Taz-mania

 

You can't run forever
You can’t run forever

Imagine running down a road forever. You’re running down this road and everything looks nearly identical. There’s some trees. Rocks. Bushes. Birds fly around. Every so often a dingo(…?!) on a motorbike tosses you a literal bone. That’s all Taz-mania is. Forever. You run in a straight line—I guess you can go backward, but why would you?—trying to devour birds. If you stomach the number of birds the level requires, you may even get to run down a road with slightly different scenery. It’s all roads.

Taz hallucinates his food survives digestion
Dying? no, nothing is so easy

Does this sound fun to you? It isn’t. It’s a Mode-7 abomination designed to hypnotize children into seeing the Tazmanian Devil when they close their eyes. Maybe he asks them to buy a Tweety Bird t-shirt. Maybe he asks them to eat their pets. I don’t know. I’m not going to play this awful, awful game long enough to find out what the Devil wants.

I started aiming for oncoming traffic. To let the bus sweep me under and away from this nightmare. But the bus can’t stop the Devil. It just slows him down. The Devil gets right back up and starts running again. He craves that bird flesh. He wants to crack those little bones in his teeth. He may fall in the middle of the road and start vomiting up everything he’s eaten, but he’ll never stop. He’s going back for seconds, thirds, fourths…it’s All You Can Eat on the open road, and the Devil is never full. He says he’s stuffed, but HE LIES.

I wish someone would "stuff" me into a woodchipper
I wish someone would “stuff” me into a woodchipper

Maybe you love this game. Maybe you close your eyes and imagine yourself flying down that blocky road, mouth agape and claws reaching for the winged food all around you. Maybe you already let the Devil take you and you ain’t noticed yet.

You got that Taz-mania.

Body image issues
Please let this end
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NBA Jam TE

JAMMIN'
I HOPE YOU LIKE JAMMIN' ALSO

NBA Jam Tournament Edition is one of those games I’d definitely enjoy much more if I had any interest whatsoever in pretending to play basketball. I know it’s stupid and missing the point, but I prefer to do things in video games that I can’t do in real life. Granted, I can’t play basketball worth a damn (I assume), but if I wanted to, I could likely learn. Maybe I’ll go down to the local YMCA and try and hire a basketball coach (I won’t)!

In order to write this review I selected the “Head to Head” setting; it pits two men I’ve never heard of against two other men I’ve never heard of. Ok, that’s not entirely true: I do know who Dennis Rodman is due to his flamboyant antics and the fact that I dislike everyone associated with PETA. I’m totally cool with vegetarians and vegans so long as they don’t try to talk me out of tearing the neck out of a baby lamb, which is my traditional English breakfast. And they always do! Every. Single. Time. “It’s in pain! Can’t you hear it screaming?” “It’s bleating and it won’t be able to much longer anyway. Pass the butter.” Mmm. Baby lamb neck in butter.

This game looks and sounds decent enough; there are fairly clear pictures of each player, and the little announcer voice isn’t bad for a SNES game. Sadly, I like terrible video game voices. They make me laugh, which is like a little gift from the people who make the games. The gift of laughter. That I waste. On everything.

The gameplay was quick and furious, with an awful lot of running back and forth. It made me tired just watching! I had to stand up so I could sit down again. Even though I’d never played before and had no idea what I was doing, the controls were intuitive enough that I managed to tie my opponents. I did find myself grinning every time I slapped the ball away from my opponents, even though it made an odd barking sound effect every time I did so. Perhaps my spirit animal (a snickerdoodle) was giving me aid?

I bet this game is awesome to play with a bunch of drunk friends who hopefully aren’t racist. Stop being racist, you drunks!

Michael Andretti’s Indy Car Challenge

Michael Andretti's Ego-Driven Challenge™
Yes, the wall is covered with nothing but the word "Michael"...

So, do you like IndyCar racing? Do you like looking at Michael Andretti’s face? Do you like looking at Michael Andretti’s name? Not just a little, I mean a lot

Well, then this game’s for you!

Now keep your distance, you sick bastard…

Michael Andretti's Indy Car Menu™
Hey there...

Excessive display of Señor Andretti’s crude, palletized visage aside, Michael Andretti’s Indy Car Challenge presents us with a fairly bland arcade racing experience. The main championship game mode is supplemented by your typical practice race option, as well as a versus mode in case you have any friends who also share an unhealthy fetish for Michael Andretti. That’s about it. Sure, you can use a password to continue an existing championship game, but who in their right mind that isn’t actively defending the Confederate flag as “heritage not hate” whilst proudly displaying it above the gun rack in their beat-up dually truck would want to continue after playing once?

Controls are at least fairly responsive, helping make the game easy to pick up while at the same time remaining challenging/awkward enough that you’re probably not going to succeed in every race on the first try. The game also has the distinction of providing a “reverse” button, because how many times have you played a racing game and wished you could drive in reverse? Well, in all honesty, I admit that I have. Then again, I’m an asshole, so you can’t expect much less now.

Graphically, this game isn’t going to win any beauty pageants. All cars are palette swaps of the same rudimentary set of illustrations, and the Mode-7 tracks look like…well…Mode-7 tracks. Seriously, you can’t expect much else from the Super Nintendo’s Mode-7 effects. They almost make the platform a breeding ground for boring, ugly racing games.

Michael Andretti's In-game Screenshot For Your Eyeballs™

Unless you absolutely love Michael Andretti and want to have, like, ten million of his babies, you should save your allowance money for something else.

Mega Man X 3

Whatchoo talkin' bout, Willis?
Who died and made you king?

Mega Man X 3 is like a whitewashed tomb: its pristine and beautiful exterior belies the putrid, rotting corpse within.  I don’t usually subscribe to the whole graphics versus gameplay diametric, but this time the relationship is definitely inverse.  In Capcom’s efforts to make a better looking, better sounding Mega Man, they actually forgot how to make a Mega Man game in the process.  Deliberately unforgiving level designs densely populated with death machines hell-bent on your destruction give way to sparse, open, and redundant rooms, sometimes filled with nothing at all.  The former – characteristic of the NES originals – was frustrating yet strangely fulfilling, to the point where you may find yourself yelling to no one in particular, “I AM A HARDCORE GAMER!!” after some astounding feat or other.  The latter will have you scratching your head, wondering when the game will suddenly kick into gear and become a real Mega Man game.  This, of course, never happens.

Mom?  Dad?  Is this a joke?
Hello? Is anybody there?

I kid you not, some of these rooms exist for no reason whatsoever.  You run into the room, only to immediately run out of it again (you even unlock a door on both ends).  And yet, during both these events, the ‘camera’ slide-transitions as if to signify ‘this is the next area’.  That’s just stupid!  If I was the artist, I’d be pissed, not only for wasting a perfectly serviceable room, but also for wasting my valuable time.

X 3 is full of these unnecessary flourishes that force you to expect more than it can hope to deliver.  The polished visuals and cyperpunk settings scream ‘anime’, but its back foot remains firmly planted in the NES era.  The ‘story’, ‘acting’ and dialogue is especially cringeworthy, and while I’m sure it’s no worse than what you’d expect to find in Mega Mans (Men?) 1 through to 6, at least they were upfront about their intentions: to be games.  By bringing the presentation forward, Capcom have announced their anime aspirations.  By leaving the rest behind, the game appears naked and antiquated.  The playable ‘intro’ would have been nice if it wasn’t just a pre-game wank.  You’re Mega Man, you run in there, blow up a few things, only to get punked by a former ally within the first minute (“you’re far too trusting, Mega Man!”).

Mwahahahahahahahaha!!
Excuse me, waiter! There's some Elizabethan acting in my Mega Man!

This is the game’s ‘Raiden’ moment, where Zero (a robot replete with ridiculous anime hair, originally groomed to be the star of the X series) must rescue Mega Man.  Except, instead of saying “I thought this was called Metal Gear Solid because it had Solid Snake in it”, you’ll be saying, “I thought this was a Mega Man game!”  Once you’ve rescued him, though, it’s back to business as usual, and Mega Man will be handling things from here, thank you very much.  This ‘intro’ seems to have served no other purpose than to show off a playable Zero character, only to neuter the titular character in the process.  For the rest of the game, Zero is relegated to piece work and similarly showy cameos.

The hair humanises him a bit more, get it?
Robot hair is all the rage in 21xx.

I tried oh so hard to love this game, but I couldn’t help but compare it to its uglier, more frustrating cousins – you know, games with some semblance of level design.  And then it dawned on me that level design, important though it is, is never graded by the mainstream gaming press alongside the bullet points of graphics/sound/gameplay/replay value.  Even though graphics should be servant to level design; good gameplay is a symptom of good level design; and replay value is a symptom of good gameplay. Followed closely by: how many poorly designed videogames got a pass on those four bullet points alone? Answered by: probably this one, for starters! And then I started thinking about games with good level design, and booted up a new game of Super Metroid.

Mario’s Time Machine

mario's_time_machine_title

It’s a summer’s day, you’re playing hockey in the street with your pals, as all North American kids your age do, when you notice what appears to be a Super Nintendo cartridge lying on the ‘side-walk’.  You run over to it and read the label – sound it out – “Maaa-rii-O’sss…Taiii-mmm…Maa-sheeennn – Mario’s Time Machine! Cool!  A new Mario game!  And he can travel through time!”  You reach down to pick it up, but it’s pulling away from you, across the front lawn, up the driveway – it’s attached to a length of string!  You follow the cartridge-on-string up the driveway, and you notice the garage door rolling up ever so slowly.  It’s a surprise from Mom and Dad!, you think to yourself, squinting to see what might lie beyond the gaping maw.  As your young eyes adjust to the dark, you begin to make out shapes of a chair, a desk, an apple, a man with right arm outstretched.  Depth of field returns to you, and shapes give way to objects.  The apple, red and juicy, sits gleaming atop the desk beside pencils, books and sheets of paper; the chair tucked neatly underneath.

mario's_time_machine_trapped

This familiar conglomerate of images evokes a feeling of immediate danger; you swirl them around in your head as if to taste them all.  DANGER.  Before you hear the next five words, you know you want to run, but you can’t.  Your joints are frozen; your legs like pylons sink into the concrete floor.  All you can do is look, listen, and taste.  The figure steps out from the shadows – it’s your father, and his right hand is holding a stick of chalk.  Your dread is confirmed by the final image – a blackboard mounted on the wall behind him – and those five, fateful words:

“WELCOME TO HISTORY CLASS, SON!”

Your summer is ended.

Fade to black.

Mario’s Early Years: Fun With Numbers

meyfunwithnumbers-title

Mario’s Early Years: Fun With Numbers. Just reading the name alone, I already know that I have no business playing this game. Chances are, you have no business playing this game. You probably already know this, and you’re secretly laughing at me and the other writers at this site for playing games targeted toward preschoolers. I can’t blame you; I would do the same if the tables were turned. Unfortunately, here I am, firing up my 100% legitimate review copy of a game made for two-year-olds.

Fun With Numbers, from what I can tell, is a re-skinning of the other Mario’s Early Years titles, this time with the focus on numbers, shapes, and such. Gameplay, if you can call it that, is extremely basic: move around a cursor to click on the correct object, rinse, and repeat until you know how to recognize Arabic numerals and squares and shit. For someone like me whose already a fully qualified math-magician, such matters are of the most trivial sort (for the record, I really did form this thought as if I were renaissance-faire actor dressed up as a magician, which will probably give me nightmares for the next few days). For a preschool child, it’s probably fairly simple as well. I can’t say for certain how a young child would react to this, though. If I recall, my dad was probably trying to get me to play Astrosmash on the Intellivision instead of some educational title back when I was in preschool. I think he made the right choice there.

This...this doesn't have anything to do with numbers.  You're not even trying!
This...this doesn't have anything to do with numbers. You're not even trying!

So, to sum it up, how does Fun With Numbers deliver? Well, yes, it has numbers. No, it’s not fun. I didn’t see many “with”s in there, though. Ughh…why the hell am I still talking?

Magic Sword

Friendship: The Videogame
Friendship: The Videogame.

Magic Sword is a game about The Power of Friendship.  What appears on the outside to be an overly linear, side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slasher through a castle that sports faaaar too many treasure chests, keys, and doors (far more keys than there are doors, in fact) belies a rather profound co-operative single player experience.

Waiiiiittaminutesingle player co-op?!  How is that even possible?!”  I hear your brain explode.

I know, I know!  I was surprised too!  I’ll try a few different illustrations to give you an idea of what I’m talking about here.

Okay, okay, I’ve got one:

Imagine you’re playing a NES game two-player with your Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.), except he actually works.

'Operating' being the operative word.  NOT!
'Operating' being the operative word. NOT!

Oh, you say you’re not one of the five richest Tsars in Europe, and you don’t actually own a R.O.B.?  Well, then this one’s for you:

Imagine you’re playing an escort mission, except the AI that follows you around isn’t completely useless, and *gasp* actually helps you.

I know!  It’s ridiculous and unheard of in videogames, and that’s what makes Magic Sword so amazing.  For once, the AI on your side isn’t as dumb as dogshit, walking off of cliffs, or any of that nonsense, and you don’t feel like ringing their neck.  More than that, you actually feel close to this virtual warrior with whom you share your travails.

I got your back, bro!
I got your back, bro!

My only real issue with the game is just how short-lived some of these friendships can be.  As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of treasure chests lying around the castle, which you smash open to collect a lot of keys (treasure chests containing keys – go figure), which you use to open – you guessed it – a lot of doors.  Well, behind a vast majority of these doors is a new traveling companion.  Unfortunately you can only travel with one companion at a time.  Oftentimes you’ll encounter three doors in a row, meaning you’ll travel barely one in-game metre with your new buddy before he disappears and is replaced by an even newer buddy.

Sorry White Wizard, you're ditched!  Dark Wizard is my new Best Friend now!
Sorry White Wizard, you're ditched! Dark Wizard is my new Best Friend now! Best Friends Forever!

Just where they disappear to, I’ll never know, but at least there’s 50 levels packed to the gills with keys and doors, so you’re sure to become acquainted with them again (*how* they get trapped behind other doors to be rescued yet again, is another mystery).  Just think of it as an episode of Friends, or something – sometimes Joey just hangs out with Chandler; sometimes Joey hooks up with Rachel; mainly Rachel hooks up with Ross (and then changes her mind); Ross is Monica’s brother; Monica is Chandler’s girlfriend; Phoebe plays “Smelly Cat” on her guitar far too often at the cafe downstairs where Rachel works YOU GET THE IDEA – they’re on rotation.  I suppose if you wanted to stick with say, the ninja for a bit longer, you could just *not open the doors* for a while, but when you’ve got this whole Spartacus-frees-the-slaves thing going on, you really don’t want to.  It’s satisfying.  You open the door, a friendly warrior appears, he or she says “thank you!”, throws you a special item to you, and agrees to fight alongside you.  So basically, you get to make nine new friends during the course of the game, and they’re all completely awesome.  Like this guy:

"You can always depend on the kindness of strangers/ To pluck up your spirits, and shield you from dangers/ Now here's a tip from Blanche you won't regret/ Yes, a stranger's just a friend you haven't met/ Youuu haaa-ven't met!"
"You can always depend on the kindness of strangers/ To pluck up your spirits, and shield you from dangers/ Now here's a tip from Blanche you won't regret/ Yes, a stranger's just a friend you haven't met/ Youuu haaa-ven't met!"

It doesn’t matter that the dungeons-and-dragons setting has been done to death; it doesn’t matter that your character is a blatant He-Man rip-off; it doesn’t matter that the game is altogether too easy; it doesn’t even matter that the title is grossly misleading (there is no singular ‘Magic Sword’ as such, rather multiple magic swords that you obtain during the course of the game, and your quest is to destroy the Black Orb, as wielded by the Dark Lord Drokmar…) – this game plays like a good friend.  And friends aren’t always perfect.