Saturday, February 23, 2013

Level Up: Celebrity Deathmatch

Last time, I reviewed a game based on my favorite movie, so I think this week it would make sense to talk about my favorite TV show. Now, I have always been a fan of fantasy fights and it’s obvious that a lot of other people are too, shown by the amazing popularity of things such as Death Battle or the Epic Rap Battles of History (and if you like those things, check out the Geeks Versus Nerds podcast, I’ve been in a few shows). But I don’t think anyone has done it better than MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. The jokes, the match-ups, the violence, the animation: I would not change one thing about the original series. Even after it was cancelled in 2002, people still wanted to see Celebrities pound on each other, so about a year later, the Celebrity Deathmatch video game was released to the PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox (which is the version I will be playing).
Celebrity Deathmatch was a clay animated TV show, and that alone gave it a lot of personality. This game is instead done with polygons and though this is disappointing (since “Clay Fighters” existed on the SNES), it is understandable. Despite this, do the graphics do the show justice? Well the character models do look accurate, but the graphics quality is terrible! I would assume that this game was on the N64 by looking at it. Blood gets added to the fighters as they get injured, but it’s not impressive since I know PS1 games that could do that.
Likewise, the game is not fun to listen to. In the show, there is often music playing in the background relevant to whichever fighter is featured or what they’re doing. Take Garth Brooks for example, who had generic country music playing when he was dominating, or whenever Alfred Hitchcock spoke there was an ominous track in the background. Of course it might be too hard to fit that into a video game, but they honestly didn’t even try. There is no music for the fights and it makes the game much more boring.
While I’m talking about what you hear, a lot of the show’s humor came from dialog: the way Nick and Johnny described the fight or how the two fighters taunted each other. This game tried to recapture that, but utterly failed. Nick, Johnny and some of the fighters have a few selected phrases that come up from time to time, but you will quickly be tired of hearing them, even though it can take a long time between quips. At least the voice actors do a decent enough job.
I’m at a loss to how to explain the game play, but I can say “good” wouldn’t be my first choice. The game is a 3D roaming fighter, so you’ll walk around and punch the enemy if you feel like it. The controls are simple and easy to learn and there are no complex “street fighter” like combos, but that’s reflective of the show, where they just kind of smacked each other around. The problem is it feels incredibly stiff! Half the time you’ll either be trying to hit the enemy unsuccessfully thanks to the game’s poor hit detection, trying to stand up from a cheap combo or just trying to make the buttons work the way they should. Playing against a human player is a lot less frustrating (since it evens things), but it needs a lot of improvement before it would be fun.
The game also has weapons and the ability to knock off enemy libs to handicap them (the latter has NEVER happened for me no matter how I tried), which were both common themes of the show. The weapons rarely show up in the ring, and when they do, they tend to disappear just as quickly. The game play is just one big step away from being a button mashing game.
Celebrity Deathmatch represents one of the reasons why I rarely talk about bad games: it’s hard to explain why this game doesn’t work the way it does without going into detail. Long story short: the TV show did not translate well to video games. I appreciate the attempt made by developer Big Ape Production and publisher Gotham Games, but some things (like the moment specific audio and moves) couldn’t be done, and when they tried to do it (like the simple smacking), it failed and made for boring game play. It can be good for a laugh among friends, but trying to play this by yourself is just a test to get through the whole half hour of stuff you can actually do. Just watch the show on YouTube instead. I give Celebrity Deathmatch for the Xbox 3.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Level Up: The Mask

Once again, it’s time for the Valentine’s Day Special, but once again, that’s the least interesting thing I have to talk about. Sure, this game is based around rescuing your love, but the real reason I’m talking about this game is because it’s based on a movie that I love: the 1994Jim Carrey movie , The Mask. I can honestly say that I would not have the sense of humor I have now if not for it. It was hugely popular: it had toys, a cartoon series and it was all based on a comic book. So there was only one thing left: a video game. Let’s see how that came out with The Mask for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
It’s pretty obvious that this game would be a platformer, but it’s far from straight forward. The levels are somewhat maze like, but rarely will you get lost and exploring can net you bonuses. The challenge is really in finding what barriers can be broken or what can be used as a gateway to access another area. And here’s where I have one of my first issues; the first few times you need to use something, there’s a little sparkle on it, but after that you’re pretty much on your own. The graphics are part of the problem (and I’ll get to that in a bit), but there are so many “doors” that I just discovered by a complete fluke.
Anyways, as you’re walking around you’ll be fighting people trying to stop you. Your basic attack is just to bop them with boxing gloves, but you also have “Morph power”. This powers your other attacks, such as the hammer used to smash that alarm clock in the movie, the “living horn” that took out the car and the iconic tornado (among others). I think these are great ways to reference and use the movie in a way that is useful to the game. Again, these use “morph power” which can run out, but you can find more in the stages and it refills automatically to a smaller amount (like the gun in Earthworm Jim).
But MAN, can enemies take abuse! Even the first enemy you meet can take a lot of hits from your basic attack. This might be a leftover from the fact that this was supposed to be a beat-em-up, but if you change your game to a platformer, make enemies go down faster. There’s no time limit, so if you don’t want to use your Morph powers on every enemy you can wait it out, especially since they don’t put up much of a fight. However, this brings up another balancing issue: if you get hit by an enemy you go FLYING. This can really screw you over in the maze like levels and it’s irritating how much you go back.
Despite being live action, the Mask movie drew heavy inspiration from cartoons for some character movements and mannerisms and used special effects to give it an “animated” feel. However, this was noticeable due to how gritty the world was. Does the game’s graphics do this justice? Short answer is yes. The style is great, and it’s balanced to make the regular people seem real enough, but not have the Mask look out of place. Speaking of which, the animations for his attacks are superb; it’s sometimes worth the Morph Points to use the living horn just to watch it go off.
That being said, there are some characters that look more like caricatures. For example, the 3rd level boss is a fat guy (resembling the one from Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life), with a tiny shirt so his gut hangs out and bounces around on that belly. It’s mostly the bosses that look silly and unreal, but it also happens for a few common enemies.
But I can easily look past that. My biggest issue with the graphics however is how hard they make it to get around. I mentioned that you’ll need to use pathways: these are in the backgrounds, but don’t stick out. There are also ledges that you can hop on, but you wouldn’t know it until you tried, as these are flushed out in the background too. It makes things a lot harder than it needs to be.
The Mask on SNES was NOT what I was expecting. What I thought I would get was a half-assed, movie-tie in basic platformer who either didn’t work right or was really simple. What Black Pearl Software managed to develop is a game that actually kept things interesting, but made almost as many good choices as they made poor ones. The powers are fun to use, but the bad guys take too long to die. The maze like layouts is cool, but the graphics makes it hard to get around. I could go on, but here’s the game on the whole: the graphics are great when they work, the game controls fine and, most importantly, the game play is enjoyable, safe for a few hiccups. It’s quite easy to play through this game and have fun with it while avoiding any frustrations. Far from a landmark experience, but for a game based on my favorite movie, I could have been a lot more disappointed. I give The Mask for the SNES 6.5 levels out of 10.