It’s no great secret that we’ve become a hyperbolic society. Actually, maybe that’s wrong, because if you look at the history of racism and bigotry in humanity, you’ll find that it basically all originates in some level of exaggeration. The scary Other isn’t just here to survive like everybody else, It is here to steal our spouses, jobs, and homes! And It has a weird haircut, too! If you ever want to feel like obliterating the planet, go ahead and look up some Western political cartoons from a mere century ago. Or, hell, just 1940 or so. Go ahead and tell me we’ve gotten more hyperbolic after seeing the typical, repellant caricature of a “Jap”.
So maybe it’s a good thing that the current victim of our collective embellishment is our media. I literally cannot remember the last time I saw a movie that the national reaction was “it’s pretty alright”. No, it has to be “the best movie ever” or “a steaming pile of ass matter vomited out of a rancid zombie’s maw”. In fact, just before writing this article, I watched It Follows. I thought it was alright, a great thriller, but kind of light in the actually saying something department. In short, I thought it was a generally okay movie, pretty much the definition of what used to be called “a good rental”. All that said, I’m vaguely afraid to express such an opinion in mixed company, because omnipresent cultural caretakers will descend upon me for not getting how the movie is so deep and meaningful to the genre/planet, or I’ll be torn to shreds for supporting such obviously misogynistic/misanthropic/hydrophobic crap. I’m living in fear of those strawmen!
Video games are no different, and it’s a little alarming how nearly thirty years of games have been divided evenly into “super best essential” or “youtuber rants about terribleness for fifteen minutes”. What’s more, this seems to have been applied to games that are, at best, marginally different from each other. Mega Man 2 is the greatest creation of man, while Mega Man 5 is a reason to abolish the entire medium. Yes, I’ve seen people claim that Mega Man 5 is an objectively bad game, but, come on dudes, it’s not that different from Mega Man 2. They’re both good games, and one is allowed to be better than the other without one descending into crapsack territory.
And I can say all of this because I just played a game that is very, very bad.
Amagon is the story of Amagon (pay no mind to the fact that “Amagon” is a letter off from “Amazon” which, before a certain book store decided to conquer the internet, simply referred to a tropical forested area that is very similar to the setting of this game), a marine that crash lands on an island teeming with extremely violent fauna. With only his trusty rifle, Amagon must venture from one end of the island to the other, facing off with Lion Men, Skelton S. Skeleton, and Babar the Elephant. But Amagon has one extra chance for survival! If Amagon finds a Mega Key, he can digivolve from the spindly Amagon into the massive, muscular Megagon, and uppercut his enemies into the stratosphere. Fuck you, Babar! Megagon is here to kill everybody and wax his pecs, and he’s all out of Flex Mentallo Approved Pec WaxTM.
Except… you’re not going to make it past the first level.
Amagon is woefully ill-equipped for this mission. Right from the start, monsters swoop, pounce, run, and spring out of every nook and cranny. In fact, the enemy distribution of this game has a lot more in common with Gradius or R-Type than Mega Man or Contra. All Amagon has to rely on is his simple little gun, which fires one to three bullets straight ahead. And that’s it. He can’t shoot up, he can’t shoot at an angle, and the ever popular duck ‘n shoot isn’t going to do a thing against the scads of flying monsters overhead. And this is going to end poorly for Amagon, because he’s living in an instant kill world, so merely tapping that murderous dragonfly is going to mean a restart. Luckily, the stages aren’t terrible about checkpoints. Unluckily, you’ve got three lives to beat this game, and that’s it. You might get lucky with a 1-up or two, but otherwise you’re stuck back at Level 1 after every three deaths, and good luck reaching the Death Hippo when you’re constantly defeated by frogs.
But what of Megagon? Surely that powerup is the Super Mario to Amagon’s tiny, vulnerable Regular Mario? Megagon does gain a health meter, thankfully, but it it’s going to hit empty well before the end of the stage. See, Amagon features a lovely little quirk whereby Megagon’s health is determined by your cumulative score. While it’s nice to see the ol’ “NES mandatory score” affecting gameplay, it’s impossible to get the best score without completing a number of levels, so “early” Megagon is always going to be pretty weak, and you’re likely to perish at the hands of a ball spewing snake well before you even identify Megagon’s offensive capabilities. And Megagon isn’t that great in that department, either. Megagon has a powerful uppercut, but that’s a knife in this gunfight, and you’re probably already taking damage by the time the enemy is within fist range. But you do have a long range attack! Megagon can launch a blast from his mighty abdominals… except each blast drains a hit point. How would you like to lose your life today, self-infliction or gators?
All this adds up to a very poor play experience. Enemies are chaotic and random, reprisal options are severely limited, and relief is an illusion at the best of times. Objectively, Amagon simply isn’t equipped for the world he has to traverse, and the haphazard design of his obstacles guarantee you’re not going to have a good time.
Amagon is, in short, a bad game.
But I feel like what lessons we could learn from Amagon are buried beneath a torrent of shrieking, hyperbole-prone gamers (he said while deploying hyperbole at will). It’s easy to say “omg worst game ever” about an experience like this, but it’s also easy to apply that same phrase to any number of mediocre, middle of the line NES games. Willow is an okay proto-adventure game, Abadox is an adequate shooter, and T & C Surf Designs is an interesting and flawed attempt to bring a few unconventional sports to the gaming medium. However, in the current climate, all those games are smashed into the same echelon as Amagon, and we’re poorer for it.
Amagon is a bad, bad game. It is an example of a video game that was designed arbitrarily, and doesn’t hold a candle to even the most middling of NES games. Don’t fall into the trap of seeing everything “not the best” as “terrible”. This game is terrible.
Amagon is a unique kind of awful.
FGC #135 Amagon
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System. This is another for the pile of “never seeing a rerelease”.
- Number of players: Sorry, that second player controller is going to be inert for this round.
- Salt in the wound: Oh, and you can run out of bullets. At that point, Amagon must use his gun as a club, and he’s got the same complete lack of range as Megagon, but without all the strength to back it up. You may as well quit at that point.
- Favorite Boss: I only ever rented this game back in the day, and it was entirely because of that Death Hippo on the back of the box. That said, I like the final boss the best. Always down for punching the Flatwoods Monster. (Though Skelton is right up there, too.)
- Lost in Translation: In the Japanese version, the main character is named Jackson, and he’s a Jekyll/Hyde style scientist that invented the potion that turns him into the muscular Macho Man. When Jackson’s plane crashed, the local wildlife stole his recipe, thus all the crazy monsters haunting the place. I am ever impressed at how Japan tried to justify these insane NES plots, while the Western version almost always settled for “screw it, he’s a marine on a weird island.”
- An End: And the Japanese version ends on something of a cliffhanger, with the implication that the wild creatures from Amagon Island are going to invade the “real world”. Obviously, no Amagon 2 was ever produced, because there are laws against that.
- Did you know? Whether it’s because of low fidelity graphics or a paleontologist on the staff, the raptor creatures in the level with the other dinosaurs appear very bird like. See, even in a game that gets so much wrong, there might be something that turns out right.
- Would I play again: Ugh, no. Not ever. This is a bad, bad game, and don’t forget it.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy. Oh boy! All the heroes and villains are gonna get together and duke it out! Please look forward to it!