The ‘80s microcomputer scene saw many homegrown quintessentially British games, adapting the quirks of British life into every genre possible. Some even formed new genres during their creation – the sandbox-style Skool Daze took a typical day at school and allowed gamers to express their disobedient side, writing on blackboards and refusing to sit down during class, while the open-world Trashman was based around becoming a sanitation worker – every British child’s dream.
Quirky British games seemingly died a quiet death during the mid-‘90s when the shift from cheap-to-produce 2D games to action-packed, polygon heavy, 32-bit titles occurred. But like The Spice Girls, Take That, and Mr Blobby, they’re making a comeback.
For this, we can partly thank the Belfast-based Billy Goat Entertainment. Supermarket Shriek, clearly inspired by the gaudy daytime game show Supermarket Sweep, follows in the footsteps of the unofficially dubbed “Official Brexit Game” Her Majesty’s SPIFFING to deliver an experience that’ll leave most gamers outside of the UK scratching their heads in mild bewilderment.
Indeed, it’s hard to know what came first – the game’s name or its concept. Supermarket Shriek sees a timid chap and his pet goat tackling various challenges in faintly recognisable high-street stores while hurtling around in a shopping trolley. As the duo yell at the top of their lungs, their screams propel the trolley forward – a unique set-up using only trigger buttons, with one character’s screams guiding the trolley left, and the other to the right.
Drifting around corners requires a degree of skill, calling for gentle trigger presses, and if a speed burst is required it’s very much a case of ‘scream if you want to go faster’.
A drab and rundown high-street provides the hub world, complete with a few hidden retro-influenced mini-games for those willing to take the trolley off the litter-covered path. Each shop not only has a pun-tastic name but a unique theme and a new challenge. Checkpoint races, wacky gameshow-style obstacle courses, and destruction-based stages pave the way for a hunt-the-items shopping challenge at the end of each street.
As each location is different from the last, with even the style of music varying, it’s impossible to know what to expect. There’s a sushi restaurant with conveyor belts to navigate and a butchers filled with meat grinders. Some shops are even tied into a single joke, such as the Indiana Jones-inspired clothing store Doctor & Jones. Cue one giant boulder.
Each challenge is based around a three-star ranking system, where a certain number of stars are required to unlock the next street. Gaining three-stars on a first attempt is unlikely – the courses require precise steering, and it also takes a few practice runs to memorise layouts and the movement patterns of hazards. Flame pits, ramps, saw blades, swinging axes, pusher plates and more litter the path leading to the checkout, and while there is leeway within the time limits for the occasional crash or U-turn, colliding into a hazard results in instant failure.
As you’d expect, challenges become larger in scale and more elaborate as things progress. But like a shopping trolley with wonky wheels, Supermarket Shriek soon starts steering in the wrong direction, ultimately leading players down the path of frustration. Later stages have dozens of ‘one-shot’ hazards, usually of the moving platform variety, raising the stakes by upping the potential for failure.
There’s nothing worse than reaching the end of a stage only to overshoot a platform by a few measly pixels and fall to a messy demise. By this point we were starting to curse the novelty control scheme, while also longing for the simpler, more enjoyable, earlier stages; the kind that required little more than swinging around corners while toppling stacks of baked beans.
Supermarket Shriek is unquestionably a novelty game and all that it implies. For two hours or so, it’s a hoot. The visual jokes, the Viz-style rundown high street, the knickknacks cluttering the trackside and the daft premise itself are guaranteed to generate a grin. Even the achievement names (“Aisle Be Back”) and means of unlocking them showcase daftness.
Slowly but surely, though, the novelty wears off. The joke ceases to be funny, ultimately leaving you with something that would have benefited from tighter, more reliable controls, rather than a few cheap chuckles.
As an Xbox Game Pass title, it’s still a recommended download for an evening or two of good silly fun (did we mention there’s a Sonic the Hedgehog 2-inspired bonus stage?) An excellent ambassador for the service, even – the fleeting nature of its silliness is an ideal fit. For those not subscribed to Game Pass, the £14.99 asking price may leave you feeling short-changed.