Believe it or not, there was a time when Square made stuff other than Final Fantasy. Does anyone remember that stuff was? Of course not. No one cares. Its first games were about as impactful as a housefly suicide bombing a Mack truck.
The company dabbled in a little platforming here, a little scrolling shooter there. Did you know that Rad Racer is a Square-developed title? Oh, snap. Did I just blow your mind? Now that you think about it, doesn't Rad Racer remind you a bit of Out Run?
It would appear that Square drew "inspiration" from Sega on more than one occasion. Just some months before Rad Racer, Square released a game called 3-D WorldRunner that looked suspiciously like Space Harrier. When asked about the connection, game designer Hironobu Sakaguchi admitted to "liking Space Harrier" but insisted that his game was intended as a technical showcase rather than as a "tribute. "
I'll be the judge of that.
OFFENDER: 3-D WorldRunner DEVELOPED BY: Square RELEASED ON: NES, 1987 TASTES LIKE: Space Harrier
3-D WorldRunner, full title The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner, has the distinction of being the first Square-developed game to be released in the US. It was one of Hironobu Sakaguchi's first games while at Square. In addition to that, it was scored by Nobuo Uematsu. Before Final Fantasy, these yet-to-be giants were attached to some really, really forgettable projects.
The story is even more bare-bones than I've come to expect from NES-era narrative. Alien Serpentbeasts led by Grax have attacked Solar System #517 and it's up to you to stop him. How do you do it? By running. And running. And running some more. Sometimes jumping, but mostly just running. Shooting is optional.
Across eight worlds you are haulin' ass and jumping and running and jumping and sprinting and jumping. For a game that takes its cues from Space Harrier, there seems to be an abundance footwork. Keep reminding yourself as you are playing that this game was made by the team responsible for the most popular RPG franchise on the planet. Maybe you'll distract yourself just enough so that you don't notice your brain alchemizing itself into a big, steaming hunk of elephant turd.
But you can press the select button at any time and go into 3D mode! Oooooh! Stereoscopic 3D! What a treat! Now it's an elephant turd that can actually make your eyes bleed. Who needs 3D television when you've got flimsy cardboard glasses that can break apart after light water damage?
HOW SHAMELESS IS IT?
It happened. It finally happened. This was the game that sent me over the edge.
After pressing start, I just stared slack-jawed at the screen for a solid minute, trying to grasp what exactly it was that I was seeing. I cocked my head to one side and squinted my eyes, as if I was looking at a Magic Eye and the real game would reveal itself if I gazed through the image. I willed myself out of my vegetative state and tried to get on with what was quickly becoming a strange and upsetting evening.
You run! All you do is fucking run! You don't stop moving, you can only control your speed by pressing up or down. It's a rail shooter, but it's missing a key ingredient: Shooting! No, I'm sorry. There is laser blaster that you can acquire, if you are lucky, which can be used until you lose a life whereby it's greedily snatched away from you. Not that it makes sense to shoot at anything in this game as you have better luck jumping over baddies and hoping you land safely.
Look at how this fucker runs! It's like he's got full-blown IBS and is trying to get to the bathroom before he craps his space suit. That's the only way I can explain how awkwardly the WorldRunner moves. The controls are unbelievable sensitive. Anything other than the gentlest of love taps and you are zipping halfway across the screen. Why, in a game about running, in which the game forces you to run, in which the only thing you do is run, is the protagonist a tweaked-out meth head who can't maneuver without having a fucking spaz attack?
Psssh... what am I saying? There's also jumping! Every five seconds you have to jump over a mile-wide canyon. You have to push up to speed up and then hold down the jump button to fly like Evel Knievel, but then the gap abruptly ends and you overshoot the ground and plunge right into the next hole. Why? Because you can't fucking see where you are going! You are expected to know not to hold down the jump button as long for this particular jump so that you may be prepared for the next jump, but then you think that next hap will be narrow as well so you release the jump button early and you plummet into the abyss. You are blind. It's blind jumping. Week-long, half-off special blind jumps! Get them while you are still sane!
There are items, but fat lot of fuck they do for you. There's these dinky stars you can collect for points, but points in this game are about as valuable as points in Whose Line Is It Anyway? There's the aforementioned laser that won't stop enemies from zipping in from the corners and tripping your shit. There's poison mushrooms, the dicks. And then there is invincibility. Good ol' invincibility. Lasts all of four seconds, literally. That gives you just enough time to do nothing.
How do you actually collect these items? Oh, here's the best part! You see those marble pillars on the horizon? Run into one. Smash your face right into the column. As your momentum drops to zilch and you reel back from the impact, an item will pop out, waiting you to reach out and grab it. It's like the game is trying to warn you. When your in-game avatar is giving himself multiple concussions on purpose, you should probably consider finding another activity.
I've yet to discuss how 3-D WorldRunner compares to Space Harrier. Rather than burning fuel in the skies, taking down alien scum with a sweet-ass jet pack and rifle, you are grounded and left to fend for yourself like an unwanted pet. You see the checkerboard ground pattern and you get the sense that this could be what Space Harrier is like if you had your jet pack license revoked for drunken flying. Ironic how the game where you actually use your feet is the one that makes you feel like a paraplegic.
Are you ready for the big kick to the bojangles? At the end of every world, you fight one of the eight Serpentbeasts that fly in and out of the foreground akin to the snake-like foes in Space Harrier. Only now... only now... are you given the ability to fly around and shoot lasers with reckless abandon. The WorldRunner was packing a ride this whole time and was holding out on us, the fucking hoarder.
This game is just annoying. The music is a cacophony of migraine-inducing torture. Was this Uematsu's chaotic period? Are you sure this is the same guy who is praised as one of the greatest if not the greatest game composers of all time? Did he have a seizure at the keyboard? What the hell is this? It's the same song in every level, too! Same song, all the time. My God. Over and over. There's no escaping it!
Everything stops you dead in your tracks. There are these Hamburger Helper motherfuckers who track your movements and push you back when you try to run around them. You can't shoot them either. Heaven help if you should be over a canyon when one of these a-holes appears to bitch smack you.
There was this one level where you have to cross this hundred-mile gap by bouncing on spring platforms, but they aren't in a straight line. No, they zigzag, so you have to hit them just right but you don't know if you can because you can't judge distance in this game. You can't line up properly with the springs because the D-pad sends you careening off into Michigan or some nonsense.
There is no variety at all. The only differences between levels are backgrounds and the concentration of bullshit per square foot. The bosses are all the same. The only difference from the first boss and later bosses is that the latter ones respawn several times before going down for good. Once you've played through one world, I suggest just putting down the controller and taking up knitting or something because you are done.
I couldn't take the monotony, so I decided to zoom to the last level with the help of Game Genie. Unfortunately, the best code only drops you off at World 7. That's just fucked up when not even Game Genie wants to give you a break. I tried to brute force my way through World 7 anyway, dying who knows how many times. Every time you die, you get sent to the start of a level. Die at a boss, you have to start from the beginning of the level prior to the boss. And if you get a game over? Back to the World 1, unless you hold down the A button while pressing start! That's the continue feature I read in the manual! If it is so necessary, why doesn't the game just let me... ya know... continue without having to do button combos? It makes no sense that continuing isn't a default option in a game like this, especially when the manual makes it clear that it is not some ultra-mysterious secret.
World 8 arrives and the game decided to throw a curveball in the 11th hour by giving me canyons that are too wide to jump across with no springs to aid me. I tried jumping at different angles before going back to the manual and learning that you can jump atop pillars. I didn't see any though, not unless you count those fire columns that kill you upon contact. Am I to jump on those? The columns of fire that I've spent the entire game avoiding? Columns of fire that any rational human would avoid like the plague? I tried several times to jump on them and... yep, burned myself. Eventually, I hit the tip of one ever so precisely and bounced to the next. I knew I was never going to repeat this feat when I inevitable had to repeat the mess, so I shut the game off and took a long, cold shower.
I cannot recommend this game at all. At all. How could anyone stand this? The worst part is that every impression I've read about the game online has been, on average, positive. What game were these guys playing? Is this some kind of mass hallucination? Did the Gooch hypnotize them with his unholy magic? It's the fucking glasses, I would stake my brother's life on it.
Positive reviews or not, no one cares about this slop anymore. Good. No one cares. I don't care. You don't care. The damn WorldRunner himself doesn't care. Go have a plate of nachos and let's leave this horrible episode behind us.
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