In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
“Friends?!! We’ve only been out together three times, and you’re already telling me you just want to be friends?!”
And so began a crazy obsession of mine. One that featured a Bogart-esque dog and a “rabbit-thing” chasing a Bigfoot across the tourist traps of America.
Without endlessly waxing nostalgia, Sam & Max Hit The Road is a perfect coalescence of my youthful interests. Growing up in the Welsh Valleys as an awkwardly dry outsider, I didn’t help my cause by discovering bands like Pavement, having an interest in noir, reading Image comics, drooling over Bettie Page and watching Nickelodeon on a (presumably stolen) satellite dish when everybody else settled for their lot. When you get down to brass tacks, a Welshman enamoured with American culture rather than his own roots is pretty absurd.
Yet it goes a long way in explaining why I adore Steve Purcell’s surrealist road trip and the way it trivialises glamorous infatuations. It’s reminiscent of my family outings to holiday camps and the vacuums of entertainment they became as I grew older. Sure, the targets are painted with broad strokes, but it’s a perfect representation of derivative tourism and invigoration through desperate diversification.
Personally, it’s a viewpoint the US fans of Hit The Road take for granted.
Sam and Max are thoroughly entrenched in US culture. Their world lies with corn dogs, ice lollies, guns, banjos, their beloved DeSoto, Dragnet-style vigilante justice and made up sports like “Fizzball”. Their actual job as Freelance Police is ultimately inconsequential, merely an excuse to exist in ‘exploitation’ surroundings. Only Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and The Adventures of Pete and Pete come to mind as suitable peers.
Hit The Road is a genuinely hilarious videogame and one I still find intelligently layered. To deconstruct the humour would be pretentious, but the reason why it works is the way it entwines puzzles with jokes.
Take the scene at The Mystery Vortex, for example. Max makes a throwaway comment about the area’s telekinesis being powered by huge magnets underground and Sam berates him for such nonsense. Low and behold however, just as you’ve nearly forgotten about the remark, they discover that Max is spot on with his assumptions and in turn, this becomes a new obstacle.
Puzzles in adventure games can kill the momentum instantly, especially in a comedy. Make one too tough and a humorous moment collapses amidst frustration, turning the payoff into a damp squib. It’s this sole reason why I’ve never rated Grim Fandango as a great comedy adventure. Controversial maybe, but many LucasArts adventures were unbalanced in a similar fashion. Sam & Max Hit The Road and Full Throttle have always been harangued for their simplicity, but that seems unfair.
Hit The Road is forthcoming with most solutions, but the whole point is that it’s an interactive comedy first and a brain-teaser second. Steve Purcell, creator of Sam & Max, understands the need for balance:
“You try to be aware of the amount of time you have players sitting and watching as opposed to interacting. Fortunately a lot of the humor came out of the way that the characters would respond to the player’s actions. Even observing something in the room could produce a funny response in which case the interactivity IS doing the work of the story”
Even if the puzzles were difficult first time around, Hit The Road wouldn’t stop you dead with an uncharacteristically cold response like Monkey Island. In fact, it encourages experimentation; opening up new avenues of observational one-liners though mistakes.
My personal favourite being, “This is a completely un-usable thing-a-ma-bob!”
As the 90’s came to a close, I became despondent replaying Hit The Road, knowing that after destroying half of America for the salvation of a Bigfoot tribe, it was truly the end of the Freelance Police’s adventures. Purcell had all but quit drawing them, the cartoon only lasted one season and the Americana I found to be unique in the Valleys became prevalent in everything outside my fishbowl town (hell, maybe it already was). It was weird transition and maybe that’s why Hit The Road has stayed with me for so long; a brilliant reminder of the things that shaped me as a person and as a writer.
The John Muir Song taught me the word “edutainment” after all.
That sadness eventually became a moot point when Telltale Games started making the Sam & Max series. As much as I’m equally obsessed with them, admittedly, they don’t have Hit The Road’s scattershot charm. The closest they came to recapturing the spirit was the amazing Abe Lincoln Must Die!
Hit The Road lacks some of the darker aspects of the comics (which have only just been explored in The Devil’s Playhouse) and is somewhat shallow, but I put it to you that most videogame humour is weak material and centred around forced-upon memes anyway. For that, Hit The Road entirely successful and a rarity in the way it creates comedy on its own terms.
After all, it’s a game featuring a Woody Allen lookalike being terrified by a fibreglass fish, eggplant carvings of celebrities, the horrors of country music, bungee jumping out of George Washington’s nose at Mount Rushmore, Gator Golf, The World’s Largest Ball of Twine, a rock that doesn’t look like its “Frog Rock” namesake and an obscure Talking Heads reference.
Are there any reasons why I wouldn’t want to make that trip again and again?
Out of all the irritations I deplore in life, one main offender has to be Valentine’s Day. A pointless non-holiday designed to shift more cards on a seemingly regular low point during Hallmark’s fiscal year. What a strange board meeting that must have been.
Not that the restaurants have any problem with the one-off increase of business. They capitalise on this nonsense as your date, nay ordeal, involves being surrounded by other couples forcing themselves to be more romantic than usual; gorging on up-market pizza and guzzling overpriced beer in the process. You uncomfortably remain in your dining chair, wondering if the wrinkled greys are just faking it in public after twenty years of drudgery or if that young connoisseur of swarthiness is getting off with someone more forgettable than memory loss.
It’s a horrible day that ends up being more stressful than it really is. Usually, I just buy a card and hide away until midnight. Sure, all this cynicism might be connected to the trauma of being rejected on Valentine’s Day, but I last heard she’s a mother now and living in destitution. So in fairness, I dodged a bullet there.
Well, at least animals don’t have to worry about Valentine’s Day.
They eat, shit and fuck.
Unless you’re a cartoon hamster named Hamtaro. He’s a shut-in’s wet dream, teaching the world about teamwork and relationships by having cute adventures. It’s the anti-Watership Down. Usually, I despise such clap-trap, but by God, did he feature in an awesome videogame that made me re-evaluate a theory that animals have souls and faced problems unlike our own.
Can you tell I’m trying to kill the dying hours of this glorious day yet?
Release Info: Third game in a series based on an anime and released on the GBA in 2003. Easily found on eBay if you don’t want to go down the emulation route.
No doubt, some obsessed sad sack with a penchant for all things Japanese, despite never setting foot on foreign soil, will tell you that Ham-Ham Heartbreak is set during Season 46B, but you could easily pick up and play through the story without prior knowledge.
One day, a mischievous bat-hamster-thing named Spat comes along and casts a break-up spell on all the loving couples in town. So it’s up to the renowned bachelor Hamtaro and his meddlesome female companion Bjiou to mend all the broken hearts, then give Spat a good kicking for destroying love itself (for about a day).
It’s a story that 80% of the Destructoid staff would lose their shit over.
That sly synopsis might write off Ham-Ham Heartbreak as mindless tat for kids and weirdoes alike, but if you put your pretentions aside, it’s actually a refreshingly innocent videogame that’s quite charming through it’s use of characters and situation comedy.
Ham-Ham Heartbreak is a forgotten gem, solely because it’s based on a cute anime aimed at young children and nobody ever listens to babies for purchase decisions; unless you’re Steven Spielberg. It’s not your standard point and click adventure either. You progress by learning words from several scenarios and then use your expanding vocabulary on others. It’s a twist on the whole ‘find a key and open a door’ puzzle, but with dialogue menus instead.
Every relationship woe is a linear progression; a messy ball of yarn with knots at every unravelling. Usually, one problem cannot be fixed without going off elsewhere and talking to another hamster about his/her predicament.
For such a childish and naive looking videogame, there’s much emphasis on characters and the fairly human obstacles put upon them. There are lovers’ tiffs that lead to one guy being locked out of his home, children upset that their parents are separating, miscommunication between a loving couple, anxiety worries and so forth.
It would be easy to claim that it’s a dark videogame, but it’s clearly not. Ham-Ham Heartbreak is more akin to an Archie comic than an episode of EastEnders. Yet, there’s a voyeuristic sympathy in the way it puts preposterously cute animals into relatable domestic situations. From that kind of emotional manipulation, you can’t help but be charmed by Hamtaro’s constant bemusement towards the overwrought pitfalls of love.
There’s much slapstick to be had and it surprisingly makes you chuckle on occasion despite the simplicity of seeing hamsters in dance competitions or being chased around by malfunctioning robots. All in all, there’s a great eye for pantomime timing.
Ham-Ham Heartbreak doesn’t deviate from the formula until the end, where you end up in an action-orientated boss fight. There’s something particularly jarring about it, especially since it’s all about reflexes that you haven’t been conditioned to. While Ham-Ham Heartbreak’s plot is wafer thin and contains repetitive puzzles, it does provide endless entertainment for the minimal hours involved. It’s actually a great feeling to play an adventure that doesn’t involve ripping someone’s head off in an act of desperate survival too, which is strange because I’m not particularly a fan of Animal Crossing either.
Hamtaro and company will likely make you understand that animals as dead-eyed as hamsters are no different to us in a tenuous way. So the next time I’m in a pet store and see a mother eat one of her young, I’ll look at the horrified sales assistant and tell them not to worry.
"God, internet videogame critics! Ooh, don’t get me started on their brand of non-journalism and the lack of a benchmark that hasn’t existed before and after The Watergate Scandal. Now shut up while I talk about my rent woes and complain about journalists posting personal problems without irony!"
Well, that’s what I would assume Ben Paddon, writer of GJAIF, to say if he ever got back to me.
When I first started blogging, I wrote about videogameshows and how the internet ended the televised era. One had hoped that bedroom amateurs would pick up the mantle and create exciting new ideas on shoe-string budgets. Unfortunately, these self-proclaimed critics have stagnated in their computer chairs or imploded on Twitter with self-parody.
Recently, Channel Awesome - home of just about every amateur bedroom critic/donations beggar outside YouTube - launched Blistered Thumbs. It’s a new website aimed solely at an established fanbase familiar with the network of entertainers trading in retro videogames and bad movies. Plenty do a better job of criticisingit, but there’s something worrisome about the way it uses (non)celebrity characters as a promotional leg-up in an oversaturated market.
If Destructoid’s successful creation is reminiscent of fanzine culture and the understanding communities it sustained in the 90’s, then what of Blistered Thumbs relying on its reviewers and subsequent fans’ understanding of edutainment?
Geoff Keighley knows the absurdity of amateur critics using pseudonyms and characteristically one-sided arguments for entertainment purposes and defensively called ‘Angry’ Joe Vargas out in an interview at the admittedly vacuous VGAs.
It can only be best described as a live action forum bust-up.
He might be a human smorgasbord of cheese, but at least Keighley’s trying to be a positive force for this mainstream malarkey, whether you agree with it or not. Plus, he uses his real name, unlike Vargas, whose critiques require him to be negative simply because he calls himself “Angry Joe”. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a website otherwise.
This tweet by Noah ‘The Spoony Experiment’ Antwiler concerning the Keighley interview summed up my negativity towards clique critics:
"Well, I admit @AngryJoeShow, I sold you short at first but you approached that interview professionally and got totally disrespected” Dec 14th
That’s not far removed from Bart Simpson telling Krusty that his stand-up was bad because of the terrible acoustics and not his racist material.
Speaking of Antwiler, it’s tough knowing where to begin with a man who once made enjoyable MST3K-style commentary to FMVnightmares. While not a character per se, I find his exaggerated rants about current videogames and movies incredulous to sit through. They're all created with a technique that’s essentially someone telling you the plot, complete with spoilers, for forty-plus minutes.
That’s not reviewing. That’s called recapping the synopsis.
Oh, and being paid through Blip TV advertisement revenue does not render anybody a “professional” either.
I naively believed that someone like Noah Antwiler could move from the bedroom and into a more professional territory over time; especially with his attendance of E3 2010, where he would cover the lesser known videogames that bigger websites would overlook. Instead, all I saw was someone acting like a misinformed child who had too many E-additives in his squash.
That’s even before we saw the meltdown response to a sarcastic message by Deadliest Warrior developers Spike. That’s where the difference between entertainer and critic becomes apparent. Retro games are an easy target, yet with present day games, there needs to be restraint and integrity.
You have to feel some sympathy for James Rolfe and what his AVGN character popularised. He has other interests that are largely ignored and it’s telling of how fed up he is, with recent episodes trading entertainment for edutainment. Yet, it’s not entirely successful and the formulaic critics don’t follow suit.
Amateur bedroom critics could have learned a modicum of interactive journalism and integrity, thus moving away from safe revisionist history and obvious bear-baiting. Instead, within the past year, they’ve opted for the same “sit in my room and tape myself shouting” style, with opinions that are instantly uploaded to Wikipedia pages and TV Tropes, thus making it all temporary fact.
It’s all about being a narcissist in a ‘biscuit game’ popularity contest.
So why put so much faith in them?
Well, I still believe in the idea of a decent videogame show in the vein of videoGaiden, Gameswipe and BITS appearing on the internet.
I’m a big fan of Sundays With Sagat because underneath the surrealism, Jonathan Holmes was trying to make a point. You could either walk away being amused at Albert Whiskers or you could actually delve deeper for the commentary on maturity and racial stereotypes. HAWP does something similar on occasion and despite the Burch siblings’ obvious hammering of their points, it does an admirable job. Let’s not forget the brilliant creation of Keith Apicary and Talking Classics, reminiscent of acerbic reporter Dennis Pennis.
That’s what I really want to see if you still want to make The Inane Scarf Critic Show.
Just be interesting, use your own name and if you’re uncomfortable in front of the camera, then don’t do it because nobody cares about your clichéd reactions. A bunch of plebs already destroyed your future credibility when they bulldozed a path to cult glory, so don’t worry about it. You can always join up with a money pinching organisation if you get lazy.
Now if you’ll excuse me, presenter/contributor Lisa Foiles is telling me about videogame motorcycles. Oh wait; it’s just another article about how she really does have an exciting life post-Nickelodeon.
At least Dana Plato went out with more dignity after the fame dried up.
Well, I think it might be New Year. Honestly, it’s hard to remember since the Radio Times (TV Guide for non-Brits) stopped at December 31st. Now I’m just measuring time by any unopened bottles of Colonel Kwiki-Mart’s Kentucky Fried Bourbon.
Anyway, 2010 will go down as the year where just about everyone of my favourite bands released average albums. That and I also received an alarmingly awful scarf from my father, showing how little he knows about me or any fashion sense.
At least there was one constant in my life and it’s obviously videogames. There’s also my girlfriend of 8-9 years, but that’s irrelevant right now.
This year we had the cowboy epic, an increase in detective mysteries, some tense moments in psychological horror, the blockbuster conspiracy thriller and the continuation of an intergalactic interpretation of Days of Our Lives. There was also some astoundingly dumb moments and squandered ideas too, but you can’t have it all.
So let’s just get the negatives out of the way, shall we?
Through the medium of song!
Cing finally went bust
Even though they made Hotel Dusk
Sleep is Death’s payment plan was an arrogant mess
Pre-order strong arms didn’t make a sale
Rohrer’s slapped out of his complacency
And he’s now on a “sliding scale”
Heavy Rain’s Plot Hole
I was the killer and I didn’t know
Damn, I felt so screwed
The info was omitted from my view
Doctor Who and Sam & Max
Had controls as crumpled as my ball-sack
Amateur bedroom retro reviewers think they’re great
Formed a gaming website that’s quite irate
Um...Ahem...Damn, song writing is hard.
Now it’s time for some faux-awards that are completely irrelevant and are basically just a cover for my personal preferences rather than being a catalyst for cultural remembrance. It also has nothing to do with Destructoid’s opinions.
THE GAMER OBSCURA AWARD
Last Window: The Secret of Cape West
Tony Ponce thought 9 Doors... was the best written game of the year.
Well, he was wrong!
The sequel to the melancholic noir adventure Hotel Dusk was a bittersweet triumph for Cing’s final game; creating a near-perfect blend of downbeat crime drama and wistful character studies through the use of subterfuge investigations and mundane conversations.
When the whole story kicks off with the unusual sight of the hero losing their sales job and being told they’re about to be evicted over Christmas, you don’t need to be a genius to know you’re playing something uniquely different and honestly mature for once.
£10 says you didn’t play it either.
THE UNSUNG HEROES AWARD
Samara (Mass Effect 2)
Samara was a wandering Ronin with a Zen approach to life’s hardships. As a deeply tragic character who has accepted her woes as karmic payback, she’s played with distant grace by Maggie Baird. Conversations about morality and acceptance were played out in hushed tones, with a stunning loyalty mission about hunting down her psychotic daughter, made her one of the best developed characters in recent years.
Yet, nobody liked her because she wasn’t Liara.
THE UNENDORSED SUDA 51 POST-MODERN GENIUS AWARD
FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan has a personality called Zach living in his head. Only you’re Zach (except later you’re not) and so begins an inspired relationship between player and protagonist. Instead of being a passive controller, you’re another cast member that York interacts with; perfectly judging the balance between engagement and immersion while breaking the fourth wall.
As York usually exclaimed – “Amazing!”
THE BRUCE CAMPBELL INVENTIVE USE OF WEAPONRY AWARD
Dead Rising 2
Dead Rising 2 was daft fun (while being tough as hell) and does everything a sequel should – make improvements across the board. It’ll probably be overlooked in a few years’ time for aping the original so closely, but hell, at least it gave us some of the most inspired use of everyday materials ever; my favourite being the Flaming Boxing Gloves of DOOM!
BEST UNORIGINAL MOVIE ADAPTATION AWARD
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Don’t get me wrong, Conviction was amazing. While the die-hards might have turned their noses up at the action, it was a heart-racing popcorn blockbuster that riffed on The Bourne Trilogy and 24. It’s interesting to see how Splinter Cell’s ideals have shifted from right-wing to the Hollywood left over the years without Tom Clancy’s involvement and it’s a guilty pleasure to re-enact awesome movie scenes; especially the chase around The Lincoln Memorial (which ends with a carbomb explosion).
THE BUTTOCK CLENCH AWARD
Mass Effect 2
“The chances of survival...are slim.”
You’ve assembled your team and you’re going to take on The Collectors in daring suicide mission. From start to finish, you’re assaulted for a good hour with on-the-fly decision making, shoot-outs, diversions and the knowledge that anyone might die. It’s a ridiculously intense finale, with a genuine personal stake in every decision you make.
Even if everyone else makes it out alive, you still have to make that white-knuckle jump to the Normandy in glorious slow motion.
This is why I love videogames.
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION AWARD
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (UK release Feb 2010)
Shattered Memories was simple horrifying bliss that harked back to the frantic desperation and confusion of old survival horror without firing a single bullet. Scrape away the layers and it was a depressingly familiar tale of divorce. Sure, it was disposable to the point of only needing one play-through, but it was easily one of the best Silent Hill stories ever made.
So much so, it didn’t really need the franchise tag at all.
THE “KEEP YOUR FIRE, CAVE APE! WE JUST REINVENTED THE WHEEL!” AWARD
Red Dead Redemption
It might not be the greatest Western ever made, but Red Dead Redemption had me stumped in the same way that Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven came along and handed us a dour love letter to the genre. It’s hard to imagine anybody else following up RDR in such serious fashion, except maybe the “Boy’s Adventures” feel of the Call of Juarez franchise.
It’s not even my GOTY, but hard not to feel the uniqueness of John Marston cutting a sad, lonely, figure as he rides down Mexico way to kill an old friend.
THE GHOSTBUSTERS 2009 GOTY AWARD FOR GOTY 2010
Well, this is where the sham, self-satisfaction that is incumbent of all award ceremonies is truly exposed because it’s truly tough to decide on a winner. On one hand, there’s a stunningly bizarre mystery thriller that twists the TV serial knife into post-modern interaction and on the other...
Flip a coin and it would still be a nightmare to choose between Alan Wake and Deadly Premonition because of their similar strengths and weaknesses; practically ‘Ying and Yang’ to each other. While Alan Wake would have benefited from the free-roam investigation of Deadly Premonition, the latter definitely needed the action sequences from the former. Regardless, both had strong existential concepts that were slowly uncovered by two of the best written protagonists in recent years.
Personally, Deadly Premonition’s place in gaming history is assured (it was charming to see Destructoid on the PAL cover too), while Alan Wake will probably have to face some kind of decent reappraisal one day.
But as it stands, they’re both tied for the top spot.
A bit of a cop out, but hey, this was all just a bit of fun. It’s not like the guy from Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits is going to berate me for it. He’s too busy with money woes.
Now a tribute to those who passed away last year...
No truer words are acted upon than in the finale of Roger Altman’s The Long Goodbye. Elliott Gould’s shambling and laconic take on Marlowe tracks down a conniving, murderous friend and shoots him by the pool side; putting a hole right through the heart of classic noir conventions as he does so.
At the time, it was controversial (Marlowe never kills intentionally) but it also showed that the mythical age of white-knight crusaders was over. So it’s with real apprehension that I’m worried about how L.A. Noire will turn out.
If classical film-noir has taken The Big Sleep, why are videogames only picking up on its original aesthetics now?
The “e” in L.A. Noire sounds like a pre-empted apology for those expecting a true distillation of noir; the trailer coming across more like the police procedural Dragnet than the corruptive and dark L.A. Confidential. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ll be picking it up on release, whatever direction it takes.
I’m a huge fan of anything noir related. My real cinematic love is for noir and the mysteries it assimilates or reinvents. For, arguably, it’s a style rather than an actual genre.
Whether it’s movies or pulp novels, noir isn’t really about burned out detectives, death on rain-soaked streets or dangerous women blackmailing in the perpetual night. As clichéd as those images have become, you only need to read at least one of Raymond Chandler’s poetic novels to realise it’s never about the obvious.
Simply put, noir is human nature.
Most associate that familiar iconography because the murder mystery template is the slinkiest fit for the style. Most developers have a hard time understanding what noir truly is too. Rarely do they stay on track; always paring it with the overbearing fantastical. Ripper and Black Dahlia are perfect examples, while the Tex Murphy adventures tick off the boxes with a light-hearted obligation.
It’s not entirely their fault either. That’s more the fault of videogames by design.
Your participation is needed and in turn, you have to be constantly engaged. There’s a natural extremity to the proceedings because of both sides wanting stimulation. You can just as easily blame the potential audiences for not truly understanding the subject matter too; opting to champion clichés in the face of something looking superficially different.
Who can forget the uneducated uproar of Max Payne 3’s “not noir” screenshots?
Since noir is a stylistic choice, developers actually get it right sometimes because of its fluidity. Fundamentally, it’s because they choose stories that involve the investigative archetype (and the catalyst for unearthing revelations) and this shares similarities with the player.
We pursue a videogame’s conclusion as much as the detective seeks out full disclosure.
Though it’s not hard to feel short-changed when videogames masquerade the noir narrative and don’t utilize the contextual benefits. The original Max Payne is predominately a third person shooter, using the narrative to set-up more action. Though in its defence, the sequel stays true to idea of noir, eschewing set-pieces for character developments.
Objectively, it’s impossible to say that noir hasn’t been properly represented in videogames. We’ve already seen the abrasive femme fatale relationship appear in Silent Hill 2. The theme of duality is explored in the Blade Runner game; not suprisingly, considering the film's futuristic take on identity.
Famicom Detective Club Part 2 deals with a microcosm hierarchy at school. Hotel Dusk & The Last Window is primarily about one man’s guilt-ridden past and how he isn’t alone in his attempts to outrun it. Deadly Premonition comments on the crimes of passion, with Agent York occasionally lamenting the romanticised view of “innocent girls”.
What makes these titles work is all down to the characters; more specifically, character flaws. That’s what noir is truly about - people improvising decisions but becoming undone by their own misconceptions of others.
Developers should be looking towards the likes of A Simple Plan or The Treasure of Sierra Madre as their inspiration for characters and motivations. Though will we ever get a true noir videogame like the films mentioned?
By which I mean, the true meaning and not the familiar, black and white appearance; which was attempted in the forgotten Noir: A Shadowy Thriller. Admittedly, we’ll never have creations like Chinatown or find a truly terrifying antagonist like Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth because videogames will never be able tackle those kinds of sadomasochistic themes nor have an understanding majority following them.
So this brings us back to noir being about mistrust. It shouldn’t be too hard for an indie developer to make something as paranoid and confined as The Petrified Forest. It probably wouldn’t be that far removed from the “dinner party from hell” simulator Façade either.
It’s a welcome sight to see anything remotely to do with noir in videogames, but it’s doubtful that L.A. Noire will pave the way and finish it off one attempt, much like Red Dead Redemption did with Westerns.
Noir will always turn up in a constant classical state and honestly, the pessimism is really to do with my cinematic experiences. I’ve seen all it has to offer from its Golden Age and currently enjoying recent reinventions from the likes of Memento, Brick, Oldboy and even Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
For now though, it’s good enough that someone out there is giving us a chance “to play it Bogart” and that it’ll open the doors for a whole new audience willing to see true noir concoctions.
Hopefully, one day, we might even get “to play it Gould” too.
Christopher Lloyd is a creepy sod when he wants to be.
For years, he chose to be relatively bug-eyed and harmless, starring as Back to the Future’s lovable Doc Brown and burned out hippie Reverend Jim Ignatowski in Taxi. Well, all that changed when he scared me to death during the finale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit with his screeching delivery of “Remember me, Eddie?”
Even now, his horrifying death screams still put my teeth on edge, so when something like Toonstruck comes along, there’s apprehension abound. Yet, in a videogame where you have Christopher Lloyd acting violently crazy in a cartoon world, that’s probably not the worst thing you’re going to endure.
Developer: Burst Studios
Release Info: Published by Virgin Interactive in 1996. People say it’s “abandonware” nowadays, but a developer, Keith Arem, owns the rights and is trying to make a complete cut of the game. You’ll need DOSBox to run a copy too.
Toonstruck is a videogame about the perils of animation, only the animation is awful and there’s not much in the way of gaming.
Stripped of half its original content, badly promoted despite Lloyd’s appearance and overshadowed by a burgeoning console war, things were understandably bleak on release. It’s one of those underdogs that are championed long after the dust settles, but in retrospect, there should be some kind of counterpoint as to why a videogame like this failed.
While creating new characters for The Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show, cynical animator Drew Blanc is warped into the same programme by one of his failed creations, Flux Wildly. He’s asked by Flux to help him save Cutopia from Count Nefarious’ Malevelator Ray, which turns everything from “sickly cute” to “sadistically evil”. Though things get complicated when Drew’s loathsome bunny creation and Nefarious both want to turn the real world into their own demented styles.
Basically, it’s one big set up for Drew to sarcastically dead pan his way through a saccharine hell-hole. Of course, eventually he warms up and remembers why he’s an animator in the first place – to have fun.
If only you got to see that progress onscreen.
Drew blatantly accepts he’s in a cartoon on arrival and despite calling Flux “his friend” he tells him to shut up at every opportunity. There’s an inconsistent progress and without the ground rules, it’s hard to grasp why any of Drew and Flux’s actions are important. The antagonists’ motivations make little sense too, because it’s unclear how or why they want to invade the real world.
Is Drew really in an animated world or has he gone mad from the stress, with the three kingdoms representing his fractured psyche?
Well, nobody knows; probably not even the developers either.
They were having too much fun telling Lloyd “now you’re being hit with a cartoon rubber mallet”. Speaking of cartoons, the animations are dreadful in Toonstruck; like cheap Korean animation and I don’t mean the South side.
There are too many uninspired characters, aside from the brilliant, unfinished henchmen and the dominatrix farmyard animals. The design of Flux is just a purple blob with Ray Bans for eyes. It’s not hard to see why Flux Wildly is considered (in-game) to be a failed creation. Flux is fundamentally a poor man’s Max from Sam & Max.
For maximum irony, Drew should have teamed up with Poochie the Dog from The Simpsons (like Flux, also voiced by Dan Castellaneta).
As an adventure, it suffers from that horrible “follow the developers’ mindset” design flaw. There’s a part where you see some nuts and then you find an elephant who will take you to an island, but only if there are nuts in the dispenser. Only the solution is that you knock out a mouse, put him in the dispenser and wake him up with some fertiliser. The same fertiliser that’s more likely to be used for growing the nearby pepper plant out of a briar patch.
No dice, apparently.
There’s logic in the puzzle once you see the solution in action, but its just one of many moments where the direction is unclear. Though, if you’re free to be imaginative with one puzzle, why is another puzzle creatively constricted, like using a specific glove and on a pool cue?
It’s hard to believe that it could be due to the troubled production.
Of course, this brings us to the cut content mentioned earlier.
This is what has elevated Toonstruck to cult appeal over the years; this idea that it’s actually half a game. Content was intentionally dropped for use in a possible sequel and when you play Toonstruck, you can feel (and literally see) sections are missing. Though, not in a way that completely derails the story; that was already poorly written, genuine humour excepted.
Nowadays, people despise missing epilogues and DLC, yet fans of Toonstruck are willing to see this missing content as a reason to champion an average adventure, as if it’s not the fault of a great comedy being dealt a bad hand by poor execution.
Toonstruck obviously strived for hidden contexts and dark extremities, just like the old Looney Tunes cartoons it copies. Too bad they used the idea of animation as a superficial selling point. It says a lot when a ‘traditionally animated’ adventure like Broken Sword ended up being more successful, especially when it tried to convince you that it was a thriller above all else.
I’d make a joke here about being just as jaded as Drew Blanc and how I need to be sucked into an adventure game to realise the error of my ways but...th-th-th-that’s all, folks!