Tag Archives: playstation

FGC #313 C: The Contra Adventure

Aliens!We use the phrase “bait and switch” a lot, but its original meaning seems to predominantly stem from fishing retail. The modern standard for the bait and switch is basically what you see every Black Friday: tremendous deals are advertised (bait), but when the customer arrives, all that is actually available are the same two Luigi amiibos you bought last year (switch). Unfortunately, this is basically how modern advertising works on a nearly global level, and it winds up applying to not only retail, but also politics (see the entirety of the Republican Party), employment (“This job will be fulfilling in a spiritual way”), and live theatre (“Sorry, Idina Menzel isn’t available tonight, but here’s Tammi, her understudy”). In fact, it’s hard to think of a facet of modern life that doesn’t frequently involve a bait and switch, as fleecing the customer is pretty much expected by anyone over the age of twelve. Nobody ever got rich actually giving the public what it wants, now go out and buy your new iphone 7 8.

Like everything else, the videogame market has a tendency to use bait & switch marketing. Gamers repeat stories about “fake” demos going back to the 90’s, and “real time graphics” wound up being a watch phrase for a solid couple of decades. Cloud looks amazing on that motorcycle, but you know he’s going to be strangely Popeyeish when the player actually has control. And even older than the demos of doom, we have the ever popular cover lie-a-thon. Pick a decade, and I’ll tell you what’s on the back of the box. 3-D rendered graphics? RPG-like elements? A huge, open world? How about the old chestnut of 80 hours of gameplay (for a game that can be finished within an hour)? Gamers are used to being lied to, and about the only thing you can count on to actually be correct on that back o’ the box is the number of players (and, come to think of it, that’s usually on the front).

But once you get past being tricked into actually getting that new game into your old game system, you should be in the clear. Give or take a strange tendency for games to turn into shoot ‘em ups in the final ten minutes (or whatever the hell happened in Solar Jetman), what you see on the first level of any given game is usually about what you’d see on the final level. The bosses may have gotten more apocalyptic, or your hero might have gotten a little more loaded for bear (or maybe your main character became a bear? It happens), LASER!but, one way or another, the game is usually recognizable between first world and last. Whether your new purchase is the best thing ever or sucks beyond the pale, nine times out of ten, it’s a similar experience from start to finish. Once you’ve hit the cash register, there’s no more need for bait.

Well… most of the time. Let’s take a look at C: The Contra Adventure.

As one might expect, C:TCA is a Contra game. That’s good! We all love Contra, right? Run, gun, turn some off-colored falcons to paste. This was also a release from a post Contra 3/Contra Hard Corps epoch, so there were decent odds on gigantic bosses and crazy, completely ridiculous shopping cart robots. Okay, not every game can be as delightfully insane as Hard Corps, but you might get some missile riding or something similar in there. And, hey, this is from Appaloosa, the weirdoes behind Kolibri, so there’s a good chance this will be some good stuff.

C:TCA starts out a lot like a combination of Contra 3 and Super Contra, and that’s certainly a good thing. We’ve got 2-D run ‘n gun gameplay. We’ve got climbing hand over hand above flaming debris. We’ve got infinitely respawning backpack soldiers. We’ve even got a choo choo ride at the end of the stage, and a multi-part, gigantic boss. Wow! It is like someone actually played Hard Corps! Contra is the Contra we all love! And, yes, it’s a little difficult, but that’s Contra, too! Going to take some time to finish that first level with three lives, but you can do it, soldier!

But that’s just the bait.

Past the first level, C:TCA is nothing more than yet another lame, vaguely Doom-esque 3-D action game. Run around 3-D mazes that are the tiniest bit reminiscent of Contra’s original “base” stages while deftly dodging bullets and aliens. And guess what? It’s super easy to survive Contra gameplay when you have 3-D movement and bullets are moving about as fast as a disabled penguin (on land, to be perfectly clear). Aside from some familiar weapons (flamethrower, spread, grenade launcher), this could be any other early 3-D action game starring a grizzled marine-ish dude battling space aliens. In fact, the aliens of this Contra adventure are less Red Falcon and a lot more H. R. Giger. Yes, there’s always been some overlap there, but it’s so flagrant here that no one would bat an eye at this being a reskinned Alien title. What?Plagiarism aside, play through C:TCA, and you’ll find that only the first and final levels are actually “classic” Contra levels, everything else is a switch over to the world of generic (and tepid) late 90’s 3-D nonsense. You have to play through this weak wannabe Contra game to find a real Contra experience!

What was even the point of such a thing? Appaloosa went to all the trouble of creating 2-D physics, monsters, and bosses for… a whole two stages. Was it so they could release screenshots and gameplay videos of “classic” Contra action? Was it because Blockbuster was still a thing, and they figured no one would finish the first (and seemingly most difficult) stage and find out the rest of the game was a sham during a rental? Was it to placate fans that despised the previous Contra: Legacy of War and wanted some classic gameplay? … For… two levels? Whatever the reason, C: The Contra Adventure was bait and switch from case to CD, and the advertised “Contra” here was practically nowhere to be found.

Pew PewLuckily, it looks like the bait didn’t attract that many fish. This contra adventure was apparently an abject failure, and nobody even bothered to localize it anywhere but the States. It would be another four years before we saw a new Contra game of any kind (and this was after seeing a new one every two years like clockwork). C: The Contra Adventure’s switch failed completely, and, to add salt to the wound, the franchise was left floundering ever since.

But one thing is obvious. Buyer beware: Contra adventures are not to be trusted.

FGC #313 C: The Contra Adventure

  • System: Playstation 1. I guess this means the game may be technically played on Playstation 2 and Playstation 3 as well, but don’t go expecting any digital releases.
  • Number of players: The general lack of 2-D also means a complete lack of 2 players. What were they going to do? Implement a split screen? Ha!
  • Say something nice: There is one stage that features Ray, our Contra hero, trapped in a rapidly descending elevator, so gravity is right out. This allows for some neat, floaty gameplay that is pretty much what I always expected a Contra “underwater level” to look like. Of course, the whole thing is only one screen with randomly arriving monsters, so it still feels kind of cheap… but it’s the thought that counts.
  • Grabity!Favorite Weapon: The flamethrower is a fine example of the difference between 3-D and 2-D gameplay. In 2-D mode, the flamethrower practically encompasses the horizontal length of the screen, and can vaporize most any creature in its vicinity. In 3-D mode, it barely seems to stretch inches ahead of Ray, and is really only effective against generally immobile sub bosses. So, to answer the question, my favorite weapon is laser.
  • Retro Roll Call: The final area (when it returns to 2-D) features a boss fight against the Terminator Twins and their colossal cousin from Contra 3. I have no idea why this boss fight was chosen as the reprise du jour in the middle of the alien base (where, I don’t know, maybe a more alien boss would make slightly more sense), but at least they got to rip off Cameron instead of Giger for a few minutes.
  • Did you know? Recent releases in the Contra franchise include Contra 3D, a pashislot game, and Neo Contra, a slot machine. Long live Contra!
  • Would I play again: Nope. Never. Man, this game is bad. There are so many actually good Contra games out there! Play those!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kung-Fu for the NES! Punch, kick, it’s all in the pagoda! Please look forward to it!

What?

FGC #312 Tomba!

Here comes Tomba!So what’s wrong with Tomba?

Tomba (technically Tomba!, but I don’t feel like driving the grammar part of my brain nuts[er]) is a 1998 release for the Playstation 1. Hot on the heels of Symphony of the Night, Tomba is one of those precious few 2-D action games for the system that was responsible for more polygons than you can shake a poorly rendered hand at. What’s more, Tomba is not only a metroidvania, but it is also a 2-D game on the Playstation wherein the developers actually tried. This isn’t some upgraded “last gen” experience or a faux-retro adventure that doesn’t quite understand what’s appealing about retro in the first place; no, this is much more like Skullmonkeys, a game with new advances applied to old conventions, and gorgeous PSX graphics may stand side by side with simple “press X to jump” gameplay. It’s the best of both worlds! A bold new world for the genre everyone loved on the old generations! All hail the conquering Tomba!

Except… Tomba sold about twelve copies. There was a follow-up, but it basically bankrupt the company. From a strictly sales perspective, Tomba was a colossal failure on par with the Hindenburg. I mean, I guess no one distinctly died (unless you count a pile of pink creatures), but, still, not exactly a fun time for anybody on the development side.

So… why? Tomba was lauded by critics, and this was less than a year after the release of SoTN, one of the most praised (and purchased) games in the Playstation library. Tomba didn’t have to be the next Final Fantasy 7, but it could have at least conquered an echelon that allowed its producers to subsist on sweet Tomba ports for the next decade or so. Tomba is a delightful romp featuring a shirtless dude hopping through magical islands, so it should have at least done better than Adventure Island!

So what went wrong? Well, it might have something to do with first impressions.

SnifferFirst of all, to judge a book by its cover, Tomba is a hard sell. In a time when videogames were either getting solemn (Final Fantasy 7 was clearly a serious story for our serious times) or radical (Tony Hawk is wiggedy wiggedy whack), Tomba arrived on the scene with a hero wearing ragged short shorts and sporting bright, pink hair. And what else is going on on that disc cover? We’ve got a pair of pigs, and one of them is doing the ol’ “bug eyes” look at Tomba. And there’s a clock tower in the background that resembles the iconic WB water tower. What’s the final verdict there? Tomba is evoking memories of old cartoons, and, more recently (at the time), Animaniacs. That was something you simply couldn’t do in 1998. You could be staid with realistic polygon people (or as “realistic” as possible), or you could be anime as hell (and thus foreign and interesting), but you couldn’t be cartoony. That’s for babies, Tomba! Nobody cares about your opening sequence being an elegant bit of animation, it would be right at home on Saturday morning cartoons, and that’s juvenile. We’re into adult games now. Take your cartoon pigs elsewhere.

But even once you get past the cartoons, things don’t exactly improve. Tomba is a metroidvania platformer, and that comes with its own set of problems. There’s a reason the typical metroidvania features a weaponry-based protagonist. Consider Super Metroid: over the course of that adventure, Samus acquires a breadth of weapons and items that perform many different tasks. The ice beam can freeze enemies, but it also allows for using those icy monsters as platforms. The space jump offers Samus unsurpassed mobility and the ability to reach nearly any area. Missiles open doors and blast bosses to smithereens. But when you think of the final sequence of that game, the final battle against Mother Brain and the escape immediately after, are you really using any tools that aren’t presented within the first moments of the game? It might be a little higher, but Samus jumps almost exactly the same whether she’s first landed on Crateria or she’s fleeing Tourian. The speed booster might move things along a little faster, but hold A (screw you, default control scheme) to run fast along the path is right there in the original space station escape. And, whether it’s the hyper beam or Samus’s original peashooter, aim and fire in regards to flying jellyfish is exactly the same from beginning to end. Samus’s repertoire grows as the game progresses, but she’s always drawing on an unchanged base of natural skills.

Swing is the thingUnfortunately, when you base a metroidvania around a platforming style hero, things are a little more difficult. Tomba starts with his default run speed, his default jumping ability, and his default spikey ball whip. All of these defaults suck. All of these defaults are supposed to suck. Like any great metroidvania star, Tomba starts out kind of terrible in comparison to his eventual kickass final form. However, this means that the player’s first impression of Tomba is that he sucks as badly as his initial abilities. Tomba will eventually gain a weapon that is not only effective, but also a grappling hook. Tomba will eventually run at top speed, complete with an amazing dash. Tomba will eventually gain a jump that doesn’t steer like a freight train. Tomba will eventually become a great hero… but for that first level, you’re likely going to get smacked around by a couple of pigs that are barely even mobile. Samus or your average Belmont start their adventures “weak”, but they’re still fun to control. Tomba has to take time to get there, and makes a very poor first impression for it. (And it’s no coincidence that both Symphony of the Night and Shadow Complex start with a sequence that effectively says, “Hey, look how awesome you are going to get”.)

Which segues nicely into the other Tomba problem: RPG elements. Tomba was slightly ahead of the Final Fantasy 7 hype train (from which there was no getting off), and incorporated a number of features you’d traditionally associate with JRPGs. There are towns. There is a complete inventory system. There’s even “leveling” of a sort (or maybe it works more like money? But to open treasure chests?). There are a number of JRPG-like bits to Tomba… and it all seems completely 3-d!perfunctory. Yes, Tomba acquires upgrades, but he has no more need to “equip” new items than Samus Aran. Yes, Tomba encounters friendly towns, but he has no more need to interact with “people” for clues than Alucard. These JRPG bits make Tomba a more complicated game, but they ultimately detract from the experience. It takes a surprisingly long time to open the menu, select your item, and then use whatever doodad you need to use to clear the latest obstacle, when, come on, just give Tomba the space jump and let the little guy have fun. Again, this isn’t game breaking in any way, it’s simply an unnecessary waste of time, and nobody wants to waste time when Xenogears is also readily available.

And that’s Tomba in a nutshell. It’s a great game! There’s a great presentation here, and it feels like another game smuggled away from the alternate universe where 2-D Playstation games were granted the budgets and care of their 3-D brethren. But Tomba makes a lousy first impression, and its vaguely Looney Tunes-esque aesthetics couldn’t succeed anywhere in 1998 past Space Jam. Tomba is a great game that everyone should play, but it’s easy to see why it was a failure in its time.

Tomba, I’m sorry, but sometimes the pigs win.

FGC #312 Tomba!

  • System: Playstation 1. Again, Whoopee Camp pretty much stopped existing after Tomba 2, so we were denied what would have been an excellent 3DS port (hey, Spyro wound up on the GBA, after all).
  • Number of players: One Tomba. Ever notice that a lot of Playstation games are one player? Was there a particular reason for that? Other than the “everybody wants to be a JRPG” thing?
  • WeeeeWhat’s in a name: Tomba is known as Tombi in Europe. This is presumably because “tomba” is slang for a woman’s genitals in England. Okay, that might not be true, but that’s the reason I don’t trust fanny packs.
  • Favorite Upgrade: Tomba does not get enough respect for being one of the great umbrella-wielders of the videogame world. Kirby gets all the praise.
  • Did you know? In Japan, Tomba has a complete theme song with lyrics. For the American localization, like many games, the lyrics were dropped, but an instrumental version of the theme plays on. In Europe, Tombi’s intro is scored by… the theme to BBC kids’ show No Sweat. This is… odd.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. You should play Tomba at least once, but it’s also a relic of its time. You could do worse to spend eight hours or so on this adventure, but that’s about all it will ever need.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… C the Contra Adventure for the Playstation! Wow, now it’s time for the other side of Playstation “2-D” games. Please look forward to it!

Pigs!

FGC #296 Driver: You Are the Wheelman

DRIVE!And now for the other side of those awkward Playstation years: that time when no one knew what a videogame was supposed to be.

In the beginning, there was Pong, and it was good. And Pong begat a number of arcade experiences, like Asteroids, Space Invaders, and everyone’s beloved Pac-Man. And, while we were all happy with one screen of action, action, action, eventually gaming’s collective attention span required more. Mario became super the very moment his stages became long, horizontal affairs that could take whole minutes to complete. Sometimes there was a dinosaur at the end of the world! And a princess! And, while it was the teeniest of plots, there technically was a plot, and no more were we forced to use our imaginations to envisage why this puck-shaped fellow was being chased by four monsters.

But, for better or worse, there was always a divide. There were games where brave heroes ventured forth to conquer bad guys and maybe get a new weapon along the way to stab and/or shoot said bad guys, and there were also games that provided those classical “arcade experiences”. Pong was basically tennis, which I’m told is one of those sports things, and, in a way, many sports games were narratively no more complicated than Pong. Play game, win game. It’s the same in football as it is in Donkey Kong. Maybe there’s a story attached, but the only story that matters is that you “beat the game”. This is, at its core, the essence of the arcade experience, as if you’re not fighting toward an achievable goal, then why the hell are you wasting all those quarters? If I leave this arcade without ASS being at the top of the score table, then what am I fighting for?(!?!?!!)

SWERVE!But sometime around the Playstation era, that kind of thinking fell by the wayside. Maybe it was because the arcades started to follow the path of the dodo, or maybe everybody just desperately wanted to be Final Fantasy 7, but, whatever the reason, by the time we made it to the Playstation 2, every game had to have a complete story and incremental goals and a “40 hour, RPG-like experience”. Maybe it was a ploy to sell memory cards? All I know is that a “quick” experience like Mischief Makers, a game that would have been perfectly content to be an enjoyable 16-bit rental, was now derided for not stretching its content to fit some arbitrary length restriction. And Mischief Makers wasn’t alone: if a game was released, and it could be completed in an afternoon, it was panned from here to the hallowed halls of EGM.

And this led to some… awkward moments.

Driver: You Are the Wheelman won the 1999 E3 award for “best racing game”. Racing games have always been firmly planted in the “arcade experience” section, as, come on, is there anything more pure than “gotta go fast(er than everybody else)”? However, Driver is much more than a racing game: Driver is basically a proto-Grand Theft Auto (3). We’ve got some big (for Playstation 1) cities, cops to outrun at all times, and an emphasis on a bunch of random “challenges” you can perform with a car. Drive to hit checkpoints, drive to ram designated cars, drive to be a courier… I’m pretty sure I have a good idea where the title “Driver” title came from. When you get right down to it, “racing” seems like a poor description of this experience, as I don’t recall any time the stars of Crusin’ USA or Mario Kart had to worry about an arrest warrant. Well, maybe Bowser has a few priors, but the Mushroom Kingdom justice system is naively lax.

But anyone returning to Driver from the sandbox-dominated future of right now is in for a rude awakening. Yes, there are all the GTA-esque activities available to you in Driver, but they’re all selectable from the title screen, not unlike choosing cups in a racing game. And, with the exception of a few unlockable cities, they’re all available from the first moment you start up the game. Think of it! A world where you can just replay your favorite missions at your leisure, and you don’t have to randomly drive all over the city looking for some capricious marker (and then never playing the mission again after it’s completed once). And what happens to those big, wide open cities if they’re not attached to mission markers? Well you can just choose “free mode”, and putter around town without a care in the world. Well… assuming you don’t piss off the local constabulary by merely existing.

VroomSpeaking of the po-po, there is a plot here. There’s a “story mode”, and it similarly showcases the times. Rather than going full criminal like every GTA descendant, you’re a police officer that just happens to be undercover as a nefarious wheelman. Eventually the FBI or CIA or FDA or somebody screws up, and you’re stuck on the wrong side of the law, and…. You know what? It doesn’t matter. No one is going to play through the story mode, because it’s attached to an opening “qualifying” stage that is completely impossible. But there is a trick to it! You have to exit the game, completely lose your progress (which, admittedly, was just watching one cinema scene… but still!), hop over to the “Training” menu, then learn all the super cool moves (like, uh, holding down the gas pedal really long), remember all the super cool moves, and then completely restart your game. It’s that easy!

And, for the record, if you’re playing this in 2017, you will curse every messageboard post about the scourge of “on screen tutorials” for the rest of your days.

But that’s Driver: You Are the Wheelman in a nutshell: it’s a videogame that has no idea how to be a videogame. It wants to straddle the line between arcade experience and story-based adventure, but it has no clue how to marry the two experiences, and we’re left with something very… confused. Driver isn’t a bad game, but it’s one of many Playstation games that simultaneously embraced the long-form narrative and overtly shied away from offending anyone that might not want to play for longer than five minutes.

So every time you complain about another Skyrim-alike or GTA-alike or even your bog standard generic platformer, be glad you live in a world where most videogames know how to be videogames and not… whatever happened here.

FGC #296 Driver: You Are the Wheelman

  • I'm a poor night driverSystem: Playstation 1, but then it eventually pulled into the Windows and Mac parking lots. It also had a Gameboy Color and iphone port, and those must be peachy.
  • Number of players: And it’s also a single player game. Another sign of the inevitable story mode domination.
  • Favorite City: New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town… that I don’t really like in reality, but it makes for a good series of levels.
  • Did you really not make it past the tutorial? Not for a good long while. I mean, it’s not like you can’t play most of the rest of the game without beating that damn stage. Also, there’s the matter of…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I got this game for free. For some bizarre reason, I found this game (complete with case and manual) in the back of the ol’ band storage area in high school. I asked around, put it in the lost and found, and no one claimed the game, so, after a month, I took home my prize. I have always pathologically over-valued videogames, so I literally could not understand someone “losing” an entire Playstation game. … Then again, now that I’ve played Driver, I can maybe understand that impulse a little better.
  • Did you know? The final unlockable city is Newcastle upon Tyne, the hometown of Reflections Interactive. On one hand, that’s kind of neat, on the other hand, it’s vaguely masturbatory. Do you know what’s special about Newcastle upon Tyne? Yeah, me neither.
  • Would I play again: Grand Theft Auto 3 is, like, right there.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Uniracers! See, now there’s a game that knows its genre! Please look forward to it!

Ugh

FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

YummySkullmonkeys is notable for being a pretty fun videogame that, incidentally, hails form an alternate reality.

History is written by the winners, and, given enough time, even people who lived through that history tend to paper over the genuine details of reality. Case in point: the death of the 2-D platformer. To hear many of the old guard of videogames tell it, we spent the glorious 8 & 16-bit eras awash in an embarrassment of riches of 2-D platformers, and then, the moment the Playstation and N64 rolled into town, the era of 2-D was dead, presumably punched into an early grave by the sharp, polygonal fists of Battle Arena Toshinden. Sony had a legendary policy of rejecting all “childish” 2-D games, and the N64 couldn’t render a “retro” sprite to save its cursed life. 2-D died, and the Buster Sword was the murder weapon.

Except that’s complete bullshit, because there certainly were 2-D games on the Playstation. One of the most lauded games of all time was released on the Playstation, and it was 2-D. Mega Men of various origins had a number of 2-D adventures through the 32-bit era, and Playstation even paid host to many underdog 2-D adventures, like Silhouette Mirage and Norse by Norsewest. In short, while 3-D certainly dominated the epoch (for every Symphony of the Night there was a Castlevania 64… maybe even two) there were also 2-D action games available on CD and cartridge straight through to the death of the age of DVD. Yes, Mega Man 9 was a retro innovation, but it wasn’t that far removed from Mega Man X8.

So if 2-D games did exist, then where did they go? No, I don’t mean, “where did they end up?” We can see the answer to that every time we check the 3DS’s eshop and encounter a variety of platformers wallowing in the “Under $10!” ghetto. What I’m referring to is evolution. What I’m talking about is Mario, and the enormous gulf between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World. Heck, we consider Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World to be roughly contemporary, but Mario Maker reminded everyone that the difference between 8 and 16-bits is a lot more than eight digits. But that’s just how videogames worked practically since their inception: a new system with new possibilities means all the old games you remember with all-new graphical upgrades to get with the times. Super Contra, Super Castlevania, Super Adventure Island, Super Alfred Chicken. It’s a brand new day, and it’s time to see just how many pixels we can dedicate to Link’s eyebrows.

Look awayOf course, I suppose it’s Link and Mario that killed that trend. Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time destroyed the idea of the “evolving” sprites. Now Sonic would have to have an adventure, Mega Man would have to be a legend, and anybody that wanted to stick to the 2-D universe (hi, Wario!) would have to retreat to the lesser, portable systems. It would be years before we saw an updated Master Higgins or Monster World, because it was time to permanently migrate over to 3-D pastures.

But 3-D was not the welcoming land of milk and honey that many expected. The mascot platformer had ruled the 16-bit world, and, while many were happy to see that trend die kicking and screaming, it was clear that a universe of polygons was not going to do “cute characters” any favors. Many believe Sonic conquering the consoles fast is the only reason we saw the rise of the generic furry with attitude, but it’s a lot more likely that the horsepower of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis simply allowed for more expressive and “interesting” (I’m using quotes specifically for Aero the Acro-Bat there) mascots. And the Playstation could certainly create characters with a greater range of expressions than on the old systems… but nobody was going to mistake a model full of angles and sharp edges for cute. In fact, the death of Bubsy and his furry friends was probably just because no one could properly render fur. And without fur, all you’ve got is a ry.

ChillyBut there was one mascot from the 16-bit era that didn’t possess a single tuft of fur: Earthworm Jim. EWJ was the 16-bit mascot ideal: he was the cover-worm for every videogame magazine, he starred in his own animated series, and everyone fought over which version of which game was truly the best of the bunch. EWJ was a full-fledged phenomenon… for all of ten minutes. But, one-hit wonder or no, shouldn’t the ol’ powersuit have made the transition to 3-D? Where did our invertebrate hero go? Or, more particularly, where did the people who birthed Earthworm Jim go?

Well, they went to the Neverhood. Doug TenNapel created Earthworm Jim, and he left Shiny Entertainment (with a number of other employees) in 1995, likely because everyone seems to think Dave Perry invented the previously mentioned groovy guy. The Neverhood Inc (company) then partnered up with Dreamworks to create The Neverhood (game), an adventure game with a sincere/crazy sense of humor/whimsy. It was also a game where everything was made of clay, and there may or may not have been a hallway of scribbles that took about seventeen hours to read. It… was a weird game. But it was fun! And funny! And if PC gaming wasn’t a living hell at the time, The Neverhood likely would have become a game just as legendary as Earthworm Jim. Unfortunately, this was also a time when Electronics Boutique stopped selling PC games entirely because it was getting fed up with having to accept constant returns from screaming customers that never seemed to be able to purchase a game that would actually run on their own computers, so The Neverhood fell into that limbo of “great game, but only six people ever played it” like many 90’s computer games.

So, naturally, Neverhood Inc. tried to get a piece of the console pie. Wisely, Neverhood Inc. realized that the King’s Quest-esque adventure genre wouldn’t work on consoles for another decade or so, so the Neverhood world was repurposed as a more console friendly platforming game. Skullmonkeys was born.

WeeeeSkullmonkeys is a platforming game, plain and simple. You run, you jump, you jump on enemies, you spend a lot of time waiting for moving platforms, you’re dead in one hit unless you grab a powerup that allows for two hits, and there are a few “fireball” bits of ammo scattered around for when jumping just won’t do it. There’s a simple progression of difficulty and an increasing number of “traps” as Klaymen ventures through Idznak. There are bosses with simple, repeating patterns. There are bonus stages available only through finding various hidden knickknacks. It’s a platforming game, and if you switched in Bubsy or Awesome Possum for Klaymen, nobody would blink an eye. … Well, aside from the general confusion that would arise from playing a Bubsy game that was actually good.

Except… this was a game on the Playstation. There weren’t platforming games on the Playstation, and there certainly weren’t games that looked this gorgeous. Skullmonkeys was released the same year as Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid, 3-D games that are marvelous, wonderful experiences that are also, incidentally, terrible to look at. No, Skullmonkeys must be the last vestige of an alternate universe, another timeline where platforming games were allowed to evolve and grow into their “next gen” forms. This gorgeous, but limited, platforming game could not have seriously been released the same year as Spyro the Dragon. 1998 games are supposed to be polygons for days, with FMVs like you’d find in Ehrgeiz. There weren’t playforming games like this on the Playstation!

History tells us that platforming died with the last gasp of the Super Nintendo. Skullmonkeys, clearly, never happened.

More’s the pity.

FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

  • Platform: Playstation. I do not believe this has been ported anywhere else. This is what happens when a game is imaginary.
  • Number of players: Just Klaymen. I would not have said no to Willie becoming the Luigi.
  • Go joe!Favorite Boss: Joe Head Joe has Joe’s head for a body. At least, I would assume that is Joe. If not, he is pretty poorly named.
  • Pedantry Corner: Yes, I know there was a 3-D Earthworm Jim game. No, I am not ever going to acknowledge it.
  • Sequel Story: Skullmonkeys is a direct sequel to Neverhood, picking up exactly where the good ending of Neverhood left off, and including the planet Idznak, which was mentioned in that long-ass hallway. Fortunately, you don’t need to know a blessed thing from the Neverhood to enjoy this game, as “Klogg is evil” seems pretty apparent from the first moment he skins a monkey and wears his skull as a hat.
  • Just play the gig, man: The bonus stage music is delightful, and I certainly do not jump every time the singer claims there’s a monster right behind me.
  • Secret Shame: I have never seen the 1970’s bonus stage. Where are those damn things hiding!?
  • Goggle Bob Fact: There was enough advertising for Skullmonkeys that a Skullmonkeys sticker wound up stuck to my locker freshman year. For some reason, I found this act rebellious. I was a troubled youth.
  • Yummy!Did you know? There was apparently a Japan-only “sequel” to the Neverhood universe, a sports game called Klaymen Gun-Hockey. It was created by the company that had the Japanese rights to localize Neverhood games, and… was probably insane.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. This is a genuinely good platforming game, and I’d love to see it available on a portable (not phone, we need buttons here) system. Assuming we ever see that, couple it with save states, and we’re golden.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sunset Riders for the Super Nintendo! Get ready to bust some outlaws, pardner. Please look forward to it, ya’all!