On the surface, Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari is an unremarkable NES game. It’s another cash-in release from the popular (at the time) Town & Country Surf Designs company, and another opportunity to ream the last few dollars out of that bizarre surf ‘n skate rage of the late 80’s. While the previous game could charitably be described as a sports title, this is an actual platformer seeing Thrilla Gorilla, the hip-hop surfing gorilla, venturing through deepest Africa to rescue his girlfriend, Barbie Bikini.
… Okay, yeah, there’s nothing unremarkable about that.
But everything else about the game is remarkable and absolutely horrible.
This game is one big Turbo Tunnel
Let’s start with the gameplay. There are seven “worlds” in Thrilla’s Surfari, and each world contains four stages and a boss. Pretty straightforward NES thinking there, but it all goes downhill the minute Thrilla starts to… go downhill. There are five different kinds of stages available, and three of those are almost completely impossible right off the bat. Desert and jungle stages see Thrilla skateboarding across the dirt and sand, while surfing stages get some mild paddling in across randomly occurring rivers. Skateboarding-a-stage has occurred in other games before (the Ninja Turtles were all about it for a level or two), but most of the time, that’s a way to make “normal” gameplay seem exciting by adding a scrolling background. Here, it’s an excuse for Thrilla to die horribly and often.
Technically (and only technically) Thrilla has a lifebar. However, those extra hits are not going to do the guerilla any good, as the most common obstacles are instant-death logs, rocks, and bottomless pits. And every death guarantees a one-way trip back to the start of the stage, progress be damned. While you can slow down to avoid many traps, Thrilla has a need for speed, and that “need” is a necessity because those bottomless pits are long and numerous. In short, this makes nearly every a stage a memorization challenge on par with Battletoad’s Turbo Tunnel. And at least the Turbo Tunnel had checkpoints! Every mistake here is an excuse to start the stage over again, and, should you miss a single jump, you know what you have to do all over again.
I’m assuming most people who dared play this game never got past the first stage, which is a shame, because it’s not even the most terrible experience available on this cartridge…
Don’t go chasing waterfalls
Do you remember Mega Man 2’s spikey wall pit of doom leading to the Guts Tank? Or when it appeared again in Mega Man 3’s Spark Man Doc Robot stage? Was that your favorite part of the game? Or was that a terrifying drop into the unknown where you knew that gently nudging the crosspad in the wrong direction would spell instant death and a complete loss of progress? Do you still have nightmares about those death canyons? I do. I lose sleep over all the little metal boys I’ve killed in those drops.
And the waterfall stages of Thrilla’s Surfari are just that, forever, without the “warning” screen scroll. They are free falls where your action buttons do nothing (no swimming up the current for you), and your only hope is to steer Thrilla away from rapidly encroaching rocks. On the plus side, these stages are short, but on the minus side, they will eat up all your lives before you make it past the first strata.
Memorize, use “slow motion”/save states, or die. These are your only options in waterfall stages. Which is kind of a shame, because the waterfalls usually precede…
I’m on a shark!
Against all odds, the water stages of Thrilla’s Surfari are the best. Thrilla forsakes his beloved board for a shark, and suddenly the game becomes an underwater shooter. And, what’s more, it’s a really forgiving shooter.
I’m pretty sure this whole section of the game is programmed wrong. Every time Thrilla steers his shark up to a pocket of air, his health replenishes to something like 8 HP, which is considerable compared to his normal 2 HP (health may be expanded by collecting bananas in normal stages. Note: we have no bananas). With air restoring health to previously unseen levels, it would be natural to assume that the shark stages use a Super Mario 64-esque “health as air” system, but… nope. Your health descends only thanks to random jellyfish attacks, and that’s about it. So, for shark stages, you’ve got an enormous amount of health, and an easy way to replenish it all at the tap of a button. It’s… basically the opposite of the rest of the game. And that’s a welcome change.
The bosses are MS Paint fever dreams
Seven worlds, so seven bosses. The big final boss is unique (and like a lava slug monster), but his underlings are all recycled at least once, so we wind up with three bosses, and each has their own recolor. Pretty simple so far, let’s take a look at our first boss…
Oh Jesus Christ what am I looking at here? That’s… a double rhino? With wings? And of course it shoots its horns at you, because what else would it do? Thrilla lobs back exploding coconuts in turn, but is that really going to do any good? Does this… creature have thick rhino skin? Or feathers? How does it fly? How does it… poop? Is that the purpose of the projectiles? This monster should not be!
There’s also a giant scorpion that is comparatively very tame, but before you fight that, there’s this fellow…
This is some “intern’s first day” pixel work going on here, and I’m pretty sure someone noticed, as this shark shoots toilets at its enemies. That can’t be a coincidence, right? That it is trash shooting literal garbage and bathroom equipment? Someone on the staff knew they were looking at crap, and planned accordingly.
Oh, and all of these bosses are, naturally, completely impossible, and Thrilla lacks any invincibility frames to even grant the player a moment’s respite amidst the projectile deluges. But I figure I don’t even have to note how wildly unfair this game is at this point.
The plot isn’t better than the gameplay
And when I say “isn’t better” I mean “is racist as hell”.
Thrilla’s girlfriend is Barbie Bikini, and she’s kidnapped by an evil god (or something) that wants to toss her into a volcano, because, I don’t know, I guess it’s going to keep the Double Rhino happy. And, in its own primitive, NES way, that’s fine. The whole kidnapped princess thing worked for Mario, it can work for Donkey Kong’s little brother just as well. Unfortunately, Barbie was kidnapped by a literal Witch Doctor, and that means a trip to Africa. And who is hanging around Africa? Spear-chucking natives of course! And there are no signs of civilization in darkest Africa, but there are stages named for native cannibals! Not okay, guys!
Luckily, all of Thrilla’s friends moved to Africa, too, so we’ve got the assistance of…
Joe Cool. And, of course, our favorite surfer-cat…
The game delights in trolling the player
So the third world is entirely desert based. The first two stages are pretty straightforward, but then the third is “the blue desert”. And it’s littered with coconuts, the items that allow you to play a completely annoying bonus game at the end of the stage. To be perfectly clear, every stage contains maybe a total of five coconuts, while this area has upwards of forty. The first thought of any given player is likely that this is some manner of bonus stage, a level made just to make you feel good, and, at the end, you’ll be able to earn a number of extra lives. It was very common in the NES days, and even Battletoads had the occasional stage that was just a pleasant breather.
Ha ha. It was all a mirage. You stupid monkey.
So way to go, Thrilla’s Surfari, you’re memorable for all the wrong reasons.
FGC #311 Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System. Like our other Town & Country release, I really doubt we’ll see this one revived for any reason.
- Number of players: You can’t even die repeatedly with a buddy. One player only, suckers.
- Say something nice: The game has a stupid difficulty curve, with the first level easily being the absolute worst (save waterfall stages). While it would have made an equally lousy impression for aesthetics, the game should start with the vastly easier desert environs. That would almost make the game…. At least playable.
- An end: Despite the proliferation of cinema scenes throughout the game, the ending is short and to the point. It’s… fanservice.
There. That’s the thirstiest image ever displayed on the NES.
- Sidenote: Barbie Bikini appears to be the only woman in this entire game. Well, unless the double rhino is a lady double rhino.
- Did you know? Town & Country Surf Designs is still a major manufacturer of surfboards, and they relaunched Thrilla and the Thrilla Krew branded merchandise last year. You too can finally own a Thrilla Gorilla t-shirt! Please note that Tiki Man has been rebranded as Wave Warrior, and Kool Kat is nowhere to be found.
- Would I play again: Not for all the coconuts in Africa.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tomba for the Playstation! Do I smell bacon? Please look forward to it!
At least there’s lava surfing