While many games tend to remain solidly in the world of fiction, and the ones that do take place in the real world generally stay within safe, familiar confines (there’s not going to be much controversy about a game where the object is to win the Super Bowl), there have always been a few games that aren’t afraid to draw attention to the crisis of our times. Ecco the Dolphin showed us the threats that giant blue glyphs posed to our fragile oceans. Bad Dudes made us painfully aware of how completely unprepared the country was to deal with the potential kidnapping of our beloved President Ronnie by “the ninjas”. And Revolution X gave us a glimpse of a horrifying future dystopia where people still thought Aerosmith was cool.
Much like those games, Growl also tries to make us aware of an ongoing crisis in the world… I think. The story is a little hard to follow. It starts by telling us that in the early part of the 20th century, a group of evil poachers hunted animals nearly to extinction. Suddenly, we’re transported to modern times, where a ranger answers a phone call and vows to whoever called to defeat the evil poachers. While he’s on the phone, a man and a woman walk into the bar that apparently doubles as a ranger station, throw a grenade inside, and flee. The ranger dives for cover, the grenade goes off, and the game begins.
So the plot is a little unclear as to whether the poachers have been warring with the rangers for the past century, or if they’ve returned after 100 years, or if they’ve finished killing animals and have moved onto hunting the most dangerous game of all (who says an unpopular blog about 20 year old video games can’t be literary?). Sadly, I didn’t have much time to ponder these questions because the flaming remains of the ranger station/tavern was immediately invaded by no fewer than seven identical white guys all dressed like Huggy Bear. You might need to stop for a second and let that last part sink in, because most people’s brains are predisposed to immediately skip over anything so overwhelmingly insane.
Normally, when I come across a guy whipping a lion in the middle of the street, my first inclination is to run away as fast as I can and not stop until I reach a safe place to watching the kickass mauling that’s about to happen.
If you really think about it, though, this is a pretty effective way to ambush somebody. Set off a bomb without warning, and then rush into the building with a team of white Huggy Bears to take out the survivors. There’s no better way to sow confusion and disorder in your enemies – they’re already confused from the explosion, and then all of a sudden, it looks like a Two Wild and Crazy guys fan convention has spontaneously erupted around them. They’ll be dead before they have any idea what hit ’em. I’d like to think that the haphazard storytelling, sneak attack, and bizarre enemies were all done intentionally to throw the player off guard and reflect the sudden bewilderment that his own character would be feeling, but I think I’m probably giving the design team WAY too much credit here.
At one point, I got ahold of a whip, which I used to waste several evil poachers, and one businesswoman who, luckily, also turned out to be an evil poacher.
One thing that worth pointing out about Growl – the people who made it have no qualms about you killing women. Most beat-em-ups feature the occasional female enemy, but they’re usually encountered pretty infrequently, and sometimes your most brutal moves don’t work against them. Final Fight even went as far as to point out that their female enemies were actually men dressed as women, and then changed them into men dressed as effeminate men for the home version of the game. Growl doesn’t pull any crap like that – there are women for you to beat up everywhere, and you can pummel them just as mercilessly as you do the men.
Did those rhinos you killed beg for mercy? Did you give them any?
Speaking of which – Growl lets you unleash catastrophic beatdowns on your enemies. The rocket launcher reduces its victims into piles of flying limbs, and unlike most games, when you shoot somebody in Growl, it really looks like you just murdered them. You’re no less deadly unarmed, either. In fact, your character’s favorite way of greeting someone appears to be grabbing them by the arm and then ragdolling them over his head and into the ground repeatedly. And just because somebody is on the ground, that’s no reason to let up. I know it would seem pretty hard to justify walking up to a woman who’s already on her knees begging for mercy, and then grabbing her by the hair and kicking her in the fucking face until she dies, but try to remember – she might have killed animals at some point. You’ve totally got the moral high ground on this one. It’s like playing as the world’s most badass vegan. I mean, besides Georges Laraque.
The rocket launcher is admittedly over the top, but at least it kinda makes sense. But what the hell is a broadsword doing there?
As for the game itself, it’s not really that good. You only get a few attacks, the stop-and-go pacing feels kind of uneven, and the ridiculous number of enemies you generally have to fight at once usually forces you to stand in place and mash one button until everyone’s dead. That’s not the kind of engrossing gameplay that would hold anyone’s attention engaged for more ten minutes or so of beating on color-swapped Huggy Bears.
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So that’s it – the final entry for this portion of our little project. Using the process of elimination, we started with a list of about 700 Sega Genesis games and narrowed that list down to the 100 best titles. What next? Well, a Top 100 list is generally more interesting when the things on it are ranked by quality as opposed to, say, alphabetically, so don’t think we’re done here. Tune in next week for an announcement regarding the Top 100, as well as other upcoming features.