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!

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