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.
Taz-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. Fun 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.
You 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.
So 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.
- Let’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!