Following the absolutely absurd response to last week’s edition of Games Time Forgot, I thought it appropriate to revisit yet another much-beloved, licensed game from my childhood: Animaniacs.
For those of you unfamiliar with Animaniacs, it may very well be one of the greatest, most intelligent “children’s” cartoons ever made. Following the adventures of the literal Warner Brothers (Yakko, Wakko, and Dot), the show was filled with numerous pop-culture references, incredible comedic timing, and some truly kick-ass musical numbers.
That it was turned into a videogame should hardly be a surprise.
What might be a surprise, however, is the fact that this week I ran counter to my initial instinct to reminisce on the Super Ninendo version of Animaniacs — being a die-hard Nintendo fan in my childhood, I never touched, much less played any Genesis games. Imagine my surprise when, fourteen years after the Super Nintendo version’s release, I play the Genesis version and find it to be vastly superior.
Hit the jump to see why (for once) this version beats the living hell out of the Super Nintendo one.
Given that the vast majority of the Animaniacscartoons had no real plot outside of “the Animaniacs piss people off” (and rightly so), it may not come as a surprise that the game has a similarly flimsy premise.
After the pre-title cutscene wherein the Warner Brothers directly address the fact that they are in a videogame (thus giving the writers an excuse to make an obscure Marshall McLuhan), the Animaniacs decide they want to open a hip pop-culture shop. Don’t ask why.
Given the fact that they live on the Warner Bros. lot, they decide to “borrow” a priceless film prop from four different sets on the studio, for the purposes of stocking their pop culture shop. I dunno if they’re going to sell the props (mildly nefarious) or simply show them off (oddly socialistic), but the only thing that matters is that they need the damn film props. Predictably, the Warner CEO and his loyal security guard, Ralph, make it their mission to prevent the Warners from achieving their goals.
They decide to snag four different props: Indiana Jones’ fedora, Darth Vader’s Helmet, John Wayne’s sherriff badge, and Jason’s hockey mask. Of course, they don’t technically visit the Indy or Star Wars sets — to do so would have taken a greater amount of legal effort than Konami was evidently prepared to exert — but when the Warners are chased by a large, rolling boulder as adventurous music plays in the background, the franchise being referenced is pretty damned obvious.
For fans of the show (and if you aren’t a fan of the show, what the hell is wrong with you?), the story provides a nice opportunity to meet numerous Animaniacs side characters. You’ll frequently run into Buttons and Mindy, the Goodfeathers, Rita and Runt, and (of course) Pinky and the Brain. Often times, these appearances even factor into the gameplay (such as the moment when the Warners have to jump on top of Flavio and Marita to reach a higher platform), thus making them even more rewarding.
Imagine The Lost Vikings.
But slightly easier.
And starring the Warner Brothers.
And the Warner Sister.
Each Warner has a special move, specific only to them: Wakko can smash things with a hammer, Dot can blow kisses at people, and Yakko can both pull boxes and hit enemies with a ball and paddle.
When I say “enemies,” however, I mean this in the weakest definition of the word. For while there are a few creatures and characters that can harm the Warners (most prominently, Ralph the security guard), the vast majority of the gameplay revolves around solving platform puzzles by using the Warners’ skills. See a Goodfeather grasping a wide, wooden platform in its claws, but he’s too far away to jump to? Get Dot to blow a kiss him and he’ll amorously drift to an appropriate jumping distance. See a teeter-totter with a boulder on one end but nothing on the other? Get Wakko to smack the empty end with his hammer, sending the boulder flying into the air. Find a box? Yakko can push it. Or pull it. He’s versatile like that. Additionally, the two male Warners can be incapacitated by the feminine wiles of Dr. Scratchnsniff’s nurse (the catchphrase “Helloooooooo, Nurse” still makes no sense to me), while Dot can walk past her unhindered — not only is a little touch like this wonderfully faithful to the source material, it provides some interesting puzzle opportunities. How do you move a block from one area to another when the only person who can push has been hypnotized by a busty blonde?
Each of the four stages consists of numerous platforming puzzles that must be solved using the environment and the player’s own intuition, typically followed by a boss fight with Ralph the security guard. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, these boss fights are fantastic. They won’t give the Big Daddy fights a run for their money anytime soon, but the Animaniacs boss fights effectively meld puzzle solving with platforming with combat. Each fight against Ralph consists of three questions:
-Which of the Warners do I need to use?
-How do I avoid his attacks?
-How do I use the level to damage him?
The latter two questions are typically present in, you know, every boss fight in every game ever made, but their answers are usually simplistic to a fault (run around and jump a lot, then shoot him a bunch of times). Given the fact that the Warners have very few direct attacks they can use against Ralph (Yakko’s paddle and ball notwithstanding, though he rarely uses it), the player is forced to actually think his or her way through the boss fights.
I know — actual intelligence in a licensed game. And one based on a children’s show, no less. Who would have thought?
Why You Probably Haven’t Played It:
As was the case with Aladdin, the likelihood that you’ve played this game is directly related to your age. If you were of Animaniacs-watching age when the Animaniacs game came out, then you played it. If you weren’t, you probably didn’t. Beyond that, the only remaining question about the game concerns which system you played it on.
During the massive outcry resulting from my stated preference for the SNES version of Aladdin over the Genesis one last week (crappy sword controls and hysterically easy bosses do not a superior title make, you neanderthals), coonskin05 mentioned that the Genesis version of Animaniacs was vastly superior to the SNES version. Coincidentally, electro lemon and I had just been talking about how kickass the SNES version of Animaniacs was, and I how had been planning on spotlighting the SNES version this week.
I owe you thirty pieces of silver, electro.
Because while the SNES version is fun, in an action-gamey, Final–Fighty, impossible-to-truly-beat-under-any-circumstancesy kind of way, the Genesis version simply blows it out of the water. While nowhere near as action-centric as its Super Nintendo counterpart, the Genesis version is a hell of a lot more intelligent, fun, and unusual (during my first few minutes of playing the Genesis version, I kept asking myself, “where the hell are all the enemies?”). Granted, it’s also difficult as hell, but not in the same way that the SNES version was: in the Super Nintendo Animaniacs, the player could easily beat the game, but not get the “real” ending that resulted from finding all of the lost, hidden script pages throughout the levels. This was problematic because (A) the game was pretty challenging on its own and (B) the script pages were goddamned impossible to find.
The Genesis version, on the other hand, is difficult in the sense that (at least in the later levels) it takes very little to screw yourself over permanently. Did Yakko pull that box a smidgen too far to the right? Kill yourself. It’s over. Restart the area. Just don’t screw up and lose all three of your lives, because you’ll have to restart the (massive) level all over again.
Unforgiving life system notwithstanding, however, the Genesis version has better platforming, better puzzles, and, generally speaking, much more satisfying gameplay. Apart from that one boss fight in the SNES version where you have to sink a pirate ship in the background by moving and jumping on a cannon in the foreground. Nothing in gaming history has been more satisfying than that boss fight.
Once again, it appears I don’t know how to end the article and will instead let a YouTube video do it for me. Hopefully, this does not become a habit.