I can’t recall if I’ve outright stated it before, but the FGC has had a purpose since day one. I truly believe that videogames are art, and, what’s more, they’re more “art” than many other art forms. Yeah, that’s right, I’m demanding an art-off! No, wait, that sounds stupid. What I mean to say is that videogames require a lot of effort from a lot of people: modern game design requires casts of thousands to draw the leg hair on one football player. So I’m arguing that art is arty because it requires a staff? No, simply that, when you’ve got that many people producing something, nothing happens by accident, and messages, morals, and narratives are a natural byproduct. And modern videogames that are created by small teams (or even just one person)? How could that be anything but art in an environment that takes years to hone your craft to the point that you can produce a finished product. Axiom Verge and Cave Story are artier than anything Kanye West could ever hope to garble out.
Alright, now that that ludicrous tirade is over, I can continue.
So, if I consider videogames to be art, that means that I should be able to pull a thousand or so words out of any given game. Sometimes it’s an examination of the world of the game itself, the characters involved, or even the circumstances that led to the featured game’s creation. On rare occasions, I may even fixate on one tiny aspect of the game to examine the industry as a whole. If a picture is worth a thousand words, any given videogame must be worth thousands more (and maybe a few gifs), and I consider it my responsibility to find those words.
But… and I suppose it was bound to happen eventually… I seem to have found a game that offers… nothing.
Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest is a kart racing game for the Nintendo Wii. It uses the Wii Wheel accessory that came with Mario Kart 7, so if you have that at hand, congratulations, you can already play a kart racing game that is roughly twelve billion times better. That’s… about all you need to know about H:TFATF.
Dammit, that was barely a paragraph.
Okay, how about the story? Yes, there’s an actual story here! Take that, princesses inexplicably racing against their kidnappers! Actually, there is kidnapping involved here: aliens that inexplicably look like cats have invaded the Earth, and they kidnapped Sonja, Heathcliff’s girlfriend, for some reason. They like white, fluffy cats? Yeah, you and the rest of the internet, guys. Anyway, Heathcliff has to rescue Sonja via… kart racing…? It’s a universal grand prix? Sure, whatever. And Heathcliff’s supporting cast is here to help, like Spike the Dog and Iggy the Human! But, oh no! They’ve been brainwashed, so now they’re on the aliens’ side, and Heathcliff alone must win first place.
… Except… while “plot” is already more or less unnecessary in a number of video games, the story here is blatantly an excuse to make half the racers nonspecific UFO models. Heathcliff is Heathcliff, and Iggy ‘n Spike are rivals, but every other opponent is a generic excuse for a drone. I’d feel less insulted if I were racing against nondescript circles labeled “other guy”.
Alright, story is a bust, let’s look at the gameplay. Well, this is a complete loss: H:TFATF is a really lousy racing game from a racing perspective. The first and most glaringly obvious issue is that it feels like you’re controlling an air hockey puck, so that general “petal to the metal” feeling is completely gone. And, for whatever reason, it never, ever feels like you’re actually going fast. The fun little speedometer might claim you’re going 200 MPH, but in the actual minute-to-minute of controlling Heathcliff, you may as well be parallel parking. And speaking of parallel parking, there is nothing but racing in this game. That could be a good thing! But here it just makes the repetition as boring as playing FF7 Chocobo Racing again and again. And I think that one FF7 bird course is more interesting than everything in this turd. Despite the promise of an intergalactic adventure against aliens, with few exceptions, the tracks are about as descript as a simile that goes nowhere and fizzles out to nothing. The entire first cup is city, city, city, and then race track in a city. Come on, guys, you could have used all those great Heathcliff locations like… uh… um… hm.
Alright, I take it back a little bit: there is a challenge beyond the same old boring races. Each cup is closed out with a “boss race”. No, this is not a race against some souped-up pig wizard, this is a race that includes some random alien appearing on the track and ruining your (and exclusively your) day. Great news! Thanks to the rubber band AI, you’ll always be just a few inches ahead of the second place racer, but if this boss enemy knocks you for a loop and you fall behind to eighth place, guess what? You’re never making it back to the lead! And, since boss battles only appear at the end of the cup, get ready to lose and repeat the whole boring cup all over again! And I thought Mighty No. 8 was a masterpiece in sadism!
Oh, and the powerups are lame, generally missile based, and never actually work (see previously mentioned rubber band AI).
And the worst part? It all feels so pointless. Like, this seems to be traditional licensed franchise drivel, not unlike anything featuring Izzy searching for Olympic Rings, but… Heathcliff? Like Fester before him, Heathcliff was not a major player by the time this game was released. He hadn’t been for, easily, twenty years. There was talk of a movie being released (likely in the wake of Billy Murray’s featured fat feline), but that never materialized. So here we are, an orphaned bit of shovelware meant to exploit the grandmas that assumed their Wii-lovin’ grandkids were into some manner of cartoon cat. That… had to be the target demographic, right? I can’t imagine someone buying this game for any legitimate reason, left alone when it’s on the same system (and uses the same peripheral) as Mario Kart.
So, congratulations, Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest, you’ve disproven my personal thesis that every videogame has something to say. There is no substance to this game from any angle. None.
Nihilism, thy name is Heathcliff.
FGC #149 Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest
- System: Nintendo Wii… because it was the console champion of its day.
- Number of players: Despite every console kart racer I can think of since 1998 being four-player, Heathcliff only supports two players. And I want to say your only options are Heathcliff, another Heathcliff, Iggy, or Spike. I could confirm this, but that would require putting this filthy game back in my system.
- So, why did you buy this? The Toys R Us discount bin has made fools of us all.
- Two Heathcliffs? There is one Heathcliff, and then another Heathcliff, but with goggles.
I… approve of this concept.
- Just play the gig, man: And the iconic Saban/Levy Heathcliff theme song is completely gone. I can guess why, but… come on!
- Did you know? There was a character in the Heathcliff TV series named “Knuckles”. The fact that this crap could have been named Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest & Knuckles is yet another reason that all is black.
- Would I play again: This game shook my very belief system to the core with how amazingly awful it was. No, no I will not be playing again.
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe! Who would win in a fight: Catwoman or Kano? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!