Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Psychonauts (PC)

Platform:  PC
Developer:  Double Fine Productions
Released:  2005
Genre:  Platformer

The Story
All young Razputin Aquato ever wanted was to be a Psychonaut.  To use his impressive mental abilities to go on crazy adventures, saving lives and battling evil forces and maybe setting a few things on fire with his mind just for fun.  So when the chance came for him to sneak into the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp - a secret Psychonauts training ground for psionically gifted children - he took it.  And immediately got caught trespassing before the welcoming ceremony was even over.  But despite the fact that he isn't technically a real camp trooper and his parents have been called to take him home the very next day, the camp counselors don't bother to try and stop him from participating in training activities with the rest of the kids.  Or taking part in dangerous, experimental mind tumblings.

And it's during one of these experiments that Raz stumbles upon something sinister.  Not-all-is-as-it-seems is pretty standard operating procedure at Whispering Rock, but what he uncovers is something else entirely, and he is determined to get to the bottom of it . . . in between improving his psi abilities, dealing with weird kids left and right, fighting off telekinetic bears, and going on scavenger hunts.  And most importantly, he needs to get it all finished before tomorrow morning!  Yikes!

The Game
Psychonauts is the brainchild of Tim Schafer, who originally came up with the idea as simply one part of a different game, Full Throttle.  He took that idea about a crazy trip through a whacked out mental landscape and, with the help of his team, developed it into a full story in its own right. Sadly, it sold very poorly when it first came out despite huge critical success, but has since gained a cult following.

The Characters
Razputin "Raz" Aquato is the main character, a young boy with impressive mental potential who quickly begins to turn that potential into reality over the course of the game.  He was born to a family of acrobats - which shows in the extreme ease with which he uses tightropes, trampolines, and trapeze swings to achieve his objectives - but ran away from the circus to join the Psychonauts because he knew his father wouldn't let him go otherwise.  Raz's family had been cursed by evil psychics to eventually suffer horrible deaths in water, you see, and as a result his father hates psychics.  And since Raz himself is a psychic, needless to say, their relationship is kind of rocky to begin with.

Whispering Rock Summer Camp is run by four members of the Psychonauts.  The first of these we meet is Coach Morry Oleander, a squat ultra-military type who enjoys putting the kids through the mental paces in his brutal Basic Braining course, which resides entirely within his own mind.  Literally.  The kids telepathically enter his mind and have to complete the obstacle course within in order to continue on to the next level of training.  It's primarily his influence which allows Raz to start training alongside the other kids.  Once he's seen proof of the amazing power locked inside Raz's mind, he knows that harnessing it is an opportunity he can ill afford to pass up.

Where Oleander is the brawn (or at least the bluster), Sasha Nein is the brains of the adults around camp.  Also impressed with Raz's abilities, he recruits the young psychic for a series of tests using a brain tumbler, sending Raz into his own mind and thus kicking off an adventure to stop vile enemies bent on world domination.  While a bit of a mad scientist type, what with the conducting of quasi-legal experiments on impressionable young camp-goers, Sasha is a very calm, cool, and collected dude, which is represented by the fact that his mindscape is a structured, orderly cube.

Milla Vodelo, on the other hand, is bubbly, passionate, and perpetually cheerful, and her mind is a jumpin' dance party, woooooooo!  She teaches the children the art of levitation, one of the most useful abilities in the entire game.  She's the heart of the Whispering Rock Psychonauts and cares deeply for the kids under her charge.  If you find the secret area locked away in her perpetual mental fiesta, you might even get to see why.

Finally and most importantly is Ford Cruller, semi-retired Psychonaut agent and camp janitor.  He's a fun guy.

Aaaaaaaaaaand then there are all the kids, the villains, and a handful of insane asylum inhabitants, the last of which you spend a good amount of time getting acquainted with their demented mindscapes.  I could go on for hours and hours about each and every one of them, I honestly could, and not just because many of them are important to the story.  Every character is unique and wonderful and really ought to be experienced firsthand.  The characterization in this game is one of the big reasons to play it, because-

The Writing
-the writing is the main reason.  Psychonauts is filled to the brim with clever, witty, and truly engaging dialogue as well as an interesting plot and well-developed setting.  Even during those occasional dull moments when the gameplay started to wear down on me, the thing that kept me going was wanting to hear the next joke or see what the next weird little development in the story was going to be.

So many games (and movies and other things, for that matter) try to be quirky and weird and usually end up being vomited out as a mangled mess by companies that don't really know what they're doing.  Double Fine doesn't have that problem, and their ability to truly be quirky and weird shines brightly in the humor and pure entertainment value of this game.

I feel kind of bad for leaving this section so short in comparison to just how good the writing really is, but you can just imagine that I've written twenty or thirty glowing paragraphs of drooling praise, because that's pretty much all I'd be doing.  And really, while I typically don't worry much about minor spoilers in these reviews, I don't want to give any of them out let alone the big ones in any detail so folks can really get into the meaty part of the game for themselves.

The Gameplay
Now, what I'm about to say here is both true and misleading.  Compared to the writing, the gameplay is a little crap.

This is not to say that the actual game aspects aren't good!  They are.  Sort of.  I mean, they're adequate.  See, Psychonauts didn't do anything that so many platformers before it didn't do.  It's pretty much strictly boilerplate actiony adventury jumpy-aroundy and collect stuffy.  Nothing new or innovative.  You could probably pick up any random Ratchet & Clank and get a similar experience.  And that includes a few small, standard glitches here and there.

But y'know what?  It gets the job done.  It may not excel, but neither does it bog things down, and thus it serves as a perfectly good plate on which to deliver the delicious steak that is the writing.

Now, with that said . . . that's not all there really is to say.  I played the PC version, you see, and unfortunately, the PC port really is complete crap.  Not to the point of being a gamebreaker, thankfully, but still, one or two steps further down the crap line and it probably would have been.  For those of you thinking of playing this version, I would high suggest that if you do not already have a gamepad, you should really consider investing in one.  There were many interesting choices made regarding the controls, but the most blatantly mystifying of these is that the mouse does not control the camera.  Instead, you have to use the numberpad to angle Raz's view around while you use the basic WASD to move Raz himself.  Which is more than a little awkward.  And though this next part at least can be changed, it seems almost equally odd that they still mapped some of the controls onto the mouse buttons as the default.

The gamepad controls are, fortunately, just fine and work like they should.  Yet it's not entirely free from petty annoyances itself, as certain parts of the menu (that being those parts regarding sound, resolution, and other stuff added in by the folks doing the port) can't be directly changed with the pad, meaning you have to use the mouse for those parts.  So make sure you get all your settings right the first time!

The Challenge
For the most part, pretty easy.  There are a few moments here and there in almost every level where things get frustrating, but once you get past those, the rest isn't much of a problem . . . with two major exceptions.

The first and foremost of these exceptions is collecting everything for 100% completion.  The particularly applies to gathering the Figments, of which there are often a couple hundred in each mindscape, and they are all 2D, neon outlines that fade in and out, some of which are moving around and others are very small, and all of which makes it very very very hard to find all of them, especially in the more brightly lit levels.  But so what, right?  It's just the 100% thing, so who cares?  Well . . . probably not many people, admittedly.  Gathering all of this hidden stuff is actually part of the upgrade system, and the more stuff you find, the more powerful you become.  But even without doing any truly diligent searching, the average player will probably find more than enough of the collectables to manage just fine.

More problematic is the last level of the game.  The original version, which was on XBox, gained a great deal of noteriety for being stupid difficult to a punishing degree.  One of the things they did right in the PC port was add a couple things and take out a couple others in order to make it easier, and yet I still found it to be the most highly frustrating part of the game, far more so than any other section.  And one of the things that made it yet more frustrating was that the boss fight was almost insultingly straightforward.  Not that the others were overly complex games of cat and mouse, mind.  But it's still the difference between picking boulders up (with your mind) and throwing them at the bad guy that you've set on fire (also with your mind) after penetrating their defenses (again with the mind thing) versus just running up and punching a guy in the face every couple of minutes until he stops trying to follow you.  It's just a little disappointing, that's all.

The Sights
I have to admit, at first I wasn't exactly thrilled about the super-deformed look of the characters, but over the course of the game they all grew on me, and now I can't really imagine them any other way.  The insane architecture, however, felt completely fitting to me from the very start, and it was always fun to find out just what the next person's inner mind was going to look like.  The minds of the insane asylum residents were definitely the most interesting to me, particularly one that is nothing but an extremely long alleyway styled like a velvet painting lit by blacklight.  Absolutely gorgeous.

The Sounds
A very well put together soundtrack, with each song wonderfully complementing the mind or other landscape it's attached to.  So much so that it tended to fade into the background for me, and I'd only really notice it when A) it became obvious they had threaded a bit of classical music into it (such as bits of the 1812 Overture sneaking into Napoleon's game table) or B) I realized I had been humming along with it for the past few minutes without thinking about it.

Much more noticeable and even more laudable is the voice cast, each and every one of them being guilty of doing a double fine job.  As excellent as the writing is, I don't think it would have been even half as funny without the stellar work of the actors using it to its fullest potential.  Not that it should really come as a surprise that they did such excellent work, as there are some pretty hefty VA names in the bunch, such as Tara Strong, Steve Blum, Stephen Stanton, Nick Jameson, and Richard Horvitz.

The Bottom Line
For the longest time, this was one of those games I was both intrigued by and wary of.  Because of the cult following, I had heard pretty much nothing but good things about it, that it was more or less the best game ever made in the history of best games ever made.  So while part of me wanted to check it out and see what all the hub-bub was about, bub, another very large part of me was shooting up red flags and warning flares that spelled out "Too Good To Be True".

Well, I'm not going to say that it was the best game ever.  But I am going to say it was good.  Damn good.  Certainly worth playing, and once I get another game or two knocked back, definitely worth going back to for 100% completion.  Even with only slightly above average gameplay and PC port deformities, it's still far more entertaining than a lot of other platformers I've played, and even more so than many other games in general.  If you've got the wherewithal to pick up a copy - be it for XBox, PC, or PS2 - I'd say it's well worth your time and money.

In the meantime, the possibility of a sequel dangles above our heads, as Mr. Schafer himself has said he would love to make one and only a few reality-check issues (such as funding) stand in the way, and I would be absolutely tickled if they finally made it a reality.  But I think, even more than that, what I would like to see is a TV show based on the game's setting.  I'd watch the hell out of that, and I'd bet that a lot of other people would too.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tyrian 2000

Platform: PC
Developer: Eclipse Productions
Released: 1995
Genre: Shoot 'Em Up

The Story
In the year 20,031, terraforming is big business, and there's no one bigger than the megacorporation Microsol. And when they come across a strange mineral called Gravitium that can control gravity itself, they look to become even bigger still. But you can't conquer the market - not to mention the galaxy - without shooting a few people in the back, and that's just what they do to the only person who knows about the mineral and their plans and isn't willing to go along with it. Unfortunately for the megalomaniacs at Microsol, that person just happened to have a friend named Trent Hawkins. A friend who happens to be not only one of their most skilled terraforming pilots, he's also pretty handy with a weapons system as well and looking to give his now former employers a little payback.

After stealing a ship, Trent heads out for the nearest non-Microsol planet to spread the word about Gravitum and bring the corporation down. The only problem? The absolute shit-ton of battle-ready ships between here and there, all of them looking to silence him before the entire sector explodes into a corporate/government war.

The Game
[I]Tyrian 2000[/I] was originally just [I]Tyrian[/I] before it was re-released with a bunch of new stuff, like a new chapter in the storyline with new levels and weapons and the like. But even before that, it was just a little something cooked up by a couple of guys trying out some scrolling game architecture. Feeling they might be on to something, they started shopping what they'd made around even though it couldn't really be called a game at the time. A few folks at Epic MegaGames happened to like the looks of the ingredients they were working with, brought in a few more cooks from developers Eclipse, and voila! A few years later a tasty arcade-style treat was served to the general public.

Small game makes good. It's beautiful, man.

The Characters
Trent Hawkins is our main character, the man who's seat you're sitting several yards above throughout the course of the game. Though he doesn't really say too much, the walls of text that spring up in between missions and chapters let us know that he's not a very happy man. Of course, his best friend has been killed by the company he was working for, and now that company wants to kill him with extreme prejudice on the way to taking over the entire galaxy. Not many people are going to be at their best under those conditions. As a result of all these shenanigans, Trent seems to turn into an angry, bitter shell through the course of the game, and who can blame him? Most of the people in his galaxy are complete assholes.

I could probably learn a little bit about each of the main bad guys in the game and tell you about 'em. There are at least a handful in there, and they are kind of colorful characters. But in the end, their primary role in the entire game is just to be bunch of complete assholes. Microsol as a whole has gone completely nutty, it seems, and all of them are fully prepared to take whatever steps necessary to procure complete control over everything and everyone in the galaxy. It's quite possible that the Gravitium has some kind of mind-bending element to it, but from the way they talk in the game, it's also quite possible that Microsol was already entirely staffed with megalomaniacal, delusional, and totally psychotic jerks.

Don't let any of this turn you off from the game, however. I think they're all great. I love every single one of those unrepentant douchebags!

The Writing
When I realized that this was going to be a bullets-flying-everywhere-shoot-em-up extravaganza, I wasn't expecting there to be, y'know, a story. And yet there is one! It's a bit hard to follow at first since a metric shit-ton of stuff is suddenly thrown at you all at once, including a bunch of stuff that doesn't seem relevant at fist but becomes so toward the end of the game. If, that is, you're bothering to pay attention to the story. It's not explicitly necessary, as it's just kind of something to read in between missions and has little to no bearing on the gameplay whatsoever except one to justify there being any gameplay in the first place and two giving little hints now and again.

That prompts the question then, should one even bother reading the story of T2K? My resounding answer is YES!

Once enough has been revealed that you can start making some sense out of everything that's being thrown at you, there actually is a pretty good story amidst the technobabble. The tale of a vengeful yet reluctant hero singlehandedly taking on the various dangers of the sector and smashing them flat one by one. Trechery, betrayal, high stakes, all that sorta good stuff. And surprisingly enough a great deal of humor, mostly of the absurdist and meta types while incorporating a lot of satirical jabs at some of the staples of science-fiction writing.

Sure, you could just blast through one level after another, taking suckahs out without thinking twice about why you're doing it, but I'd recommend giving the data cubes a chance before blasting off to your next adventure. You might just be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

The Gameplay
The basic setup is that of a basic overhead shoot 'em up. Bullets - yours and theirs - flying all over the place and basically obscuring everything on the screen as you weave back and forth and left and right. Crush your enemies, take the stuff they drop, crush some more. Virtually every level ends with a boss fight against some very large and very deadly ship or monster or construct of some kind.

But like the writing above, there's actually much more to it than one would expect. There's a great deal of customization you can do with your ship, even from the get-go. The ship and weapons upgrade system is very deep and changes slightly with almost every level depending on what kind of gear becomes available between missions. And despite there being different prices for each weapon, that doesn't necessarily mean that more expensive is also more better. I spent most of the game sporting the cheapest and most basic forward gun, simply upgrading its power level again and again as I got more cash. Why? Because I wielded it as pure death, bringing destruction to every dumb motherfucker that got in my path, that's why. For the most part, none of the other guns worked near as well for me.

But that was just me. There's several different kinds of weapons to choose from, and which is the best depends a great deal on what kind of strategy you take while playing.

I really liked the generator/shields/armor dynamic the game has going. Your armor is the basic structural integrity of the ship itself, and better ship models have more armor. Protecting that are your energy shields, which gradually get refilled by the generator. Better generator means better shield refill, and if you've got the best of both then ramming other ships becomes a completely viable option in a pinch. Keeping an eye on all of this during the game adds a nice layer to the challenge as well as giving you another slightly unconventional weapon in your arsenal.

The Challenge
The natural progression of challenge is to get harder and harder as you go along. In this, T2K is not quite natural. The beginning of the game is frustrating as shit as you start out with a little underpowered vessel and almost no idea what you're doing with the upgrade system. Once you start figuring out what combinations work right for you and get access to some of the better stuff later on in the game, things quickly shift in favor of the player. Eventually survival is just a matter of holding down the fire button and weaving from side to side, filling the screen with hot lasery death from which nothing can escape.

Which I gotta admit is fun, and it felt like a nice reward for having to put up with the constant deaths that plagued me early on. The backwards challenge scale doesn't really seem too out of place, and instead it's just nice to feel like a big damn badass toward the end.

The Sights
Wow! Many of the levels have their own kind of theme - set up by the storyline stuff between them - giving a wide variety of scenery to look at. And without a single exception I can think of, they are all absolutely gorgeous. Even when I was dying and starting each level over again and again, the one thing I didn't whine and moan about was the chance to see the pretty backgrounds again and again as well. They manage to shine through even when over 50% of their area is obscured by weapons fire.

The enemy design, while not exactly inspired as they all sort of run the basic sci-fi shoot 'em up gamut, is still very well done and eye pleasin'.

The Sounds
The default music setting is set rather low, leading to an interestingly low-key soundtrack overall. For the most part I didn't even hear it over the sounds of my own lasers blasting through the air and the explosions of my opponents. And in the end, those two things are really the only music you need for this merciless path of destruction. But on the few occasions I did take the time to stop and listen to the BGM, I would consider turning the music up to a more audible setting. It's actually pretty nice, if a bit incongruent with the war-like setting of the game.

The Bottom Line
I'll admit it. I went into Tyrian 2000 expecting a samey piece of junk as any other quarter-eating arcade overhead shoot 'em up. At first glance it certainly did look like it was going to go that route. And even though it did contain that sort of thing within it, T2K surprised the hell out of me by being an almost completely different sort of experience, going above and beyond to deliver something more. Beautiful graphics, a good story, a well thought out weapons system, and ridiculous amounts of comedy, all wrapped up in the comfortable trappings of a blow-the-shit-out-of-everything package.

It's good and it's free, so go out there and get it!

Final Fantasy Adventure

Platform: Game Boy
Developer: Square
Released: 1991
Genre: Action RPG

The Story
Life is rough for a gladiator. Wake up, slay monsters for the enjoyment and appeasement of the masses, eat, sleep, then do it all over again. Except today is different for one of these benighted souls. His friend dies in his arms, but not before imparting the secret to escaping the castle. Resolved to get the hell out of dodge, the now ex-gladiator manages to break out. Only moments after tasting his first breath of freedom, however, he overhears Dark Lord plotting to take the power of the mana tree and using it to rule the world, then gets pushed down a waterfall for his troubles.

Once he comes to, having survived the fall, our intrepid hero stumbles across a young girl who may just be the key to stopping the evil Dark Lord from accomplishing his sinister goal.

The Game
I remember when I was a kid, I played Final Fantasy Adventure a couple of times. I also remember giving up immediately both times because I couldn't figure out how to kill the first monster. But we'll get to that later. The point is, FFA was one of the earliest instances in which I learned that a game released here in the states had been given a different name than it had elsewhere in the world. In this specific case, FFA was known as Mystic Quest in Europe and originally Seiken Densetsu in Japan. I was later more shocked to learn that it was actually the first game in what eventually became known as the Mana series in the English-speaking world and not actually a Final Fantasy game at all. Now, imagine my further surprise to find during my research for this review that there was even more to the story than that.

As it turns out, FFA actually is a Final Fantasy game. Or at least it was intended to be. The full original name of the game was Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden, meaning it was a side-story to the FF series. This puts it in the realm of games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Dissidia Final Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts, all of which use some of the setting elements while altering core game mechanics. Where all of the main FF games are still RPGs through and through, the gaiden games shift their focus to stuff like action, adventure, and strategy. In any case, it wasn't until later that Seiken Densetsu became a different series all its own.

The Characters
The hero of the story is an ex-gladiator turned defender of mana and the world. His name is . . . whatever you decide to name him, in the English version. In the original Japanese, he's named Sumo. Y'know, like the big guys who push each other for sport. Unlike other games in and similar to this genre, our hero isn't a silent protagonist, though just barely. He's not much of a talker, but then neither is anyone else in FFA. All that can really be said about his characterization is that he's a pretty decent fellah and he's willing to go through a whole lotta crap in order to save the world.

Early on he meets a young lady - named Fuji like the mountain in the original Japanese or whatever you decide to name her in the English version - who seems to be the key to protecting mana from those who would misuse it. She owns a pendant which also figures into the whole scheme, and both she and it spend most of the game as the macguffin you have to chase around the map since they both are continually getting kidnapped and/or stolen.

Dark Lord is the resident bad guy, presumably because his parents named him "Dark Lord". He's got a second-in-command named Julius who's a magician type and pretty mean and nasty.

And then there's some NPCs now and again. Most of them are your standard walky-around-and-spout-random-information types. A handful push the game along in some fashion or another, such as the Gemma knight (an order dedicated to protecting mana) who charges you with guarding Jo and the pendant. And some actively join you in your quest. All of them, however, are pretty much small change. Generally unimportant to the actual quest, only briefly a part of the narrative overall, and not much worth mentioning. No, seriously. I'm not just saying this to keep from having to type any more in this section. If the game has simply had signposts in the place of most of the folks, no one would have been able to tell the difference.

The Writing
Just as the characterization described above suggests, the writing is so bare bones as to almost be marrow alone. Hell, it's downright abominable in some spots. Dude plays some music, something happens as a result, and the entire explanation is: "Mystic tune?" "Yeah."

It would be easy to blame the localization of the game, and it would probably be a fair cop. It's true that a lot of games at the time had their stories dumbed down by the English translators, and this one almost certainly wasn't an exception. However, that doesn't explain away how skeletal the whole story overall is. It's not just the dialogue. Much of the action is just filler, fluff, stalling for time. A lot of the things you're called upon to do don't actually have anything to do with saving the mana tree or stopping Dark Lord. They're just random obstacles that suddenly pop up to keep you separated from the macguffin of the moment, be it the girl, the pendant, or both.

One of the earliest instances of this is when the hero and heroine spend the night in a tower during their travels and, oops, the girl gets kidnapped by a vampire. Not a vampire sent by Dark Lord or Julius to stop the forces of good from succeeding. Not a vampire interested in harnessing mana for himself. Nope, just a vampire out for some nubile girly flesh. Guess you better go take care of that before you get on to doing whatever else it was you were supposed to be doing. No no, it's cool, saving the world can wait.

I don't mind jumping through hoops to get to the end of the line. I don't even mind when a few of those hoops are sidelines to the main quest. All these hoops are, after all, a necessary part to the RPG process. But when only one out of every five or six missions has anything even remotely to do with beating the big bad guy, I gotta start getting the feeling that the writers didn't really know what to do with their own premise.

The Gameplay
For an easy comparison, FFA basically plays like the old top-down Legend of Zelda games. You view the action from above, moving the hero around on a square-ish battlefield and taking suckahs out left and right and up and down. A charge up meter sits at the bottom of the screen, charging up whenever you're not actively trying to slay things. When it reaches its peak, you can execute a special move with whatever weapon you have equipped, that move usually having to do with throwing the weapon across the screen.

Speaking of weapons, I do rather like the weapon system in place here. You get several different kinds of weapons to choose from, including but not limited to battle axes, whips, and spears. Many of them are not only useful in breaking down baddies into finely sliced, stabbed, or lashed open sections, they also have other abilities helpful in your quest, such as crossing gaps and cutting down trees that stand in the way. It adds a fair amount of depth into what might have otherwise been a simple little hack 'n' slash.

Sadly, the weapons have their downside as well, that being that it's difficult to be sure you've hit your enemy with most of them. If the baddie doesn't have a knockback animation - which is often - you have to depend on a "whack" sound that's sometimes difficult to make out over the "weapon swing" sound and the background music. It can lead to situations where you're wailing away at some evil fungus or goblin or hedgehog but you don't notice for a few seconds that you're not actually hitting the bastard and they end up turning right around and clobbering you right in the face quite handily.

I mentioned before that NPCs are pretty much useless in the game, but truthfully it's worse than that. Their crimes range from petty criminal negligence to outright belligerent harassment.

Let me go on record as saying that I hate hate HATE that whole "walk into someone to talk to them" thing that was so prevalent in Square's early RPGs. It's annoying as hell when you're trying to get by someone, there's only about an inch of space to get by (if that), and they have a twenty minute conversation loaded, cocked, and ready to fire each and every time you try to step around 'em. On the bright side, you can kill them dead.

Or, uh, so I heard.

AI controlled characters sometimes join you, but they're hardly any help at all as their entire schtick is to walk around aimlessly and shoot/magic/stab/nothing randomly all around them with absolutely no regard as to where the bad guys actually are. There are certain things you can get them to do if you use the "ASK" option, like heal you or whatever, but that's really where their helpfulness begins and ends.

But the thing that ended up annoying me the most was the fact that there were locked doors in dungeons for which you needed keys. Not so much that these things existed, as they're a perfectly good staple of video games overall. It was that I had to buy the keys at stores outside the dungeons, straining the seams on my tiny and usually already full-to-bursting inventory bag. It was either that or simply hoping that they would randomly drop from an enemy, which they only very rarely did.

This still wouldn't have been so bad if the locked doors were only to special areas with extra stuff. But as the game progresses more and more of these doors are part of the actual gauntlet that you need to run to get to the end. Furthermore, if you traveled enough rooms away, the doors you had already unlocked before will magically reappear, locked once again and requiring another key from your inventory to pass through! All put together, this smacks of simple douchebaggery on the part of the programmers, and it's the reason I finally gave up on beating the game about halfway through.

That's right, I'm doing a full review on a game I didn't finish. I usually don't like doing that, but I think I still managed to play enough to get a good feel of what FFA's about. The problem is that I got into a section of Dark Lord's castle that was about six or seven rooms from one end to the other, and both of those ends had locked doors on them. And I had run out of keys. And after nearly two hours of grinding through monsters I still hadn't found a key drop. I probably could have kept grinding for several more hours until a key finally fell out of one of the treasure chests, but all the other little annoyances in the game had already discouraged me and this was just the last straw.

The Challenge
Your allies are randomly attacking morons and the enemies are absolutely no different. With very few exceptions (those generally being the ones firing magic attacks), every single baddie just walks slowly around the screen, attacking the air around them in the hopes that they eventually hit something. More often than not, the threat they pose is one of being unpredictable as well as just sheer numbers crowding in your way.

I know it's just a Game Boy game, but surely something a little bit better than this was possible. At least getting either the baddies or the goodies to actively turn toward whatever side of the screen the opposition is on, even if they don't line themselves up exactly.

In any case, this makes the game frustratingly uneven in the challenge arena with everything being up to simply how the random number gods decide to fall that particular battle.

The Sights
If there's one spot I can say FFA does bring the goods, it's in the looks department. The backgrounds are pretty good, and the sprites are pretty much spectacular. While not tremendously expressive, they are very detailed and well designed. I am approve.

The Sounds
As mentioned in the gameplay section, the "hit" sound effect can often be difficult to detect. One of the reasons for this is that the background music is often loud and almost uniformly terrible. There's the occasional gem that slipped through somehow, but for the most part the music is clanging, piercing, grating, or otherwise just plain horrible. I tried not to pay attention to it as much as possible, and even tried to shut it off so I could listen to some of my own music, but unfortunately I still needed some of the sound cues to play the game properly.


The Bottom Line
I have to say that I wasn't sure I could make it through this review without inevitably drawing comparisons to the sequel Secret of Mana. Thankfully I think I managed quite well and such comparisons can wait until I do the SoM review.

Now, I know that much of what I've said here has been pretty negative, but I do have to say that for the most part all of my complaints are rather small ones. The annoyances were petty more often than not, and on their own I could have easily ignored them and gotten on with the game. It's just that there were so many of them all ganging up on me at once that my patience finally began to wear thin.

I could see, however, why so many folks like FFA, why it has a good-sized fan-base. It's just that I personally couldn't look past the flaws to truly enjoy the gem that I could sense hidden underneath. If you like action, RPGs, or action RPGs, I would definitely recommend you at least give this game a whirl. Who knows? You might be able to enjoy it where I didn't!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fun: Good Old Games

I have a new favorite site. And if you love old games like I do, you may have a new favorite site, too. It's like an old school gamer's wet dream.

Good Old Games has a ton of exactly what their name implies, all for the low prices of either $5.99 or $9.99 . . . except for a few that are free free FREE. Those few being Beneath a Steel Sky, Lure of the Temptress, Ultima IV, Teenagent, Dragonsphere, and Tyrian 2000.

And besides offering these great games to folks, GOG has also gone to the trouble of setting them up where they'll work on newer machines with little to no trouble at all! That's pretty swell of 'em, I'd say.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to fill my wishlist up with virtually every single game on the site.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Short 'n' Sour - Splatterhouse 2, System Shock, and Back to the Future (NES)

Splatterhouse 2

Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Namco
Released: 1992
Genre: Beat 'Em Up

The Game
It's been three months since Rick donned the Terror Mask and splattered the walls of West Mansion with the vile ichor of monsterkind. Nightmares haunt his sleep and he begins to hear the voice of the Terror Mask again, telling him that Jennifer doesn't have to die. Heeding its siren call, Rick returns to West Mansion to once again wear the mask, using its unholy power to save his girlfriend.

The Good
Far improved graphics than the original (even though Rick still does his little "jump without bending his knees" thing). The scenes in between stages give a small glimpse into Rick's thoughts as well as setting up the next level. There's a new password system allowing the player to get back to the last level they reached without having to play through from the beginning all over again.

The Bad
At first I was excited about Splatterhouse 2. Better graphics, actual story elements, and so on. But as I progressed through the first three levels (which is as far as I got), that excitement gradually wore thin until it finally evaporated.

What I came to realize was despite the prettier packaging, Splatterhouse 2 is still basically the exact same game as its predecessor. Perhaps even more so. Rick doesn't have any new moves in his arsenal, just the old punch-kick-jump-jumpkick routine. He's got some different looking weapons (like what appears to be a human thigh bone), but their basic use - to smash enemies quicker and with a gorier death animation - is still the same. Having gone through the whole rote memorization routine with the first game, I find that it's even more strictly adhered to in this one. The second stage was pure drudgery as I worked my way through the same choreography over and over again, adjusting my moves slightly here and there until I got it exactly right, and the third stage was so set in its own little rhythms, so stuck in a rut that it was painfully obvious a blindfolded man who already knew the right sequence of moves could make it through without breaking a sweat, that I finally gave up the entire exercise as completely pointless.

There's no life to the game, no real strategy. I might as well be playing a memory game with playing cards. Hell, if the playing cards also had images of monsters being squished in horrifically violent and disgusting ways printed on them, the illusion would be complete. Splatterhouse: TCG.

I wonder if there are enough Splatterhouse fans out there that I could market this idea to.

System Shock

Platform: Computer
Developer: Looking Glass Studios
Released: 1994
Genre: First Person Shooter, Action Adventure

The Game
In the year 2072, a hacker is hired/blackmailed into removing the ethical constraints on an artificial intelligence named SHODAN, who runs a space station for the megacorporation TriOptimum. In return, he receives a set of military grade cybernetic implants, and the surgery keeps him in a healing coma for several months. When he wakes up, he finds that SHODAN has gone completely megalomaniacal and intends to use the resources of Citadel Station to take over the world, wipe out all current life, and start anew with herself as Earth's malevolent goddess. Time to rage against the machine.

The Good
A lot of the good things that I mentioned in my System Shock 2 review are here in a sort of larval form, but . . .

The Bad
. . . the larval forms aren't just underdeveloped, they're also poorly implemented in many ways. I don't want to blame the developers here, because they were all wonderful ideas, as SS2 demonstrated five years later. This game was simply way ahead of its time and suffered from it, being limited by the technology current at the time as well as utilizing a lot of FPS conventions that we take for granted now but were completely new back then, untried, untested.

I won't go into all of it (this is supposed to be short, after all) but the control scheme, I think, is the absolute worst part of the whole thing. It's a fully-realized 3D environment, but the mouse doesn't control where you're looking. Instead, it's in a constant interact mode with the game world, leaving all camera controls to the keyboard, which is extremely awkward. The mouse can be used for some limited movement of the character himself, but since you need to use the mouse to click on doors to open them, this can be slightly problematic. The character can be posed using various keys, enabling him to lean to either side, duck down, look up and down and all around, and this all sounds fine in theory, but in practice it made me feel more like I was trying to pose a mannequin the entire time rather than move around like an actual human being.

Have you ever seen the movie Meet Dave, where Eddie Murphy is a spaceship piloted by a bunch of tiny aliens? There's a scene where they're first trying to get used to walking the ship around naturally (part of which can be seen in this trailer), but his limbs kind of go all wacky-like the whole time. This is sort of what trying to drive the Hacker around is like.

I'd already tried playing SS a few times before and ended up quitting after just a few minutes every time. This time I finally made it to a cyberspace node and found the controls there slippery and difficult to get a good feel for, so sadly I had to quit again. It was after I shut the game off and relaxed back in my seat that I realized that I had been tensed up the entire time I had been playing because I was concentrtating so damn hard on just moving around. This does not strike me as an indicator of good game design.

I'm thankful as all get out that SS led to the far superior SS2, but damn. It's just . . . horrible. A great idea buried by its own terrible interface.

Back to the Future (NES)

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Beam Software
Released: 1989
Genre: Action Adventure

The Game
In this game based on the hit movie of the same name, Marty McFly has to race his way across Hill Valley so he can hop in the DeLorean time machine and blast back to the future! Can he make it through the various dangers of 1955 to make it back to his home era of 1985? Only time will tell.

The Good

The Bad
That's weird. I don't remember the part of the movie where Marty was running along a street filled with hula hooping girls intent on killing him with their purple spit. Maybe it was in the deleted scenes. I also don't remember him PISSING ME OFF SO GODDAMNED MUCH. He doesn't even really look like Marty but like one of Biff's bullies in a muscle shirt, his hit detection is shit, he has two clocks running against him at once (the disappearing photo as well as the standard level timer), and his theme music sucks. According to Wikipedia, the background music is supposed to be a sped up version of "Power of Love", but I don't believe that for even a second.

Now, moving away from things I don't remember, I do seem to remember this game being better when it was one of the mini-games in Skate or Die. I may be wrong in that. But I also remember playing Paperboy (another game that will likely end up in the Short and Sour stack), and I'm pretty sure BttF is just as horrible. For example, the whole programming the game where power-ups and other items are sitting in spots where no one could possibly ever retrieve them without losing a life. That's smart work, folks.

I don't think I've ever made it past the malt shop "boss" level. It's a combination of said level being stupid hard and the fact that I just don't give enough of a shit about the game to try and get any further. I decided to give up the future during this playthrough after I actually managed to block a good number of bullies but then got thrown out anyway and had to start the whole last section over again just to get back to the malt shop.

Fuck that.

Like System Shock above, I was tensed up during most of the time I was playing. A game should have you on the edge of your seat with excitement, not shriveling up into yourself because you're afraid to make even a single wrong move. BttF was poorly designed, poorly executed, and there's plenty of good reasons why everyone - including the people who made the films - hates it.

Mickey Mousecapade

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Hudson Soft
Released: 1988
Genre: Platformer

The Story
Mickey and Minnie hear a cry for help from a mysterious source! Ever ready to lend a hand to someone in need, they set off on an adventure to save whoever it is from whatever the heck is going on!

The Game
Though not exactly a remarkable game in and of itself, the background of the game is actually a bit interesting. It was originally titled Micky Mouse: Adventures in Wonderland when it was released in Japan by Hudson Soft. Capcom then brought it over to the English speaking world, changing the name to Mickey Mousecapade (not Mickey MousecapadeS as so many people, including myself, have called it), altering almost every sprite in the game, and changing the story a bit. The full scope of these changes will be described in the appropriate sections below, but suffice it to say . . . they didn't make too much sense.

In any case, MM is also remarkable in that it started an era of Capcom making Disney-themed games. If nothing else, I think we can all thank MM for paving the way for Duck Tales.

The Characters
The main two characters of the game are Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Disney's prominent mascot and his girlfriend. They're sort of emulating their mostly-silent versions here, as Mickey says a total of two different words throughout the entire game, and as far as I can remember Minnie doesn't say anything at all.

These two intrepid mousies are off on an adventure to save . . . ALICE! ALICE ALICE ALICE! Y'know, from Wonderland? There, I spoiled the surprise. But I had to, you see. Firstly, because in the Japanese version, it's not a surprise. Right from the start it's known that you're going to be battling your way through Wonderland (I mean, heck, it's in the title) to save poor little girl Alice who has been caught and imprisoned and whatnot. Secondly, it needs to be mentioned to help along with the talking about the changes that were made to the game thing. And thirdly, I remember just how bitterly disappointed I was that I was saving Alice. It was made out to be this big huge mystery as to who I was trying to save . . . and it was just li'l ol' Alice.

I mean, I guess she deserves to be saved just like anybody else, but Capcom actually set things up to be like some sort of cool mystery, like there was going to be an awesome twist at the end. Like you beat the game and it turns out you were actually saving Mickey and Minnie and you weren't the real Mickey and Minnie but robots from the future made to look like them sent back to the past to save them from their certain death! But no, it's just Alice.

So if you haven't played the game before and you might have been intrigued by the cool mystery, I have just saved you the bother. No need to thank me. Just doin' my job.

Anyway, next we have the bosses. This is where the major changes to the game come in. As mentioned enough to make one gag already, the original version of MM was set in Wonderland. You wouldn't really be able to tell it from the stages unless you thought about it way too hard, but at least the bosses were Wonderland material through and through. The Cheshire Cat, the Dodo, the Caterpillar, and finally her big bad majesty, the Queen of Hearts. Well, there's also Captain Hook of Peter Pan fame. Apparently Neverland takes up some Wonderland real estate. In the Americanized version, however? These become a witch, a crocodile, a snake, and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. Oh, and the good Cap'n is replaced by Pegleg Pete in his pirate garb.

You may notice that only two of these replacement bosses really have any direct connection with Disney. Of course, there have been some attempts by people to place the others somewhere in the Disneyverse as well. The most logical and probable of these is the crocodile, thought to be the clock-swallowing croc who's always after Captain Hook's other hand. The reason this seems sound is the fact that said tick-tock croc is actually on the game's American box art. Of course, this brings up the question of why they bothered putting in the croc if they took out Hook? Less probable is that the snake is Kaa from The Jungle Book. I mean, it's possible, but it barely looks anything like him. And the most bewildering of all is the witch. There have been a couple of witches in Disney cartoons, but this one doesn't look anything like any of them past the whole stereotypical witch look.

Then there are the smaller, regular baddies that roam the various levels. And though most of them had absolutely nothing to do with Alice in Wonderland or even Disney in general, many of them were changed as well. Stuff like switching out gophers for cats and one kind of bird for another kind of bird and even simple color swaps like turning pink flowers red. At least if the flowers had been white in the original and they'd been changed to red for the overseas release, that could have been a very clever inside joke on Capcom's part.

I've taken a look around to see if I could find the reasons for these changes, but the overwhelming evidence seems to indicate that nobody knows why Capcom did this. People have theories of course, but then people always have theories. In the end, it just doesn't seem to make any sense. The only reason to have hidden the Wonderland characters was to keep Alice's presence a secret, which in itself didn't make sense.

The Writing
The original story is very straightforward. Alice is kidnapped by the Queen of Hearts. Micky and Minnie try to save her. As mentioned before, Capcom tried to mix this up a little . . . and in this at least they were halfway successful in making an intriguing story. They hid the identity of the person in trouble, adding some mystery to the proceedings. The box art and the ads showed footprints leading them on, and I remember feeling a sense of following those footprints in the game itself. Which was kind of exciting, sort of like I was an adventuring sleuth on the trail.

But, as also mentioned before, the mystery guest is just Alice. So . . . yay? Seems like a waste of a good marketing campaign. And basically that was all they succeeded at in the writing arena: making a good marketing campaign. The game itself is typical of most older platformers in that if you can find any actual narrative structure, then more than likely it was merely accidental, not something the creators had intended.

Even if one took into account that the game was supposed to be proceeding through Wonderland as per the original storyline, the levels simply have little to nothing to do with Wonderland. You could make cases for the house being the mirror house from Through the Looking Glass or the ocean level being the ocean of Alice's tears, or the forest being . . . um. Well, there were a couple of different forests in the movie, I guess. But see, that's the thing, the levels are at best only vaguely connected to anything Disney in general much less Wonderland specifically. They're just sort of generic settings for Mickey and Minnie to jump around in.

Capcom gets an E for Effort regarding the adverts, but they and Hudson both get an F for pretty much everything else.

The Gameplay
Much of the game is set up to be a pretty standard platformer. There are enemies running around trying to attack you. There are items to pick up. There are, ultimately, platforms.

Players take control Mickey as he jumps his way around these platforms, shooting at enemies with stars (energy balls in the original) and generally just being a typical platformer hero. Players also take control of Minnie. Though by "take control" in this instance I mean "hope she kind of does what you want/need her to do at any particular moment".

Those of you who remember my review of Stimpy's Invention (and why shouldn't you, it was just a couple of weeks ago!) will surely remember that I was rather disparaging of the double-character control setup. Mickey Mousecapade is not disabusing me of that disparagement. Minnie does bring a little to the plate after you've procured her star attack, enabling you to utilize her in an inventive way during boss fights (protip: she's invincible against enemy attack and can climb ladders while you stay on a lower level), but otherwise she's a drain. A lead weight. A nuisance.

If she dies, Mickey dies. And when you're jumping over deadly pits like in the ocean level, she can and will fall into said deadly pits if you're not careful to keep her right there with you. If Mickey is at an exit but Minnie isn't, neither of them can leave the room. This lead to at least a few instances (especially during the final stage in the castle) where I'd clear out an entire room and it would still take me an extra half a minute or so trying to get her up all the platforms to the exit.

And then there's the thing where you find secret items and reveal them with your star shooter only to find out that it's a monster that kidnaps Minnie and you have to get her back by finding a secret key and then playing a guessing mini-game to get her back. So that's fun.


But even if the double character nonsense got taken out, there's still a lot of little annoyances in the game from a single character perspective. I do have to say that it's interesting in a way, at least. Playing a lot of these older games makes me realize just how much we now take for granted in platformer games, even the fancy 3D ones of the modern age. Stuff that simply doesn't exist in this game. Stuff like being able to jump from ladders and being able to jump straight up in the air but then move around to some other position like a floating leaf that tumbles at its own discretion. Here you can only drop from ladders like a stone, usually right into enemy fire, and if you just straight up in the air then you're not going to be doing anything other falling straight back down.

This isn't really bad, per se. It's annoying, but only because I've been pampered by modern gameplay. Otherwise it's merely an interesting thing to note about the evolution of the platformer genre in general.

The Challenge
Y'know, I remember that when I was a kid, I thought Mickey Mousecapade was tough as hell. Ridiculously hard in the grand tradition of many Nintendo games of the age. I was surprised, then, upon picking it up for first time in at least two decades and busting out the first three levels with only a few minor irritations. They were, sadly, irritations of the type where things aren't really challenging in a fair and balanced way but in a "oh FUCK YOU, GAME" way. Still, easily surmountable.

Then I got to the pirate ship stage where the game suddenly became a cheap-shot whorebitch. Fuck you, MM, for setting up four rooms in which hits cannot possibly be reasonably avoided and progress is done more through luck and determination than through skill and gradually learning the curve. Fuck you so very much.

At the very least it had the decency to actually limit it to just those four rooms. The castle level after is back to a more sprawling architecture and is still rather difficult to navigate, but at least it isn't the complete middle finger to the players that the pirate ship manages to distill and compress so well.

I'll give the game a middle of the road assessment on challenge, but only as an average of the two extremes.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I can't really state with any authority of the final boss. I managed to get an invincibility fairy right toward the end of the game and touched Maleficent just before it wore off. I didn't really expect it to work but thought, "Eh, what the hell." It did work, meaning I beat her in a possibly record breaking two seconds. Go me!

The Sights
Honestly, I was fully prepared to just about completely bypass this section with a simple "meh", but upon reflection I find I can't. Much of this reflection has a great deal to do with checking out the various sprite differences between the Hudson and Capcom versions of the game. The thing is, compared to the vast majority of early NES games, MM has it going on. The stages are pretty vibrant, the sprites are actually pretty well constructed in both versions, and it almost looks like it was made at a later stage in the system's life than it actually was. The forest stage is probably the best of the settings, which is kind of surprising given it's pretty much the same thing over and over again only in different seasons.

The Sounds
Not stellar, but still pretty catchy. Seemed like a nice preview of the much better music that would later be heard in Duck Tales.

The Bottom Line
Eh, I have a tough time categorizing this one, really. If you've got nothing else to do some lazy afternoon, bust this game out and give it a whirl. It can be a fun little romp when it's not causing minor blood pressure spikes. But more than it's worth as a game, it should probably be played through at least once for the appreciation of the place in video game history it occupies. Much of what Capcom became through the late 80's and early-to-mid 90's was because they handled publishing this game.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ren and Stimpy: Stimpy's Invention

Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: BlueSky Software
Released: 1993
Genre: Platformer

The Story
Stimpy has built a new invention, the Mutate-O-Matic! It's purpose? To mutate disgusting garbage into delicious food! Ren is skeptical about this strange machine, so in order to show off how awesome it is, Stimpy turns it on full. Unfortunately this causes an overload which makes the machine explode, scattering the parts all over the place. In order to keep it from causing lasting damage, the intrepid duo must seek out the various parts, reassemble them, and then shut the Mutate-O-Matic down for good.

The Game
Most everyone who lived during the 90's will remember The Ren and Stimpy Show, an influential cartoon on Nickelodeon that led the way for future weird cartoons (such as Spongebob Squarepants) and future "mature" cartoons (such as Beavis & Butt-head). Its popularity (with the viewers, if not with Nickelodeon itself) brought about the creation of several video games, including a few after the show went off the air.

The Characters
Ren Höek is a depraved chihuahua with an eye for the ladies, a mind for the money, and a temper for anything and everything that annoys him. Which is anything and everything, but particularly his buddy Stimpy.

Stimpson J. Cat is a dimwitted cat whose only real smarts are for inventing weird ass shit. He's jolly, good-natured, and basically nothing like Ren.

Not that you really need to know any of this, since their characterization from the show is hardly used in this game in any significant way past being a general frame for the setting.

The Writing
There isn't any, really. There's the setup at the beginning, then the rest of the game is just running around to various random places to collect invention pieces. There's no real plot or humor or anything, just cartoonish action.

The Gameplay
From the options menu, the player can choose to play as either Ren or Stimpy, but it hardly matters considering you can switch between the two at any time while playing the game, and they don't really have any difference in style except for the purely aesthetic. Their moves may look different, but in most cases they function exactly the same. Both characters are, in fact, playable at the same time, and whichever one you're not playing as will simply follow along with you . . . for the most part.

Basically, the double character play is shit. If you want to do a ranged attack, for instance, you have to have the other character near you. I played Ren most of the time, which meant said attack was Ren grabbing Stimpy and squeezing him so that he'd hork out a high-speed hairball. If Stimpy is even just a few millimeters away from Ren, however? Short range attack. I can't express just how annoying it is to be trying to take down a target that's heading at you, you're brimming with confidence that you can take it out before it becomes a threat, but Stimpy moves just a little bit to the left and you get hit because Ren's puny little flyswatter can't reach all the way across the damn screen. Pretty much half the game was spent popping the air uselessly like this.

Having to rely on the other character is also annoying for various hurdles that require both of you to jump up on something, particularly the fire hydrants in the City level. It takes Ren and Stimpy both to make the hydrants propel you up to higher levels, but in many cases you'll jump up and the other character won't. And you try to jump and jump and jump in a futile effort to get them to jump too, but all they do is just stand there and blissfully ignore you.

If you have a buddy to play with, taking control of the second character, this may ameliorate some of these problems . . . but given the way first and second players of video games tend to cooperate, I kind of doubt it. And anyway, it's not like there aren't enough problems concerning just the stuff that you can do without the second character. Trying to grab onto ladders, pipes, and other climbable things is a horrific experience, relying on you pressing up at the precise nanosecond you enter the precise nanometer of actually climbable space. And jumping . . . hoo boy. I won't say it's exactly a deal breaker for playing the game, but it's still a fair bit inaccurate, and even after I got used to it I ended up overshooting my target several times when Ren or Stimpy got just a little bit too enthusiastic.

Overall, for a platformer, the game doesn't do platforming very well.

The Challenge
The hit detection in the game is rather wonky, so you can't really tell when something getting near you is actually going to hurt Ren or Stimpy. It's pretty much the same problem as the ladders mentioned above, only applied to the enemies, and I think the main reason it's a problem is the cartoony look imposed on everything. Of course, it's got to look cartoony 'cause it's based on a cartoon, but unfortunately this really works against it because most everything has poorly defined boundaries as a result. This makes things a bit more challenging than they would be otherwise as a result, more of that false difficulty so common in (poorly made) games of the time.

The level in which Ren and Stimpy puff themselves up like balloons is annoying as hell, particularly since the other character suddenly becomes solid and can either block your path or bump you into bad guys. Even more frustrating is that they also don't help whatsoever except to pick up items along the way, which they'll only do incidentally, never on purpose. So whatever limited usefulness they may have been in other levels becomes completely negated in this one.


Basically, whenever the game tries to change up the formula from a standard platformer, it fails and fails hard. The new mechanics feel horribly out of place and end up being even more frustrating than the already poorly designed regular mechanics. As a result of these changes they become the most difficult parts of the game, but purely because they're crap design.

And then what do I get for all my troubles? A crappy instrumental version of the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" song with accompanying bouncing ball karaoke that's off in its timing. Fuck that noise.

The only saving grace is that it didn't take very long to beat. Just a few hours, really. Stimpy's Invention is just one of those games that isn't particularly hard to beat, but every setback feels twenty times more frustrating than it should and there's so little in the way of reward to offset that frustration.

The Sights
If there is one spot where the game excels, it's in the looks department. Said looks may have made the hit detection go all awry, but they're still pretty good. It's got the feel of the show down pat, and it's a rather pretty game overall.

The Sounds
For the first little while trying to play the game, I thought there was a problem with my emulator because the sound wasn't coming on. I thought I'd fixed the problem, but then I learned that the problem was with the game, not with the emulator or the ROM itself. My sources tell me that every once in a while the sound simply won't be there, even if you're using one of the original cartridges. I'm fairly certain that emulating the game may have made it worse, however, as I had to reset it around ten or more times regularly before the sound finally popped on.

But then when it did start up, I almost immediately felt sorry it had. The background music wasn't particularly bad, but the sound effects were. Especially egregious were the fart sounds in the balloon level. I mean really, there are plenty of non-annoying fart sounds they could have used, surely. Why pick the ones that stab me in the ear in a way reminiscent of mosquito buzzing?

The Bottom Line
Honestly, I never really enjoyed the Ren and Stimpy cartoon. I don't hate it or anything. It's just not really my thing. But the fact that the game is Ren and Stimpy was one of the least disappointing things about it in the end. Poorly made from one end to the other. The only real enjoyment I got out of it was the pretty graphics and slapping Stimpy around like it was going out of style. YOU STOOPID EEDIOT!