a very big deal. Americans, inclined to write off the weirdly self-important and prurient dance-pop act as a one-hit wonder, may not be aware of just how big they were. Their 1984 singles “Relax” and “Two Tribes” respectively clock in as the #6 and #21 best-selling singles in UK recording history. They were never going to last, but at their peak, nobody in the landscape sounded like Frankie.
A year after those two mega-hits happened, Ocean Software Ltd published a Denton Designs game called Frankie Goes to Hollywood for the Commodore 64. Judging as best I can from a detailed YouTube simulation of gameplay, it looks like a pretty good game for what it is—and also kind of ridiculous too (it wouldn’t be a Frankie game if it weren’t a little ridiculous).
In the game, you play a monochromatic (often blue) homunculus whose task it is to fulfill the four life aspects of game, pleasure, war, love, and faith. These are represented by four corresponding icons: a pair of spermatozoa, a bullet (to me it never doesn’t look like a condom—this is clearer in the picture below), a heart, and a cross. You start at 0% and as you make your way through the various levels, “Frankie” rewards you with “pleasure units” and you eventually make it to 100% and win the game. Seriously, the gameplay repeatedly informs you with messages like “Frankie give you 2500 more pleasure units - you have 47200 and you’re 55% a real person.” Just think: if you achieve all four life aspects you can become a fully realized human being—just like Holly Johnson!
Actually, it’s high time I quoted from the manual:
You begin this extraordinary experience devoid of personality, an amorphous shape in the land of the mundane. Behind the facade of flying ducks and kitchen sinks however lies a giant web of drama and intrigue spun within the pleasuredome. Scruntinise! Investigate! Probe! Objects you take for granted may be your passport to success; clues can be discovered everywhere. In this game of games you will need the skills of Arcade King, Adventurer, Super Sleuth, Mastermind and more. Frankie say Relax. Use the Power of Zap to build the equation (4 icons at bottom right corner are (left to right) Pleasure, War, Love,and Faith) to its peak when, if you respond brilliantly, you may enter the heart of the Pleasure Dome
It’s all a little silly, and couldn’t be more pretentious in a stilted 1980s way, but, as I mentioned earlier, the game was surprisingly forward-thinking for the day. For one thing, the game is pleasingly non-linear; you definitely have goals to achieve and so forth, but basically you can wander around and do what you want to do, to some extent. The game seems to have been admirably short on roadmaps to explain what you were supposed to do.
Furthermore, the various stages of the game were quite varied and diverting, as far as I can tell. In the first stage you have to solve a murder, there’s an odd stage in which you are superimposed on Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel (only with a cheeky devil replacing God) and you have to dodge the arrows emanating from a squadron of cherubim. For reasons that aren’t explained, in the “Raid over Merseyside” stage you have to defend Liverpool (Frankie were from Liverpool, doncha know?) from some kind of WWII air blitz, and later on, in “Talking Heads” (I think), you engage in a weird Pong-like battle between Reagan and ... maybe Chernenko? The final stages of the game occur in some kind of anomic computer laboratory vaguely reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey or perhaps the original Tron.
The concept of the game is strong, as is the writing. Here is a sampling of some of the more memorable messages that pop up during the game:
“The jacket will free you from pain”
“You now have a herring”
“20 flowers make a bunch”
“The killer is a Taurean”
“You now have a bag of money”
“Mr Dull has always voted Tory”
“Joe Public hates to part with a penny”
“You now have a thirsty cat”
“Ms Bland adores a hot beef curry”
“The killer is an atheist”
Frankie’s music is the only element that is conspicuously lacking throughout, although predictably, the big reward for achieving full 100% humanity is a tinny rendition of “Two Tribes.”
Thanks to reader Ossian Sunesson for calling my attention to this game.