Thunder Fox

Back in the good old days of gaming, games were a lot tougher than there are now.I don’t mean that they were more difficult – just that they were about ten times more macho than today.Game characters had manly names like “Blade” and “Stryker”, “Spike” and “Hammer”, or in this case, “Thunder” and “Fox” (apparently, everyone was recruited from the set of American Gladiators).There was no stealth, no teammates, and no outwitting your enemies.You didn’t try to talk your way out of conflict like some fruity RPG.If you needed to take care of business, you just (maybe) picked up a gun and set about kicking ass.Anything less and the game may as well have been about Barbie.

And so it is with Thunder Fox.You have to love these guys’ style.Tasked with the mission of infiltrating an enemy base and destroying their helicopters, your character doesn’t waste time procuring equipment – he just goes in armed with a knife.That’s it.He doesn’t even bother to pack a shirt.And its not like this a stealth mission or anything – he just walks right up and starts knifing guards in broad daylight.If he needs a gun, fuck it – he’ll just find one of those Bob Vila look-a-likes that has one, stab him a few times and take it.Don’t ask me how he plans to take out that helicopter, either – I guess he’ll just wait for it to fly by, grab on, and start stabbing the hell out of it too.

This would all be well and good, except for one slight problem – Thunder and Fox both kind of suck at their jobs.Oh sure, they might look tough (actually, they look more like generic pro wrestlers), and they might even be sort-of tough, but they’re nowhere near single-handedly attacking an enemy base armed only with a knife tough.I guess the majestic backflips they can do should have tipped us off that maybe these weren’t the really manliest men in the world.Give them some guns, and they do just fine slaughtering the largely unarmed enemy army.But in a straight-up knife fight, they pretty much get turned into pincushions by their faster, longer-armed opponents.

In order to survive this ordeal then, you have to rely on your lone advantage – a longer health bar. You can go around trading hits with your enemies until you get a gun, at which point you can start wiping them all out en masse – at least until you run out of bullets.Then it’s right back to winning by attrition.Of course, “winning”, might be overstating it a bit.This is more like “not dying until the middle of the first stage by attrition.”

Not exactly my idea of fun.

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The Adventures of Mighty Max

The Adventures of Mighty Max is yet another derivative, uninspired, mediocre platforming game based on a license that after all these years, nobody really gives a damn about or even remembers anymore.Since we’ve pretty much used up all our best insults and one-liners on the other 100 or so Genesis games that are essentially the exact same thing, we decided to mix things up a bit and just make fun of a few screenshots:

Picture #1:

Stryker:Wait, does that guy with the sword have a handlebar mustache UNDER his mouth?It doesn’t look like a beard.

Brad:It’s the ultimate fashion statement!Well, that and the chain-and-padlock belt here’s wearing.

Stryker:At least the owl makes me feel kind of smart, like maybe I’ll learn something from playing this game.

Brad:Like not to buy games starring Mighty Max?

Stryker:Or not to buy my clothes from the M&M’s store.

Brad:Yeah, Max does have kind of an Alvin and the Chipmunks fashion thing going on there, doesn’t he?

Stryker:I suppose everyone goes through a Chipmunks phase when they’re that age.I remember wearing my ankle-length blue “S” shirt for all of 9th grade.

Brad:Or maybe he’s just a really big Seattle Mariners fan.

Stryker:Statistically speaking, that seems a lot less likely.

Picture #2:

Brad:Max looks like he’s about ready to start eating his girlfriend’s fingers.

Stryker: He does have that look in his eye like he just figured out the perfect dipping sauce for deep-fried human flesh.

Brad:Meanwhile, his girlfriend has that prim and proper 1950’s teenager look working.Kind of like Nancy Drew.

Stryker:Pretty conservative for someone who wasn’t wearing any pants in the last screenshot.

Brad:Maybe that wise old owl sat her down and gave her a lecture about decency.

Stryker:Or maybe she’s still not wearing any pants, and you just can’t tell because they’re only showing her from the neck up.It doesn’t really matter – Max is too far gone to notice and the other one’s eyes have already been eaten by that toupee.

Brad:Poor nameless friend.I’m sure having your head eaten by a toupee is probably a pretty horrible experience – the last thing you would probably ever see would be a bunch of tiny, fast-moving legs, all shoveling parts of your face toward the mouth – like the underside of a crayfish.

Stryker:And what’s going on with the left side of his hair?It’s just sort of hanging off there.If it was just long hair, there wouldn’t be that gap in the back between his neck and the hair.Is that supposed to be a side ponytail?

Brad:I think the toupee-monster is already reaching out for Max’s eyes.

Stryker:One last thing – look at the faces.Max has that maniacal smile.Nameless friend has a more genuinely happy smile, in spite of the fact that the top half of his head is being eaten.But Max’s girlfriend – she looks like she had been smiling, but is in the middle of changing expressions.

Brad:It’s as if they took the picture at the exact second she got punched in the stomach really hard.

Stryker:Or the exact second that she realized that her “Pants of Invisibilty” didn’t actually transfer that ability onto the person wearing them.

Eliminations in Brief 2/25/09

Another Wednesday, another group of 10 more or less nondescript, not really bad but not really great, either, games to get rid of.Enjoy!

World Class Leaderboard – If I really wanted to golf on a completely flat course, I’d just drill a hole in the living room floor.

Insector X – Finally!Here’s that bug-themed horizontal shooter I’ve been waiting for!

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Much like its central character, this game is a horrifying monster built from parts stolen from the corpses of other atrocious games.

DinoLand – About as challenging as fishing in someone’s aquarium, and yet somehow way less fun.

The Ooze – Hey Sega, taking a crappy overhead shooter and having us play as a puddle of slime doesn’t magically make it not crappy.It just makes our character a bigger target.

Ranger X – Stryker (to Brad): “Hey, hurry up and hate this damn game so we can get it off our list already.”

Warrior of Rome – I came, I saw, I said “How the hell are you supposed to play this damn game?”

Steel Talons – Hey, if we’re going to fight a war against a country with the landscape of Switzerland, maybe the best weapon to use isn’t a helicopter who’s only weakness appears to be a tendency to crash into the sides of mountains.

Stargate – Let’s give some credit where its due – the soundtrack to the game is much better than the one in the film its based on.Then again, is doing anything better than the film Stargate really that much of an accomplishment?

Hook – Funny that the game’s title makes reference to the thing this unremarkable action game most desperately needs.

Happy Valis Day!

At this point in the project, the Valis series is one of the few remaining franchises that we haven’t focused any of our attention on yet.We decided today would be a good time to look at the three games (Valis: The Fantasm Soldier, Valis III, and Syd of Valis), and determine if any were worthy of staying on the list.

Valis: The Fantasm Soldier is what you would get if you took the original Castlevania and changed the main character from a bad-ass vampire hunter to a Japanese schoolgirl. The really sad part of that logic is that that actually sort of makes sense – if you’re an anime dork, then its probably the best idea ever, and even if you’re not, it’s still a lot like Castlevania, which is pretty cool.The Castlevania rip-offs – um, I mean “influences” – are pretty obvious:both have similar control schemes, visual styles (they even both have the same “line of little boxes” health bars), and gameplay.The problem is that it also shared many of the flaws of the original Castlevania – slow movement, stiff controls, and some pretty limited enemy AI.Back when the game was first released in 1986 (on the MSX), those were common flaws for a lot of games, so it wasn’t a big deal.But 5 years later, when the game finally made it’s way onto the Genesis, standards had changed, and Valis ends up feeling horribly dated.Probably didn’t help that the series it had been ripping off so liberally had evolved beyond these problems by then.

Valis III doesn’t exactly solve these problems as much as it kind of just makes them less bad.It’s completely playable and even mildly enjoyable at times, although the enemy AI still blows.Back when I used to make ZZT games, there was an AI command called SEEK.SEEK meant that the object would move one step closer to the player.SEEK is an effective, but pretty predictable AI routine, so you would have to mix it up with a few other directions: maybe a little loop of SEEK, SEEK, RANDOM to keep the object from just making a beeline directly to the player.Apparently Valis III’s designers never went to the Brad Lawrence school of AI Programming, because almost every enemy in the game has a bad case of SEEK, making them very predictable and the whole game kind of dull.Still it’s better than most of the AI in the first Valis, which seemed to be stuck on a loop of WEST (in other words, go left no matter what).

Oddly enough, Syd of Valis, which is very obviously a children’s game, ends up being the best of this bunch.The control is better, the gameplay is much faster, and the enemies are more interesting and varied in their attack patterns.The character can now shoot magic across the screen, as well, which makes this feel less like a blatant Castlevania rip-off and more like a blatant Megaman rip-off.It’s not a terrible game, but you can only play as a giant-headed cartoony little girl shooting cute, pastel-colored monsters with a magic wand for so long before you start feeling ridiculous.And by “so long” I mean about 10 seconds.Maybe if it had been really fun, instead of just kind of ok, we could have held off our embarrasment a bit longer for the sake of the project, though I sort of doubt we have that much journalistic integrity.So it was actually kind of a lucky break on our part that the game wasn’t anything great.

Anyway, we’re elimintating all three games today.Syd of Valis and Valis III are ok, and might have been good enough to make a Top 200 list.Maybe.On the other hand, Valis: The Fantasm Soldier is little more than a prettied up NES game and including it on any kind of top games countdown would be a surefire way to establish that the list needed to be a least one game shorter.

Earthworm Jim 2

Brad:Well, here’s the good news for Earthworm Jim fans:EWJ2 is a little more balanced in difficulty than its predecessor, the levels are better designed, and the gameplay a bit more varied.And here’s the bad news:it’s still badly overrated, it’s still confrontationally unfunny, and it’s still not getting a Seal of Approval.

Stryker:What do I have to do to get this kind of credibility?Despite their flaws, people still talk about the Earthworm Jim games like these are the greatest achievements of the 16-bit era.And these aren’t some obscure cult classics that a handful of loyal fans say is great and most other people have never tried and just take their word for it – these were mainstream favorites.What was so awesome about these games that people forgave all that was wrong with them?And don’t tell me it was because they were funny, because they couldn’t be any less so – some bad jokes make you groan; EWJ 2’s just make you want to punch someone in the face.

Earthworm Jim

Brad:Earthworm Jim had a lot of buzz prior to coming out, got great reviews, and sold tons of copies to satisfied customers.In doing so, it gets away with all kinds of crap people wouldn’t tolerate in most other games – cheap deaths, uber-harsh precision jumping, confusing level layouts.I’ve never been able to understand why, because EWJ is… well, not terrible by any means, but pretty average.It’s typical platforming fare, with annoying sound clips, predictable pattern following mini-bosses, and a slightly higher than normal frequency of frustrating areas.

The game gets a lot of credit for its “zany” humor, but it’s really not that funny.Yes, great, you play as an earthworm.He wears a suit invented by Professor Monkey for a Head.And the super-vicious attack dog is named Fifi.Hilarious!Hey Earthworm Jim, is your refrigerator running?Take my wife, please!No wait – I just flew in from Los Angeles and boy, are my arms tired!The second level of Earthworm Jim even gives us a nice lawyer joke.Very fresh, there – haven’t heard any lawyer jokes before.

In between lame jokes and not particularly funny weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird moments, Earthworm Jim is a more or less ordinary, though kind of hard platforming game.It does try to mix things up with boss fights that that break away from the core jump n’ shoot gameplay and a few non-platforming levels, but by 1994, most other games in this genre were doing that, too.Once you get over the fact that the game is about an heroic worm (and is that really any more humorous or strange than, say, a plumber or blue hedgehog?) and the wackiness of it all (should take about 10 seconds), there’s really not that much here that you haven’t seen before.

EWJ is ok, but hardly deserving of all the critical praise and popularity it enjoys.And certainly not good enough to earn our Seal of Approval.

Stryker:I don’t know if we can stress enough just how painfully unfunny this game is.New Junk City?Psy-crow?Really, that’s the best stuff you can come up with?The whole game is just a collection of clichéd, tired jokes, lame puns and stuff that is strange but not actually funny.Oh, and the occasional gross-out gag for all the 11 year olds out there.If The Office’s Michael Scott were to design a game, it would probably end up a lot like this.

Oh, and the game is brutally hard, too.If I really wanted to get viciously murdered while hearing a bunch of unfunny crap, I’d just wear a “Dale Earnhardt Sucks” t-shirt to a Larry the Cable Guy show.