Game protagonists are a big part of any gaming experience. A likeable hero can make the difference between an unforggetable classic and a less-said-the-better stinker. This edition of Remembering a Hero looks at Linus Spacehead, his adventures of astronomical proportions, and why his appearance in Cosmic Spacehead is well worth exploring again today.
By and large aliens get bad press. Our popular culture would often have us believe they’re a bad bunch, only interested in invading planet Earth with perverted plans of destruction or domination or both. Hollywood has perpetuated this sort of ostracism for generations; Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, Independence Day and Signs to name but a few (although sitting through two hours of the latter is no doubt worse than any impending alien invasion). But what if...and this is perhaps a big what if...but what if there were aliens out there who were only interested in visiting our humble planet to take photographs, purely to prove its existence to the non-believers of their own planet?
Enter Linus Spacehead, proud Linoman from the planet Linoleum.
Linus Spacehead's Cosmic Crusade (sequel to Linus Spacehead) debuted in 1991 for the NES courtesy of Codemasters, and told Linus’s tale of woe; his crash landing on the mysterious planet Earth, his return to Linoleum and having no one believe him, and his trials and tribulations as he attempts to return to Earth in order to prove his discovery.
Cosmic Spacehead, a remake of the original NES version was then released two years later in 1993 for the Genesis/Megadrive, Amiga and DOS. The jump from 8 to 16-bit allowed for far superior visuals, creating a game which - although clearly dated - is still well worth playing today. As a hybrid adventure pairing point-and-click style gameplay with standard side-scrolling platforming, Cosmic Spacehead probably didn’t get the credit it deserved back in the early 90s. Taking such a risk in combining two very different styles of play was virtually unheard of in that era, however created a pretty deep, fulfilling experience in the process - particularly considering the competition at the time.
The game’s protagonist Linus Spacehead is an inter-stellar explorer and modern(ish) day Christopher Columbus. One thing must be said for our Linus: he is one determined son of a bitch. He begins his saga pronouncing his desire for two things; a (flying) car, in order to travel back to Earth, and a camera, in order to take photos whilst there. But there’s one problem; he’s flat out of Linobucks, his planet’s currency. Now, me or you would most likely save up, work extra hours or take on a second job to afford such luxuries - like most sensible individuals - but not Linus Spacehead. With a general contempt for the orthodox, Linus follows a very unusual path in his attempts to reach Earth which sees him earning his sole source of income from slot machines, acquiring a counterfeit driving licence in order to win travel vouchers, assembling a bomb, traversing the wilderness, coming face to face with a one-eyed monster (behave, it’s not a euphemism; it literally is a one-eyed monster), and thwarting an android rebellion. Certainly not your run-of-the-mill holiday planning, that’s for sure.
By sweet talking his way through his quite frankly deserted planet (across the 20 or so locations Linus visits, only five or six people appear to reside in Linoleum), a combination of irresponsible postal workers, shady dealings with dark strangers, and Linus’s sugar-coated charm allow our star man to accumulate a menagerie of items, passkeys and collectables, all of which - luckily enough - are exactly the right tool for the job in overcoming his next obstacle. Point-and-click adventures tend to be epic affairs which demand hours of gameplay, but Cosmic Spacehead bucks the trend and is easily beatable within two hours. Due to its novelty this is definitely one of the game’s stronger points, making it easier to return to a game now two decades old.
But it is definitely worth a return, if for nothing else but to witness Linus in action. We salute you, Linus Spacehead, you are a hero. And hey, who would disagree? We’re talking about a guy whose day-to-day attire consists of a mask and a cape. That’s right, a cape. Let’s face it - we would all love to parade around in a cape all day if it weren’t deemed ‘socially unacceptable’, or ‘weird’.