Monday, 25 March 2013

Special Feature - The Ugly Side of Super Nintendo Platform Gaming

The Super Nintendo is home to some of the best examples of 2D platform games in existence. It is also home to an absolute deluge of shit that simply beggars belief. This week I decided to spend some time checking out a vast array of 2D platform games on the system with the intention of writing about any hidden gems I found. While I did find a few enjoyable titles lurking among the 30+ games I tried, I was quite taken aback by how many truly abysmal games are on SNES. I genuinely had no idea. I am familiar with the hundreds of terrible abominations on the NES, but for some reason I had assumed (incorrectly) that the SNES had upped the quality control and avoided a library consisted of hundreds of piss poor efforts. 

Maybe it was due to the fact that the SNES cartridges were pretty pricey back in the day, so I only got hold of the cream of the crop after doing my research via CvG, Super Play and Total magazine (remember, this was pre-internet) before hassling my parents to fork out for it. Thus my memories of the 16-bit Nintendo machine consisted of a glorious dream-like haze in which I frolicked through a sunny meadow with such lovable characters as Mario, Donkey Kong, Earthworm Jim, Link, Simon Belmont, the guy from Pilotwings and even the 3d rendered unicycles from Unirally.

Drowning in mediocrity

Now, thanks to digging under the surface my precious memories have been sullied. Replaced with an experience akin to stumbling through a urine soaked alleyway in the rain, being followed by a hooded stranger. This is all thanks to the smorgasboard of platform games featuring charmless game protagonists, clearly designed by clueless marketing men desperate to suckle on the teet of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog's success. Thus we have such delights as Bubsy The Bobcat, Radical Rex, Aero The Acrobat, Alfred Chicken and Zero The Kamikaze Squirrel, to name but a few.

Another charmless game 'hero' that could have easily been 
generated by a piece of software

TV Licenses (Oh, God! What have they done?)

While these games lack creativity and can numb your brain due to their crippling blandness, some offer some back-to-basics fun in small doses. It starts to get real ugly when you look at the truly heinous 2D platformers based on TV shows and cartoons. This is where the shitometer goes through the roof, and you find yourself praying for a quick death as you fumble through the first stage of games such as Rocko's Modern Life, Beavis & Butthead, The Simpsons : Bart's Nightmare (more like my fucking nightmare), Eek The Cat, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Road Runner. Fabulously weird Nickleodeon cartoon Ren & Stimpy even gets 4 games on the SNES. Every one of them a huge steaming bucket of horse nuggets. Even cheesy American sitcom Home Improvements gets a game. Who decided that was a good idea? Clearly someone suffering from a head injury – maybe sustained while doing D.I.Y.? (oh, the irony).

An F is being generous, quite frankly

Ah yes, who could forget that classic scene from the sitcom
 where Tim Allen fought a dinosaur with a nailgun?

Ren & Stimpy - 4 games. All of them unadulterated turds

Movie Licences (God help us all)

Joining these affronts to the platforming genre are the ones based on movies. Oh. My. Lord. Just wait until you experience the pathetic presentation, shoddy graphics, slippery controls, appalling jumping mechanics, irritating music and sound effects and worthless gameplay of titles like Dennis, The Pagemaster, The Blues Brothers, Wayne's World, The Wizard of Oz, Cliffhanger, Last Action Hero, The Mask, Home Alone (1 and 2) and, most bizarrely, Beethoven's 2nd. The last one puzzles me the most. Quite why anyone thought it was worth obtaining the rights to a crap sequel to a crap kiddie flick about a big dog who is a gigantic slobbering imbecile, is beyond me. Surely it wasn't even a popular movie? Regardless, once you have spent a couple of minutes struggling to manoeuvre the huge dumb beast across the same repeating backdrops, getting stuck on fences and hurt by tiny, unidentifiable objects, your will to live will be at an all time low. It would be more pleasurable to find one of the saint bernard's mighty stools on your living room carpet than play this for any length of time.

Seriously WTF? One of the worst games I have ever played

Playing games like The Mask will have this effect on you. What 
this picture cannot accurately portray is the mental scarring that 
results due to exposure to these games

It is worse still when good movies get the shit-game treatment. Terminator 2 - one of the greatest movies ever made - is a good example of this. How on earth can you take a movie about a time travelling robot assassin armed with a shotgun, fighting against a more advanced shape-shifting robot in order to save the future saviour of mankind, and then fuck it up? Yet the evidence is here for all to see. I don't expect a Super Mario beater from a game based on a piss poor movie like Dennis, but I damn well expect a game based on Terminator 2 to be kickass.

Arnie? Check. Cyborgs from the future? Check. Shotguns, motorbikes 
and liquid assassins? Check. Shit game? Check. The mind boggles

When looked at today, it could be considered highly amusing how awful these games are. But when you think about the fact that these were churned out to cash in on popular movies or TV shows, and were sold for extremely high prices at retail, the joke suddenly isn't so funny.

A standard expression for kids playing these 
games back in the day. 

A New Hope?

Of course, there are many games that go against the grain and actually provide a great gaming experience, despite being based on a licensed property. All you need to do is insert some of the Disney games, such as Aladdin, The Lion King and The Jungle Book to see great examples of how to do entertaining 2D platform games. Lucasarts' Indiana Jones Greatest Adventures and the Star Wars trilogy are perfect examples of games that are both exciting and fun to play as well as paying respect to the source material (though they are hard as balls and will punish you). Some even surprise you by being pretty good, despite being based on an awful movie – see; Lethal Weapon, Hook and Alien 3. The only decent TV show game is Tiny Toons : Buster Busts Loose. A solid platformer with great cartoon graphics and sound that is feels polished and is good fun to play.

You really can't go wrong with some good old fashioned Disney platform games

Alien 3. Weak movie, but great game. Go figure

Lucasarts show everyone how to make great 2D platformers based on movies 

The Most Generic Anthropomorphic SNES Games

After the roaring success of Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog, developers were tripping over themselves to create something similar. Designers were roped in to come up with similar animal characters to take the lead role. Unfortunately, most were completely devoid of any charm and were extremely transparent as the unimaginative clones they were. Here are some of the most uninspiring characters and the games they inhabit.

Bubsy The Bobcat

A grinning, wise cracking bobcat starring in a game that wants to be Sonic the Hedgehog so much it is embarrassing. At first glance the game looks like it could provide some fairly average entertainment. But then you start running forwards and it all goes to shit. With slippery controls, a horrible floaty jump, and an abundance of instant death enemies and objects in your path, the game gets old, fast. It is another one of those 2D Sonic wannabes that gives you a lightning fast character but dumps him in a badly designed world full of things that will kill you if you move anything faster than a snail's pace. Bubsy asks “what could possibly go wrong?”, right at the start of the game. Unfortunately the answer appears to be, everything. The sequel cranked up the shit dial even further by having hard to navigate stages that were completely unsuited to Bubsy's movement speed. In a recent interview one iof the original development team defended Bubsy by stating that the Bubsy character was the winning factor of the game and, more shockingly, that "Sonic didn't have much going for it except its massively beautiful gameplay. Mario kind of lost its charm; it had gotten very watered down. Bubsy's characters are what live on". Delusional arrogance aside, he is wrong. Bubsy is a shit character in a series of shit games. 

Bubsy may appear at first to be a decent stab at a 2D 
platformer, but it plays like shit 


Released very late into the SNES's lifespan (1996), which makes this even less tolerable, Oscar sees you controlling some hairy, ratty creature of indeterminable species who you guide through several stages based on movies (horror, wild west etc). The controls feel lose, and it is often hard to see what is going on due to the cluttered visuals. It is utterly generic in every way and will not hold your attention for more than a few minutes.

The garish mess that is Oscar. What the hell is he 
supposed to be anyway?


A game that received lots of praise on its native system, the Amiga - maybe due to Amiga owners being hard up for decent platformers (bar the excellent Superfrog). Zool is an alien ant thing on a mission to do something or other, who cares. The first stage is set in a world made of sweets, and the colourful sickly landscape is enough to give you diabetes. You can run right constantly  hitting the spin button to get to the end of a stage without much trouble - rendering it devoid of challenge. They even ditched the cool Amiga rave soundtrack, replacing it with some horrible rock tunes. Zool is one of the most unsatisfying and boring platform games around, regardless of which format you choose to play it on (hint - don't bother).

Zool's visuals will make your eyeballs puke

Alfred Chicken

Poor old Alfred, I really wanted to like him as he is a lovable little chicken. Unfortunately moving around poorly designed levels made of coloured bricks, pecking balloons and dive bombing clockwork mice, fails to live up to the potential. Alfred plods along like he has no commitments whatsoever and it is this sluggish pace that really kills the game. Chickens should stick to being health items for other games.

Poor old Alfred stars in a fairly dull platformer. It's no wonder 
chickens are usually reserved for food items in games

Ardy Lightfoot

I have no idea what Ardy Lightfoot is supposed to be. Some kind of fox maybe? I don't know and, after completing a couple of dull levels, I don't care. He can bounce on his tail to reach high platforms, and uses a hungry blue critter as a weapon - it eats enemies you throw it at. It offers nothing to hold your attention. Next!

What exactly is Ardy anyway? A Fox? Maybe a weasel? 
More to the point, what is the blue blob he uses as a weapon? 

Aero The Acrobat

A bat, who is an acrobat. Get it? LOL etc, sigh. Jump on platforms, collect food items, throw things at enemies. You know the drill. Yet another game that follows the 2D platforming formula to the letter, but fails to inject any personality whatsoever. The irritating circus music that persists throughout is the icing on this crap cake. There is also a sequel which is more of the same. Play both if you are having trouble sleeping and want to numb your senses and drift off into oblivion.

An unoriginal death animation from an incredibly unoriginal game

Radical Rex

With a name like that you know you are in for a bad time. But I found myself strangely hooked to it, well for about 20 minutes anyway, which is 19 minutes more that most of the other dross I have played for this article. Sure, the character reeks of marketing 'suits' trying too hard to make a game 'for da kids' - he even has a skateboard much of the time - but it offers some relatively engaging platforming action. I don't really understand why Rex has to constantly look at the screen, it is slightly disturbing, especially when he sticks his tongue out.

Wow, he certainly is 'rad'. Check out his 'mad skillz' on the board, man!

Mr Nutz

It is certainly not going to give Mario or Sonic any sleepless nights, but Mr Nutz is actually pretty good fun. It shouldn't be, after all Mr Nutz is one of the most generic characters of all. A squirrel, in a cap, called Mr Nutz (cos that's what he eats, huh huh) is completely devoid of any imagination, but the game is saved by bright aesthetically pleasing worlds, decent controls and jumping, and plenty of hidden areas to explore. It won't rock your world, but it offers reasonably fun platforming action.

One of the most generic characters of all, but a 
surprisingly enjoyable game

Zero The Kamikaze Squirrel

Not sure why it was deemed appropriate to create a lead character based on Japanese suicide pilots from World War 2, but there you go. For added un-PC antics they even gave him shurikens to throw. Sigh. Kamikaze translates as Divine Wind, but this game is just Unholy Flatulence. Another high speed cluster fuck that offers little enjoyment and will have you reaching for the off button within minutes. He doesn't even have the decency to kill himself - the whole purpose of being Kamikaze in the first place.

Zero even rides a jetsky at one point in the game, though I 
doubt most of you will be able to tolerate this snooze-fest 
long enough to reach it

Rocky Rodent

So bland they couldn't even be bothered to designate Rocky a specific species of rodent. Maybe they should have just gone with the name Annie The Animal instead? They did see fit to give him a punk hairdo though, making him at least 76.423% (according to the marketing department) more 'cool'. The plot is nonsense, of course. You are on a mission to rescue some douchebag's daughter in exchange for a free all-you-can eat buffet. Thus ensues some generic Sonic The Hedgehog style charging through stages, collecting food and avoiding enemies. You can use Rocky's hair to hit things and climb up blocks. Exceptionally dull.

He's a rodenty thing with spikey hair and... zzzzzzz

The exceptions to the rule

Earthworm Jim

Who loves Earthworm Jim? Come on, hands up. See, everyone. He is a worm in a biomechanical space suit thing, and it is as awesome as that sounds. Great humour, colourful cartoon graphics and extremely well animated sprites made Earthworm Jim stand out. Armed with a futuristic blaster you must fend off crows and mad dogs as you chase after the main bad guy who stole the girl of your dreams, 'Queen Slug for a Butt' (yes, really). It's fun, and keeps things fresh by adding in some neat underwater vehicle action, bungee jumping and a faux-3D bonus stage. The sequel loses a lot of the magic, but is still worth playing for fans of the original.

Excellent humour and animation are just part of the reason 
Earthworm Jim is such a great game and loved character

James Pond

Ok, so the James Pond games are nothing special, but Robocod – entitled Super James Pond for the SNES iteration – is a quirky title full of humour and fun, albeit fairly standard, platforming gameplay. The main reason he avoids the pitfalls of the other Sonic wannabees is the fact he is a fish. In a Robocop suit of armour. This alone is enough to make him stand out. It would seem that it is better to take a run of the mill creature and stick him in a cool suit of armour or robotic form that to simply take a rodent and bung a baseball cap on them.

A robotic fish able to stretch upwards due to his biomechanical suit. 
How could this not be a winner?

Super Putty / Putty Squad

Another Amiga game ported to the SNES, though the sequel, Putty Squad, was finished for the Amiga but never released. Both are entertaining games featuring a blue lump of putty. He is able to stretch himself over gaps and up to higher platforms, punch enemies with a comedy fist, leap great heights and absorb friends and foe alike. Finding your robot pals is the key to success. Freeing them from their icey prisons then absorbing them, before dropping them off at the level exit. The game stands out due to its Amiga visual stylings, ravey music and very silly sense of humour. Putty contains a lot of character for a simple malleable lump of goop.

Super Putty contains bags of charm and zany humour

Further misery

There are plenty of other SNES platform games that feature neither animal lead characters nor movie or TV tie ins. There can vary in quality, but there are many truly awful titles out there, as anyone who has experienced the horrors of Lester The Unlikely, Harley's Humongous Adventure, Chuck Rock or Boogerman can testify. Lester is probably the worst of the bunch as it features the single most pathetic video game character ever devised. A trembling dweeb who runs at the sight of enemies (yes, really). This is especially pathetic when the enemies consist of crabs and turtles. Games are supposed to make the player feel empowered, not put you in charge of some whimpering nerd who looks and sounds as though he is about to piss his pants every few seconds.

Who in their right mind thought gamers would 
want to assume the role of this asshole?

Plok has some of the most pathetic visuals to grace an 
SNES game, with simplistic gameplay to match

In conclusion

So what have we learnt today? We can conclude that the SNES is home to some very good platform games, as well as some of the very worst. There are far more fitting into the latter category than you might think, and sifting through them is a joyless experience. The majority of TV and movie tie-ins are absolutely dire, but there are notable exceptions that are definitely worth seeking out. Disney licenses, as always, provide decent platform games that will appeal to fans of the genre of any age, and any non-Disney game featuring an anthropomorphic protagonist is most likely to be shit.

Keep your cherished memories safe by sticking to the games we all know and love. Your Super Marios, Donkey Kong Countrys, Disney games, Lucasarts movie licenses, Earthworm Jims, Puttys, Castlevania and Contras. There are plenty of other good, lesser known, platformers – many falling into the run and gun sub-genre (see Super Turrican, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts etc), but anything cutesy, most likely featuring an animal as the lead character can be safely assumed to be awful and avoided like a rabid dog.

Happy Gaming!

Itsamee, asweet relief from all thesea shitty games

You can't go wrong with Kong

Ahhhh, sanity returning. Yoshi's Island is the perfect 
remedy after playing terrible games