Space Station Silicon Valley is a fun, unique game. Released for the N64 in the Fall of ’98, SSSV is the singular tale of Evo the robot (and his useless partner, Danger Dan) crashing into a space age amusement park populated with robotic animals. Evo lost his body in the crash, so he must commandeer various ani-bots to fight, jump, and puzzle his way across the station. A variety of habitats are available, so Evo may become a turbo-boosting fox in the meadows, or a jet-powered penguin in the snowy valleys. The huge range of animals offers a different challenge and experience with every level, and a few “bonus stages” even allow for an eclectic mix of gameplay options, like a faux-first person shooter tour or robo-racing. And, for an absolutely cathartic final stage, Evo reclaims his original body and stomps around vaporizing fifty of so of the animal buggers. Who’s the top of the food chain, now!?
If you’re a frequent reader of my musings, you’d probably expect that down in the random bullet points section, I would, not for the first time, lament the fact that this is a N64 game, and thus butt-ugly and about as appropriate for modern gaming as Atari Pitfall. “There’s good gameplay here,” I’d grieve, “And a fun story with interesting locales, but it’s terribly dated, and about one controller pak away from being completely unbearable.” Then I’d probably make a bear-pun, maybe something involving “kuma shock!”, and beg for a remake: a version of this game that looks like it at least was rendered with more than six polygons, and maybe support for a controller that was intended for more than one game. Please, someone bring Space Station Silicon Valley into the modern era, so a whole new generation can experience the joy of polar bear tanks!
Sad truth: I absolutely do not want to see Space Station Silicon Valley sullied with modern sensibilities, because I know who would be responsible, and I’m pretty sure it would end poorly.
Space Station Silicon Valley was developed by DMA Design. Never heard of them? That’s okay, they were gobbled up in a couple of company sales and eventually got rolled into being… Rockstar North. Ever heard of them? Yeah, they’re the guys that make Grand Theft Auto, and the DMA Design team that specifically worked on SSSV was the same group that was assigned to Grand Theft Auto III, the game that effectively created an entire genre and turned everyone at Rockstar into a bunch of… rockstars.
There’s a pretty clear through-line from SSSV to GTA3, too. Jacking cars is not terribly dissimilar from jacking robot animal bodies, and the way the gameplay hops around from action run ‘n gun to required racing to now let’s have a fighting tournament for some reason is a staple of both games. There’s also the collectathon aspect, wherein both games put a heavy emphasis on finding a seemingly infinite number of whatevers in any given area. It doesn’t matter if it’s energy cores or graffiti tags, the designers want you to explore every last nook and cranny of these 3-D worlds, and you better whip out that magnifying glass if you want the coveted 100%. Huh. It’s kind of funny to notice that one of the most OCD requirements of contemporary gaming had its origin distinctly on the N64.
Then there’s the other clear link between the two games: their sense of humor. Before I go any further, I want to note that I am well aware that humor is subjective. What’s funny to you might not be funny to me, and vice versa. We all have facebook feeds, and we all have at least one friend who is constantly posting, I don’t know, an image macro that says “President? More like Kenya-dent! LOL!”. Yes, someone is laughing at that, and, despite how much you or I may find it dumb, racist, a bar so low a cockroach could vault it, or all of the above, there’s still a larger than anyone would care to admit demographic that eats that stuff up with a fork. By the same token, I am physically incapable of watching an episode of Rick and Morty without laughing hysterically, while there’s a (Nielson proven) group of people that wouldn’t bother with the show for longer than a few moments. These… well, I suppose I should still call them people… people exist, and I know I shouldn’t judge them on what they do or do not enjoy, but I know what I like, and, like any human being, I want to see more of what I like, because I am a gigantic narcissist. Keep that in mind as I say this…
I don’t think the people behind Grand Theft Auto understand humor. Or, to be more precise, I don’t think the people who write GTA’s dialogue, plot, and characters understand humor.
There is a lot that is funny in the 3-D Grand Theft Auto games. I played GTA: San Andreas until I could map out CJ’s neighborhood better than my own, and found a pile of humorous situations across that fake California. One of my fondest memories in gaming involves a morbidly obese man in a pimp suit attempting to escape the police with only a bicycle and a rocket launcher. It started out as a simple workout routine and it… escalated. Also, who cares about the hot coffee, the best part of any date is arriving at your beau’s house via jet dressed as a gimp, and none of the neighbors bat an eye (maybe because last week you showed up in a battered tank).
But the cutscenes? The actual intended story of the GTA series? Ugh, forget it. Yes, there is occasionally a funny line or observation from one of the characters, but most of the time, it’s just a gauntlet of “jokes” that weren’t funny the first time stretched to absurd lengths. Here’s a new character, and his defining trait is… he’s a chronic masturbator. Oh boy! Masturbation is funny, right? Hope you enjoy constant references to masturbation in the background of every scene from here on, because that’s going to happen! More recent GTA games seem even worse, diving its “humorous” edge into a sea of hateful stereotypes and privilege-induced condescension. Mocking Trevor is fine by me, as he’s a complete lunatic and self-imposed sadist, but every joke involving Franklin includes a healthy tinge of “boy, it sucks to be poor and black”, which, while accurate, seems less like it’s elucidating an issue and more like exploiting an entire downtrodden demographic for the amusement of people that can afford hundreds of dollars in video game equipment. And then there’s Michael, whose entire character for much of the game is, “here’s a badass, but he’s henpecked and disrespected”. This point is driven home ad nauseam by his wife and teenage children in his “whacky” home life, and that… it’s supposed to be funny, right? Because if it’s not a jape, then it’s just a MRA manifesto acted out for an audience of over ten million, and that would be horrifying.
Space Station Silicon Valley doesn’t have problems anywhere near that ghastly, but it does have the prototype of that same sort of lack of confidence in the inherent humor of the game itself. Look, randomly robotically enhanced rodents are going to be funny all on their own. A fox pulls out a turbo booster, or a hippo craps landmines, and you’re going to be amused. It might not be completely laugh out loud funny, but it’s “funny”, no need to elbow me in the gut with a huge gasser like, oh ho ho, here’s a guy stuck in a toilet.
Yep, that’s a guy stuck in a toilet. That’s… funny… I guess? Alright, it’s just a cute thing to find, no big deal.
And here’s the good ol’ double entendre. See, the evil brain in a jar wants Evo’s body to live in, not for anything lewd. But you could interpret it either way! Haha! Funny joke, everybody laughs.
And, in its way, this is why Space Station Silicon Valley works. Yes, it has some of the groaners that would eventually infest the GTA franchise, but they’re quick, one-and-done affairs. They don’t dominate entire scenes, they don’t become endless running gags squeezed into a forty hour experience, and they don’t define entire characters in lieu of actual characterization. Actually, Action Dan is pretty much entirely just a joke based on a hero being incredibly lazy, ineffective, and cowardly; but he only really opens his mouth for mission briefings, so he’s more like a snarky narrator than anything else.
That’s why I don’t want to see Space Station Silicon Valley revisited. In its current incarnation, it’s charming and goofy and just a fun game to play. With a little retooling, and adding modern conveniences like voice acting and expanded “running narration” during the levels, it would get old very fast. In an odd way, the Event Horizon-esque framing device for SSSV isn’t that different from the typical “last survivor” narratives of games like Bioshock, but the idea of finding “funny” audio recordings while traipsing around as a boxing kangaroo… No. Just no.
I’ll deal with janky graphics and jankier controllers, just keep a thousand lame 69 references off this space station.
FGC #48 Space Station Silicon Valley
- System: N64. Though, in Europe, there was also a Playstation and Gameboy Color release. The GBC release was 2-D and absolutely appalling, while the PSX version was pretty similar to the original and retitled Evo’s Space Adventures. Also, the PSX version retained the Blue/Green gauges that corresponded to the Blue/Green buttons of the N64… but made no sense in the land of squares and crosses.
- Number of Players: One Evo. Action Dan doesn’t even get out of his chair.
- Favorite Animal: Jetpack Emperor Penguin is best penguin.
- A sign of things to dumb: Another indication that this was made by proto-Rockstar North? It’s glitchy as all get out, complete with making the final bonus area impossible to access because some trophies are literally unattainable. There’s also, of course, random clipping issues with falling through floors and walls, and game freezing issues tied to random events. All seems really familiar to someone who was once crushed by an inexplicably flying tank.
- And also: Rockstar North has never understood checkpoints. Ever.
- So, what’s a game with an ideal sense of humor? I never completely finished Grand Theft Auto V. I platinumed Saint’s Row 4. That should tell you about everything you need to know.
- A Rare problem: When Rare Replay was released recently, I saw a few different people lament the fact that this game was not on the collection. The reason for this was, obviously, Rare had nothing to do with this game, but I can see where someone might be confused, as it does seem to have that same collectathon/pointy polygons aesthetic that permeated a number of Rare N64 games.
- Did you know? The final stage of this game features Evo being reconstructed into a complete killing machine, but his abilities and armor are determined by how many “useless” collectibles you grabbed over the course of the game. I’m pretty sure there is absolutely nothing in the game that overtly states this, though, so if the final stage seems way too difficult, it might not be your subpar action skills, but your subpar searching skills in every other level. Have fun replaying the entire game!
- Would I play again? On the rare occasions I’m in a N64 mood, this game has been known to resurface. With a completed save file, it’s fun to choose a random level/animal combination, and just have fun with it. Sometimes a drag racing rat is all you need.
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Fester’s Quest for the NES. You can’t hear it, but I’m snapping my fingers right now. I’m really good at it! Not so good at the game… Oh well. Please look forward to it!