Inspector Gadget

Inspector Gadget
Inspector Gadget

I was loading up this game figuring, “here we go again, another stupid platform franchise game”.  I’m not sure if it was the lowered expectations, or if it was the game itself, but I managed to actually have some fun with it.  Much to my surprise, it didn’t completely suck.

Surely I paused in time to save myself from this pit... ...  Damnit!
Surely I paused in time to save myself from this pit... ... Damnit!

The game is hard.  Like, Pitfall hard.  But, at least, it gives you what you need to get the job done.  You collect all of Gadget’s abilities, and then spend hats to use them.  Every object in the game (walls, enemies, etc.) holds some sort of power up, be it more abilities, or hats.  And you need them.  All of them.

Go go Gadget bitch-slap!
Go go Gadget bitch-slap!

Once you get the hang of the game, and don’t lose all of your lives on the first jump, there’s actually some thought put into it–more so at least than most franchise games.  It also has some lol moments from the TV series.  Doctor Claw is just a disembodied hand floating on a chair.  Penny ends up getting in trouble, and the chief shows up in random places and gets blown up by the mission files.  It’s good for a chuckle.

Dr. Claw!  You're just... a claw...  ... Uhm... ... Nice nails?
Dr. Claw! You're just... a claw... ... Uhm... ... Nice nails?

Verdict: If you don’t like platform games, then you probably won’t enjoy anything other than the small amount of nostalgia from your childhood.  If you like really challenging platform games, and have a drive to push through them until you’ve made them your bitch, then Inspector Gadget will give you the challenge you seek.

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Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

RITES OF PASSAGE FOR ALL PEOPLE WHO EVER WRITE A THING THAT THEY INTEND TO MAKE ANOTHER PERSON READ, EVER, AND MAYBE EVEN MAKE PEOPLE GIVE MORE THAN ZERO SHITS:

1) Go to New York
2) Write about New York

Finally, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York has bestowed upon me MY NEW YORK PIECE.

Kevin McAllister loves to pray so hard he floats in the air. SAY YOUR PRAYERS, YOU DIRTY ANIMAL.
Kevin McAllister loves to pray so hard he floats in the air. SAY YOUR PRAYERS, YOU DIRTY ANIMAL.

Okay, so I’m joking. Sort of. But really, New York and Super Nintendo video games are pretty similar. Hear me out, here. Both of them have been written about to death– what more is there to say? Well, I guess, actually, they’re somewhat different, because there are plenty of games on the Super nintendo that you won’t find a single word written about, even if you scour the Internet. I suppose that’s the magic of this website; we’re not just writing about the SNES equivalent of Times Square (at the corner of Chrono Trigger and FFIII) or its 53rd & 3rd (I figure it’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing or something) or its Williamsburg (I don’t know, Earthbound or something). We’re also writing about shit like Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. The 16-bit video game. I reckon this is the Delafield and Davis of SNES games. It’s some shitty suburban street corner in the middle of the 90’s videogame equivalent of Staten Island. This game is so… so needless that it doesn’t even get subway access. You have to take a ferry to get to this game.

Possibly the best game in recent memory where Joe Pesci has a speaking-into-a-phone-that-says-phone-on-it role.
Possibly the best game in recent memory where Joe Pesci has a speaking-into-a-phone-that-says-phone-on-it role.

There’s nothing wrong with that, though. When I played Fire Striker it gave me that same feeling that I get when I’m in my hometown of Montreal (I am going to drop the New York thing now; I’ve only been once, and I spent most of my time in Chinatown, Chelsea and Bed-Stuy anyway) and I accidentally stumble across the best goddamn soup dumplings ever created by man (Qing Hua, by the way, check it out if you’re in town) or some tiny depanneur that sells wonderfully rare, delicious beers (Depanneur Peluso, way out at Iberville and Rachel). There are games like this, however, which are the equivalent of looking for a place like Peluso and ending up at a Couche-Tard deep in Hochelaga-Maissoneuve with no place to lock your bike and nothing to buy but Bud Light with lime (I passed).

This game involves running away from hotel staff and avoiding the possessed luggage, vacuum cleaners, and various other things that attempt to block you. You also get a raygun of some sort near the beginning.

Wait, no, talking about the game is depressing. Let’s go back to the New York thing. This game is the GLEN ROCK, NEW JERSEY of the SNES. You heard me. Glen Rock. How do I know?

25 miles from Manhattan by car. 1000 miles from Manhattan by quality. Nothing personal, Bruce Springsteen.
25 miles from Manhattan by car. 1000 miles from Manhattan by quality. Nothing personal, Bruce Springsteen.

Case closed.

Home Alone

Home Alone
Home Alone

Another movie game.  Turn off brain.  Check.  Set expectations low.  Check.  Let grey matter ooze out of ear.

Mlllaaaaargggggghhhh…

It’s funny because you figure with all the failures in the dawn of gaming, they would stop making this sort of shit.  But that’s the rub: they’re failures in terms of anything remotely related to a gaming quality metric, but, somehow, they still sell.  Video games (and other media and pop culture to a similar extent) are somewhat unique in that respect: they sell almost entirely based upon their marketing appeal.  The game itself is separate from the marketing.

Get used to seeing this screen a lot.  It would be so much funnier if someone appended "es".
Get used to seeing this screen a lot. It would be so much funnier if someone appended "es".

The experience of playing Home Alone is based pretty much entirely on the nostalgia of the film.  That’s it. The developers make a point of trying to tie it in to the good-guys-bad-guys silliness of the movie, which was amusing as a kid, granted, but fails here when your worst enemies are in fact bats and rats, and the kind developers somehow decided that when there are bats or rats, you CAN’T USE YOUR SLINGSHOT CAUSE THAT MAKES SENSE!

Fucking bats, and rats. Why can't I shoot you with my slingshot?!? WHY?!?
Fucking bats, and rats. Why can't I shoot you with my slingshot?!? WHY?!?

The game is full of the usual poorly designed, half-assed side scroller theme.  There are a thousand games like this, and the only thing that sets this one apart is the “collect the valuables” aspect, where instead of mindlessly moving sideways, you have to think enough to go back and forth to the drop spot.  Once you’ve amassed enough valuables, you have to get past the nigh interminable array of bats and rats to seal the valuables in the vault.  I don’t remember any bats and rats in the movie, and with this number, the house would be condemned!

If you want to gather loot, go play the original Duck Tales.  It was fun while presenting an interesting challenge.
If you want to gather loot, go play the original Duck Tales. It was fun while presenting an interesting challenge.
Same concept, better level design, better controls with two buttons, and a lot more fun.
Same concept, better level design, better controls with two buttons, and a lot more fun.

Verdict: Home Alone is exactly what you expect: A poorly thought out movie-based game with awkward controls, frustrating gameplay, dismal music, terrible graphics, and laugh-out-loud design choices.  If you really want to be nostalgic about the movie, watch it with silly subtitles or commentaries and heckle it.  You’ll have more fun.

The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock

flintstones_derek_margot_moki

While surveying the site of some ancient ruins, two young archaeologists, Derek and Margo, and their nomad friend Moki, find themselves trapped and sinking in a whirling pool of sand.  And when the dust settles, they stare up in awe at a vast chamber, filled with giant relics and artifacts from another civilisation…And there, at the far end of a cavern, a door with a strange inscription!  ‘All who enter these portals pass…through…time!’[1]

HANNA-BARBARA’S

GREATEST ADVENTURES:

THE FLINTSTONES:

THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADROCK

flintstones_hubbub

MARGO: Where are we?  It looks like we’re in a clandestine gathering…of men…in a cave.  The strong scent of manliness; it’s almost too much for a woman to handle.  Quick Derek, tell us what this is before I pass out!

DEREK: Hmmm…they appear to be cavemen, Margo, and judging from their common headdress, I’d say you’re right.  This *is* a clandestine gathering of men, perhaps the earliest incarnation of the Freemasonry.

MOKI: All I know is I want one of those funny hats!  Look at those horns!  Is that blue cotton candy it’s made of?  Mmm…cotton candy!

MARGO: I believe it’s called ‘fairy floss’ in parts of the British Commonwealth–

DEREK: Quiet Margo, Moki!  It looks like the leader’s about to say something!…He says he’s the Grand Poobah, and he’s retiring.

flintstones_poobah

MARGO: I wonder who will become the new–

DEREK: Wait!  There’s more…he says whoever finds the Treasure of Sierra Madrock will become the new Grand Poobah!

MOKI: Treasure?!!  What are we waiting for?! That hat looks delicious, let’s go!!

DEREK: Not so fast, my nomad friend.  We can’t interfere with the timeline.

MARGO: Why not?  It’s never stopped us befo–

DEREK: SHHHHHHHHH!! It looks like we already have two volunteers, one who calls himself Fred Flintstone and his short companion, Barney Rubble.

MOKI: Oooh! I saw them on TV one time!

DEREK: Don’t be silly Moki, this is real life, not a cartoon!  And besides, you don’t even have TV where you come from!

MARGO: Actually, this *is* a cartoon, and Fred and Barney are from the studio next doo–

DEREK: SHHHHHHHHH!! There’s no time to waste!  We have to follow them!

MARGO: Will you stop interrupting everyone, you jerk?!

DEREK: Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, what was it you were saying, Margo?  Try speaking into my other ear in future.

MARGO: Sorry, never mind…

DEREK: Good. Well there’s no time to waste!  Let’s go!

MOKI: Yippee!

MARGO: It looks like they’re taking turns rolling some kind of six-sided rock, with Arabic numerals on it…

DEREK: That would be a primitive die, Margo – not to be confused with its plural, ‘dice’ – and they’re rolling to decide which area they’ll go to.

MOKI: Ooh, craps!  Can I play?

DEREK: No need for profanity, Moki!  Besides, we all know that craps is a game of two “dice”.

MARGO: This is strange…my notes say the Flintstones were a modern Stone Age family, but there’s nothing ‘modern’ about this at all – no cranes; no insinkerators; no nothing.  Fred’s just running and jumping around the jungle like a primordial wonder, clubbing every dinosaur in sight!

flintstones_primordial_wonder

MOKI: DINOSAURS?!! Help!

MARGO: Oh, Moki!  Whatever will we do with you?

MOKI: But, but!–

DEREK: What on Earth! That Flintstone character just died, but now he’s back at it again!

MARGO: There he died again! But he keeps getting up and going for it!

DEREK: He’s not getting very far, though.  At this rate, we’ll never see the Treasure of Sierra Madrock!

MARGO: And that means…

MOKI: No blue cotton candy hat for Moki! Hurry Fred, hurry!

MARGO: It seems Fred is being resurrected against his will.  He doesn’t want to go on, but some one or some *thing* keeps dragging him out of the dirt.  And look at that HUD!  Derek, I have reason to believe we are in a video game of some k–

DEREK: Oh, don’t be silly, Margo!  Dinosaurs; cavemen – what more proof do you need that this is…haha, come on, Moki, what did you do with Fred’s–

MARGO: TAAAAAKE THAT!!

DEREK: *OOF!*

MARGO: AAAAAND THIS!!

DEREK: *AGHHHH!!*

DEREK:

MARGO: Was “club” the word you were looking for?  Oh, I’m sorry, did I just YELL INTO THE WRONG EAR?!

DEREK: *UFF!*

MARGO: That oughta teach you not to interrupt my sentences, Know-it-all Jerk! Come on Moki, let’s go home…

MOKI: Yahoo!

The Flintstones

The Flintstones
The Flintstones

Not much to say here. The Flintstones is the standard formula of a movie franchise turned into a mindless platform game. It gets partial credit for not entirely sucking, but suffers from the usual flaws. The music is annoying and repetitive. The level design is frustrating. There’s no point to the game. No plot. No depth. Its selling point is entirely the franchise. That’s it. That’s all.

Srsly?  US and British English, in a video game?  Nice logo whorage too.
Srsly? US and British English, in a video game? Nice logo whorage too.

The most amusing parts of the game are things like the language selection at the beginning. You can pick between British and US English as separate options. That amuses me greatly. You can disable the music and sound effects because they are that annoying. There’s even a two-player mode, so that you can share the frustration with a friend. Another amusing part is watching Fred huff and puff just standing still. We get it. He’s out of shape. But it doesn’t even kick in after running a bit. He’s sweating lard just standing there!

Is that a bone in your mouth, or are you just happy to see me?
Is that a bone in your mouth, or are you just happy to see me?

The game makes some casual attempt at using the SNES’ background graphics, but it is all so pointless. There’s no reason to play this game. Why would you want to? No matter how nostalgic you are about the Flintstones, this game isn’t fun. Even if you spend the time to make it pretty far, one little whap, or one little slip up, and you go all the way back to the beginning of the stage. Why? What’s the point?

Ok, you have decent backgrounds.  So you put a bit of time into this franchise rape.  Fine.  Actually, that's kinda sad, really.
Ok, you have decent backgrounds. So you put a bit of time into this franchise rape. Fine. Actually, that's kinda sad, really.

Verdict: The Flintstones leaves me with the usual emptiness of franchise plat form games. There is no point to it at all. It seems like an exercise in frustration to try to salvage what nostalgia you might have left about the classic show. You can enjoy the same nostalgia by just watching Fred sleep, or shove a piece of meat in his mouth when you stop moving. Just turn off the music and sound effects and watch him stand there for a bit. Same effect, less frustration.

Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country

As with all great games, reviewing DKC is a huge challenge.  One does not simply write a DKC review into Mordor.  People! It’s not that easy!  But stick with me.  Ride it out.  I’ll do my best to convey to you the essence of what DKC did for the SNES gaming era.

DKC came out in 1994, in an era when the Super Nintendo was approaching the peak of its potential, in terms of graphics, sound, and innovation.  Super Mario World had redefined the platform game genre a few years earlier, and showed that platform games didn’t have to be single-sitting games – that you could play them in multiple sittings and save your progress and build on your skill over time.

That's a lot of zones to cover! Good thing there are food sources everywhere! I wonder what Donkey's ratio is for bananas.  One for me, one for the horde?
That's a lot of zones to cover! Good thing there are food sources everywhere! I wonder what Donkey's ratio is for bananas. One for me, one for the horde?
DKC did it again, only it did it combining the majesty of the SNES’ graphics engine, interesting music, lushly coloured stages that were both challenging and fun, and, most importantly, a crack-addled reward system that invited competitive play.
You think you have what it takes to face me! Huh? Do you, Diddy?
You think you have what it takes to face me! Huh? Do you, Diddy?
What’s more, the game inspired creative works that lead to an animated series, and some amazing fan fiction and artwork.

The majesty of this painting (yes, painting, digitally touched up afterwards) is breathtaking.  That DKC could inspire this sort of artistry speaks for its awesomeness.
The majesty of this painting (yes, painting, digitally touched up afterwards) is breathtaking. That DKC could inspire this sort of artistry speaks for its awesomeness.

The thing that makes DKC great above all else is the way they tuned the operand conditioning system.  The primary goal of the game is to complete all the stages.  Then there are a buttload of secondary goals, which include finding all of the secret passages, most of which are very non-obvious; and, gathering a quasi-infinite amount of bananas, and other tokens.  They might as well have wired a shot of serotonin into your brain, and given you mini injections each time you do one of the desired things, like pick up a banana, or a letter to spell the word KONG, or, an animal token to get to the special stage, or a red balloon, or green balloon or… ghaaaaaa! Just give me the crack cocaine! It’s easier! And less addictive!

Wheee! Let's do it again!
Wheee! Let's do it again!
When you look at some of the best games in history, it has always been the ability to properly manipulate the reward system, to make it compelling to the player, that has kept them playing, and ultimately, increased their enjoyment.  DKC lets you do all of this, and then play with a friend, in challenge mode, or co-op mode.  It lets you save your progress so that you can continue another day, and you will.
I said WAT WAT, horn in the BUTT!
I said WAT WAT, horn in the BUTT!
Verdict: DKC distills what is most important in a platform game: fun, challenging, well thought-out reward structure, replay potential, and engaging and atmospheric environments, both audio and visual.  DKC is a classic that lead to two excellent sequels.  It is one of the many gems that emerged from the Rare-Nintendo partnership.

Claymates

Does anyone else remember the ‘clay’ craze that took place circa 1993?  It seemed like every game and his dog wanted to be made out of clay, when in reality it was probably just Interplay.  Maybe the whole thing was a symptom of those ‘photorealistic’ FMV games on the Mega CD, or Mortal Kombat.  Then again, who really cares? Claymates is the second ‘clay’ themed franchise from Interplay, ClayFighter having just been released six months beforehand.

Claymates is built around a bizarre premise: your name is Clayton (get it?), and your nutty professor father has developed a formula to turn humans into animals(!) and is presumably about to show you/experiment on you(!), when out of nowhere an evil shaman teleports himself inside the laboratory, transforming you into a ball of clay with his stick before spiriting your father away!

THIS IS BLASPHEMY!  THIS IS MADNESS!!

This is Claymates.

"NO!!  FATHER, PLEASE!!!"
“NO!! FATHER, PLEASE!!!”

So now you’re this blue ball of clay rolling around a garish level that exists solely within the confines of your backyard sandpit.  You’d be surprised what you can fit in a sandpit!  It’s funny, because Claymates invented ‘sandbox’ gaming before GTA did [except not really, because that was a joke, and if we were to take it that literally the first child that ever took up a bucket and spade invented sandbox gaming].  Anyway, you pick up a coloured ball of clay pretty soon and transform into a slow-as-buggery cat or a mouse-with-his-ass-on-fire most of the time, but occasionally you might transform into something interesting like a bird that pecks and flies really badly or a squirrel that throws acorns or a fish that shoots bubbles.  I don’t know what goldmine they thought they were sitting on here, but I noticed before the title screen that Interplay had trademarked all these animals, giving them names like “Muckster™ the Cat” and “Globmeister™ the Gopher” (apparently not a squirrel anymore), which is interesting considering the animals pretty much look like generic depictions of what they are (the mouse looks like a mouse, the cat looks like a cat, etc.).

Timeless Classics(TM).
Timeless Classics™.

Thing is, I thought you were still ‘you’ (Clayton) when you picked up the clay and transformed into an animal.  After all, is that not what Prof. Dad’s formula was all about?  Perhaps this means that you’re imbued with the evil shaman’s animistic powers and can channel the spirits of these kooky characters, which begs the question, why, then, would the shaman even need the formula if he already had the power to channel animal spirits?! This game raises far more questions than it seeks to answer.

After you’ve pondered the logistics of animism and weird science, you run and jump from left to right kleptomanaically collecting gems, items, power-ups, and uncovering secret mini-levels.  The collect-a-thon is, however, spoiled by dubious checkpoint placement and the fact that you lose all gems, items, and animality upon dying (even if you’ve reached a checkpoint).  The harshness of it all really discouraged me, and was seemingly at odds with the game’s initial invitation to experiment and explore.  That said, Claymates is still inviting, and packed full of things to do.  Upon finishing the level, two robots are unleashed upon your backyard (overworld) and help you break into your neighbours’ backyards(!) and consequently, their sandpits (levels).  Curiouser and curiouser.

The action button doubles as the run button, which is a bit awkward, seeing as slow-as-buggery Muckety-Mucky-Muckster™ can’t run and slash at the same time.  Oozy™ the Mouse is impressively fast – possibly even faster than a certain blue hedgehog – and must make use of the ‘blaze-processing’ boasted about on some virtual box art I found the other day.  Problem is these fellas run about as smooth as an oil slick, but let’s chalk that one up to personal preference, hey?  The level design is Spartan, but clever – the various power-ups and level devices themselves are crude, ugly, and reminiscent of Apogee shareware.

Deliciously Ugly.
Deliciously Ugly.

The sprites look okay, and I suspect the clay effect would have knocked the socks off of kids on their CRT televisions back in the day, but now they look a little out of place juxtaposed with the decidedly un-clay levels.  The character animation is terrible once again – I’m starting to see a trend here in most non-Mario/Sonic platformers – to the point that I’m wondering whether it was animation, and chiefly animation, that separated those two giants of industry from the rest of the competition during that era.

It may not be Mario and it may not be Sonic, but Claymates is definitely one of the more interesting platformers out there.  I suspect the lack of polish is inversely proportional to the overabundance of ideas crammed into these sandpits.  My advice: climb into the sandpit wide-eyed like a child and you’ll be in a state of constant surprise.

Just don’t come crying to me if you get sand in your eyes.