Here’s your game development tip from someone that has never developed a game, but at least knows how to surf.
Today’s game is Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage. If you’re of a certain age, you likely played this game on the NES, because, as we’ve determined, skateboards are cool. And this game is doubly cool! You can skateboard (shred?) and surf! By God, if you were to include bungee jumping, then this would be the coolest game ever created! Is there a gorilla that is edgy, in-your-face, and likes to get bi-zay? Consistently and thoroughly! Yes, this was a game scientifically calibrated to appeal to the late 80’s kids that lived in fear of having their shorts devoured.
But once you actually got the game home, T&C Surf Designs was kind of… limited. First, there’s the skateboarding section (wood rage?). You’ve got your choice of Tiki Guy or Elvis, and then it’s your job to navigate either of those rad dudes through a skateboarding obstacle course. It’s… not that exciting. It’s basically what would evolve into the “endless runner” genre, and, what’s worse, the controls are fairly terrible. There’s a difference between “jump” and “jump with skateboard”, and, while there is barely ever a reason to “just” jump, jump with skateboard requires some extra controller input, and the NES has about a 50% accuracy rate on actually identifying your feedback. Long story short, Tiki Guy is going to fall in the inexplicable gigantic gap in the sidewalk a lot.
However, it is possible to “git gud” at T&C skateboarding. Assuming your d-pad is being responsive today, it’s not that difficult to rack up a continuous “combo”, and, when you’ve avoided obstacles for a set amount of time, the timer stops, and basically everything you do rewards thousands of points. It takes some practice (and a little luck), but considering the tracks are (mostly) preset, you can beat that intimidating high score pretty swiftly with your badical skateboarding moves. It’s not like this is Skate or Die, where there are more events and playstyles to test your skateboard mastery, but it’s a fun little distraction, and could maybe qualify as a full videogame experience back in the day. This was on the same system as MagMax, after all.
And then there’s Town & Country Water Rage, the surfing section. Here is where things get… choppy.
I mentioned before that surfing is inherently cool, but that always took on an extra level for my childhood friends and I. I have (almost) always lived in a shore community, which means two things: tourists and the beach. As a result of that combo, the average shore kid feels a gigantic level of propriety over the local beach that is empty eight months out of the year, and then choked with tourists (we call ‘em “shoobies”) when you actually want to go out and take a dip. This creates a weird, deep-seated hatred of the throngs of people that are just trying to enjoy their vacation, and also, ya know, bolstering the local economy to ludicrous levels. Regardless, nobody that’s local wants to be accidentally identified as a vacationer. That would be like asking a Vietnam Veteran if he lost his legs in a bouncy house.
So one surefire way to prove yourself as a local was to be good at ocean sports. Oh, dude, I’m a lifeguard at my summer job. Local! I’m captain of the swim team. Local! I can build a sandcastle at a twelfth grade level. Local! And, of course, I surf on the weekends means, yes, you’re a local. Bonus points if you’ve got a wetsuit and catch those swells opposite hurricane season. Sure, it might be deadly, but you’ll be buried in a local cemetery. Assuming they ever find your body…
But for your average young shoreian, none of those options are available. Nobody is going to let a seven year old become a lifeguard, and even sandcastle construction is moot when your neighbor’s older brother has started a booming demolition business. And have you ever actually seen a surfboard in reality? My first board, purchased when I was a teenager, was a 9 ½ Rusty. That “9 ½” stands for 9 ½ feet of surfboard. Can you picture a child towing one of those around? And, more importantly, can you picture a youngster that is tied to that board being dragged (hopefully) to the shore the minute the slightest wave appears? Don’t go chasing surfboards, kids! Stick to the wakeboards and the boogieboards that you’re used to.
So, for a young Goggle Bob, T&C Surfing was the only surfing available. Surely being good at this game would make me cooler than the cool kids.
And then I found out that’s impossible.
The surfing section of T&C is inscrutable. There is nothing “surfing” about this. The crest of the wave is apparently static, and you’re supposed to, what, do random tricks in this weird ocean simulation? You have to avoid seagulls and tubers, that’s pretty “videogame”, but aside from those obvious obstacles, your goal here is… confusing. You accrue points for every second you’re still on the board, and… how do you do that? You seem to be constantly descending, and you can try to avoid the “fall”, but then you wind up dying in the crest. And, eventually, seemingly completely arbitrarily, you reach the beach, and you get some bonus points before starting it all over again. Thanks for playing?
For the record, the original version of this article was probably going to be some ranting nonsense about how T&C Surf Designs is completely impossible, and no one has ever figured out this sphinxlike boloney, and damn you, LJN for once again producing a game that ruined my childhood.
Then I decided to check Gamefaqs And it turns out there’s a real way to play T&C Water Rage!
Here’s the deal: You’re supposed to use A & B on the control pad to “steady” your surfer. And… that’s it! It’s supposed to simulate the (very real, very difficult) act of properly balancing on a surfboard, and that’s the trick to completing this half of the game. If you’re going too far right, tap B, and if you’re sliding back into the crest, tap A. That’s all! You’ll be a surfing pro in no time.
Somehow I played this game for nearly thirty years without this knowledge, and I’m going to blame the designers for that.
You could liken this to learning that there’s a jump button in Super Mario Bros. It’s a game changer! It’s the only way to truly win the game! But, in Super Mario Bros, if you ignore that jump button, you’re never, ever going to make it past the first goomba. It’s literally impossible without jumping. In T&C Surf Designs, it is actually possible to finish a surfing stage without having any idea how to play the game. It’s terrible and frustrating, but there’s no clear indicator that something is off, and you can “keep going” without ever having a damn clue that anything is wrong. And, to be clear, even once you know to properly balance, you may be wrecked by the same “goombas” that would ruin a veteran player. So even if you happen on the right way to play by frantically hitting buttons, you might not even notice your success.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes for a bad game. If there’s no feedback on whether you’re doing something wrong or right, you’re playing a bad game. End of story.
Trust me, I’m a local. I know how to surf.
FGC #227 Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System, the coolest system for eight year olds ever.
- Number of players: Two players, alternating. Your friends will get mad if you never die and they can’t play.
- All Together Now: There’s also a mode that combines the Wood & Water Rage sections into one complete play experience. Unfortunately, it’s just alternating wood and water stages, so there isn’t some amazing cohesion going on here. I always thought it would be cool if, when you fell into a hole in the skateboarding section, your skateboard would morph into a surfboard, and then you’d start that watery section. Also, there should be more robots. With lasers.
- Itinerant Liar: My buddy Sean claims to have seen the kill screen for the surfing section of the game. Sean is clearly not one to be trusted, one way or another.
- Favorite Character: There is a surfing cat in a tuxedo. I would very much like to be a surfing cat in a tuxedo. Think about it: cats hate water! And he surfs! In a tuxedo! It’s amazing!
- What’s in a name: Okay, the actual names of the characters in this game are Tiki Man, Joe Cool, Kool Kat, and Thrilla Gorilla. None of those names required any creativity. There, I said it. Thrilla Gorilla is probably best known for headlining the T&C sequel, Thrilla’s Surfari (sic), which is a completely different, though no less awful, game.
- Did you know? There are turtles on the skateboarding track (they do not bite). Because of the limited NES palette, the turtles change color according to the selected player. Tiki Man, the Luigi of the adventure, gets green turtles, but Joe Cool, the supposed headliner, gets abnormal, red turtles. I think we all know who should be the real main character.
- Would I play again: I might just to show my friends that there is an actual way to play this game “right”. Otherwise, no. Tubularly no.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64! Aw… ROB? ROB, I thought we were friends. Why you gots to hurt me? Now I’m going to have to hurt some dinosaurs. Please look forward to it!