Tag Archives: cartoons

FGC #411 Clayfighter 63⅓ & Clayfighter Sculptor’s Cut

Whack 'em Smack 'emRacism works best when it’s not identified as racism.

On random occasions, I get the impulse to watch some television show that I remember liking, but haven’t seen in years. First of all: please never do this. Learn from my mistakes! On nearly every occasion, revisiting some old piece of television media is a terrible idea, particularly if we’re dealing with a comedy. Unfortunately for sitcoms (but fortunately for society), the overall “sense of humor” of the nation evolves with time, and, well, I’m not certain how much homophobia we can still tolerate from an episode of The Chevy Chase Show. And, while that relegates a surprisingly high number of 80s movies to the trash, it’s for the best, as there’s always going to be a new, modern Revenge of the Nerds anyway. So please look forward to Ready Player One: Part 2: The Legend of Wade’s Gold, coming spring of 2021!

But, despite the fact that I know this always ends in tears, I recently decided to rewatch the 2004-2007 Comedy Central animated series Drawn Together. For anyone that has never had the pleasure, Drawn Together was a parody of reality shows of the era (then dominating the airwaves… or at least had dominated the airwaves at some point), but with the twist that it was entirely animated, and populated with parodies of “real” cartoon characters. For example, Captain Hero was a Superman analogue, and Princess Clara could have been any Disney princess. And the “reality” twist is that all of these whacky cartoons are very “out of character” when they’re off the clock, so that previously mentioned princess is actually bigoted as hell. Or maybe that’s completely natural? I don’t really know any royalty that can speak to birds, so I’m not certain if that is a common trait. Regardless, I liked the show when it was airing after South Park during my college years, as I was a dedicated intellectual who incidentally liked watching cartoons fart. And there’s a pig named Spanky! That’s gonna lead to so many farts!

What is even happening here?But, as you’ve no doubt guessed from the tone of this article, my rewatch of Drawn Together was infested with an uneasy feeling of… there’s probably a German word for this… the inescapable realization that a piece of media was intended for one tiny subset of the population, and you only ever enjoyed it because you were that exact target audience. In this case, Drawn Together was aimed squarely at white, heterosexual, Christian-but-not-preachy-Christian, average-build men. Everybody else? Good news! You’re the butt of every other joke. And, past about the third episode, you’re literally the only “plot” the show has left. Sure, Drawn Together does the South Park thing of claiming they support both sides, but, even after an episode where Xander (Legend of Zelda’s Link analogue) finally comes out as gay, and is celebrated for it, the next half hour is still going to make a running gag out of the pig “accidentally” making out with the yellow thing. And then that joke will be repeated for the rest of the series. Forever.

But it all comes to a head around midway through the second season, when Drawn Together, in an overly labored-meta gag, gets an F-rated review from Entertainment Weekly. So, in an act of defiance, the Drawn Together cast storms the offices of Entertainment Weekly, incidentally kills most of the staff, and then discovers that the reviewer is a “Jewish Conservative Pro Life Born Again Overweight Asian Indian Homophobic Lesbian Broad Who Cuts Herself”. She is told she’s “not the target audience”, and Spanky Ham makes an impassioned speech about how she has no right to review the show, as it’s “not for her”.

That’s about when I threw up in my mouth.

Flick it goodToday’s game is another beloved title from my younger years, Clayfighter 63⅓. I was enamored of Clayfighter 63⅓ back in the day, because it was one of approximately five “funny” videogames that had been released in the span of about twenty years. Excuse me, I should be more precise about that fact: it was one of the few humorous games that had been released on a console since the dawn of the NES. I was never a PC gamer, but, with the wisdom of the future (and DOS emulation), I am now aware that all the videogame humor in the universe had huddled together for warmth on the personal computer. Regardless, as a young nerd that had already dedicated myself to memorizing Monty Python routines, the idea of a parody fighting game was right up my alley, and it didn’t hurt that this was a unique bit of software for the content-hungry N64. Nintendo Power told me this would be cool! And, honestly, advertising and expectations aside, I did enjoy Clayfighter 63⅓. It was a decent (if generally shallow) fighting game, and it was certainly funny. There’s Santa Claus! But he’s fat! And Boogerman! And Earthworm Jim! And a rabbit that talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger! And fighters were constantly quipping! And the announcer was continually mocking your combo chains (“Little girly combo”)! As a fan of fighting games and humor, this hole was made for me.

Or at least the “me” I once was.

So racistIt’s easy for a white guy to be a bigot. Once, I looked at the roster of Clayfighter 63⅓, and saw a whacky cast of characters. Now I see that there is one brown skinned character, and he just happens to be a voodoo priest with a terrible dental plan. There is one Asian character, and he’s got buckteeth and a propensity for confusing Chinese takeout for kung fu. And you’d have to wait for Sculptor’s Cut, the title’s second (and final) edition, to get a single woman in the cast. But that version also wound up including a trio of “native” cannibal children, so… uh… probably not a net gain there. And Sculptor’s Cut also granted everyone win quotes, so, if you weren’t already getting the point here, Kung Pow can ask you “Would you rike soy sauce with that?”

And it bothers me that this didn’t always bother me.

But I keep coming back to that “you’re not the target audience” crack from Drawn Together. When I was a teenager playing Clayfighter 63⅓, I didn’t think of myself as some “target audience”. I was playing a videogame that, like every other game I ever played, was nothing more than a videogame. I could play Clayfighter as easily as Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time, and I never considered that certain videogames might not be intended for certain people. I didn’t consider that the majority of my digital heroes were white males (even when they were robots), I just thought that was “normal”. If you’re going to save the (white) princess, you’re going to be a white guy, right? Nothing about that seemed wrong or even unusual, so the corollaries seemed perfectly natural, too. Asian characters were sumo wrestlers or kung fu masters, because that’s the way it should be. If you’re African, you’re a sidekick or the second player (or both), not a hero. If you’re a woman, you’re certainly a minority in the cast, because it’s not normal for women to fight or save the world. Hell, in most versions of Street Fighter 2, there are exactly as many women in the cast as there are electric, green-skinned monsters. But I’m moderately certain Brazilian beasts don’t comprise over half the population in actual reality!

And when racism is normal, then it doesn’t even look like racism. It looks like… Clayfighter 63⅓.

GrossClayfighter 63⅓ isn’t a klan meeting. It isn’t constantly hurling racial slurs like your average youtube personality. Clayfighter 63⅓ does not overtly support Donald Trump. But what Clayfighter 63⅓ does is normalize its not-at-all unique brand of racism. It feeds on the subtle prejudice of an entire “target audience”, and promotes the myth that every “other” out there is some kind of homogenous mass of defects. Oh, what’s that, Asian Dude? You’re upset that you’ve been characterized as a bad driver for having squinty eyes? Ha ha, sorry, it was just a goof, don’t worry about it, you’re not the target audience. It’s cool, you’re still good at using a wok, right? Ha ha, everybody laugh… well, except you. You wouldn’t get it, an overwhelming segment of the global population.

It wouldn’t be racist if those pesky other races didn’t want to be included in the first place, right?

Oh, wait, that’s exactly what racism is.

And we should never forget that.

FGC #411 Clayfighter 63⅓ & Clayfighter Sculptor’s Cut

  • System: N64. This title was originally planned for the Playstation (1), too, but one would assume Nintendo tossed some cash at Interplay for the highly sought after clayophiliac demographic.
  • Number of players: Laugh along with exactly one (1) other friend. Make sure he’s white.
  • Slap 'emVersion-o-Call: Clayfighter 63⅓ is clearly a rushed product, and doesn’t include a healthy number of characters that were originally advertised to appear in the title. Heck, the in-game story distinctly mentions Dr. Kiln losing a hand that grows and becomes sentient, and that severed appendage is nowhere to be found. Sculptor’s Cut filled in the blanks on the majority of those forgotten fighters… but was only released as a Blockbuster Video exclusive. This made the title insanely hard to find, and is currently one of the most valuable N64 games in existence. However, this does not make either version particularly good.
  • Just say the gig, man: For a forgotten N64 game, this title features an all-star cast. Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) voices Earthworm Jim and Boogerman, Frank Welker (every cartoon ever) is Ickybod Clay and Blob, and Jim Cummings (Taz, Tigger, and Robotnik) is Mr. Frosty and Houngan. Yakko, Wacko, and Dot are all in the cast, too, which includes Taffy played by Tress MacNeille, who was also once the voice of Gadget Hackwrench. This would be goddamn amazing if anyone other than me gave a damn about voice acting as an art form.
  • Favorite Character: Across all Clayfighter titles, I’m fond of Blob, the green pile of clay that can morph into pretty much any form. He really displays how a “morphing” based fighting game can go wild with the creativity without relying on tired stereotypes about snowmen.
  • End an Argument: The next time the creator of Earthworm Jim decides to spout some nonsense opinions…

    SANTA NO!

    … Remind him that EWJ once appeared in a game where he could be butt-swallowed and crapped out by an overweight holiday icon.

  • Did you know? The box for Sculptor’s Cut touts “Make it a Blockbuster fight!” This was a parody of Blockbuster Video’s slogan “Make it a Blockbuster night.” Also, Blockbuster Video was a primitive, building-based business that allowed a person to rent videos for a limited period of time. Also, videos were disc or cassette-based objects on which…
  • Would I play again: I am fond of the Clayfighter series, and would like to see the franchise return. That said, I can barely play five minutes of this title without cringing, so that’s probably not going to happen again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Other M for the Nintendo Wii! Oh boy, that’s like the best Metroid title ever! Right? … Right? Please look forward to it!

FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

CARTOONS!To every game, turn turn turn, there is a season, turn turn turn…

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion was originally a 2011 release for the Nintendo 3DS, and then resurfaced six months later as Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL, a slightly expanded version intended for consoles. At its core, CN:PTE is a Smash Bros clone starring the heroes and heroines of various Cartoon Network shows.

And that was everyone’s initial problem: CN:PTE is a lousy copy of Smash Bros.

First of all, “copy of Smash Bros” does not just mean this is a generic four person mascot fight ‘em up with some weird new feature wedged in there; no, this is just straight up Smash Bros. More specifically, it’s Smash Bros. Brawl, as the trophy assists of that title have been adapted to include random Cartoon Network stars like Numbah 362 and Cheese, the most annoying imaginary friend ever. Other than that “change”, this is just Smash Bros, with death being based on falling off the screen, and damage being accumulated through an increasing percentage meter. And, let’s face it, this is a brazen and fairly insane route to take for a game that was clearly intended for systems with better options. We were still three years away from Super Smash Bros. 4 3DS, but the Wii had hosted Brawl for years, and who didn’t own a Wii? My mother owns a Wii! There are better options for Smash times, because, without a doubt, this is a dreadful smash clone. All of the characters control in a very “floaty” manner, a number of the special moves seem like excuses for suicide (forward + special is yet another dash move that will toss you off a cliff, yay!), and, while we’re examining every little flaw, most of these characters do not naturally lend themselves to a moveset. Get emIf a videogame neophyte chooses Charizard, the humongous, flaming dragon, our featured noob can still make a pretty good guess at what the special button is going to do (fire-breath seems like a lock). You might get a similar reaction out of CN’s scythe-wielding Grim Reaper, but Billy and Mandy? Or Dexter? Or Flapjack? Did that kid ever actually fight anything in his franchise?

Which brings us to the next big issue: the roster is unerringly confusing. You’ve got representatives from Johnny Bravo, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls, and even Chowder. Want to know what all those shows have in common? They were all cancelled before the release of this game! And it’s not just a matter of “maybe the game was delayed a month or two”, no, the last PPG episode was in 2005, so we’re looking at a title that was released two years after the 10th Anniversary Special. And just go ahead and rub the salt in the Samurai Jack and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack wounds. I don’t care if Jack eventually came back! That cancellation is still raw! It’s understandable to toss in a few “old” characters for posterity’s sake (Johnny Bravo should always be remembered), but this is less “Ice Climbers are here” and more “The latest Smash Bros will exclusively star Urban Champion and Excite Biker”. In fact, if you really comb the roster, you’ll find that the only franchise that was still in production during 2011 was Ben 10… Which is likely why they made him the star of story mode.

BARFSo maybe the story mode is worthwhile? Nope! It’s got the same dreadful physics as the rest of the game, and, give or take a side adventure or two involving lasers, it’s just a mediocre beat ‘em up where you don’t even have to beat ‘em up half the time. And there’s a minecart section! And, God, it somehow has an even worse physics engine than every other part of the game. It’s like the design team wanted to see just how repellant one over-merchandized bit of merchandise could be. Maybe the game tastes bad, too? I didn’t test that, but I haven’t licked any of my discs in a while, might be worth a check.

But one thing about story mode does stand out. Even if the gameplay is atrocious, even if the levels are more tedious than shouting about clowns coming to destroy us all, and even if you’re forced into playing as Ben 10 far too often; even with all that, there is something magical happening. The plot of PTE is simple: a dude has decided he’s going to watch some Cartoon Network, but his remote control has gone maliciously haywire, and is attempting to corrupt and otherwise damage the fine programs you’d find on the best cartoon channel around. Nothing too complicated there… Except the “narrator” watching TV is George Lowe. George Lowe, best known as the voice of Tad Ghostal aka Space Ghost, host of Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Cartoon Planet. And, well, that’s enough to get my attention.

WeeeeeeCartoon Network’s programs, and the cartoon characters featured in this game, are not my childhood. My local cable package didn’t even receive Cartoon Network until I was old enough to be embarrassed by watching such a thing. And, even before that, it wasn’t like CN had that much original programming. Ultimately, I had already ruined a good two proms before I ever caught sight of Courage the Cowardly Dog. But, despite my advanced age (almost ready for college!), I did watch Cartoon Network. I watched “Adult Swim” before it was Adult Swim. I watched a pile of Cartoon Network shows, old and new, basically because, well, what else was on? Some people watch The Real World or game shows, I watched Criss Cross Crisis reruns until my eyes bled. It wasn’t like I was a dedicated fan or something, it was simply what I flipped to when I had nothing better to do. And, particularly during my college years, it seemed like I had a lot of time for such vegetative watching. Doing some horrible calculus homework? May as well watch Johnny Bravo while I’m at it.

And I’m well aware that I fetishize my own childhood, but it came as something of a surprise to me that I’m also a sucker for nostalgia that originated a mere decade (and change) ago. Who knew that Space Ghost would immediately up my engagement levels by about 1000%? And the rest of the cast! They may have been “retired” by the time the game premiered, but now, years later, it’s like revisiting old friends. I never really cared for Kids Next Door or Chowder, but seeing them again, after all this time, it’s… refreshing. It does my heart good. These characters and shows may be off the air now, and their home network may be a completely different animal, but this disc-based time capsule of a long forgotten epoch has healed this old man’s broken heart.

GET IT!?In any objective way, Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion is not a good game. In 2011, it was a disappointment (you’ve had Finn the Human on the air for nearly two years, guys! And could you put more than ten minutes into filing the numbers off Smash Bros?), and in 2018, it should be a disappointment again. But, somehow, divorced from its original eon and system (I am technically playing this on the WiiU), it’s engaging. And, even more than that, it’s fun. It might just be nostalgia for a bygone era, but, dammit, it works.

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion, your time has finally come.

FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

  • System: Nintendo 3DS for the original version, and then XL hit on Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Sorry, the Vita wasn’t quite available yet.
  • Number of players: As a Smash clone, the answer must be four.
  • Missed Opportunities: Some complained that, while “old” Cartoon Network shows were being featured anyway, there should have been Courage the Cowardly Dog and Ed, Edd, and Eddy on the roster. However, while Courage had a great show, he is maybe not the most suited to a fighting environment. And, as for Ed, Edd, and Eddy? Nobody ever liked that show, so I can understand why it wasn’t included.
  • Hey, I liked Ed, Edd, and Eddy! No. No I assure you, you did not.
  • Other Complaints: It appears all of the items exist exclusively to be picked up and thrown. There isn’t a super mushroom or Franklin Badge or any other doodads that do anything more interesting than “is a projectile”. Considering the wealth of “items” available in various CN shows, that is a major disappointment.
  • Favorite Featured Cartoon Network Show: I still have a hard time believing there was ever a cartoon that featured a Caribbean Grim Reaper palling around with a megalomaniacal girl and her marginally brain dead sidekick. And sometimes they went to Hogwarts! But it had Weird Al! As a squid! Just do yourself a favor and watch The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
  • Favorite Assist Toon: For reasons that were never succinctly explained, Dracula in the Billy and Mandy Universe is a 70’s Disco Fiend…
    Get down!

    And that’s the best thing that ever happened.
  • Samurai Back: One of the stages is Samurai Jack’s home kingdom prior to Aku’s attack. Man, it really has to sting to finally make it home only for it to be a two minute fight against Captain Planet.
  • An End: The narrator is never seen, but, in response to losing his (evil) remote control, “Narrator” comments that he should find a lava monster to pull one lever to change channels. So, yes, this entire game is Space Ghost: Coast to Coast: Origins. Go get yourself a Moltar, Thad!
  • Did you know? Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo were the first two Cartoon Cartoons back in 1996 and 1997, respectively. This was followed by Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel. If you’re curious about why you’ve never heard of those latter two shows, there’s a reason.
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Exclusively for the nostalgia, I just might. I know I’m not the only nerd around here with his head stuck in the past, and I do have four controllers…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Young Justice Legacy for the Playstation 3! Time for some… justice? Of the… young kind? I guess! Please look forward to it!

YAY
The power of ponytails

FGC #317 Press Your Luck 2010 Edition

Should I be shouting this?You ever try to trace down the exact origins of your own quirks?

I’m a big videogame nerd (thanks for reading entry #317 in a series about videogames I done played), but I’m also into other nerdy pursuits. Comic books? All over that. Anime? That’s a big duh. And that somehow translates into an unending love for animation in all its forms, too. “Anime” is its own genre with its own set of tropes, but I will gladly watch most anything that is even the slightest bit animated. Do we consider this “Western Animation”? Or just call it Looney Tunes? Doesn’t matter, as I’ll watch everything from God, the Devil and Bob to Son of Zorn before I watch a single episode of The Big Bang Theory. I’ve been watching The Simpsons for three decades, but I drop SNL the minute TV Funhouse doesn’t show up. I like cartoons.

And, since about five years ago, I’ve been trying to figure out why I like cartoons. Why did this quest start five years ago? Well, because there was a hurricane of some repute, and my mother decided to hole up at my place to weather the incoming storm. I don’t have cable, so when I asked my dear mother what she wanted to watch (as the likes of Netflix requires premeditated viewing habits), her response was a curt, “Just as long as it isn’t a cartoon.” Needless to say, I was offended. This woman comes into my house to watch my television, and she has the audacity to claim that I watch… what is the implication here?… that animation is somehow low brow? Not as good as “real” TV? Look, my-so-called-mother, I realize watching that marathon of Digimon Frontier may not have been your cup of tea, but no need to denigrate an entire medium because you were not entertained by Ranamon’s antics. I watched Bob’s Burgers, too! That’s for adults! I think!

LOSERBut, yes, after I managed to calm down and narrowly resist kicking my mother out of my house and into a deadly hurricane, I began to assess my media consumption. And it appears that mother is always right; I do watch a lot of cartoons! And, while we’re at it, let’s admit that the live action shows I do watch are pretty close to cartoons, too. Is there really that much separating CW’s The Flash from Cartoon Network’s Justice League? Is Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s description as “a live action cartoon” that far off base? I’ll even admit that Riverdale is pretty much an anime, complete with a bland male protagonist that seems to have a harem of attractive and varied ladies (and they even found an excuse to get those ladies into swimsuits by the third episode!). Even when I’m not watching cartoons, I’m still watching cartoons, and I’d like a decent explanation for why.

And, sorry readers, I got nothing. Maybe it was an overexposure to Voltron, maybe I just really liked Ghostbusters as a kid, but I can’t tell you where this all started. I just… like cartoons. That’s it.

But, when I think about it, I can tell you my earliest “maybe I have a problem” memory.

My grandparents owned a guest house in a shore community, all of a block from the beach. I always lived one town over from said grandparents, and my parents, like many parents before them, often needed a break, so I wound up at the grandparents for the afternoon. This worked out well for all parties, as my parents could go do adult stuff (side note: I’m an only child, so they clearly never did anything interesting), I could maybe convince my grandfather to take me to a boardwalk arcade, and my grandmother had a fierce maternal instinct, so, for some reason, she liked babysitting. My mother was an only child, but she is still quick to recall tales from her childhood of my grandmother effectively adopting other young family members for months at a time while their parents “relaxed”. I guess my grandmother just had the “grandma gene” activated at a young age. Whatever the case, everyone seemed happy with the arrangement, and I wound up staying with my grandparents at least once a week (assuming it wasn’t winter, when they had a tendency to flee to Florida. Hey, everybody needs a break).

Excellent...But while this arrangement worked out rather well when I was all of three, things started to get more dicey when I hit the later years (like when I was old and mature enough to enter kindergarten). At a certain point in your life, you realize that you must be entertained at all times, and just sitting on the floor staring out the window is no longer going to cut it. And, when your current caretaker is also running an entire guest house business and attempting to keep you diverted… well, it’s time to turn on the TV. Which could have worked… if it wasn’t the mid-to-late 80’s, when the average person had all of twelve channels, and all of them were running reruns of Mr. Ed. Sweet, beautiful cartoons might be on in the morning, but this was a time before even The Disney Afternoon, so, unless Grandpa got the VCR working again, I was stuck with stupid, lame adult programming.

But there was one show my grandmother and I could watch together with no objections from either side: Press Your Luck.

Press Your Luck is basically a game show for stupid people. Uh, to be clear, I’m saying the contestants are dumb, not the people watching it. Those contestants, though? What a bunch of morons. Basically, whereas any other game show at the time (the 80’s) was generally skill based (even if that skill was just “know the price of beans”), the hook of Press Your Luck was that all your correctly answered questions earned you “spins” on the “board”… so basically you got another shiny quarter for the slot machine. About 10% of the game was proving your worth with ridiculous questions, and the other 90% was praying to CBS that you didn’t land on the square that would bankrupt you instantly, the Whammy.

But, oh man, that Whammy. That was why I watched.

WHAMMYI suppose in an effort to differentiate Press Your Luck from Wheel of Fortune, the Whammy was an animated, red “gremlin” that would appear and “destroy” the player’s earnings. And no two Whammies were alike! Okay, that’s a complete lie, but there were something like 50 different Whammies, and it was unlikely you’d see too many repeats in a week’s time. Some Whammies used giant cartoon bombs, some Whammies acted out little skits, and some Whammies imitated The Beatles for reasons that were never clear. They were basically five second Chuck Jones skits, and they were glorious. Well, to a five year old at least.

But that’s all it took to bridge the generational gap between my grandmother and I. On one side of the aisle, you’ve got a woman that literally grew up on a farm, a devoted Christian woman of many decades watching a show that is half trivia and half live gambling. On the other side, you’ve got a tiny child that just lives for every time that silly little red guy pops up on the screen. And, for a half hour, everyone is happy.

So maybe I have no idea where my love of cartoons originates. And maybe I’ll never know. But I do know that sometimes that love of cartoons allows for generations to be crossed, fun to be had, and for hearts to be as one… while watching Press Your Luck.

Look, this is my blog, not a Hallmark card. Screw it, I’m gonna go watch some more Adventure Time.

FGC #317 Press Your Luck 2010 Edition

  • System: Nintendo Wii for this review that has absolutely nothing to do with the game. Also available for the DS, PS3, and various idevices.
  • Number of Players: Three. Not coincidentally like Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Look, it’s Press Your Luck. It’s 10% trivia and 90%… pressing your luck. Huh. Just got that. What’s important here is that some of the questions are written for the legally brain dead…

    THIS AM HARD

    And I’m not even sure this next one is accurate!

    MANTIS IS DEER!

    But I don’t know enough about moose to say for certain.

  • Climb the ladder: While the game seems to be built for multiplayer, there are apparently twenty different “levels” to this adventure. Each “game” takes way too long as is, though, so be glad I ever got up to Level 3.
  • Press Your Facts: In researching this article, I was shocked to find that Press Your Luck only filmed episodes from 1983-1986. That can’t be right! But, then again, they apparently recorded 758 episodes during those three seasons…. And that’s probably accurate.
  • Did you know? Savage Steve Holland and Bill Kopp animated the Whammies. Those two knuckleheads would go on to be responsible for a lot of animated nonsense in the 80s and 90s, and were the creators behind Eek! the Cat. And, additional fun fact, if you think Eek! The Cat is bad, I will fight you.
  • Would I play again: In memory of my dear, departed grandmother…. No. This is not a fun game. There are better experiences available on… every other system. Ever.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bubsy Fractured Furry Tales for the Atari Jaguar! Seriously!? I have six Jaguar games, and four Bubsy games, and somehow ROB managed to choose three of each? I don’t like those odds. Oh well, what could go wrong? Please look forward to it!

Clap along
Yes, all according to plan…

FGC #152 Earthworm Jim

Sing itOne weird side effect of the Fustian Gaming Challenge has been revisiting classic videogames from a critical perspective and seeing a wildly different game from my memory. I often claim that, despite playing videogames for years upon years, it wasn’t until about Final Fantasy 13 that I started experiencing this medium with a more inquisitive eye. Yes, obviously, I always played videogames with a general sense of “is this good/bad?” But, more often than not, I didn’t really consider the component pieces, and simply made the snap judgment of “eh, I like it” on nothing more than a play through or two. Videogames are videogames, man, why overthink it?

Ah, how I envy the thinking of those bygone days.

I’m not sure I like Earthworm Jim. And, what’s more, I’m not certain I ever liked Earthworm Jim.

Alright, I suppose I should start with separating the game from the character. I unequivocally like Earthworm Jim the earthworm. Back in the day, EWJ the Animated Series was my favorite cartoon next to Freakazoid (and I think they aired next to each other, too). It was a series made for my Dadaist sense of humor that wasn’t being sated anywhere else in 90’s movies and television (alright, maybe Stunt DAWGS… anyone remember that show?). Earthworm Jim trying to save his beloved Princess Whatshername from Psy-Crow and then battling Evil the Cat over a snowglobe was somehow right up my alley, and I vaguely blame Monty Python for the whole experience. I owned all the action figures (this seems to come up in a lot of articles…), and, by the time I was in high school, I would stick a Bob the Malevolent Goldfish on my desk during midterms whenever I thought I was particularly in need of luck. To this day, the phrase “fur-bearing trout” is somehow still a part of my lexicon.

And I want to say that I enjoyed the Earthworm Jim videogame. Maybe? I know I didn’t own Earthworm Jim, because (infamously… in only my own memory) my mother did not buy me the game for Christmas. Winner!She got me a magnetic poetry set instead. I realize it is inherently childish and petty to hold such a choice against her twenty years later… but, Jesus, what kid wants a magnetic poetry set? Where are random words ever going to get me!? Argh! … Er-hem… uh, anyway, yeah, I didn’t own Earthworm Jim until my 20’s, so I know I only ever played the game as a rental back when it was relevant. But I also had subscriptions to Nintendo Power and Gamepro (and probably just bought EGM), and, for what I recall as approximately 12,000 years, there was a lot of magazine coverage of EWJ. I might not have played the game very much, but I knew all the key players well before they hit Saturday Morning, and, yeah, when compared to the likes of boring heroes like Aladdin or Batman, EWJ appeared to be a revelation… albeit a revelation I could only enjoy from afar. Did you see all those interviews with Dave Perry? That guy is speaking my language!

So when I decided to replay Earthworm Jim (well, technically the robot decided), I picked up the controller with a song in my heart (“Through the soil he did crawl…”) and a smile on my face. This ain’t no not-trying-at-all Zool or best-left-forgotten Rampage Through Time, this is Earthworm Jim, dammit! This is going to be exciting!

And… it wasn’t any fun.

Earthworm Jim has some good points. The animation? Superb. The hero? Just oozing personality from every pore (do worms have pores? I should look into that). And, as ever, I like an ambitious failure more than a repeated rote rehash (shhh Mega Man games, I don’t mean you), so I appreciate the sheer volume of interesting ideas flung into what could otherwise be a pretty basic 2-D action game. There’s a lot here to like!

But… then there’s everything else.

First, and most disappointingly of all, there isn’t much in EWJ to separate it from its 16-bit contemporaries on the “humor” front. Beyond the headlining character, if you divorce the game from the Play it Loud era of gaming mags and cartoon spin-offs, there isn’t a lot of inherent humor in the game itself. Psy-Crow is a great foil for EWJ in the auxiliary materials, but in the game world he’s practically as Clayfighteranonymous as the UFOs in that Heathcliff game. The Evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-for-a-Butt is pretty much only funny based on her name, and I want to say that lengthy title does not actually appear during the game. Sure, this was the age of instruction manuals (remember those?), but without that additional bit of material, the whole experience comes off less genuinely funny and more “Nintendo lol random” like Claymates.

But, alright, humor is subjective, and we’ll always have a launching cow, so let’s move on to the actual gameplay. What do we have there? Well, we’ve got a lot of ideas that wind up smacking together the worst of old games design and new (new for ’94, at least).

From the old column we have limited lives and continues, which, alright, fair enough, we have to curbstomp the rental industry, so let’s make the game as annoying to play as possible. But that combines really poorly with the deluge of new gameplay quirks that are seemingly randomly introduced along the way. Platforming, cool, nothing exciting here… and then you’re controlling a jet-powered fishbowl? And there’s a rapidly descending oxygen meter while you’re trying to figure out the controls? Oh, sorry, you died, try again… assuming you haven’t wasted your lives elsewhere, because then you’re restarting the entire game from scratch. See also: being stripped of the super suit at the start of a tense boss battle, bungee jumping, and (my personal favorite screw job) those damn race levels. Couple this all with some unexpected, “unfair” enemy hits and bottomless pits (and, oh yeah, a final level that may as well be one giant spike pit), and you’ve got 16-bit graphics on a Battletoads experience.

But don’t worry, EWJ has plenty of modern conveniences! First and most obviously, “graphics” was put far ahead of the “proper platforming” bullet point on the priority list, so expect to be confused by stages with erratic layouts and confusing “is that platform in the ARGHforeground or background” challenges. Oh, and seemingly at the behest of his awesome animations, EWJ kinda controls like a dump truck, with all the jumping finesse that implies. Level 3 introduces mechanics that seem very similar to modern “stealth” gameplay, and another stage is a straight up escort mission. Add one FMV-based quick time event level, and we’d have literally every convention I never want to see in a 2-D game ever again.

This… does not make for a happy Goggle Bob.

But, in a weird way, it’s impossible to separate the myth from the man (worm). We’ll never know what a Clinton Presidency would look like without the shadow of his infidelity, and we’ll never know what Roman Polanski’s filmography would look like without the knowledge of his insidious off-camera inclinations Technically, these events didn’t impact these men’s professional output one iota… except when the stories became so big as to overtake everything. We see the same pattern over and over again with stars of all mediums, and I rather loathe the fact that I literally cannot immediately name a female musician that isn’t, in some way, known for her physical body as well as or more than her musical body. It may be a personal failing, but I cannot listen to a Britney Spears song without then considering her rise and fall and re-rise to guest-star on Jane the Virgin, and that should have absolutely no impact on my ears being engaged by If U Seek Amy.

So, maybe being a star occasionally has its benefits. My memory isn’t that great, so I’ll probably forget about this article in time (I once imagined that writing a thousand or so words on a videogame would be enough to permanently lodge the experience in my brain, but I recently was reminded of at least one article that caused me to respond, “I wrote that?”), and my brain will drift back to its default state of believing in Earthworm Jim. No, the game isn’t that great, but thanks to an adoring gaming press and ancillary promotions, I’m always going to fondly remember the worm that rockets through the sky. Earthworm Jim might not be that great, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Earthworm Jim.

He is such a groovy guy.

FGC #152 Earthworm Jim

  • System: Technically, I own and played the Sega Genesis version for this review. EWJ is also available for (take a breath) Super Nintendo, Sega CD, Gameboy, Game Gear, PC, Gameboy Advance, and the Wii.
  • Snot my problemNumber of players: Sorry, there’s only one super suit in the universe. Professor Monkey-for-a-Head didn’t build another.
  • Port-o-Call: There are so many different versions of this game that I don’t even know where to begin. What’s really important is that many a playground fight was started over whether the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo version was superior. I want to say that the SNES version is better, if only because that allows for the Sega CD version to then usurp that title. It’s like Pokémon.
  • Big Damn Cheater: One other reason this game was widely regarded as good may have been how easy it was to key in the right code and skip a level or have permanent invincibility. I don’t think I know anyone that actually played Level 3 from start to finish…
  • Just play the gig, man: If it wasn’t such an annoying level (that is to say, any level in EWJ) What the Heck would have possibly the best, most appropriate background music for its console generation. As it is, though, it’s hard to notice the clever “musical joke” while you’re fighting lawyers to survive.
  • Favorite Level: As rough as it can be on your lives count, I rather enjoy snot bungee jumping, and I advocate for such an event to occur during the Olympics.
  • An end: Oh, and another old school twist: you may be insulted for choosing the “wrong” difficulty level. Have I mentioned before how much I despise game developers chastising players for not playing on the most sadistic difficulty levels? Pet peeve if there ever was one.
  • Did you know? There was a rather infamous commercial for EWJ featuring an old lady telling bedtime stories and eating earthworms. They weren’t real earthworms, but people freaked out all the same, and the commercial got pulled from select areas. This is your daily reminder that 90’s commercials for videogames were hella weird.
  • Would I play again: It’s probably for the best that I don’t…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Soulcalibur 3! A new tale of swords and souls is about to unfold! Or… did unfold… it was like a decade ago… No matter! Please look forward to it!

Mooooo