Retro recollections: Fairlight

There are some games that are all about the warm nostalgic glow, like Fairlight.

There are retro titles that stand the test of time, keeping their status not only for the part they played in gaming history, but also because they’re damned fine games that are just as playable today as they were back then. Yes, graphics and AI have improved over the years, but the basic fun challenge of some of the best games still works just fine.

That being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there are some titles that I adore simply for their pure nostalgic value. They’re rarely bad games, but I equally wouldn’t push anyone towards them with promises of absolute greatness.

Bo Jangeborg’s Fairlight is one such game. Back when I was just a wee tiny Alex, I had a copy of the game for the Amstrad CPC 6128 that was our family computer. Back when everything (and I do mean everything) was bright green.

Green was the prevailing trend of my youthful gaming years. I even continued the green gaming trend with the family Amstrad PCW 8256, which I recently uncovered in a family member’s attic:

My dimming memory suggests to me that I ended up with Fairlight because it was paired with another game, relatively inexpensively. It must have been relatively inexpensive, because I was just a kid with limited pocket money and an insatiable thirst for video games. It’s annoying me right now because I can’t remember what the other game was.

In some ways it might not matter, because Fairlight was the game that captured my imagination then and for quite some time thereafter. It’s one of those well-worn truths of the nostalgic retro gamer that in your youth you had limited funds and would play every game (even the bad ones) to death, whereas as adults we have far greater funds but no time to play. Ah, time, you’re a cruel mistress.

But I digress. Fairlight is an isometric adventure game in a similar vein to titles such as Knight Lore or Ritman & Drummond’s Batman that drops you into a magical castle with the eventual aim of escape, by way of finding the mysterious Book Of Light. That’s pretty much all you know when you start, and everything else has to be discovered by a means of trial and error.

Fairlight has an interesting approach to ingame objects, with a lot of interactivity for a game of its type. Sure, plenty of isometric games had block pushing puzzles, but Fairlight would (for example) allow you to permanently kill guards by beating them in combat and then dropping their helmets (from where they would otherwise respawn) into nearby tornadoes. Or for more fun, onto the top of them, so they would respawn on the tornado, and be flung about by it whenever you re-entered the room. You only found this out by trying it, and trying everything that Fairlight could handle across its entire map would take some time.

Back in the day, keyboard layouts didn’t pay any attention to that whole “comfort” business. If you weren’t suffering from blistering cross-finger cramp, you weren’t playing properly!

Not that you absolutely needed to, mind you. The actual solution for Fairlight isn’t that tough at all, and I can keenly recall being somewhat annoyed with it when I did first complete the game, simply because so much of the investigation of cause and effect I’d undertaken had been kind of pointless. Fun, but pointless in the grand scheme of things.

Fairlight is also somewhat infamous, because it was released by Edge Games, home of the somewhat infamous Tim Langdell. There’s a great (and very funny) interview preserved here that details Mr Jangeborg’s rather… ahem… interesting legal battles with Langdell around Fairlight and its sequel. I’m not sure if this is a matter of translation, or just dry wit, but it cracks me up every time I read it.

ZX: What are the best points about the Spectrum?
BJ: It made serious computing available to the masses.
ZX: And the worst?
BJ: It’s dead.

Sadly that same legal battle means that Fairlight languishes in the dark corners of the Internet only, with very little real hope of anyone picking up the rights to properly release it. Indeed, Mobygames suggests that Langdell rather seriously pursued any fan remakes of the game, which is probably why I can’t find any.

Ah well. I’ll always have my own rosy memories, and of course YouTube walkthroughs to take me back to the world of Fairlight.

Although my inner pedant wishes to point out this was the Amstrad PCW version of the game, which (until I started writing this piece) I didn’t even realise existed!

Retro recollections are just random musings on retro subjects, usually whatever I’m playing at the moment.

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