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FGC #436 The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

SIMPSONS DID ITWhy do I keep this website going? Why write about videogames? Because even the most innocuous of videogames contain magnitudes.

Today’s title is The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare, a game I rented and played more times than Ralph Wiggum could ever hope to count. I didn’t actually own the cartridge until very late in the SNES’s lifespan (a glorious time of liquidations and sales), but I rented it repeatedly because A. I loved The Simpsons, and B. I couldn’t hope to beat it. The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare is a surprisingly difficult game, and, given my childhood OCD habits, I couldn’t exist as a human being knowing I had not completed such a challenge. If I could conquer Bart vs. The Space Mutants, I could certainly handle Indiana Bart.

And, while I did eventually win the day (very eventually), it took a wee Goggle Bob many a rental to finally see Bart earn an A+. Why? Well, mostly because The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare is kind of a mess of seven different games sewn together. We’ve got Bart tomb raiding, and it’s primarily a puzzle situation with some very unusual offensive controls. We’ve got Bart vs. Itchy and Scratchy, an action game with extremely deadly traps and tricks. Bart-Man flying through the skies is, conversely, a very forgiving shoot ‘em up. Bart in his own bloodstream playing Dig-Dug with viruses and collecting nuclear cowboys defies any basic kind of genre or logic. And Big Bartzilla plays pretty close to a rhythm-challenged portion of Rhythm Heaven, while Lil’ Bartzilla is a… climbing simulator? Regardless, neither version of Bartzilla is just straight up Rampage, and that’s a shame. All of this is tied together by a “hub world” that is about CRUSH!80% action, 20% adventure. You have to think the tiniest bit! As you can see, that’s a lot of different games all rolled into one, and, while mastering one or two might be doable, it takes a lot of practice (and heartbreak) to overcome the entirety of Bart’s Nightmare. I did it when I was a kid. I was proud of it when I was a kid.

Playing Bart’s Nightmare as an adult, though? Now I can safely say that Bart’s Nightmare sucks.

Look, there’s a lot of game here. There are a lot of interesting ideas. But practically every one of these ideas is 100% half-baked. Bart dodging grenades in his own bloodstream sounds like a fever dream to begin with, but the actual mechanics of that level are never satisfying. There are two enemies: one can only ever bother you, while the other employs a persistent instant death attack. And the only way to immediately tell the difference is to check out their hats. And that gets a little… insane when they start swarming the screen. And the objective of that level is to grab a randomly spawning mascot (that had appeared in a whole four episodes at this point… he’s at six now), and your success is usually determined by whether or not he/it happened to appear anywhere near your poor, difficult to control Bart. And that’s just one of the games! I could spend literally the entire rest of this article recounting the Weeeeemany, many issues in practically every segment of this title. Do you want to hear about how difficult it is to master the timing for defeating Homer Kong/King Homer? Because I could tell you stories…

And, looking at Bart’s Nightmare as an enlightened, completely objective adult (that is also handsome and super smrt), I can see exactly what went wrong: it’s not good enough. Like… uh… objectively! Bart’s Nightmare has a lot of interesting ideas, but no single portion of the game is fully-realized. It’s a collection of mini-games that do not add up to one single good game because each individual piece needs a few more hours (days… months?) of playtesting and tweaking. There’s a skeleton of an excellent game here, but the flesh is weak and pasty. A little more time, and Bart’s Nightmare could have been one of the greats of the 16-bit era.

And it also would have been nice if Bart’s Nightmare didn’t force someone to retire from making videogames entirely.

Let’s talk about Bill Williams. Bill Williams was born in 1960, and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis early in life. He learned at the age of 12 that he was unlikely to live past 13. He died at 38 (okay, technically 37, but it was a day before his birthday, so we’re going to call that close enough). Bill Williams was one of the earliest videogame designers, apparently getting into the field in the early 80’s because he saw the Atari and Amiga as the future (back when systems were simply “the future” and not just “the future of gaming”). And Williams wound up responsible for some seriously weird titles of the time. Salmon Run, his first title, was basically Frogger but with some manner of fish (probably a trout?). Necromancer was the story of a Geomancer growing an army of trees to battle the titular Necromancer and his undead army (and, yes, this remains one of the few games to even reference the historical rivalry between sentient forests and ogres). Mind Walker, one of the first Amiga 1000 titles, defies description in every possible way. It’s… uh… it’s kind of like Lawnmower Man? And the selectable characters are a body builder, nymph, wizard, or alien. And you can play with Sigmund Freud’s pipe. Move alongIt’s… uh… something. Regardless, Williams was responsible for many different games, and many of his games were solely his creation: he was responsible for graphics, sound, concept, and programming these titles. Yes, that was a lot easier back in the day of “green dot is actually a dragon”, but take a look at some of his creations, and you’ll realize this guy really knew how to push those pixels to the limit.

As the world moved on to bigger and more Mega Man-based systems, Bill Williams stuck around to work on some more licensed titles. Monopoly for the NES was a Bill Williams joint. And so was The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare. And, incidentally, The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare made Bill Williams quit the entire industry.

If there is more information on exactly what happened during Bart’s Nightmare’s development, I haven’t found it. However, it isn’t too hard to see what happened here. Bart’s Nightmare is a game teeming with interesting ideas. Take the hub world: there are a variety of different enemies, from Lisa the Fairy to Principal Skinner to Jimbo and the Bullies to “Grandma”. However, they all work in a sort of ecosystem where one “threat” is actually helpful when Bart is beset by another monster. Grandma’s kiss causes Bart to stop and lose points, but when Lisa turns Bart into a helpless frog, Granny’s kiss will restore his human form. And being a frog sucks, but if Bart is captured by the bullies, it is Lisa that will transform them into harmless rats. Principal Skinner’s suit will disable Bart’s offensive capabilities (though kind of make him invincible), but jumping into the normally aggravating puddle of mud will retire the suit. There’s even a unique take on the “lifebar” and how performing different feats, like controlling bubblegum bubbles or skateboarding, will extend Bart’s dream existence in curious ways. In short, there are a hundred fascinating ideas in just one area of Bart’s Nightmare, and an entire game with this much creativity on display could have revolutionized gaming for 1992.

What is evening happening?But Bart’s Nightmare did not wind up a revolutionary game. Bart’s Nightmare, in its final incarnation, is not particularly fun. There are a lot of exciting ideas on display, but they are not implemented well or completely. It is very easy to see how an additional few months could have refined Bart’s Nightmare to be something that is truly classic, but this was another random bit of Simpsons merchandise. Reading between the lines… and a few interviews with Bill Williams… and you can easily see how Bart’s Nightmare was rushed out the door the minute it was passable. The age of the videogame orator was over, and Williams was forced to release an unfinished product for the exclusive purpose of sopping up some Simpsons cash. Thus did Bill Williams retire from gaming, and began writing a series of meditations on being a Christian living with an incurable disease, ultimately a return to a field where he could again be a sole author of his work. He passed away six years after Bart’s Nightmare, living just long enough to see the rise of the JRPG and titles that were a little more narratively interesting than “Bart has a dream”. However, whether he was even still looking at the industry he once loved so much is unknown. Considering what he did with the meager Amiga, we can only imagine what could have been possible if he got his hands on a Playstation dev kit.

But it’s for people like Bill Williams that I keep the FGC going. The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare is not a good game, but it is inexorably linked to a much greater story. Videogames are art, and every piece tells a story, regardless of whether or not “Bart as Indiana Jones” is the least fun experience anyone could ever imagine. Every plastic cartridge, every disc contains volumes that extend far beyond their credits roll. Whether it be a game that is eternally tied to childhood memories or the actions of a man that was remarkable for his place in the industry, every game has the potential to be important to the great tapestry of human achievement. Every videogame can have a lesson.

And let Bart’s Nightmare be a lesson to you, sweeties. Never love anything.

FGC #436 The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

  • DespicableSystem: Super Nintendo Chalmers, but also ported to Lisa Genesis.
  • Number of players: Don’t have a two player mode, man.
  • Casual Racism: Apu’s only appearance is zooming by on a flying carpet to dispense squishies. Get it!? He’s Indian! Everybody laugh at that silly foreigner!
  • Is Bart, at any point during his sleep, a Viking? Sadly, no.
  • Favorite Dream: I think I will always have a soft spot for the Bartman segment, as it was the first stage/level/dream/whatever that I was actually good at. I really want to like the Bartzilla segments… but they kinda suck. Can you just let me stomp around as a kaiju in peace!?
  • So, did you beat it: I did! Once (without savestates)! And it took so many in-game tries, I think I maxed out the score counter. I probably played that game continuously for so many uninterrupted hours, it’s a wonder my SNES didn’t explode.
  • I did the Iggy: The final boss of the Itchy & Scratchy segment is… a furnace. That’s it. Just a furnace. And this was before that one Treehouse of Horror where a furnace was relevant for like thirty seconds. To say the least, this was an odd choice.
  • Did you know? There’s a Simpsons short from the Tracey Ullman days titled “Bart’s Nightmare”. It’s mainly about Bart stealing cookies (what a bad boy), and the only whimsy involved is a brief bit where Bart is shrunk down to tiny size. As “tiny” isn’t the premise of a single level in the game, I’m going to go ahead and say the existence of the short is merely a coincidence.
  • Would I play again: Bart’s Nightmare has a weird and interesting place in gaming history. And that’s cool! Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the title any more fun to play. I’ll pass on a replay until I get extremely nostalgic.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Princess Peach for the Nintendo DS. Peachy! Please look forward to it!

Good Job!
Like Bart cares about getting an A.

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

Gaming has changed a lot over the years. Nowadays, if a game is released for multiple systems, it is almost always the exact same game across different platforms, give or take a random feature or frame rate. Skyrim has been released for… let me do the math here… 70,000 videogame systems, and, by and large, every version has been, ya know, Skyrim. If there were some variation in there, you better believe you’d see promotion for the brand new Skyrim Jr., Skyrim Babies, or Skyrim: Centaurs Among Us editions. You buy Skyrim, you get Skyrim, and whether your buddy has an Xbox or Playstation, you’re both talking about the same dragonborn at the end of the day.

Back in the 90’s, things were not so simple.

We consider them members of the same console generation, but the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo videogame consoles were wildly different systems. For one thing, Super Nintendo had Chrono Trigger and Super Metroid, while Sega Genesis had Ecco the Dolphin. Ha ha! I’m joking, because I was primarily a Nintendo kid, and I absolutely will never get over those console wars. I lost good friends to that battle, and I’m not going to let young Jason’s sacrifices (he had a subscription to Sega Visions) be in vain. And why were there such console wars? Well, mostly because of advertising. But! Another significant factor was that a number of games for both systems were as different as their base consoles, so you could experience entirely different playstyles if you decided to pick up a title for Sega or Nintendo. Back then, even a humble Looney Tunes spin-off could be the spark that reignites the blaze of war.

He's the dad in Taz-ManiaTaz-Mania was always an odd duck. For reasons that I’m sure annoy tattoo artists to this very day, Taz the Tazmanian Devil became extremely popular in the early 90’s. This also roughly coincided with the rise of WB/Fox Kids animation domination, so, hot on the heels of Tiny Toons and just before the rise of Animaniacs, Taz got his own animated variety sitcom. This was… an odd choice. Taz was always popular for his general unleashed, unhinged, and non-verbal personality… so naturally they gave him a loving, perfectly normal nuclear family. Jean Tazmanian Devil is a dedicated housewife, and Hugh Tazmanian Devil is a Bing Crosby wannabe perfect father. Molly and Jake are archetypal siblings, and Dog the Turtle is a typical dog (who is a turtle). Basically, Warner Bros. Animation crafted an amusing farce where a feral beast is forced to live with a modern family that inexplicably and unconditionally loves the destructive eating machine. … And it suddenly becomes clear where my generation earned its absurdist sense of humor. Regardless, Taz was joined by a few other characters/shorts (because WB Animation seemed to assume that kids have the collective attention span of a particularly excited chihuahua), so even the main appeal of its chief character was lost for entire segments at a time. For a series that was ostensibly created to capitalize on Taz-mania (oh, I just got that), it sure took a weird route to get there.

But, like the Addams Family before it, it was considered a popular enough show to earn a videogame or two. The first release was Taz-Mania for the Sega Genesis. And, lo, it was good! As one might expect from the era, Taz-Mania was a 2-D platforming adventure featuring Taz questing after a giant egg, because eating things is funny. And Taz-Mania properly featured Taz’s excessive gluttony in other ways, too! Taz would devour anything he could fit in his giant maw, which included food, 1-ups, monsters, and even entire water bottles (he drank the water first, naturally). This even became an interesting gameplay wrinkle, as there were items like bombs and weed killer strewn about, and they could be used as items, but only if you made Taz resist devouring them outright. FrostyFun fact: weed killer is not a balanced part of a tazmanian devil’s diet. Beyond that, this was a gorgeous, fairly basic 2-D platformer, and the goal was to jump on everything from here to the end of the stage. You could even use Taz’s whirly attack every once in a while… but it’s generally not recommended, as it will absolutely get you killed.

Which was kind of the problem: Taz-Mania was super hard.

With save states and other modern innovations, the scope of Taz-Mania is easy to see. However, back in the day, this was a pretty basic platformer for a few levels, and then a series of instant death traps that would banish the player back to Level 1 pretty quickly. In fact, you could easily point toward one single mid-level stage, a freaking a mine cart level, that is a wall-to-wall Taz slaughter. No devils have any hope to survive, and the mere concept of reaching later stages is nothing more than a pipedream. There are a few other sticking points (floating logs introducing perspective to a 2-D game is particularly cruel), but, short of rote memorization, there was no way Taz was going to make it past some terrible mines. Not that the end game is that exciting! But not knowing how Taz’s adventure ends (it’s a fight against a giant seagull, ‘natch) might convince a poor Genesis kid that a purchase is better than a rental. Well played, Sega, well played.

And then, a scant few months later, Sunsoft released its version of Taz-Mania on the Super Nintendo. It was dramatically easier, and, incidentally, boring as hell.

WeeeeYou will never be able to convince me that Taz-Mania (SNES) did not start as a Wily E. Coyote game that was randomly modified to be a Taz-Mania tie-in. This title plays vaguely like SNES Mario Kart, and takes full advantage of Mode 7 capabilities to place Taz on an endless stretch of highway where he must catch kiwis (the highly mobile birds, not the much easier to catch fruit). Every level contains an escalating number of kiwis, and there are few hazards (like buses and… mostly just buses) to keep Taz down. After catching the requisite kiwis, Taz falls asleep, the kiwis escape his gaping maw (that’s how digestion works, right?), and the whole thing starts again. Repeat for five acts (worlds) with three stages each. Throw in a few bonus stages where you can catch infinity kiwis for a score that impacts nothing, and you’re got the entire game.

And, in this case, that’s the clear problem: after playing a whole one stage, you’ve seen everything this title has to offer. Later stages seem to climb in difficulty only by adding incredibly unfair traps (arrows will spawn practically on top of Taz, and presumably you’re supposed to dodge them by using psychic powers), but it’s mostly moot anyway, as devouring practically anything (including your kiwi goals) refills your health. Like the endless stretch of highway to which Taz has been sentenced, the game is just an interminable slog of the initial stage repeated a solid fifteen times. Backgrounds change, sometimes you see the Road Runner, and occasionally you’ll earn a powerup that makes Taz move slightly faster, but other than that, it is tedium. It’s tremendously more beatable than its Genesis cousin, but even the first act makes it clear that there’s no future for this Taz. It’s the exact same plot across both games (Taz hungry), but there is exactly zero reason to progress through the SNES version.

GULPSo who wins? Guess it depends on your mood. SNES-Mania is basically an endless runner (almost literally), and is good, repetitive fun if you’re in the mood for such a thing (the sales on mobile games seem to indicate this is true of at least some people). On the other (brown, furry) hand, you’ve got Genesis-Mania, which is a creative, intricate platformer that requires endless memorization or a healthy glut of cheating. It’s (God help me) the Dark Souls of 90’s WB Animation Game Tie-ins. So, in this situation, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, and one could no more declare a winner than objectively determine that ducks are more suited for space travel than vegemite. In this situation, both systems have their own, personal Tazs, and that’s just fine.

Which is nice for Sega, because the SNES wins at everything else.

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

  • System: Sega Genesis for the platformer, SNES for the runnin’ of the Taz. The Genesis game was compromised and ported to Master System and Game Gear, too. Also, there was a Gameboy version that had nothing to do with anything.
  • Number of players: Single player across the board. The SNES version could easily have had a head-to-head kiwi catching contest, but noooooo.
  • Favorite Level (SG): It’s a shame that the final area of Genesis-Mania is so difficult to reach, as its “ancient ruins” aesthetic is great for the level design, and contains a number of gags that indicate Taz’s ancient ancestors were just… Taz. He’s perennial!
  • Favorite Level (SNES): There is no way to tell these stages apart, and I will not entertain notions of trying.
  • OUCHLet’s Talk Cartoons: Given the choice, I’d take Taz-Mania the Series over a number of its descendants, like Histeria!, Animaniacs, and a third one that I know I’m forgetting. Freakazoid is the best, but Taz’s general… Tazness fit the variety show format well. Also, I really enjoy orange juice, and no one understands when I make that Hugh reference anymore.
  • Did you know? Genesis-Mania contains a complete debug cheat, which allows for level skipping, invincibility, and instant health restoration. SNES-Mania simply contains a level select code. Welp, I know one place where the Genesis version excels.
  • Would I play again: SNES version isn’t happening again, as I’m not one for score-based games. Genesis version is a maybe, but only with the assistance of save states and such. Or… probably not ever, because there are better games available in both genres. Sorry, guess the Taz stays in Taz-Mania.

What’s next? Our next SNES/Genesis matchup is… Billy and the Clone-Osaurus! There’s a park full of dinosaurs, and I guess we’re trying to escape it for some reason! Please look forward to it!

The kid

FGC #324 Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure

We're all a little looneyTiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure is a videogame based on the highly popular (with 90’s kids that watched Fox) series, Tiny Toon Adventures. While it would make perfect sense for this game to be fairly original, bad news, this is yet another fuzzy mascot Sonic-alike for the Sega Genesis. The NES got a couple of interesting platformers, the SNES got a TTA adaption that had no idea what it wanted to be (“Am I… playing football now?”), and the Genesis got a Sonic the Hedgehog wannabe. This is how the world works.

But, thanks to poor scheduling compliments of my daffy plucky robot, I managed to play this game between sessions of Sonic Mania. This does nothing for a Sonic-alike game, but it does give me an excuse to elucidate why Sonic Mania works without having to actually “review” that game. Hooray! So let’s all enjoy a quick list of things that absolutely do not work in Sonic-ish games.

Hit Points are the Enemy

To this very day, everyone claim’s Sonic’s one major innovation was speed. He’s gotta go fast, etc. etc. But the speed is a lie! Yes, it’s cool to run through loops and barrel along like you’re a living rolling coaster, but even in the best Sonic games, that barely lasts past the first level. Then we’ve got a host of lava rivers, watery labyrinths, and a maybe an airship or two. Want to know what happens when you try to run at top speed on a high altitude platform with no guardrails? Spoilers: it ends with your femur being found in another county.

Here we go!The real innovation of Sonic is the one thing everyone takes for granted: rings. With just a single ring, Sonic is invincible! Or… at least he won’t die after a tap from a giant egg robot. And that makes all the difference! As long as you’ve got a ring (which is easily obtainable… anywhere), life is wonderful, and you can run around like an idiot with zero repercussions. It’s the joy of Sonic: just run and run and run, and if you hit an obstacle, no big deal, you’ll survive to run again. You only need worry when you’re down to zero rings, and, well, if you’ve let that happen, you probably did something wrong. Were you not moving fast enough? It was probably that.

Buster of Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure tries to emulate the Sonic “gotta go fast” formula, but with basic hit points. On one hand, yes, it would have been a little too obvious if Buster collected trails of “carrots” and had to maintain a single veggie to avoid death at all times, but… that would have been so much better. Buster has 3 HP, which means the game always flows like this:

  • You have full health, hooray, run around like a coked up rabbit.
  • You have lost a health point, not good, but survivability is still possible.
  • You have 1 HP remaining. Life is pain. Now please move as slow as possible, because one more hit means…
  • Death
  • Repeat

Every single level works out like this, because nobody wants to repeat a stage thanks to one random misplaced frog. Life is hunky dory while the health is topped off, and everything slows to a depressing crawl when hearts are a scarce resource. A game plainly made for running is no fun when you’re creeping along at Bookworm’s pace.

Rings are the thing, and their only natural enemies are…

Instant Kill Traps are the Worst

It's deathLet’s be clear here: there is a difference between an “instant kill hazard” and an “instant kill trap”. On one hand, you have something like a pit. You see the pit, you know that the pit is going to kill you if you fall in there, and, thus, you do everything to navigate your digital avatar around/over said pit. That is a hazard, and, while it means instant death regardless of health/rings, it’s a clear and present threat, and the challenge is in discovering how to overcome this problem. An instant kill trap, meanwhile, is the inevitable result of going fast in an area where there are A. pits B. spikes, or, my personal favorite C. things that make you go squish. This is horrible, because it punishes the player for doing the one thing that feels fun in these games (gotta go ____).

Sonic Mania is wonderful about this, because it almost never deliberately routes a fun, spring powered bit of blast processing right into an immediate death (I say “deliberately” because there are more than a few squishy deaths that seem rather… accidental). This is in sharp contrast to every other 2-D Sonic game for the last twenty years. Sonic Rush decided to stick a bottomless pit every seven steps, and Sonic Rivals was far too fond of vast chasms of gaping death. The Advance series mitigated this somewhat with multiple paths, and remembering to always “stay up” was a route to redemption. But honorary bad Sonic game Buster’s Hidden Treasure sticks to only one route, and it’s one fraught with instant death. The second “world” starts with a drop that seems survivable… until you watch helplessly as Buster is crushed by an insurmountable slab of moving granite. Whoops, sorry you didn’t intuitively know this was an instant death trap! Please try again!

And while we’re talking about instant death nonsense…

Never have a “chase” boss

It’s easy to see the confusion here: you want a villain that compliments the hero’s powerset. Batman needs a villain he can outwit. Goku needs a villain he can outpunch. And, when you’ve got a hero that has a power that can be described as “I like to run”, then you need a villain that can be outrun. This stands to reason, and, conceptually, makes a lot more sense than how Sonic, the fastest furball on two legs, defeats all his opponents by bouncing off of ‘em like some manner of plumber.

However, with the possible exception of racing games, “chase” bosses and challenges are terrible. This is because a chase is basically a race, and there are only so many ways you can make a race consistently entertaining/interesting. Too much of a gulf between first and second place? Boring. Both racers aren’t even on the same screen? Boring. There are hazards on the track, but the racers are ignoring them? Totally boring. So, naturally, most chase bosses spice things up with rubber band AI, impossible-to-predict traps, and our old friend instant death loss conditions. It doesn’t end well.

What’s the one part of Sonic Mania that everyone is complaining about? The chase/race against Mecha Sonic. Same for Sonic Generations and its ridiculous “rival” races. Same for Buster’s Treasure Hunt and the final race against Elmyra. None of this is fun, and, while it is thematically appropriate, none of it is any better than the average “bop a boss” playstyle. There might not be much reason for Sonic or Buster to have a damaging hop attack, but it sure does beat another Turbo Tunnel wannabe.

Nobody likes Spelling Errors

Look, this is really simple, it’s spelled “You’re”…

Hello Dizzy

And who knows where this whole “Eggman” thing came from, but it’s spelled “Robotnik”. Is it that hard to get the little things right?

And I guess that’s the moral here. Anyone can make a Sonic-alike game, but the little details are what is most important. If you don’t cross your t’s and dot your bottomless pits, you’re going to have a bad time. Making a good Sonic game isn’t impossible, you just have to follow a few rules. Get through that, and the good stuff will go fast.

FGC #324 Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure

  • System: Sega Genesis. Again, this game is entirely different from Tiny Toon Adventures on other consoles of the time.
  • Number of players: Could have wedged Babs Bunny (no relation) in there as a second player, but no, it’s one player.
  • Speaking of which: This is another game based on a kid’s property where the entire female cast gets sidelined for no good reason. Babs, Shirley, and Fifi are all kidnapped during the opening narration, and, while the boys are fought as (mind controlled) bosses, the female cast is stuck bound and gagged for the entirety of the adventure. Lame! I guess this means the only girl that appears during actual gameplay is Elmyra. What a pain.
  • Away we goFavorite Boss: Gene Splicer (who appeared in like two episodes of Tiny Toons, but somehow every videogame port) is technically 90% of the bosses in this game, but he’s usually joined by a brainwashed toon. As per videogame adaptation tradition, Dizzy Devil is the first and probably best boss. The rest of them are… remarkably boring. Hampton Pig attacks with a vacuum cleaner? Who thought that was a good idea?
  • Other problems: The final world has one of those areas where magical doors might send you to the next area or back to the beginning of the stage. This isn’t really a Sonic problem, but I feel I should note that the platformer teleporter maze is one of the worst things ever.
  • Did you know? Little Sneezer is one of the assist characters in Buster’s Hidden Treasure. Many people believe Sneezer is the protégé of Speedy Gonzales, but, no, he’s actually supposed to be a match for another obscure Looney Tunes character, Sniffles. Speedy Gonzales actually matches up to Lightning Rodriguez, a character that doesn’t really exist.
  • Would I play again: This is my least favorite Tiny Toons title. Yes, that includes that one Mario Paint wannabe game. So that’s a no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wizards and Warriors 3 for a live stream tonight! Be back here around nine or so for a live play through of one of the worst games of my childhood. Please look forward to it!

FGC #089 Road Runner

How many colors can the NES do?Road Runner is a betrayal of everything the NES stands for.

Road Runner, for a NES game, isn’t all that horrible to play. You’re The Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote is on the hunt. Your only ability, besides your incredible (not that incredible) speed, is a quick, short jump, but that’s pretty much par for the course for old NES games. There’s four levels of increasing difficulty, and then stage five starts the loop again, but with more obstacles (like landmines) to hamper the poor bird’s progress. Again, this is on the same system as Donkey Kong, so I’m just happy when a game is four repeating, scrolling levels, and not just four screens. There’s even a rough “continue” feature that allows you to skip past completed levels by taking a “shortcut” available in the opening stage. I’m not certain why this isn’t just an option on the Game Over screen, but, hey means you don’t have to play the first (fairly boring) level over and over again.

But a dark secret sleeps in the Road Runner cartridge.

Actually, speaking of the cartridge, no, I’m not referring to the fact that Road Runner is a Tengen “black” release. For those of you that are unaware, Tengen was a front for Atari, aka the company that almost completely destroyed all of video gaming forever and ever. Atari/Tengen was not a big fan of Nintendo’s “we approve all the games, and you’re only allowed to make… let’s arbitrarily say… five games” policy, so, likely with the cartridge-making knowledge that gave us Atari E.T. and NO TOUCHINGPac-Man, Tengen took their crayons and made their own damn NES games. As a result, there are a number of Tengen NES games floating around that, at first glance, appear to be bootlegs. They’re real, but they don’t have the Nintendo Seal of Quality, and the cartridge is black, oddly shaped, and kinda looks upside-down. That really should be warning enough.

So, technically, the game is a betrayal of Nintendo… but who cares? In a way, you could see Tengen as the plucky freedom fighters battling against the totalitarian Nintendo. Rebellious copies of Tetris and Road Runner leading the vanguard against a corrupt empire. And regarding the weirdo cartridge, if I’ve learned anything from Saturday Morning Cartoons, it’s that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s on the inside. So what’s on the inside of Road Runner?

Pure, focused treachery.

Road Runner is a video game protagonist, so, while he can only run and jump, one might expect that there is something else available to the beleaguered bird. Super Mario had his fire flowers, Sonic has his shields, and even Jumpman got loaned a hammer every once in a while. Run and jump is just fine, but there should be just a little bit more, something that turns the tables every once in a while and offers a miniscule change in pace. It could be timed, it could be hit-based, but a basic power-up is just the kind of thing a video game hero needs when facing down an unstoppable enemy.

You, while playing Road Runner, might get excited when you see a rocket laying on the ground. “Oh, cool, a speed-up power-up. I bet that will make this game more fun!” So you navigate Road Runner over that rocket and… nothing happens. Nada, zip, zilch. Not a thing, and Wile E. Coyote is still bearing down on you, so RR runs off… and Wile E. grabs the rocket. Look outWile E. Coyote is now chasing Road Runner atop an Acme Brand Rocket, and, as one may expect, it makes him harder to avoid than ever. Slowly, it dawns on you what just happened…

Road Runner for NES has power-ups, yes, but you can’t use them. Power-ups, in this game, are only for the villain.

It only gets worse from there, of course. The rocket gives way to spring shoes and a personal helicopter (complete with bombs) that Wile E. can abuse with impunity while Road Runner is stuck on terra firma, dodging every last deluge. Yes, these power-ups eventually “detonate” and temporarily impede the coyote, but that set-back only lasts a second, and then the chase resumes. It may be true to the origin series, yes, but, is it any fun? Not so much.

And what is available to the Road Runner only makes the bird weaker. Bird seed is scattered about the levels, and you may think that this seed increases Road Runner’s strength, speed, or stamina in some fashion, but, nope, it’s pretty much the opposite. You must collect the bird seed, because if you do not, you will eventually run out of energy, and then you’re coyote supper. This is an old school NES game, so there’s no backtracking. The minute a pile of bird seed is scrolled off the stage, the game logs it, and if you miss five piles of seed, then you may as well just hop in the frying pan, it’s time for Road Runner fricassee. Yes, this means that a screen full of HONKbirdseed is not something to be celebrated, but a threat: grab all that seed, fragile, flightless bird, or else you’ll be well done.

The writing on the wall quickly becomes clear: the chase is endless, you’re always the victim, and your pursuer can only grow stronger. It is looping games in a sadistic nutshell: you will fail, because you are only growing more tired, and the very embodiment of your death, the coyote that is Thanatos, only grows stronger. There is no escape. You will run, and then you will fail.

Road Runner is a betrayal of everything the NES stood for. It may initially be fun, but this is not the adventure of an elven hero that will eventually be able to sling shining arrows at pig demons. This is no story of a pink puff ball that will grow to slay eldritch horrors. This is far from a kingdom with a tiny Italian fellow that eventually can go fireball for fireball with a gigantic turtle monster. This is the story of a road runner: a weak, succulent bird that is only growing feebler with every button press.

Road Runner, and you, will die. It’s just a matter of time.

Thanks, entropy. Thanks, Tengen.

Maybe it’s okay to judge a cartridge by its cover once in a while.

FGC #89 Road Runner

  • System: NES for this review, but there was also an arcade version, and a Commodore 64 copy that I very distinctly remember playing in grade school. Looks like there was also (of course) an Atari version, and I cannot even fathom how bad that had to be.
  • Number of Players: One doomed road runner.
  • Salt in the wound: Every stage ends BOUNCEwith a “bonus tally” for things you may or may not have done during the level. Given most of the bonuses are for being absolutely perfect, like never missing any bird seed or completely avoiding Mr. Coyote, most of the time, you’re not going to receive a bonus, and you’ll just be reminded of how many times you failed. Thanks, again, Tengen!
  • Might as well Jump: Road Runner’s jump is one of the saddest ups outside of Captain Toad. It’s not so bad initially, but the game eventually asks you to vault cliff faces and landmines, and, unless you’re some kind of Road Runner expert, you’re going to have one dead bird on your hands. The fact that you receive bonuses for actually clearing those mines is not an excuse to detonate a beloved Looney Tune.
  • Did you know? Before he was known as Wile E. Coyote, the unrelenting beast was identified as Don Coyote, obviously a play on Don Quixote. As much as I love a good name pun (and the fine middle initial that is “E”), Don Coyote makes so much more sense. I mean, come on, in everything but this video game, he is eternally chasing a bird that he is destined to never catch, essentially, tilting at windmills for perpetuity. We missed a great literary reference thanks to a century-old mistake.
  • Would I play again: Most certainly not. Nowadays, this kind of game would be barely valued at over a dollar on the app store, primarily because it’s so limited in scope. And that’s even before you get into the fact that the game seems to hate the player. And it looks terrible. And it ran over my dog (okay, that might not be true).

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dance Dance Revolution: Konamix for the Playstation. Have you ever been happy just to hear your song? Well, guess this will be one day where I try to tell my point of view. Please look forward to it!

No pig?