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Tony Ponce
1:06 PM on 08.11.2009



Last week, I drove up to Charleston to attend the wedding of two college friends. I had brought along the DS and my copies of Bangai-O Spirits and The Legend of Kage 2, two games teetering on the edge of my mile-high backlog. As an afterthought, I chucked the next entry on my "Off-Brand Games" list into the backpack thinking that I would do a little research as well. In the end, my time spent in the hotel room was not with the titles I had every intention of playing but with hour upon tedious hour of Snood.

I always do this. I always bring too much stuff when going on vacation. I think to myself, "This is going to be great! I'm going to catch up on all these things! I'm going to hit the weight room! I'm going to lounge by the pool!" None of that happened. But I'll tell you what did happen. Snood happened.

What the hell is a "snood" anyway? It's a little beaded pouch that women stuff their hair in. The kind of thing you'll see all the mutton-serving wenches wear at a Renaissance fair. It's also a thunder-stealer that's riding the train to glory without a ticket. It stole Fry's seven-leaf clover and is living his dream.



OFFENDER: Snood
DEVELOPED BY: Rebellion
RELEASED ON: Game Boy Advance, 2001
TASTES LIKE: Bust-a-Move

Though I played the GBA version, Snood was already a successful PC game. It was the "brainchild" of David M. Dobson, a geology and earth sciences professor who in 1996 sneezed on a keyboard and spawned a hit ball-busting puzzler. What followed is absolutely surreal. Millions of users have played the game. It has won shareware awards. Prolific figures like Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak became registered users. It has even been featured on popular television shows like Saturday Night Live.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rocks-and-Sediment is enjoying the fame and acting as though this phenomenon was delivered to him by the Angel Gabriel himself. He has this air about him like when one of your friends performs some mundane task but acts as though he has discovered the last digit of pi, and you can't help but lay the sarcasm on like a twelve-layer chocolate cake. "Hey guys! I just did a load of laundry!" "Really, David? Really? All by yourself? Wow!" No, what really happened is Rocky Dobson was sitting down for some Pizza Hut buffet and noticed, right by the Galaga machine, a Bust-a-Move cabinet, but I have a feeling he doesn't like relating that variation of his success story.

If you know Bust-a-Move, you know Snood. Fire blobs from a cannon to ricochet them off the walls. When you connect three or more, they are cleared from the playing field. Waste enough moves and the ceiling will descend upon you, pushing the bottom row of bubbles ever closer to the danger zone. Ya know, easy to learn, hard to master. That old song and dance.

The PC version saw several updates before the call was made for an entry to appear on a major gaming platform. It's this Game Boy Advance conversion that I'd like to spiel about.



HOW SHAMELESS IS IT?

Look at that title screen. Look at it. That would take about twenty seconds to crank out in Photoshop. Noise filter to motion blur for the brushed metal and then red-to-blue gradient fill for the text. I know it's not right to judge a book by its cover, but such lacking presentation doesn't bode well for the rest of the game. Strangely enough, this was the work of the developer responsible for perhaps the only good game on the Atari Jaguar. I suppose that when faced with actual competition, Rebellion decided to throw in the towel before the match even began.

Make no mistake. This game is the absolutely minimum of what would constitute effort. Everything from the cold factory steel shell to the grating, speaker-popping static is bare bones. Aside from a number of play modes which don't offer anything in the way of varied gameplay and serve instead as a selection of level caps, all you do is aim, fire, rinse, and repeat. There is no battery back-up. There isn't even a way to save high scores. Not that you would ever admit to someone that you own this game, but that's not the point.



But it plays like Bust-a-Move, so it's not all bad. I must admit, the game is serviceable. It strips away everything that made Bust-a-Move quirky and adorable, but the basic building blocks are there and that's really what matters. If you ever wanted proof that a video game is nothing without solid gameplay, you have your prime exhibit.

You do have the option of selecting one of the Snoods as your avatar. All have goofy faces and names like Geji, Mildred, or Midoribe. I picked the red Snood, Zod, because all must kneel before Zod. It's ultimately a pointless option since your choice of character has no bearing on actual gameplay. I know that Snood isn't the only game to be guilty of this as many games in the puzzle and other genres offer such false choices for the sake of "customizing" the individual experience. In Snood, it just feels condescending.

In the game's favor, some of the puzzles are a little more devious than the one's in Bust-a-Move. The skull Snood, Numbskull, is this game's anchor piece, so some levels require you to launch a Snood in such a fashion as to bounce around the anchors and to complete a set that will remove the support keeping the Numbskulls suspended. While this is an advanced method of scoring bonus points in Bust-a-Move, in Snood it's a mandatory maneuver. The shots often have to be lined up just right or else the Snoods will stick to an unwanted surface.



As much as I admit that the game has some merit, the fun just isn't there. It's very gloomy and is clearly a hack-job with shortsighted design decisions. For example, pushing select after pausing the game immediately sends you back to the main menu with no confirmation notice and no way to resume where you left off. I know that you guys love to wantonly toss around the word "shovelware" every time there is a game that faintly smells of "casual family fun," but let me set the record straight. THIS game is shovelware. THIS is what it means to be a quick cash-in. It really lives up to the "Off-Brand Games" moniker.

But it doesn't end there. There is a Snood 2: Snoods on Vacation. Pumped out in 2005, it is the sequel no one asked for. Development duties passed on (why?) to Gravity-i, the gang that made all those board game GBA compilations that still line the shelves of Target and Best Buy to this day. I hate those guys. It's a big tease to see new-in-box, retail GBA games only to find Goddamn Moustrap.

Snood 2 saw a dual release on GBA and DS, the latter of which I sampled for this article. The presentation was overhauled to include actual color in addition to detailed backgrounds and updated Snood sprites. This would be a positive, but the minimalist approach of the previous game actually played to its favor by helping you to focus on how best to set up shots. This time, it's hard to make out what you are doing. I've launched shots miles away because I'm distracted by Mount Rushmore. Even worse, some of the new Snood sprites are tough to distinguish. There are some new modes like one where you snatch Snoods from the field with a grappling arm and then re-launch them into a new location, but it's difficult to have fun with them thanks to the presentation issues.



Speaking of presentation, look at the bottom screen (to the right as I've arranged it). Notice anything? The touch screen serves as the game's pause function. That's splendid, isn't it? Especially since the actual pause button serves the same purpose. It's a wonder why the screen wasn't just left blank, or better yet, why it couldn't have been used to double the size of the playing field. But hey, you can save your high scores now!

I'm sure the PC original plays just fine. That's how it was meant to be. These conversions leave me nonplussed. Whatever. The wedding was pleasant. I had a good time. My hotel bed was nice and cushy. I could turn down the thermostat as low as I wanted. Sorry, Snood. Your attempts to spoil my fun failed. Neener, neener, neener.

THE DRUG STORE SCALE OF "THESE MUST BE THOSE TRANSMAWATCHIT TOYS BILLY LIKES":
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