N64th Street

Rugrats Scavenger Hunt

Posted by: Kevin C. on: July 30, 2013

With a name like that, you’d probably be justified in assuming that this game is a Mario 64-esque 3D platformer of some sort. After all, you’d be pretty much justified in calling just about every single one of them elaborate scavenger hunts of varying levels of respect to the players time and obsessive-compulsive impulses.

Once you’re finally past the copyright screens, the intro begins with grandpa Lou Pickles talking about the rules to board games, which leads to Tommy and Chuckie misinterpreting that as “bored games,” which might seem to suggest that there’s some truth to the platformer game theory.  Then you press start, and you’re presented with three game modes. You select one, then select Tommy, Chuckie, Phil or Lil as your pawn. Then it’s obvious that the intro wasn’t being ironic or anything like that: this is a board game, played on a TV.

loookThey were apparently as surprised as I was.

Now, if you’re reading this site, I think I can be fairly certain that you’re familiar with Mario Party in at least some fashion. You go around a board, you collect certain things, you play a wide variety mini-games for more collectibles and such… it’s a simple, successful formula, for sure. Rugrats Scavenger Hunt definitely put itself in the same mold, but left out one crucial element: there are no minigames.

boardwalkIf you watch this gif for about 45 minutes or so, you’ve
pretty much got the experience of this one.

That’s right. The one thing that can truly justify playing a real-life board game on a TV, aside from animated/talking pawns,  is just flat out missing. Instead, you just go around the board, landing on pieces that let you try and find whatever chotskies you need  to collect first to win. It’s tedious as heck, and I have to admit that I really struggled to make it through even one game.

treasureFinding the item that allows you to potentially find 2 chotskies at a time is
pretty much a requirement if you don’t completely spite yourself.

Despite the lack of being fun to actually play, the production values for the audio and visual elements are pretty top notch. Or at least, I was expecting much worse. Not unlike Tigger’s Honey Hunt, there’s a surprising amount of care that’s been taken in that department. The writing, while not even remotely the show’s finest or most subversive, is at least decent-to-good most of the time. It’s definitely a far cry from the soulless mess that Powerpuff Girls: Chemical X-traction ended up being, which was what I’d more or less expected here.

cookiesSomething tells me that those cookies might be slightly soggy.

If you’re a diehard Rugrats fan, which would appear to be about 80% of the 15-24 demographic that uses the internet if Tumblr is any indication, you might at least enjoy seeing the game’s cutscenes; and if nothing else, it’s interesting to see what “just like the cartoon!” looked like back in the far flung year of 2000. If you’re actually looking to play a video board game that’s entertaining, though, there’s just better N64 options out there- even Monopoly.

babylift

Cradle It Or Ladle It?
Cradle it tenderly if you absolutely must see everything involving Rugrats ever made, or if you really hate your free time.
Ladle it into some formula, your choice which kind, if you have better things to do than play a board game for babies.

Rampage World Tour

Posted by: Kevin C. on: June 29, 2013

The PSX/N64 era was just utterly rife with remakes of 80s arcade classics. There were a lot of reasons for this, I’m sure, and I’m also sure part of it was just a cold, hard, simple fact- making completely original games in the then-new realm of 3D console games was difficult, challenging, and expensive. At least, in comparison to tightening up the graphics on a 13-year-old arcade classic. The division of quality between them, however, has usually been pretty noticeable- Asteroids was pretty eh, but Gauntlet Legends was a solid reinvention of the franchise, and Robotron wasn’t a reinvention but managed to make its core gameplay even more compelling. Where would Rampage end up?

rampagearcadescreenYou may know it as “that game where you are a monster and break buildings.”

Rampage, for those who missed it, was a very simple quarter muncher of an arcade game. The premise was simple- you’re a big monster, and you have to punch apart cities across the nation for no real reason other than because you’re a monster and an asshole. It worked in the arcade because it was so instantly accessible- but I’d argue that’s also the game’s biggest downfall. It’s fun for a while to punch things, but there’s very little in terms of actual skill that one can play Rampage with. There’s even less in terms of variety. It’s not like most games of the era where you could expect to see wizards of the arcade keep a score going for hours, as your fairly long health bar is constantly depleted by generally difficult-to-impossible to avoid tiny bullets and other similar projectiles. No matter how many hamburgers you find in punched-out windows, you’re eventually going to die sooner than later. And not just because of a diet-caused heart attack.  Thus, the game is more or less designed to milk the player of quarters for as long as they don’t get bored or broke. It’s basically like a slot machine except that you can only lose.

rmapage5And it’s still that game where you are a monster and break buildings.

Okay, for sake of full disclosure, I’ve played this before. I’ve also beaten it before, as well as the NES version of this same game. However, it’s been nearly since the release of World Tour since I’ve played either one of them. This may be due to the fact that the NES version takes roughly 6-10 grueling hours to completely finish, and of course there’s no password or save system to quickly get back to wherever you were in the 120-odd levels that each take ~3-5 minutes to beat. All in one very repetitive sitting, or maybe a couple if your parents were cool enough to let you leave the Nintendo on overnight. I was lucky enough to be in the latter category, in this case. But if you ever meet anyone in the former category, please shake their hand and compliment their patience and dedication. They’re probably world-class paragons of both qualities. In any case, I think it’s been long enough that I think I can give this game the objective fair shake that even the worst games deserve.

nakedtime2It’s also still that game where your character shrinks and becomes a naked human once again when their 
health finally runs out. Though this doesn’t seem to discourage that cop from continuing to attempt to perforate you.

Now, if you weren’t around for gaming in the late 16 bit or especially the early 32/64 bit generation, you probably missed the era of Donkey Kong Country turning the game aesthetics paradigm on its head. DKC made it cool to forgo the complex 2D sprites seen in games previously, sprites which require a human being to individually draw and perfect each frame.  Instead, you just had to make a relatively basic 3D model, give it some kind of sensical skeleton, and then animate it however you want it. The individual frames of that animation could then (more or less) instantly be made into usable pre-rendered 2D sprites, and if you ever needed to adjust it or make a brand new animation… well, simple as animating it, exporting it, and converting it. It may sound stupid now, but this was an inescapable and mostly exciting revolution at the time; after all, it theoretically saved on labor while also looking like THE FUTURE. Some of these games still manage to still look okay- the aforementioned Donkey Kong Country series being a prime example, but Starcraft also did a fantastic job of stylizing its art just enough that it manages to not seem totally dated and embarrassing today. Non-dated and not-embarrassing are not words I’d usually use to describe most pre-rendered graphics of the era, though… especially when breasts were involved.  Rampage World Tour has both pre-rendered graphics AND breasts, so I’m already not expecting a pleasant return.

scoreYou’ll be seeing this screen a lot, so try not to play this game around your Mom.

From the start, you get your pick of three characters- all of which are more or less identical, with the primary differences being what kind of food they like and which ones make them literally throw up. Other than that, the two dudes and the one lady (who was also in the arcade version, which was arguably a progressive move for the time) are all functionally identical as in the original arcade game. They are now just cartoonishly illustrated via the magic of computer graphics instead of by hand. The gameplay differences between the two aren’t super dramatic, either- it’s still a game about you being a big creature that destroys buildings and either eats or kills anything that’s trying to stop it, and that’s about it. This time, you get to do so  for a few stages somewhere besides a city in America every once in a while.  Neat.

cernyAnd sometimes you get to be a flying creature-beast-monster that tears through everything as
if it was a jackhammer through pastry dough. This is actually pretty rad.

That’s not to say this is just the same game with a plastic-y looking coat of pre-rendered CGI pasted over the original; at least, if you’re playing it right. Although you’re still going to be dying a lot because there’s still almost no way to not get constantly hurt, you can at least clear the stages faster through either kicking (takes out a whole floor) or by climbing to the top of a building and down-punching the roof until the whole thing collapses. The tradeoff is that you’ll likely miss out on items, but the time they take to collect is rarely worth the unavoidable damage you’ll likely suffer in the process.

topbuildThis Greasy Spoon is apparently so popular that it has 4 floors.
I shudder to think of how many chicken-fried steaks had to perish in this terrible building collapse.

In the cases where it is worthwhile to collect items despite being shot at by two helicopters and a tank, it’s usually because you found an American flag. Punching these doesn’t cause an eagle to materialize and decapitate you due to your desecration of America’s most frequently burned textile, believe it or not- it actually just deports you, kinda sorta. If you haven’t already guessed, this is where the “World Tour” part comes in. What this means in  practice is that you’ll go to a bonus stage, then destroy a few cities located in whatever country whose flag appeared after you literally punched America in the face. In at least one of those stages, there will be a famous landmark to provide location reference material before you punch it apart and eat all of the tourists inside. Landmarks aside, it’s pretty much the same as any normal American level, except that you’re more likely to see a sign that reads “YOUTH HOSTEL”.

squirt Like this gorgeous Spanish youth hostel, next to this hacienda whose toilets apparently
have such incredible water pressure that they can knock a 30 foot tall man-beast off a building.

This is kind of a running theme in Rampage, and a known problem from the original- there is just almost no variety at any time ever. Level one is like level three is like level one hundred four. All the changes is that you’re more likely to take even more unavoidable damage as you progress. Repetition was the biggest criticism of Rampage in 198X, it was still the biggest one in 199X, and somehow nothing has changed in 201X.

smokey
See all those X’s and dots? You have to X out all of them, which are spread about
10-15 levels apart. If you can tolerate  the repetition long enough to clear
all of them, you likely have a promising future in assembly line work.

But it’s even more glaring now- the rise of 2-3 hour long games that exist merely as a vessel to explore a semi-unique core mechanic until the moment that it starts to wear out its welcome (such Portal, or most of the 214,392 commercially-released ‘indie’ platforming games since whenever Braid came out) really makes it hard to want to sink 20-30 hours into finishing this one.  Imagine if Portal never had any challenges more difficult than the first six or so, and also that the game was ten times as long. I have a feeling that it might not be as highly regarded.

I really didn’t expect to be as let down by this one as I was. Even when I tried playing it co-op, I discovered that the game just is not fun anymore for any extended length of time. There’s similar, better games that we can play now, especially if you’re flying solo.

Cache It or Thrash It?
Cache it into your game stash if you’re gaga for repetitive smashing action, because that’s about all you’re going to find here.
Thrash it with punches until one of you breaks if you’ve got more variety-packed time suckers to play.

This World Tour wasn’t a Farewell Tour for Rampage,  as it spawned a sequel on the same console.
Here’s hoping for a little less of the same.

Gauntlet Legends

Posted by: Kevin C. on: May 21, 2013

Alright, so, Gauntlet. Hopefully you’ve played at least some version of it before, because it’s absolutely one of the stock classic arcade games that’s still inspiring new games today. When released, it was also the first 4-player arcade game that anyone’s actually heard of; and a cooperative one, at that! Each player was one of four different characters, each with different strengths and weaknesses. It was vaguely RPG-ish, but only vaguely. Mostly, it was just a game about killing scads of literally endless enemies until you finally destroy their generator; not unlike the previously reviewed South Park. Except, you know, 2D and with an overhead perspective. Gauntlet eventually got a couple of sequels, including one for the Lynx that has a lady punk/possible Trekkie and a nerd (among other bizarre choices) in addition to the standard 4 classes. But after the early 90’s, the series just kind of disappeared.

gletIt looks a lot more complicated in screenshots, I promise.

Then came Gauntlet Legends, which I’ve played before. But unlike, say, Blast Corps, it’s been pretty much just the first level or two… until now. The reason for this is simple: this wasn’t originally a N64 game, but rather Midway’s attempt to make 4-player arcade games relevant again… at a time when arcades themselves were becoming irrelevant. However, it appears to have been a bit of a hit for Midway in terms of sales- it’s one of the few non-driving games that I still see fairly often around arcades of at least mediumish size. As a result, I’ve played through the first 2 levels of this game a half dozen times… and that’s about it.

magicShoot things, or use magic if you need to kill a lot of things fast. This is the complicated path to success in Gauntlet.

This was as much for financial reasons as a teen (75 cents a credit? No thanks, let’s go get some soda fountain Surge.) as it was just general boredom- it felt like just another decent 3D hack and slasher, and I was busy enjoying the first Phantasy Star Online too much to care about some arcade game that didn’t even have a gun that shoots out eggs as an extremely rare drop. However, it’s not the year 2000 anymore, and this game is certainly no longer contemporary. Neither are quality 3D hack and slashers all that common anymore, Koei’s output excepted. So, I figure now’s as good a time as ever to give this game a truly objective look.

It starts out in those same levels I’d seen so many times before, just ever-so-slightly uglier due to the N64’s inferior hardware to the arcade version. The gameplay is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve ever played a Gauntlet game before. The production values aren’t low, but everything is definitely a bit rough around the edges. Within a minute or two, you’ll hear your first announcement that you’ve gained a level- and this is your first hint that there’s a bit more to this game than you might expect at first glance.

charaWhich teenage boy’s fantasy will you choose?

In fact, there’s actually a lot more to this game than you might initially expect- most notably, your characters’ stats grow based on whichever archetype you’ve chosen- the powerful but slow warrior, the slightly weaker but better protected Valkyrie, the fast but weak elf/archer, and the magic-centric Wizard. All of your favorites from the original game, except the Wizard because pretty much everyone hates him. It’s no secret why: magic is extremely limited use, whereas the standout abilities of the other characters (attack, defense, or speed) are all used on an extremely frequent basis. In any case, though, he can easily be ignored; even in a four-player game, you can choose whatever character your heart actually desires.

wizFriends don’t let friends play with wizards. Good general rule of thumb, really.

It’s not just leveling that raises stats, though- you can collect gold within the levels, which you can then spend at the game’s console-exclusive shop to raise your stats by 5 points at a time. Just collecting gold is woefully inefficient, though, at least compared to taking advantage of the also console-exclusive feature to toggle the special items you find in treasure chests on or off by pressing the R button. This is a really easy feature to miss, since it’s only referenced once in the tutorial and without telling you what button to press when using the default controls. The sellback price to the store is 80% of its value, a whopping 30% more than your average RPG, and the items are rather highly priced compared to simply buying stats. Since the items aren’t often really all that useful compared to playing well and also using an attack we’ll discuss later, there’s rarely a reason not to simply turn these items off immediately and just exchange them for gold (and therefore, beefy stats) at your next available opportunity.

golemOne day, you too can plow through giant green dudes in bondage outfits just like fantasy Mandingo does every day.

Besides the obvious reasons that one would want to spend effort boosting stats as fast as possible, being as this is an RPG, it’s also for another, very simple reason: it’s also the only way outside of leveling that you can improve any kind of stats ever.  There’s no armor, no new weapons, no accessories, nothing. Nothing you can buy or find hidden in a treasure chest, as the only upgrades you get come at certain character level milestones… and these don’t affect your stats at all. Although this lack of character equipment may seem like a bit of a downer, it’s really just cutting out the bullshit middleman to quickly raising our attack and defense the way that only items can.  It’s incredibly simple, but that’s precisely what’s so great about it. There’s just wonderfully little to actually think about or manage, as everything is just the 4 core stats… of which only three are meaningful. Can you guess which one isn’t?

tentHint: There’s no skill for tentacle handling, so don’t let this gif cloud your guesswork.

This simplicity also makes the game extremely accessible, which means that it’s actually plausible that you’ll probably be able to rope a friend into playing this one no matter what. If you can get more, that may be even better. 2 seems pretty ideal, though, as 4 players on a screen in a 3D game trying to successfully explore some of the twistier later levels I’d have to imagine would be like trying to herd house flies to the promised land. In any case, any amount of players of 2 or greater will have significant advantages. This is in part due to some shortcuts and hidden treasures that require two people, but this is balanced out by the fact that you also have to split your experience and items between players. However, each player also has a Turbo meter- something that was a bit of a thing with Midway titles ever since NBA Jam/Hangtime.

bfgThe announcer calls this move out as “BFG.” I can’t help but wonder if  someone at id Software’s biggest regrets in life was never trademarking that term and milking it for every royalty dollar he could.

Unlike their sports games where using Turbo by itself means running fast, which means scoring faster than your opponent can stop you, turbo in Gauntlet Legends is just good for… running away or exploring faster to avoid tedium. It’s virtually useless on its own, honestly. However, that’s because the real secret of Turbo is pressing it and Attack simultaneously when it’s full to send a giant projectile that’s roughly five characters wide and kills everything it touches for the extremely long distance it travels, including through walls. It takes about 30 seconds to charge up, but more characters means more turbos. And while the game does scale its difficulty and the amount of enemies for the number of people playing, there’s only so much you can do when 4 players lay out an all-consuming divine light through every enemy and generator they can see, even if it’s a quarter of the way across the stage.  With even just 2 people, these turbos make items virtually useless… and is the attack which, as mentioned before, just makes items good for turning into stat-buying gold. That is, except for the bosses.

tossGrowing to giant size, using both 5-way and rapid throwing axes, then adding in a dose of glowy holy power is probably a fantastic way to make sure that anything you’re trying to kill is dead the first time.

Each of the 5 worlds has at least 4 stages, after which you go into one last portal for the world’s boss battle. The boss battles can seem seem pretty bullshit initially, and arguably not really redesigned very well for the console version as they really seem to have wayyyy too much health, thus making it inevitable that they’ll eventually fatally drain your character’s health, and thus the player will have to spend more quarters. That’s fine in the arcade,  but just annoying at home.

Since actual strategy seems to be not be a viable option, there’s two ways to make it easier- the first is standard items from treasure chests or the store. Specifically, since you can use some items simultaneously with others  you can combine 5-way shot with rapid fire, hold down A, aim at the boss, and win within 60 seconds as long as you have a moderate amount of health. Then there’s also an item hidden in some of the worlds that will typically drain a huge chunk of the boss’s health. The catch is that it’s never in the same world as the boss itself, which means bosses don’t gate your ability to go between worlds- instead, levels are opened up by a series of 3 hidden obelisks in all worlds. Nintendo seemed to have an explicit policy that all games must have collectables in order to receive the coveted Seal of Quality at the time, so this shouldn’t come as any surprise- in fact, there’s even more collectables!

mushSometimes, there’s collectables in a place that looks like it came from Spencer’s Gifts!

You can get warped to a stage via a secret exit, which are sometimes easier to find than the regular exits. These stages are almost always a bit cheeky, ranging from recreating the original Gauntlet to the black light poster psychedelia thing seen above. But they’re otherwise nothing crazy- it’s just collecting 50 funny money coins within a short time limit to unlock a hidden character, but accomplishing this is a task on the level of “microwaving popcorn”. You can occasionally manage to screw it up completely, but only a very select few can’t manage it 95% of the time. Though, if you work somewhere with a shared microwave, you probably work with one of them. In any case, whether you succeed here or not has no bearing on your progress or success or any of those important kinds of things. They’re actually just a genuine, honest-to-God bonus round. I think this is one thing, and I am being serious here, that we can all agree that modern games just don’t have enough of.

So anyway, in addition to the 3 obelisks that have to be found, there’s also the game’s big chotzkie: 13 runes spread across the game’s 25-something levels that must be found. They’re usually a fair bit hidden, and can require a lot of backtracking and random throwing of weapons in order to find the hidden thing you need to break to find the switch to find the next hidden thing to break to find a switch and so forth. It’s frankly nothing too terrible, though, as I didn’t need to crack an FAQ at all to find any of them. It just took a bit of persistence that a better designed game probably wouldn’t have needed. It takes jusssst little enough time and the game is jusssst fun enough that it’s able to get away with it. In any case, you’ll need to find them all if you want to play through the last world. Spoiler alert, I’m sure.

doorAn animated gif of a wizard blasting open a door with a magic spell would have probably been a
pretty
sick animated gif to have for your Geocities site right around this game’s late-90’s release.
Somewhere between the spinning wireframe skullbadass siren lights and Rammstein midi.

However, if you totally just whiff on finding an item needed to progress, the game is kind enough to let you revisit stages without any penalty. This has its ups and downs from a design perspective- on one hand, it’s extremely forgiving to the player if they miss an item on a level, obviously, and needs to be something that can be done if your primary goal in your design is to not annoy the shit out of the player.  However, the first stage of the game is not only easy, it also gives enough items to gain a significant number of stats if all are sold, a whole bunch of health, tons of magic potions, and a surprisingly huge amount of experience even when your character is well into his level 50s. Or 70s.

I was able to abuse it to power level a character to ~40, a relatively high level, in about an hour and a half’s time using just the first stage. It seems another remnant of the game’s arcade roots not being adjusted as well as they should have been for the console release, as it’s borderline gamebreaking how easy it can make the game. However, it also means that if you get utterly brutalized and lose virtually all your health, there’s a way out aside from just sticking more quarters into the nonexistent coin slot on your N64. That’s called forgiveness, and we couldn’t we all use a little more of that every once in a while?

headAnd brutally severed Chimera heads. I’m sure we could use more of those every once in a while, too.

Gauntlet Legends, for the sum of its parts, was the most fun I’ve had in multiplayer gaming in years. It’s almost as fun to play through alone, too, especially once you really get a handle on the game’s non-entirely-deep systems and economy. It’s a game that was very understandable to skip when it was contemporary, because it just wasn’t anything particularly impressive at its release.  However, unlike many of those more-impressive-at-the-time titles, it’s actually aged very, very, very well. It’s worth a look back at, especially if you’re into either Gauntlet or Diablo style games- chances are, you’re going to find yourself a lot more absorbed after a few levels than you might expect. And if you do, here’s a protip- don’t neglect speed, and select Change in the save/load menu to change to the furry (don’t worry, it’s not permanent) when you get the opportunity.  You should understand why after you do it, especially if you follow the first tip.

CONCLUSION

No Quarter | Shot the Food | Sewer Level | Wizard | Average | Hackin’ It | Both Hacks and Slashes | Ax-idermy Champion | Human Meat Grinder | Better Than Ezra

Ax Battlers: Simple, but not simplistic. Great atmosphere. “The best co-op game you’ll play this year.” 

Magic-Users: Lots of backtrack-y switch hunting. Definitely not “The hardest game you’ll play this year.”

If you’ve ever liked games where you play a tough, muscular barbarian-like man
who kills things with melee weapons, play Gauntlet Legends immediately.

BONUS ROUND:

These character voices are seriously way too good. I was disappointed to see that no one else had made a highlight video, so I did the job myself. Please enjoy.

Please bear in mind this is but a mere taste of the vocal caviar that you’re in for.