I seem to be getting a lot of traffic from my last post. A lot of controversy was generated! Will a post on a game about collecting magic cards for Ronald McDonald be as controversial? We shall see.
There are a few truths that are generally accepted. The sky is blue, nachos are awesome, Dark Side of the Moon may be a perfect album, and licensed games suck. And yet, as universal as those truths are, they can be contradicted. The sky turns many different colors throughout the day, On the Run isn’t quite as interesting as the rest of the album outside of a historical context, and nachos can be prepared… ugh… California-style. And licensed games? Well, every once in a while a developer will make one that isn’t completely abysmal. And I’m not just talking about Goldeneye; there are great games that are based on way lamer franchises than that. Case in point:
M.C. Kids (NES, 1992, Virgin Interactive)
“A McDonalds game? They made a game based on McDonalds?”
Actually, they made two. But let’s not talk about the second one.
M.C. Kids is the story of 2 kids, one who is white, and one who is Buckwheat from the Little Rascals, who get sucked into a book they’re reading, which is apparently about McDonalds. I like to think that the kids live in a future dystopian corporatocracy, wherein all forms of entertainment are just advertising for major businesses. I like to think this, because, as depressing as that dark vision of the future is, it’s way less depressing than the idea that kids would just be reading a story about Ronald McDonald in their spare time. The kids find out that the Hamburglar has stolen Ronald McDonald’s magic bag! Fuck! Now it’s up to them to get Ronald’s magic bag back. Ronald would get it himself, but I mean, you know, he has stuff to do.
Furthermore, Ronald asks that you obtain some of his puzzle cards for him, which he has hidden throughout the levels. These are required in order to finish the worlds, but not the individual levels. In other words, Ronald has basically decided to make your quest to get his magic bag back as difficult as possible. In fact, it would probably be easier to just forgo Ronald’s requests and just go after the magic bag yourself. Why do I need to get a bunch of cards for Ronald, just so he can tell me how to get his goddamned magic bag back? If I have to work for his help in doing him a favor he can just go fuck himself. I’ll go hang out with Grimace. We’ll drink juice boxes and play on the special kids’ see-saw all day.
Yeah, the setting and story are retarded, but the game is fucking good. It’s easily one of the best and most creative platformers of its time. It contains some puzzle aspects, and even uses a lot of physics-based platforming; for example, sometimes you see little spinners at the end of a platform. If you run over them while going fast enough, you’ll flip upside down, and gravity changes. Instead of falling to the ground, you “fall” up toward the ceiling. Often a level would have an entirely different style while you were flipped. Instead of avoiding enemies, you might be avoiding arrows that launch you all the way back to the beginning of the level, or trying to find a block you can hold on to to launch yourself even further with a trampoline, thus getting you further in the level.
The music is another high point. It’s very obviously designed by Europeans, because all European game composers insist on making the sound fidelity similar to a Commodore 64, even long after the technology could do better. Despite this, the music is extremely memorable, and is just begging to be remixed.
Graphically, the game is fairly pretty, with lots of well-contrasted colors, although the design of the characters is lacking. Your characters smile blankly, with no features other than large, dark, soulless voids for eyes. They seem almost as though they stare past you, beckoning you to come into their own personal hell, where you will be tormented by Fry Guys forever. Don’t believe me?
Look at them. They’re not reading. They’re looking at you. They’re looking past you. They’re looking through you.
Jurassic Park (SNES, 1993, Ocean)
The Jurassic Park games always got a bad rap, but some of them were actually pretty good. The SNES one was the best, although the first-person segments, while genuinely frightening at times, were clunky and slow. The really weird thing about the games, though, is that they usually wouldn’t let you kill dinosaurs, which you think would be a pretty integral part of a game about killing dinosaurs. Instead, you were allowed to “stun” the dinosaurs, which looked a hell of a lot like killing them. Just look at this screenshot:
Those have to be dead. And the best part is that Dr. Grant is standing among their corpses as though to show the remaining dinosaurs who’s gonna be running this Jurassic bullshit from now on. I can’t imagine him not screaming the lyrics to a Dio song and firing his lightning gun up in the air. Dude’s gotta have a dick the size of a water slide.
Jurassic Park may not be an award-winning masterpiece, but it’s pretty entertaining for a few hours, if for no other reason than to see how many dinosaurs you can murder with lightning.
DuckTales (NES, 1990, Capcom)
DuckTales was always one of my favorite shows as a kid. This was back in the day when the Disney Afternoon was the single greatest thing you could watch on TV. TaleSpin, Gummi Bears, Rescue Rangers, and DuckTales? Insanity. If I’m not mistaken, in the early 90s it was the longest period of time you could sit without someone trying to teach you something. And the best part is that, with the exception of Gummi Bears, those were all turned into spectacular games.
The DuckTales game, however, was a clear cut above the rest, just like the show. Excluding first-party games, I don’t think there’s an NES game that I would rank higher than it except the Mega Man games, and it’s no wonder: they were produced by the exact same team. DuckTales perfectly captured everything that made the show fun, like the adventure, characters, and landscapes, but also managed to be a creative, involving platformer, the kind that acted as the bridge between games as entertaining diversions and games as storytelling art. It just goes to show that not only are licensed games sometimes “not shitty,” they can even sometimes be better than most non-licensed games.
I know, I hand out perfect scores like they’re Skittles and I’m the unpopular kid whose parents give him money every day to buy candy. But DuckTales really deserves it. The game is nothing short of perfect. The level design is inventive and rewards exploration (just like in the show), the gameplay and controls are tight, the graphics are some of the best of the 8-bit era, and the music is nothing short of amazing. It’s by far one of my fondest memories of the NES era.
DuckTales is very visibly designed by Capcom. In addition to their characteristically perfect controls and gameplay, as well as the easily identifiable music of Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (who I spoke about at length a while back), the graphic design looks very similar to Mega Man. Check it out:
Although nearly every element of this game was great, the single thing that probably stands out the most to gamers of a certain age (like myself) is the theme music for the Moon level. While I’ve written about it previously, I just can’t understate what a big deal this song is to gamers who grew up playing games in the early 90s. It encapsulates everything that has ever been great about video game music.
I’m just going to leave you with this: