When I started this blog, I told myself I would not be another “angry gamer” that rants and raves and mocks bad videogames. I genuinely believe that every videogame has something to say, and, even if there are some flaws, there’s always something “there” there that is worth celebrating. I have slipped on a few entries (look, Dragon Warrior made me mad, okay?), but I have, more or less, done my best to stick to this self-inflicted credo. Maybe not all videogames are good, but you can always find some goodness.
But a funny thing has happened over nearly 400 FGC entries. I’ve played at least three different videogames a week for at least a half hour each (and often, much, much more time), and, after a while, I’ve started to have a different standard for good. By and large, nearly every FGC game is a game I have played before “playing for the article”, but, even when I’ve reencountered games I know I don’t like, I’m able to see the developer intent. It might not be a game I enjoy, but I can see how someone could enjoy this game. In this way, I feel like my own feelings on certain games (Turok sucks) have softened (Turok is misguided), and I’m now even more likely to see the “good” in a game.
All that said? I cannot see how anyone could ever enjoy Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day.
First of all, to be absolutely clear, I love Rocko’s Modern Life (the animated series). I loved it when I was a kid, and now, even as an adult, it is a show that I can revisit and laugh my tail off. It was the first Nick Toon to follow the original bumper crop of Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy, and it arguably tried to ape some of the success of that latter’s “gross out” humor. But it wasn’t just about the scary looking eyeballs, Rocko’s Modern Life was true to its title, and was basically the story of a young adult male attempting to navigate “modern life” and all the pitfalls one might find in something as mundane as getting a gym membership. In many ways, Rocko’s Modern Life was like the “no continuity, characters in a million different roles” cartoons of the golden age of animated shorts, but, in many other ways, there were characters and arcs you could hold in your hands. Filbert grew and changed from a random comic book nerd to a loving, married father, while Chuck & Leon were repurposed for any nefarious scam they needed that week. And it all worked! Rocko’s Modern Life was a tour de force of humor for children and adults, and, to this day, we must all remember that the cheese is the best character on the show.
So, given Rocko’s Modern Life is so great, you might assume that Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day is so bad because it somehow doesn’t follow the source material. After all, according to production sources regarding the creation of the game, RML:SDD was designed before the show was officially released, and all the game’s staff had were a series of character and episode outlines. That’s enough to sink any ship, especially one that started before the source material had even premiered. What do the fans want to see? What do they enjoy? Who the heck knows, the fans don’t exist yet. By the time RML:SDD was released, Rocko’s Modern Life had only been on the air for six months and thirteen episodes… and we all know it takes more than six months to release a videogame.
But even if Viacom New Media had a firm grasp on the fanbase, I don’t think anyone would have claimed they wanted an unending escort mission with the slipperiest controls imaginable.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day is, at first glance, a 2-D action platformer. And that makes sense! This was the 16-bit era, and everyone had 2-D platformers! I’m pretty sure Ren & Stimpy had six across seventeen different consoles! And this was the grand age of the mascot platformer, so even if Rocko the Show was a dud, it was entirely possible that a decent 2-D platformer could drag the character into the gaming hall of fame. But RML:SDD contained a fatal flaw: the entire game is crap. Wait, sorry, that’s not right. The flaw is that the entire game is an escort mission. Spunky, Rocko’s dog, is constantly, uncontrollably waddling forward, and you must guide the mutt to the safety of the end of the level. Along the way, Rocko must utilize different tools, levers, and rafts to make sure Spunky doesn’t walk right into an angry sailor bird or drown in a puddle of toxic goo. If you’re good, Spunky will reach the golden fire hydrant, and you can proceed to the next Spunky-based challenge course. If you fail, you’ve just killed your dog, you monster.
And there’s probably a good game somewhere in that concept. An escort mission doesn’t have to be horrible, and a game entirely based on that concept could at least be… passable. And RML:SDD does avoid the pitfalls of many escort missions, as it allows you to interact with the “escort” target in meaningful ways (like turning the pupper around), or restoring health for when the lil’ dude’s AI has done something particularly heinous. And, considering the escort mission focus, there are a number of items and events that make the escort gameplay bits more interesting. A clogged garden hose that will launch Spunky into the air would be little more than a “jump block” in a traditional platformer, and it’s great that the nature of escorting gets the player to pay more attention to an otherwise easily ignored environment.
But, for all the fascinating ideas on display, RML:SDD controls like a Suck-o-Matic. Rocko is naturally slippery, and the camera refuses to zoom out far enough to account for those mighty wallaby jumps that might ram square into a hazard. Rocko picking up Spunky is completely required in a number of situations, but lining Rocko up perfectly to perform that all-important pickup is a challenge all on its own. And, worst of all, a number of the devices for helping Spunky along have very particular hit boxes, so, if you jump on the trampoline du jour at an inopportune moment, it will not assist Spunky, and will instead give the impression that you’re on the wrong trail. That didn’t help at all… maybe I’m supposed to go somewhere else? Nope! You just didn’t use the item exactly correctly, and now you’re going to search the stage for an alternate solution that doesn’t actually exist. Good luck, humble player!
And, to be clear, none of these issues are based on the (then fledgling) property itself. The enemies and areas that do appear are delightfully animated, and feel like “real” Rocko’s Modern Life characters. Important (first season) characters cameo all over the place, and the levels are, one way or another, based on actual episode situations. Even if the stages are very samey in their various tools and opponents, the actual set design seems eclectic enough to keep the player’s attention. Despite the whole game flying fairly blind on the appeal of Rocko’s Modern Life, everything feels like Rocko’s Modern Life, so it’s an excellent tie-in product from that singular perspective.
But the actual gameplay? Terrible. Awful. As someone that has played a lot of videogames, I literally cannot believe anyone has ever had a fun time playing this game. Every last bit of every level is tedious and frustrating, and, when you finally “win” a stage, it feels less like an accomplishment, and more like you just managed to eke out a victory thanks to a random enemy sprite not spawning fast enough. Even with just four levels comprised of four stages each, this title feels overly long… And does so before you see your first goalpost.
There might be fun to be had in Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day, but it would take a really, really big man to see even a glimmer of it.
FGC #392 Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day
- System: Super Nintendo exclusive. This is clearly what won the console war.
- Number of players: It would be interesting to hack in a mode wherein a second player could control Spunky. It might be the only way to pry some fun out of this whole enterprise.
- Other odd choices: O-Town is level three. Either start or end with the home location, guys! And then the final level is a Laundromat? Did you think that would be exciting for anyone?
- So, did you beat it? Yes, and the “final boss” is a series of four drying machines. At least you can’t say that about most games…
- Favorite Rocko’s Modern Life episode: It may be more saccharine than the typical Rocko fair, but I really enjoy the Christmas special. Is it entirely because of a cybernetic, laser-spewing robot Santa? Maybe.
- Did you know? Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life, was once asked by a Nickelodeon executive to add “a professional woman, someone with a good hook.” So we got Dr. Hutchinson, a female dentist with a hook for a hand. God, I love this show.
- Would I play again: Never, ever again. Terrible, terrible game.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Punch Time Explosion XL for the Nintendo Wii! From Nickelodeon to Cartoon Network! Let’s see if there was any improvement in licensed properties in the intervening years. Please look forward to it!