Inside Pulse 12

Playing the Lame, Vol. 1.

Hello and welcome to the inaugural “Playing the Lame”. I’m your gracious host, Mark B, and I bid you welcome to my domain of terrible games. Well, technically, I’m not that gracious… the soda’s warm and I ate all the chips, but if you can ignore that, I think we’ll get along fine.

Anyway, since this the first PtL, I figure I should lay everything out here for you, so that you have a firm understanding of how the column is going to work (or you can at least pretend you do). I had this awesome template set up that I was going to show off, with little tables, flowcharts, and a neat little bell curve dictating the rise in terrible games from 1760 until now, with some projections about how much worse games will be in the future… but we had a little accident at IP headquarters. I had the files on disc, all ready to go, and… well…

Apparently, Lucard’s pet Pikachu ate it.

Now, I don’t even know where he GOT a Pikachu (when I asked, he mumbled something about genetic engineering and black magic, so I thought it best to let it go), but suffice it to say, all of my hard work is presently in a little steaming pile out in the back lot. Sigh. So, I hope you all can bear with me… I’m just going to make some stuff up and hope it doesn’t suck. Cool? Cool.

INTRODUCTION: You’re reading it.
LINKAGE: Whatever I read this week. Might not be anything specifically, depending on how much of a rush I’m in, or how bored I am.
INTRODUCTION TO THE OFFENDING TITLE: Won’t be named as such… I’ll just tell you about the game that we’re going to be smacking around in the column. Name, publisher, developer, etc will all be laid at the feet of the offender, as well as whatever backstory I can dig up, or make up, as the case dictates.
A BRIEF LAYOUT OF THE GAME: Using my limited knowledge and vocabulary, I will introduce you to the game we’re going to be “honoring” each week, to the best of my capability. So expect about two sentences of actual content followed by five more of jokes about poop. And maybe a Photoshopped picture of Shigeru Miamoto’s head on Pam Anderson’s body or something like that. I can’t promise I’ll remember to do that every week… or at all, come to that.
WHY THIS GAME SUCKS: Duh. I’ll explain what makes the game horrible, in a funny and witty manner. Okay, I can’t promise that either.
WHY THIS GAME REALLY SUCKS: Going beyond the actual existence of the game, laying out the actual lameness of the product beyond simple play mechanic problems or what have you. Expect clever insights and razor-sharp sarcasm. You’re not going to get it, but I’d hate to think that you read it and weren’t disappointed.
WHERE IT COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED: Like Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man, not the bald beer drinking wrestler) we try to rebuild it stronger… better… we have the hypothetical technology… well, not really, but we pretend we do. Mostly speculation and uninformed opinions to be found here.
WHERE YOU CAN GET IT: In case, you know, someone out there wants to play these steaming piles of crap.
CLOSING COMMENTS: I wrap it up and go back to bed. That’s really about the extent of it.

And hey, I’ve filled in almost a page already, go me. Anyway, let’s get down to business.

BUT FIRST-

LINKAGE:

Well, I’m not looking for anything in specific this week… right now, I’m just going to link the things I read consistently, so those of you out there on the other end of the screen can feel a little closer to me, your host. But not too close. I don’t know where those hands have been.

Tom Pandich is the guy you can blame this terrible column on. Be sure to save some eggs for him, yeah?

Eric S. is one of the reasons I consistently read the site. A vocal, unapologetic juggernaut against the Religious Right and the idiots in charge, combined with a wrestling recapper, and hey, he likes golf. What’s not to like?

Despite not agreeing on much on the video game front, I see eye to eye with Lucard on the awesomeness of King of Fighters and the absolute abhorrence of Final Fantasy VII (yes, I’m one of “those” reviewers). Hence, the sub-cultural icon is constantly in my must-read list, when he updates. But if that stupid electric rat of his eats another column, I’m going to eat it.

James Hatton and the Rabble are always awesome, I don’t care who you are.

Holy god! Scott Keith wrote a wrestling rant! Seriously, SK’s the reason I even started reading 411 back in the day, so I still have much respect.

I find myself highly enjoying Kennedy every time I read his work. The man’s somewhat cynical, fairly blunt, and always an informative read.

… Kennedy! Sorry, needed to be done.

And allow me to extend my fond farewells to both Alex Williams and Lee Baxley; Alex was the guy that gave me my chance to shine here (sorry for screwing that up), and Lee is one of my favorite Kliq guys, period. You’ll both be sorely missed.


PLAYING THE LAME, VOLUME 1: ALF, SEGA MASTER SYSTEM.

Name of the offending title: Alf.
What system was this forced upon: SMS (Sega Master System).
Who was responsible for this crap: Sega, for publishing it, and Nexa, for developing it.
Date this abomination was foisted upon us: Sometime in 1989, I blocked out the day.

Your soundtrack for today is the wonderful music of Tom Waits. I hope you enjoy it. Not that… you can hear it or anything… but… oh never mind.

Back in the early 1980’s, sitcoms were going through a fad phase of sorts, where all sorts of shows started hitting the airwaves that were absurd beyond the bounds of sanity, a trend that would ultimately plateau and crash out in the early 90’s. For every Family Ties and Growing Pains, there was a Small Wonder and a Bosom Buddies. This is not to say that stupid sitcoms are purely an invention of the 80’s, or that there haven’t been absurd sitcoms on since that time, *coughGregTheBunnyhack*… but it’s fairly safe to say that the 80’s were far and away the most wonderful time for such experimental works.

And there is no more recognizable an example of this than your and my favorite furry brown midget, Alf.

For those that missed the 80’s, “ALF” was a show based around the “Mork and Mindy” (or “My Favorite Martian”, in case you like Roy Walston better) concept: Regular family ends up living with a space alien, wacky hijinks ensue. Basically, Alf ends up crash-landing into the garage of the Tanner family (not the Full House cast, though that would have been funnier than the show we actually got) because he lost control of his spaceship. After the family calms down, Alf explains that his name is Gordon Shumway, he comes from the now-destroyed planet Melmac, which blew up because everyone on the planet turned on their hair-dryers at the same time, he eats cats, and hey, he speaks perfect English. Despite the fact that he has a perfectly useable English name, the family calls him “Alf” and allows him to live in their home, so long as he doesn’t cause any problems, or eat their cat.

God, I just re-read all of that. Trying to explain this sort of thing to those that haven’t seen it is like trying to explain Escher paintings to the blind. Just take my word for it, okay? I’m telling the truth.

Anyway, the show was a massive success, and within its first year of production, merchandise was everywhere. Toys, stuffed Alf figures, books, stickers, clothes, you name it, his furry butt was on it. The video game industry folks realized that a video game would be highly profitable, and several companies set out to make such a game. Two games came out for the Commodore 64 and Apple II, which I’m sadly not familiar with; one came out for the PC, which was a Pac-Man-esque maze game; and Sega published a side-scroller based on the character, which is what we’ll be looking at today. The game was developed by a company called “Nexa”, which I’ve heard nothing from since the Alf game, and thank god for that.

To put it simply, this game was the pits of atrocity.

A BRIEF LAYOUT OF “ALF”:

Okay, when one sets out to make a licensed video game, there are three ways of going about such a task:

1) Make a game that takes place within continuity, ALA Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the Xbox exclusive one, not the horrible multi-platform sequel);
2) Make a game that ignores continuity, but uses the world of the character optimally, ALA The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin (the Sega-made one);
or 3) Say screw it and do whatever you want.

Alf falls almost entirely into category three.

Alf receives a message from his friends Skip and Rhonda; they’re waiting on the other side of the planet Mars for him, so they can all go to find a new life together. Nice bit of continuity, as that’s sort of how they ended the series, but that’s all this game will give you. So, Alf has to get his ass to Mars… wait, wrong bad game… but to do that, he needs to repair his spaceship. Okay, no problem, all he needs is his toolkit, which is on the moon.

Note to self: ALIENS STORE THEIR TOOLKITS ON THE MOON. I bet Neil Armstrong lifted all sorts of neat stuff when he was up there. Seriously… he probably has all sorts of plasma torches and stuff in his garage next to his moon rock.

So, okay, no problem, have Skip and Rhonda drop by the moon and pick it- oh, wait, we’re going to go pick it up ourselves, on Alf’s SPACE SCOOTER!

Right.

Sadly, the space scooter is conveniently out of fuel, so we have to go find some. Surely Alf has an idea on where we can do that, right buddy?

…crap.

WHY THIS GAME SUCKS:

Well, the game’s approximately two hours long, and for reasons I can’t fathom, I can essentially remember the entire experience verbatim, so what the hell, I’ll just give you the abridged version of the game. Just do me the favor of remembering that I’m not making this up… I don’t think I’m that deranged yet.

So, the first thing you need to know is that there is essentially only one location in the entire game that’s safe, aside from your various shops: the garage where Alf’s spaceship is stored. Apparently, even though the men in black can chase Alf all across the game world, including into the house he lives in, THEY’RE UNWILLING TO GO AND CONFISCATE HIS SPACESHIP OR SOMETHING. It’s also interesting to note that the developers chose to make the spaceship appear as if it’s sticking out of the roof, because the developers apparently thought we were just too stupid to assume it was INSIDE the garage and be done with it. This is also where his space scooter is located, right on the roof, because nothing says “inconspicuous” like alien technology in plain sight.

You have to wonder if the developers were even trying.

The second thing you need to know is that Alf looks less like Alf and more like a drowned anteater with a deformed trunk, or alternatively, Fozzy the Bear, beaten in the face with a bat. I swear, after that restraining order against Chris Jericho, the poor bear hasn’t been the same since.

The third thing you need to know is that this is, to put it as simply as I can, quite possibly one of the worst side-scrolling games ever made. You’ll understand soon enough.

So, after grabbing the salami… FROM THE FRIDGE YOU SICK FREAKS… and the family cat, Lucky… okay, that sounds sick, even to me… Alf goes into the basement.

It’s just not getting any better, it really isn’t.

See, there are rats in the basement, and Alf needs to use Lucky to scare them off. Never mind that they’re the same size he is. So, rats scared off, Alf turns on the light in the basement, only to find the entrance to a cave under the house! Y’know, if the Tanners had bothered to talk about this stuff on the show, it probably would have lasted longer than four seasons. So, bashing bats with his salami (no, really) and jumping over rats the whole way, Alf is able to penetrate about a quarter of a mile into the cave before 1) finding gold in the cave, and 2) finding he can go no further, because the cave becomes too dark past the gold stash. Of course, the fact that the basement light can illuminate a quarter-mile of underground caverns is pretty impressive, but we can’t ask for everything.

Back to the surface to sell this priceless golden treasure for… about $50. By the way, the shops in the game are more or less a font of nothing; aside from the fact that actually navigating your way to and from them is highly hazardous, not to mention that the zone itself is yet another location that doesn’t play like any other part of the game… they carry next to nothing you need, and a bunch of crap no one playing the game could ever use. Plus, y’know, there’s the whole “who in the world would sell stuff to a furry brown midget with a large nose” deal, but since we’re not asking “how does Alf carry around a house-painting ladder at all, let alone with no pockets”, I guess we can deal with that. Among the wonderfully useless trinkets the shops sell:

FISH: The manual identified it as a “red herring”, which is a joke so old that they had to de-mummify and reanimate the damn thing’s corpse just to get it into the game. If you don’t get it, just search for “Red Herring” on Google. I’m not going to hold your hand through everything there buddy.
BOOK: “The Book of Alf”, as the manual called it. The manual informed you the book would take you “back to the beginning”. So, imagine my surprise when I purchased the thing, and found that instead of clueing me into Alf’s back history… it performed a soft-reset on the cartridge. ON PURPOSE. Thanks, guys, I hope Mike Tyson punches each of you in the dick.
COSTUME: Basically, makes the Alf sprite go all garish and multi-colored. You couldn’t, in actuality, AFFORD the suit until about two-thirds of the way through the game, of course, and all it really did was give Alf a second hit point… but only on the shop street, and only against dogs. See, when you wore the costume, Will Smith wouldn’t come after you anymore, but stupid looking dogs would run up and try to pull the costume off. And, to bring everything full-circle, since by the time you had the money for such an item, you would no longer need it, it was rather stupid to even bother coding the thing.

Also, I’m kind of wondering how, exactly, wearing a day-glo Alf-clown costume throws off government agents:

“Sir, we can’t find him!”
“How can you miss a brown furry midget with a big nose?”
“Sir, all we see is a multi-colored costumed midget with a big nose being chased down the street by a bunch of dogs!”
“DAMMIT! Keep looking!”

We’re not here for any of these wondrous items, of course… no… we’re here for the KEY. The key, you see, unlocks the closet in the Tanner house so that we can-

Yes. The Tanners have keys to their house on sale in stores. Hey, it seems stupid, but I do the exact same thing… never know when a furry brown midget might need to use my blender, y’know?

-so that we can get the swimsuit from it-

Yes, really. Alf, despite spending almost the entire run of his TV show naked, MUST HAVE a swimsuit to go swimming. Specifically one of those old grandparent style full-body striped jobs, which, since we’re on the subject, probably isn’t going to keep him dry or keep his hair out of the water anyway. Why does he need it, you ask? Because of the NO SWIMMING WITHOUT A SWIMSUIT SIGN next to the lake. Because lord knows Alf can’t disobey a direct order like that.

Now, before I get the inevitable “all games in the 80’s were like that” E-mails, let me clarify myself here. I wouldn’t have nearly as much of a problem with this if, say, he said, “I need an oxygen tank/snorkel/diver’s helmet/etc because I can’t breathe underwater”, and one happened to be in the closet. But really, Alf’s trying to get OFF the planet. What sort of consequences can be imposed upon him for nude swimming, considering he’s expecting to leave the planet within an hour or so? Are the public health officials going to fly out into the reaches of space to fine him for this? I’m just totally at a loss for words.

Right, enough of that tangent, back to business.

-while avoiding the giant cockroach-

Yes, the giant cockroach. Look, I’m not even going to dignify it with any sort of serious explanation, okay? It’s the size of Alf, and it’s purple and pissed. There you go.

-so that we can swim to the bottom of the lake in the backyard-

No, I didn’t know the Tanners had a lake out back either. I guess I didn’t watch the show enough.

-avoiding catfish (complete with cat heads, thus making Lord Ockham roll over in his grave) and Scuba Diving Tommy Lee Jones so that we can find some pirate treasure, and steal the pearl from the giant clam at the bottom…

Stop looking at me like that. I told you, I’m serious. Look, no more lake, alright? Skip it.

Alright. So, sell some treasure, buy a lantern and a ladder, then back down into the caves. More bat killing and jumping, until we come to the end of the cave, and we find…

A can of gasoline. In a cave, under the Tanner house, approximately a mile underground.

So… either the developers were insanely lazy, and figured no one would notice… or… 1) Alf’s scooter runs on standard Earth petrol, 2) someone went to a lot of trouble to stash two gallons of gas in a cave for no reason, and 3) Alf is a moron for not taking that $50 to the Exxon and being done with the whole bit.

For the sake of my sanity, let’s assume Alf’s an idiot. My brain is already trying to force its way out of my nose. Kay? Kay.

So, back to the scooter, and off we go, rocketing into the sky, up towards space, dodging Liliputian airplanes the whole way! First Gulliver, now Alf, damn those midget bastards!

I swear, the people that made this game must’ve never stepped foot outside of their own homes a day in their lives. How else could you explain not knowing what size a Boeing is? Or, more importantly, draw a friggin’ bird and use that instead.

So, once Alf has successfully rocketed all the way up into outer space, he lands at an absolutely massive space station, where he can sell his goods and purchase a space suit for his trip to the moon. Now, why Alf doesn’t actually OWN a functioning space suit himself is a question only slightly more obvious than wondering what, exactly, people in space are going to do with an oil lantern and an adjustable ladder, but by this point, my brain has gone completely numb and refuses to contemplate such things.

It’s also amusing to note that, should you make Alf leave the space station, he comments that it would have probably been in your best interests to acquire the space suit, shortly before he dies. Why he doesn’t make such an observation before going into space unprotected is something you’d have to ask the developers, but as I’ve already wished pain and suffering upon their dangly bits, I doubt they’ll be interested in answering such questions.

And so, Alf embarks upon his journey to the moon, a trek that has taken human spacecraft multiple weeks to accomplish, so of course Alf is able to make the journey in about ten minutes. You also spend this time dodging meteors and small alien spacecraft… or, I should say, the same alien spacecraft over and over again. Apparently, he gets off on buzzing small interstellar scooters, thus proving once again that aliens are dicks.

It’s also pretty obvious that Melmacian technology is far superior to ours; humanity requires several hundred gallons of rocket fuel just to get our spaceships INTO space, but Alf can get to the moon with two gallons of unleaded. I’d probably be more amused by this if I hadn’t actually played the game of course… at this point I’m just trying to finish writing this before my head explodes.

Once you arrive at the moon, in crescent form, complete with a face… no, no sarcastic comments, I’m too beaten to try… Alf retrieves his toolkit, then you’re treated to the most insulting game ending sequence I can recall: Alf, flying through space, waving to you through his Vib Ribbon spaceship hull, before taking off towards Mars to meet up with Skip and Rhonda.

And that, friends, is the eight bit equivalent of surrealism.

If that doesn’t explain why this game is a steaming pile of crap, nothing does.

WHY THIS GAME REALLY SUCKS:

First: Licensed products were about ten years away from being good, and were in their infancy stage of being “not offensively bad” occasionally. People basically slapped a name onto a terrible game, then collected their check. It didn’t matter if the game controlled like crap, looked awful, and sounded like nails on a chalkboard; it had something famous on the box, kids would eat it up. That Acclaim stayed in business so long proves that point definitively, but it also explains, at least partially, why Alf sucked.

Second: When you’re dealing with characters who are not, by their very nature, action oriented characters, then force them into action oriented video games, the results are usually not pretty. Witness the eight-billion terrible Simpsons video games for proof of that one. Alf was a character that sold himself purely on his cuteness and sense of humor, neither of which was even remotely represented in this game.

Third: The game was programmed by six shut-ins that apparently know absolutely nothing about Alf. You’re not exactly going to turn out a winner with that.

Fourth: Sega, at this point in their existence, was programming practically every game that hit the Sega Master System. Needless to say, when you’re forced to manufacture every single title you sell, you’re eventually going to drop out crap, no matter how good your people are. Add to that the fact that the people making the game really did nothing with it that could ever be considered “okay”, let alone good, and you see the dilemma. Shinobi and Fantasy Zone 2 were higher priorities than good old Gordon, and it shows.

WHERE IT COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED:

As it stands now, the best option available to improve this game would be for the developers to delete the game code and put “Snail” on the cartridge instead. Even if the game were magically overhauled and made into a playable experience, it’s still only two hours long, and only relates to Alf by the most tenuous of associations.

If an Alf game had been proposed a few years later, I could absolutely see him starring in an adventure game of the Kings Quest variety. As Beavis and Butthead proved, even the most unlikely characters can be in a good game, provided the medium is correct. Their console games were pathetic, but the PC game “Virtual Stupidity”, which conveniently for this comparison was an adventure game, was surprisingly good and well received by fans and critics alike. Alf could have been in the same position, but sadly, he was too early for such a gaming experience, and ended up with inappropriate game after inappropriate game, no matter the platform.

WHERE YOU CAN GET IT:

Assuming you want to play this for some ungodly reason, there’s only one place you’re going to be able to find it: Ebay. On the plus side, a functional SMS and this cartridge shouldn’t set you back more than $50, and as we’ll be covering plenty more terrible SMS games in the future, it’ll be a solid investment. Unfortunately, as Sega’s publishing contract for the game has long since expired, you won’t be seeing this on compilations or Gametap, so that’s really your best bet.

Oh, and for the record: we here at Playing the Lame run strictly on the straight and narrow, so don’t bother me about ROMS and such please; I don’t care. If you’re into that sort of thing, knock yourself out.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? I hope you all enjoyed yourselves as much as I did.

Okay, that’s a lie.

Anyway, any comments, opinions, suggestions of hideous games you’d like to see under the spotlight here in PtL, drop me a line, let me know. Until next time (and yes, there will be a next time), I’m Mark B, and you’re not. Good night.

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