The problem with pets is that there is a lack of communication. Yes, your average dog is confident in his good boyhood, and your average cat is well aware that you are a willing slave to the feline oligarchy, but relaying more precise concepts is very difficult. Yes, you, human, are yelling… but… why? Is it because food is late? Is it because good boy did not sniff enough telephone poles? Or is it somehow related to how that pillow had to be dismantled, piece by piece, because it might contain angry ghosts? And, of course, all of the other pillows had to be destroyed, because, come on, you can’t leave a job unfinished. Is that why yelling is happening? No, it’s probably that sniffing thing. That seems like the most important item of the day.
Unfortunately, videogames are much in the same boat. Mass Effect Andromeda was a failure. But why? Was it the graphics? The sound effects? An uninteresting and unsightly plot? Not enough homosexual scenarios available? An odd subliminal message that pops up every thirty seconds that reads “Trump for President” despite the fact that the game was released like six months after the election? It’s literally impossible to point to one distinct reason a particular videogame failed, and you average gamer isn’t much help in that regard, either. “It sucked,” is not constructive criticism! Not that the marketing department is ever going to listen anyway, they’re still too busy insulting review aggregator sites to notice why their game might not be scoring a passing grade. Once again, there is a lack of communication between the people that want something and the folks that can actually do something about it.
This is why the playtesting phase of any given videogame production is so important. There were maybe two games produced in the last three decades that significantly changed after a demo/release thanks to “player feedback”, so it seems obvious to the layman that programmers and other creators behind our favorite medium won’t change much once it’s “out in the wild”. But in-house playtesting can reveal much that a programmer too close to a project may have missed. Like, ya know, when an entire level doesn’t work. Yes, it’s very easy for us to note glitches and flaws well after the fact, but who knows how many problems have been preemptively fixed by diligent playtesters (and the design teams that actually listen to said test dummies). And, come on, videogames are meant to be played. Nobody wants to play a game of conceptual dodge ball; when you’ve got a game in front of you, you want to know someone played and enjoyed it before you. Tried and true and tested, that’s the sure route to fun.
And it’s very clear that THQ didn’t hire a single playtester back in the 90’s.
THQ, one way or another, is responsible for publishing a number of games for the original Nintendo console. We’ve got such luminaries as Home Alone, Swamp Thing, and (the only videogame I know of based on a friggen’ series of art books) Where’s Waldo. THQ itself came from the world of toy manufacturing (Toy Headquarters, Toy HQ, THQ), so it seems only natural that their plan for the NES, the “hot toy” of the 80s, would be to adapt every available children’s property into a digital format. You make your action figures for James Bond Jr., then you make a corresponding game, and then you have pillow fights with supermodels in your money bin. Licensing has always been the same, and a Home Alone tie-in novel or board game can’t be that different from an accompanying videogame. All works out identical in the end.
And, while it’s easy to say THQ had no vested interest in advancing the medium or making videogames a household name or whatever lofty goals you could likely attribute to the likes of Nintendo or Konami, you must admit that THQ did want to be successful. After all, why make videogames if not to sell videogames? In every medium going back to cave drawings, there has been a clear line connecting “success” and “quality”. Okay, wait, that might be a lie. But even artists not appreciated in their time were able to sell the occasional bit of scribbling, and they didn’t need the Wayne’s World license to do it. You can make a licensed game and a good game at the same time! Capcom did it often! And they were rewarded for it! You can do it, too, THQ!
Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates, THQ’s first ever release, seems to prove that THQ was never interested in creating a game that was capable of being enjoyed.
Peter Pan could be an interesting character for a 2-D platformer. In fact, Kirby with a sword basically is Peter Pan. Fly, slide, slash, and maybe make some manner of rooster sound. Battle through woods, coves, and pirate brigades, and avoid a crocodile along the way. Faeries are already an established powerup, and heck, if you want to really go nuts, you could include some kind of “duel” mini-mode like certain other releases. Peter Pan is all about an action-loving teenager with unparalleled movement capabilities and an established antagonist that just happens to have his own infinite army of mooks. Every videogame title should just be Peter Pan!
But Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates manages to squander everything fun about Peter Pan within its opening level. Peter Pan has a sword! Or dagger! Something pointy! Unfortunately, it’s about the same length as a twinkie, so we’re stuck with the raw damage potential of a 2-D Hylian that managed to leave all of his magic skills at home. But Peter Pan isn’t about stabbing! He’s about flying! And… that is difficult to control. And hitting any one of the bizarre, poorly-defined hitboxes of enemy or platform alike will cause Pete to drop like a dead fairy. Oh, and all flight is limited by a fairy dust counter, because I guess Peter Pan only has so much happiness in his cold, black heart. Wendy appears once to say watch out for snakes, Tinker Bell is nothing more than a health fill-up, and there are warp mushrooms that will randomly toss you somewhere in the stage. It’s all extremely underwhelming, and a complete waste of a decent license.
And then it somehow gets worse.
FPPatP is an old school NES game, so that means three lives and no continues. Considering the length of the first stage and the sheer number of deadly pterodactyls contained therein, it would not be a stretch to claim that many kids never made it past the first stage. Oh, and the game requires you kill every rando pirate in every level, so if you did manage to get to the end, it was likely you were sent back to start because you didn’t nail a Smee. Anyone lucky enough to find stage 2 would then discover a level that is primarily pits and traps, so, uh, good luck with that and Peter Pan’s overly finicky flight skills. I would estimate that, just spitballing, of all the poor children that got stuck with this abomination, probably only about 3% ever saw the third level. Beyond that? That’s just impossibility.
And, while I’m applying this thinking to the poor saps that wound up with this lesser Barrie adaptation under the Christmas tree, it’s pretty clear that the playtesters didn’t get very far either. The controls are already terrible, but something is seriously wrong when the fourth stage is simply a recolor of the first. Though, it was the NES age, one might expect that echelon of cost cutting. What’s the next level?
Oh God! What horrible Virtual Boy preview hath THQ wrought!? There is no way a single human being saw that color scheme (red on red on red on… maybe brown?) and thought, “Yes, this is something that should be unleashed upon children.” Hell, had a parent’s organization even been in the same zip code as that stage, we’d see a complete ban of all videogames as early as 1991. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that this hunk of trash was a contemptuous contemporary of Mega Man 4, Metal Storm, and Battletoads? This was seven years after Urban Champion, and someone thought it was okay.
And then the final level is the same stupid level repeated three times in a row, followed by a final boss fight that is simultaneously impossible, difficult, and as boring as counting rice grains. Your reward for completing the game is one lousy bitmap of Peter Pan and the message that “It is so much fun being Peter Pan”.
No it is not.
Was Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates a success for THQ? Signs point to no. It probably sold a decent enough number of copies (currently available at around $30 for complete in box, so there is likely a lot of this trash out in the world), but no one ever lists this 2 star (out of a possible million) title on their “best of” or “fond childhood memories” list. This game was crap, and it bombed because it was crap. Was there any way to relay this information to THQ, though? Of course not. Whaddya gonna do, write a blog post about it?
So, anyway, if anyone from early 90’s THQ can read this… Uh, your game sucked. Just a head’s up.
Bad, THQ. Bad.
FGC #343 Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System. Please do not look for virtual console releases, as Disney has stomped this version of the franchise out of the universe.
- Number of players: The other Lost Boys are completely absent. Seriously. Don’t think they even get a mention. I guess they’re…. lost.
- Foxy: “Fox’s” Peter Pan and the Pirates was a Saturday morning television show on Fox. Okay, you probably guessed that. Fox managed to outbid Disney for the license just this once, and made a surprisingly trippy cartoon series out of the whole deal. The Peter Pan nonsense was pretty tiresome, but there was a surprising amount of attention paid to (actually competent) Captain Hook and his pirate crew. Oh, and one time Wendy’s daughter from the future showed up, and Sailor Moon has taught me that that trope is always cool.
- Say something nice: Unusual for a platformer, your health is a number in this adventure. And even more unusual, your health doesn’t seem to have an upper limit. So, assuming you stay out of the jaws of a crocodile, you should have practically unlimited health by the final boss. Or you’ll have practically nothing because of a random instant death trap. One or the other.
- Did you know? Fox’s Peter Pan made Tinker Bell a redhead and the smartest of the Lost Boys. Disney’s Tinker Bell is a jackass.
- Would I play again: And be the first person in history to play this game twice? Never.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project! Cowabunga! Please look forward to it, dudes!