Playing the Lame Vol. 11

Yo yo people, it’s Mark B bringing you another disturbing creation from the annuls of gaming crapdom. I got some pretty solid feedback from last week’s column, surprisingly enough, so we’re going to try an experiment here: every week, I’ll try to highlight a piece of news (or two) in addition to my normal writing duties here at PtL. In addition, I’m going to try alternating opinion columns and actual “bad gaming” write-ups, as various people seem to enjoy both, and I rather enjoy WRITING both. This week, we’ve got some bad gaming here for ya, so I hope you enjoy it.

Now, let’s get down to business.

LINKAGE:

David Brashear takes the top spot this week. I tend to like this column, largely because it reminds me of my own; crappy stuff, discussed and analyzed. Fun times.

Eric S. Pimp. Nothing shocking about that.

Mike O’Reilly sold out and got himself a 360. It’s okay Mike; we’re here for you. And by “we”, I mean me and the army of white-suited jackbooted MS drones. We’re here to help.

Lucard openly admits to playing D&D. Not that this is a bad thing, but it kind of clashes with the “goth” image; real Goths play Vampire, or at least Ravenloft.

Kennedy rocks both Culture and Movies with some grand columns. Hence the pimpage.

Gloomchen and Tom D’Errico talk about one of my favorite bands, and both reviews essentially convinced me to buy the CD I didn’t even know existed. Yay less money.

FEEDBACK:

Aaron writes:

“These articles are way better than when you speak of lame games. They contain considerably more passion and its easier to read about things you care about than things you wish would just go away.”

Well, I’ll try to balance my updates out; maybe one week we’ll do a lame game, and the next week we’ll do an opinion screed. I enjoy writing both, so I’d like to DO both. Hopefully that’ll make you at least somewhat happy.

Ken T. writes:

“As I am one of your “5” fans out there, I figured I’d make a suggestion and say that in addition to your usual PtL articles you consider adding little news bits like you did in this week’s edition. I actually was surprised by how entertaining that dull ass news was. Good job. Talking about random, pointless shit seems to be your thing. Anyway, keep it up. Just thought I’d pitch in my two cents, take care.”

Ask and you SHALL RECEIVE! Starting this week, I’ll cram in a news item or two, assuming I read anything worth writing about.

And for the record, you’d be fan # 6. I’m so popular. Excuse me while I go sob into my beer. I’ll be back.

WHAT’S PLAYING:

Just finished a review of Rumble Roses XX, finally. Review can be found here.

Next up: Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires. Coming soon. Hopefully.

I took some time out with Farcry Instincts: Predator for the 360 last week. It’s about the same as the original XBOX version, only in higher resolution. After playing PD0 and Oblivion, seeing 2D plantlife while wandering around the jungle is kind of icky. You also HAVE to play through the original game to play the expansion, which would be fine except for the part where I’m just not interested in doing so. The animalistic super powers are still highly cool, however. If you’re at all interested in FPS games, you’d most likely enjoy this, but as I’ve played the original already, I couldn’t bring myself to get too far into it. Figure a 7-8 if you’ve never played the XBOX version, 5-6 if you have.

I also screwed around with Top Spin 2 for about a day. If you like tennis SIMULATIONS, this is right up your alley. If you like Mario Tennis, however, this most likely isn’t for you. I couldn’t keep myself interested in it, honestly, because it requires you to learn the timing and appropriate shots needed for victory, and it’s just not for me. If you’re looking for a good, solid tennis simulator, figure it ranks around a 7 (especially with the cheaper price point); if you just want to dick around ALA Mario Tennis, call it a 5, because it’s really not for those who aren’t willing to work with it. It’s fun and all, but not for me, so no review. You’ll live, I’m sure.

I also spent some time with some older titles in the past week. Played through Phoenix Wright again; even the second time, it’s still enjoyable as hell, and I hope Capcom sees fit to release more of Mr. Wright’s adventures stateside. I also got to sit down with Trauma Center, as a friend of mine bought it, and couldn’t do anything with it, so she asked me to learn how to play it, then teach her. Yes, really. It’s an amusing and innovative concept for a game, but the actual execution never really got me hooked. I wasn’t fond of the whole “killer virus monsters” concept, even though it was done pretty well, and the only thing that really kept me going was the storyline, which was stereotypical and cheesy, but surprisingly good. I liked Derek and Angie as characters, and the story surrounding them was engaging, if expected. Plus defusing the bomb was pretty amusing. Definitely worth a rental.

And last but not least, I spent some time with Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. Surprisingly, it’s pretty interesting, if a touch under-developed. You basically build your own JP, raise and maintain your own dinosaurs, etc. It’s quite a lot of fun, surprisingly enough, and I enjoyed it immensely. If you like building/management simulators, you should consider picking this one up; it’s cheap enough (around $25), and it’s available for both XBOX and PS2. And best of all, it works on the 360! Definitely worth checking out.

Oh, yes, and I watched “High Tension” and “Hostel” over the past couple of days as well. Regarding “High Tension”: good, gory movie, plenty of suspense and action, but the twist ending totally ruined the story, and that’s all I’m willing to say about that. Regarding “Hostel”: nowhere near as rough as a Mikee movie, but still a fun and interesting flick, and I enjoyed it a reasonable amount, especially since the ending tied up most of the loose ends.

And that’s all I’ve done this week. Fun stuff, yeah? Anyway, enough being a dork, let’s move on.

YOUR HOT CUP OF RANT:

New section for Playing the Lame, wherein I look at the world around me and make snarky comments. For those that may (by some random chance) have seen the above elsewhere, I used to use that as the name of a website I ran for about two years. If by some chance you remember that (not that you should), feel free to bow down and worship at the temple of the Rantmaster. Bitches.

And if you don’t, don’t feel bad; it wasn’t terribly memorable. Kay? Kay.

Anyway, people seemed to like the “news/bitching” commentaries, so I’ll try to cram them in as I can in future updates. Let’s see how we do, yeah?

MORE OBLIVION CRAP:

Well, for those that aren’t paying attention, the second Oblivion update dropped this week, in the form of “The Orrery” quest. None of the usual suspects have bitched about it as of yet, so I thought I’d let you know what it involves. Basically, you kill five camps full of bandits (all leveled and equipped around your level, and several are equipped with magical items) to recover five enchanted Dwarven cogs (um, right…) so that the Orrery can be repaired. The actual quest is nothing special, but upon repairing the Orrery itself, I just kind of sat around in the newly activated location and looked at it for about ten minutes. Say what you will about the quest, bitch that it’s short and uninvolved, whatever. But when I can sit in what amounts to a magical Planetarium and lose myself in the visual aesthetics of it, in a VIDEO GAME, when then you can jolly well shut right the hell up.

And yes, this update costs money too. The PC cost is the same, y’know, TWO DOLLARS. We’ve established that. THIS TIME, however, 360 owners get it for 150 points, which equates, more or less, to a buck eighty-eight. Was it worth the two bucks? I thought so, but then again, I don’t exactly hoard every single penny, nickel, quarter and dime, so increasing my gameplay experience tends to matter more to me than, say, saving TWO WHOLE DOLLARS in hopes that, in a year, they’ll become THREE WHOLE DOLLARS. I mean come on now; I don’t play the lottery, I might as well waste the occasional buck or two SOMEHOW, right?

YOU GOT YOUR GOVERNMENT IN MY VIDEO GAMES:

Hey, how about that Jeff Johnson? He sure is a peach. Gave me something to complain about, and it’s not even my birthday (yet). God bless ya Jeff.

I’m sure plenty of people have already raked him over the coals by now, but let’s you and I take a look at what he has to say about “video games”, seeing as how he’s the Majority Leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He’s got the big “R” next to his name, too, but let us not hold that against him, seeing as how those with the “D” next to their name tend to be f*cking idiots too. For those that AREN’T aware of what Mr. Johnson has to say, well, keep reading, you’ll love it.

“I am the Minnesota House author of a bill that takes a rather modest step toward restricting kids’ access to extremely violent or sexually explicit video games. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, has already passed this bill off the Senate floor. I hope to do the same in the House. The bill is simple and narrowly tailored. It provides that children under 17 cannot rent or buy video games that are rated “M” (for Mature) or “AO” (for Adults Only). If they attempt to do so, they are subject to a $25 fine. Our bill also requires retailers to post a clearly visible sign regarding this restriction.”

So, lemme get this straight. Your proposition is to… FINE KIDS for trying to buy “M” rated titles (take “AO” titles out of the equation entirely; there are maybe ten of those, and almost all of them are PC-Only). Kids. Ten year olds, twelve year olds, CHILDREN. Fine them. Not the establishment, not the parents, THE KIDS. Just for trying to buy “Rumble Roses XX” or “Metal Gear Solid 4”. $25 dollar fine. No exceptions.

Really?

Here’s a thought, dickhead: how about trying to pass a bill that requires an age check for kids under 17 buying “M” rated titles, a MANDATORY age check, and simply denying them the titles if they fail this check? I mean, come on now… most kids who play “M” rated titles are, shockingly, getting them through their parents. Hell, my mother bought me Mortal Kombat 1 and 2 THE DAY THEY CAME OUT, and I was something like twelve at the time.

Now, bear two things in mind before we continue. First, my mother sat down with me, watched me play the games, and knew I wasn’t going to turn into a murderer after playing them, so she was okay with my owning the games. Second, I HAVEN’T turned into a murderer after playing said games. So I’m not exactly feeling this “fine the kids” legislation. If a kid wants this sort of game, they’ll find a way to get it, period. All of your legislation and bill nomination and whatever else you do isn’t going to change that. Deal with it.

That said… FINING KIDS for trying to buy VIDEO GAMES. Wow. That just boggles my f*cking mind. We don’t fine kids for trying to buy cigarettes, alcohol, porn, R-rated movies, or “Parental Advisory” labeled CD’s. They can try and fail, that’s fine. But we’re going to FINE THEM just for TRYING to buy the games? Seriously? HOW do you even intend to implement such a law? Are you going to have a cop with a ticket pad standing at the front of the Best Buy waiting to write little Billy a ticket when he buys “Killer 7”? What, is the EBGames clerk supposed to make a citizens arrest if Billy tries to buy “Darkwatch”? Seriously, I’m utterly failing to understand HOW this is supposed to work, let alone WHY you’d even THINK it would.

“My intent is not to make criminals out of kids or to make money for the state $25 at a time. But I hope the new law will catch the attention of at least a few of the painfully oblivious parents in our state who are paying absolutely no attention to some of the garbage their little kids are playing on their video game machines.”

Yeah, because it’s actually going to hold up against Supreme Court intervention. Notwithstanding the fact that, again, most parents don’t even bother reading the descriptors attached to “M” rated titles in the first place, so how you can expect a law geared toward punishing KIDS is going to magically wake up ADULTS is beyond me. Kids will simply stop buying the titles themselves and find other ways to get them. Bear in mind this simple fact: when I was fifteen, I didn’t have the cash, personally, to buy much of anything. If you have the $50 to buy GTA:SA, you have the means to get it without getting fined. I mean, come on: how many kids under the age of 18 smoke? How many kids under the age of 21 drink? How many kids under the age of 18 watch porn?

Here’s a simple one for ya: Kids who want violent games without the hassle of being fined will ask Mom and Dad if they can borrow their credit card to buy a game online, thus circumventing the entire law, period. If Mom and Dad aren’t watching little Billy PLAY his games, and they’re not watching him BUY his games, they’re not going to care if he buys the game online SO LONG AS he pays them for it, especially if little Billy isn’t a little bastard otherwise. GAME OVER, YOU LOSE, YOU FAIL. Thanks for wasting taxpayer dollars on self-flagellation you stupid bastard.

“Our older son is in second grade. Many of his friends play “M” rated video games on a regular basis. I would like to believe that at least some of their parents would put a stop to that if only we could get their attention.”

Second grade, huh? Time for some quick and dirty math: Senior in high-school is 12th grade, and most seniors graduate, on average, at 18. Knock ten grades and ten years off… second grade, you’re SEVEN OR EIGHT YEARS OLD. Playing “M” rated titles on a regular basis. Really? You SURE about that? Perhaps your son has incredibly poor choice in friends. Perhaps you son’s friends are lying. Perhaps your son is lying, IE “Come on dad, everyone else is doing it”. Or perhaps you’re over-exaggerating to justify your own opinions on the matter.

On the other hand, I saw “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Beetlejuice” at around that age, so perhaps this is simply a matter of the medium shifting, I don’t know. Regardless, if you’re not getting the attention of the parents NOW, chances are that fining their kids isn’t going to help any; in fact, it’ll probably inspire these “dense” parents to vote you out after they pay their FIFTH consecutive fine. If they don’t care what their kids buy, these sudden fines aren’t going to magically change that opinion any.

“We’re not talking about the equivalent of an R-rated slasher movie. Many of these games are absolutely horrific. They allow kids to learn firsthand how to kill, torture, mutilate and rape in graphic detail. They don’t watch someone else do it; they get to do it themselves, and in many of these games, the more violent, merciless and gruesome you are, the more points you score.”

Woo-hoo! Ted Bundy, WATCH OUT! Billy Richards from Omaha played him some GTA3, and he’s coming for your record! I especially like how he says that, effectively speaking, Jason X > Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance, and while that might be open for debate to some, I would have to take the stance that such is not the case. Largely because I can derive at least SOME amusement from Beatdown. Jason X just makes me nauseous.

Please. Hands up, how many people have ever raped someone in a video game? Unless you’ve played the f*cked-up Japanese import games that cater to this sort of behavior (say what you want in your defense, I’m fairly disagreeable to “simulated rape” in a video game), the answer is NONE OF YOU. How about torture? Well, unless you played “The Punisher”, again, the answer is basically NONE OF YOU. And I wouldn’t call bashing a guy’s face into a wall until he talks “torture” in the strictest sense of the word, but let’s run with it anyway, yeah? So we’ve got “killing” and “mutilation”, that kids can “learn from” in “graphic detail”.

Show of hands: who here learned how to kill anyone from “God of War”? That’s about what I thought.

And here’s where we get the game list. You know, where the politician in question pretends he’s actually PLAYED some of the video games out there, and knows what the hell he’s talking about.

“Grand Theft Auto. This was the most popular video game in America in 2004. The player is a young man who is trying to gain the respect of street gangsters and other criminals. The more creative and brutal you are in killing innocent people, the more respect you gain and the more points you score. One creative way to score points is to have sex with a prostitute. If you beat her to death afterward and take your money back, you score some bonus points.”

You could’ve just linked a picture of Jack Thompson in place of the actual text there and created the same effect. Bland, boring political meme that we’ve seen a billion times already. So, for the record… it’s GRAND THEFT AUTO 3, dipshit; GRAND THEFT AUTO came out something like ten years ago, and wasn’t the most popular game of any time period, frankly. Oh, and since we’re on the subject… in 2004, the game in specific wouldn’t have even bee part 3… it would have been Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, yes, of “Hot Coffee” fame. Speaking of, Johnson also completely neglected to mention “Hot Coffee” and all associated elements; apparently dude doesn’t even pay attention to his own allies in the war on video games. Creativity and brutality have nothing to do with establishing respect within the game, and killing an individual, regardless of manner or stature earns you ONE WHOLE FUCKING POINT in the entirety of the game. There aren’t even all that many ways to “creatively” and “brutally” dispatch enemies; the game gives you weapons, you use them. Period. And, oh yeah, the whole prostitute thing… yes, Jeff, but you can also regain health by stealing an ambulance or by picking up health packs; sexing up hookers tends to be the least convenient method of health restoration (mainly due to the amount of time it takes to do what’s required) available. Bleh. NEXT!

“Clock Tower 3. This is a survival horror game about a girl being chased by murderers who are trying to kill her and her family. In one scene, a little girl with pigtails is caught by her attacker, who repeatedly smashes her head against a wall with a sledgehammer. Later you see her ghost, covered in blood, playing a piano while her father is impaled onto a fence. Another scene shows the killer gouging out a man’s eyeballs, then lowering the man’s elderly mother into a vat of acid as she begs for mercy.”

… wow. Clock Tower 3? Really? Is anyone really even PLAYING Clock Tower 3? Or, to put it another way, are LITTLE KIDS playing Clock Tower 3? Also, bear in mind that you, as the protagonist, are trying to kill the murderers in question with YOUR HOLY BOW AND ARROW OF LIGHT AND GOODNESS, which really isn’t teaching you as a player how to do much of anything immoral. Now, while I can’t really vouch for the validity of the above comments (I never really played far into CT3, largely because it wasn’t a very good CT game), I have to wonder… Clock Tower 3? Really? Hi, Resident Evil 4, God of War, SMT: Nocturne, the soon-to-be released Persona 3 (where you BLOW YOUR BRAINS OUT to summon Personae), 25 to Life, The Punisher, etc… and you picked THIS?

Who throws a shoe? Honestly!

Moving on…

“Manhunt. In this game, the player is a mass murderer who sometimes wears a clown mask to disguise himself. You score points by, of course, killing people in creative and gruesome ways. For example, you can use piano wire to grab a man from behind and saw at his neck, pushing your foot up against his back until his head falls off. You can suffocate someone with a clear plastic bag. You can twist large shards of glass into someone’s eyeballs or you can use a sickle to split open someone’s stomach or stab a crowbar into the back of someone’s head and pry it apart.”

Now, see, HERE’S a game we can get behind. Except… well, I don’t remember the “clown mask” bit. And since your character is being hunted by the various people who are trying to kill HIM, I don’t know if this counts so much as “mass murder” as much as it’s “multiple counts of self-defense”. That said, the remainder of the description is more or less accurate, but frankly, Manhunt wasn’t exactly a phenomenal game or anything, so I’m not entirely certain we really need to go over how it’s corrupting your kids if they’re not actively interested in playing it.

And of course, our magnum-f*cking-opus…

“Postal 2. In this serial killer game, the player earns points by killing as many innocent people as possible. You can beat people to death or chop their heads off with a shovel (and play soccer with their severed heads). You can kill them with a sledgehammer, a sickle or any number of other weapons. You can open fire on a gay pride march, a minority community celebration and a parade of police officers.”

Is anyone even PLAYING Postal 2 at this point? Can you even BUY Postal 2 in stores, ANYWHERE? And, to bring the prior noted point up again, wouldn’t THIS be a “mass murder” game as opposed to a “serial killer” game? Serial killers tend to have an MO, and tend to kill in small groups over periods of time; mass murderers tend to whack a bunch of people at once, in one or multiple locations. That our government representatives are utterly incapable of properly using context-sensitive terms, yet insist upon using them anyway is only slightly less annoying than the massive pile of hyperbole Mr. Johnson has used in just this one article.

Johnson goes on to stress the nature of the bill and reiterate the point that, IF parents approve of their kids playing these sorts of games, he doesn’t have any issue with that; he simply wants to stop kids from buying or renting “M” rated titles. And that’s fine. See, here’s my thing: I don’t have an issue with wanting to restrict ten year olds from playing GTA:SA; I openly agree with such measures. I don’t have a problem with wanting to increase parental awareness that yes, some games are heavily violent; parents really DO need to know things like this, frankly, so that they’re more aware of what their kids are doing. And I don’t have a problem with the desire to hold someone accountable for kids playing violent games; I think that if minors are playing games they shouldn’t be playing, well, just like with cigarettes, alcohol and porn, someone SHOULD be held accountable if kids are doing things they shouldn’t be.

But I’m not okay with trying to fine kids for something their parents should be paying attention to. I’m not okay with politicians demonizing video games they’ve most likely never played and most likely never will. I’m not okay with people championing crusades that won’t succeed and wasting the money of the taxpayers just to “prove a point”; the point being, apparently, that they’re a bunch of idiots. And I’m ESPECIALLY not okay with the fact that, frankly, you’re ultimately not really DOING anything… once again I say, sound and fury, signifying nothing. This will fail miserably, just like everything else that’s been proposed; no one will really be any more or less aware of the situation than they were before you opened your mouth; and, best of all, those that demonize the game industry on a daily basis will have EVEN more ammunition in their crusade against gaming in general.

Does it please you to sling your arrows down upon those of us who seek to legitimize our hobby? Does it amuse you to know that you can condemn us with but a word, and the people will follow behind you? Does it fill you with pride to see that, twenty years later, people STILL think Dungeons and Dragons is a satanic game (it isn’t) and that some kid killed himself because his character died (he didn’t; at least, not the one everyone talks about), because YOUR PEOPLE said so? Do you really have SO LITTLE to do that this sort of thing is a priority over, say, improving the educational system, cleaning up crime, reducing teen pregnancy, and NOT supporting frivolous wars against non-threats? Might I suggest, perhaps, taking up a hobby; ideally, one that doesn’t waste taxpayer dollars?

I hear Golf is a lot of fun, y’know.

So, in conclusion, the government is clueless, they’re trying to fix things that aren’t ENTIRELY broken, but going about fixing them the WRONG WAY, and they’re ultimately wasting YOUR money to do it. Their attempted changes won’t change anything, and quite frankly won’t succeed. Yes, as the song says, “They’re billing me/for killing me”, and it’s certainly true enough here. And at the end of the day, no one will be any more aware than they were before it all went down, no one will care any more than they did in the first place, and this will all ultimately be for nothing.

And remember, some of you VOTED for this guy. Enjoy your wasted money; I know I’ll be enjoying it plenty.

And that’s enough of that. On with the main show, yeah?

PLAYING THE LAME, VOLUME 11.

Name of the offending title: Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure
What system was this forced upon: Nintendo Gamecube
Who was responsible for this crap: Kemco, Universal (for allowing this to be published)
Date this abomination was foisted upon us: 12/18/01

I don’t know who thought this was a good idea, but whoever thought this one up needs to be beaten. A lot.

And, for the record, your soundtrack for this week is Killswitch Engage. It’s hardcore music, I don’t think I need to say much more about it than that.

Okay, so somewhere along the line, Universal Studios either approached Kemco or was approached by Kemco about making a video game based on their theme parks. We’ve already established Kemco is a shitty company, so I don’t think that needs to be reiterated. This is a monumentally bad idea in theory, but in practice it COULD be pretty good… hey, why not make the title like Theme Park Tycoon, and have some fun with it? Lord knows it worked for Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. But no, instead we get an adventure game where we get to wander around the actual Universal Studios theme park, ALA “Adventures in the Magic Kingdom”. Yes, the last time we saw such an uninteresting waste of time, it was nearly fifteen years ago, on the NES. So, you just KNOW this is going to be a system-selling title.

Sometimes you really have to wonder what these people are thinking.

Anyway, the result is Universal Studios Theme Park Adventures, which neatly occupies a space on my list of “Ten Games I Openly Hate”, and would quite easily take a space on the Twenty Worst Games of All-time list. It’s lame, it’s sad, and it sucks, all at the same time. If you’ve been in a game store in the past, oh, two years, you’ve probably seen it and wondered “What the holy hell is that supposed to be?” just like I did. Well, wonder no more, for I am about to break open the case and unleash the secrets of the damned, here for your amusement. Please, please, no thanks are needed, but donations are welcome.

A BRIEF LAYOUT OF “UNIVERSAL STUDIOS THEME PARK ADVENTURES”:

You take on the role of a kid (you get to choose one from a bunch of kids, which vary racially but otherwise look exactly the same) who wanders around the Universal Studios Theme Park doing stuff. You can ride the rides, answer trivia questions, and watch video clips of special effects shows from movies like “Waterworld”, because nothing says “success” like “Waterworld”. You can also hug the various mascots, perform random tasks for other park guests, and pick up trash, all to earn points you can put towards hats that allow you to ride other rides. And… well, that’s really about it. You spend the game dicking around the Universal Studios Theme Park. Really. That’s it. Scouts honor.

WHY THIS GAME SUCKS:

Well, again, let me reiterate this: YOU SPEND THE GAME DICKING AROUND THE UNIVERSAL STUDIOS THEME PARK. That’s it. That’s the ENTIRE basis of the game. Wandering around a theme park (and not even a HAUNTED one or anything), doing stuff. Now, if you were actually IN the park, doing this sort of stuff might be interesting, because it’s all part of the experience of visiting Universal Studios. But trying to replicate this in video game form, on your Gamecube, doesn’t exactly bring the experience to life. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Now, since the experience is generally divided up into navigating around the park and playing mini-games, I thought I’d do the same thing.

THE PARK (AND ALL ASSOCIATED ELEMENTS):

See that? That’s you. Or, at least, one of the possible versions of “you” that can run about the park. Note the ugly face and generally uncomprehending stare; that’s a common trait to all of the characters you can choose from. Now, of course, it wouldn’t really be Universal Studios without everyone’s favorite animated-

HOLY GOD KILL IT WITH A BRICK-

Oh, wait, no, that’s Woody Woodpecker (huh-huh). Woody (huh-huh) is your guide through the park, and will routinely pop up to offer advice and such. This is, of course, the modernized and updated Woody (huh-OKAY KNOCK IT OFF), who is far less interesting than the original WW that most of us grew up with. And his voice actor is annoying as shit. Gimme Chilly Willie, at least HE didn’t talk.

So, Woody introduces you to the park, and basically says “okay, go screw around”, so off you go to do just that. You will note that most of the backgrounds are pre-rendered environments, like so:

that lack any sort of personality in their existence. People tend to wander about across the various backdrops, and while games like Resident Evil made at least SOME effort to make the characters and the backgrounds look similar, the same cannot be said of this; character models stick out like a sore thumb and look horrid in motion. Also, the game features a similar problem to another title that did this sort of thing before, Final Fantasy 7, in that because the backgrounds are pre-rendered, finding exits can be something of a COLOSSAL PAIN IN THE ASS. FF7 rectified this by having little icons pop up at the touch of a button to show you where you could go; USTPA (heh, that sounds funny) rectifies this by expecting you to suck it up and be a man about it. GOOD JOB GUYS.

There is a map, but the map as it is, is fairly useless; you’re never entirely certain that the direction you’re FACING is the map’s idea of “North”, so trying to use that to navigate doesn’t work. Indeed, the map doesn’t even show viable paths or individual screen sections or anything; it just says “THIS IS HERE. YOU ARE HERE. HAVE FUN FINDING YOUR WAY”, more or less. You’re given the locations of the various rides you can use, but never a clearly defined way to GET to said rides. This is, as you might expect, not terribly well-implemented.

Whilst navigating the game world, you can do all sorts of things, and by “all sorts of things”, I mean like four or five things. You can pick up garbage (because I tell you what, when I go to Universal Studios, f*ck the rides, I WANT TO PLAY JANITOR), assist random people with lame tasks (fetch quests, usually), find rides to ride on, and hug mascots. Yes, HUG mascots. Usually people dressed up as Frankenstein and the Wolfman, though there is someone wandering around as said Mr. Willie, who is THE SIZE OF CHILLY WILLIE. Hear that? It’s the sound of Lord Ockham spinning in his grave.

You can also take part in a trivia game that’s located… er… somewhere on the map, but said trivia game is rather confusing. See, most of the game caters to little kids, as it’s essentially a dumbed-down adventure game. And the mini-games, while frustrating, aren’t terribly COMPLEX or DIFFICULT, so one can absolutely understand how they might appeal to children. But unless your kids have absolutely no life beyond watching Universal movies, I sincerely doubt they’re going to be able to answer questions about horror movies from the 1930’s or “Waterworld”. And really, who would openly admit to seeing “Waterworld” anyway? So, basically, if you want to get anywhere with the trivia game, you either A.) need to be a scholar on all things Universal, or B.) need to cheat using IMDB.com (as I did). Regardless, having such a thing in what basically amounts to a kids game is ridiculous beyond belief, and frankly, the trivia should have catered more to children, or the game should have catered more to all ages. Jackass of all trades, capable of none, it seems.

Now, as far as the rides themselves are concerned, in the beginning of the game, you can only really use a couple of them; “Back to the Future” and “ET” (FYI, no Spider-Man ride here, for obvious reasons). These, combined with the trash picking, mascot hugging, and the trivia game, earn you points which can be traded in for ride hats. You can buy hats for the several other rides in the park, including “Backdraft”, “Jaws”, and “Jurassic Park”, and each of the hats allow you to ride the rides they’re advertising. See, the hats allow you to skip past the insanely long lines, because you were willing to shell out your cash to be better than everybody else. In theory, this might have seemed like a good way to make sure kids don’t just skip around and do whatever they want (because GOD FORBID I play the game MY way), but in practice it’s a stupid play dynamic. I mean, no offense, but if I want to ride on the Jurassic Park ride, I don’t want to spend half an hour picking up trash first, ya dig?

So, alright, we’ve traded in our well-earned (yeah, right) points towards a hat of some sort or another, and we’re ready to play some games. What sort of games await us, you might ask? Well, I’m glad you did (or, if you didn’t, I’m glad I can’t hear you), because otherwise we wouldn’t have much else to talk about. Our journey into the various mini-games that occupy the product can neatly be placed into the OTHER aspect of the game itself…

THE RIDES (AKA RIP-OFF MINI-GAME MADNESS):

ET: You ride from one side of the game map to the other, dodging parked cars, tree branches, and other sorts of fearsome obstacles (if you consider tree branches something to be feared) so that you can get ET to safety. Yes, the game is basically attempting to digitally emulate the ride Elliot took in the movie, with about the expected results. On one side of the coin, riding your bike to the right while dodging stupid obstacles is pretty lame; on the other, it’s better than any of the OTHER ET games that have come out over the years.

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Somewhere, at some point in time, Doc Brown decided to build a second time machine (also a DeLorian, oddly enough), which has been stolen by Biff Tannen. You, in the first time machine (or maybe it’s the second one, I kind of got lost), have to put Biff Tannen down, by rear-ending him a lot. It’s basically a racing game of sorts, only far, far less entertaining or playable. Steering Doc Brown’s time machine is a pain in the ass, and managing to navigate it into Biff’s bumper is equal parts luck and dumb luck. Combine this with the bland game tracks and having to listen to the Back to the Future theme OVER AND OVER AGAIN for five minutes, and you too will want to go back in time and kill the parents of everyone involved in the making of this game… just in case.

JURASSIC PARK: Panzer Dragoon, only not very fun. You have no control of your jeep to speak of, and if the jeep hits a bump (or a dinosaur), you better hope you held on tight, because if you didn’t, you’re out cold for a minute or two. Otherwise, it’s literally a piece for piece rip-off of PD, only instead of shooting flying monsters, you’re shooting poorly rendered dinosaurs. The JP sequence is also something like ten hours long (okay, more like ten or fifteen minutes, but it felt like ten hours), which is far longer than I wanted to spend shooting at low-res dinos. Bleh.

JAWS: Couldn’t bring myself to play this far into the game, but as near as I can tell, you try to stop Jaws from eating your boat (hey, great powers of deduction, huh?). If it’s anything like the other mini-games, it’s bland, poorly designed, and not very fun. Ah well, at least they captured the spirit of Jaws appropriately: never before have I seen a paper-mache shark look SO MUCH like a paper-mache shark in a game before.

There are others, including one based on “Backdraft”, as I said, which I imagine probably plays like a combination of FD16 and Burning Rangers, only full of suck. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to care about this any longer, so it’s time we bid adieu to our fine friends at Universal Studios. Sadly, we were deprived of opportunities to see rides based on characters like Popeye, Spider-Man, and the Cat in the Hat, but after having played this crapfest, I think they’d want it that way.

WHY THIS GAME REALLY SUCKS:

It’s a stupid idea that never should have existed. Someone decided to cash in on a license in the most inept and uninteresting way imaginable. There’s no purpose to the game, no reason for it to exist, no niche that it fills that NEEDED filling. If you’re a fan of Universal, you’ve most likely BEEN to the park, and if you haven’t, you’re not going to buy a video game with the expectation that it’ll REALLY FEEL LIKE YOU’RE THERE. I mean, criminy, you can’t even ride the Spider-Man ride! Whatsupwithdat? This is a sniveling little game that doesn’t really deserve to exist, serves no purpose, and does nothing for no one.

THAT’S why this sucks. Period.

WHERE IT COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED:

In its present state, I can’t really come up with much that can be done to improve this. It’s not a good idea to begin with, and the execution is abysmal. Even if the mini-games were fun to play and the whole stupid trivia game were excised entirely, it’s still an incredibly stupid product that has no reason to exist. It’s like an adventure game with no point, mixed with mini-games that aren’t really there for any specific reason. There’s no point to fixing something so incredibly broken that, even if it WERE fixed, no one would want to play.

So scrap it. Make something better.

Here’s a nice, simple way to make a game based on Universal Studios, and make it something people would WANT to play: rip off Theme Park. Give the player a flat tract of land and let them build their OWN park. Let the player come up with their own ideas on how to do things, and let them do whatever they wish as they build the park of their dreams. People LOVE this sort of game, and with good reason: deep down inside, we as people like to create and manage things. It gives us pride to say “I built that and managed to keep it from running into the ground”. We like that, even if we keep it to ourselves. And THAT’S the point: gamers want to feel some sort of sense of accomplishment in what they do, and building and maintaining your own theme park gives you this sense of accomplishment. Wandering around the park picking up garbage does not give you this same sense; we want to be successful, we do NOT want to be the in-game janitor.

And it’s not like there aren’t a billion games around that do this sort of thing: again, Theme Park, the various Tycoon titles, the aforementioned Operation Genesis, and of course the various and sundry Maxis simulation titles. These titles in their various states exist for a reason: people LIKE playing these kinds of games. Making a game that allows you to do EXACTLY this sort of thing, with licensed properties included, would definitely attract some gamers. And hey, Disney hasn’t realized that yet; why not get your name out there with a title that will attract gamers regardless of age or gender. Give gamers something they might WANT to do, instead of something that’s going to put them to sleep.

But then again, that would be LOGICAL, and would probably take HARD WORK to create. Silly me. Forget I said anything.

WHERE YOU CAN GET IT:

I got mine from the local EBGames for $5. Most stores of similar type (Gamestop, Game Crazy) should have the game used for around the same price (and new for not much more), give or take, and the usual internet sales shops should have it for sale as well. It’s a fairly new, incredibly poorly received title, so finding and playing it shouldn’t take much work at all.

And I know for a fact Gamefly still rents it out (and Blockbuster might as well), so even if you’re not willing to buy something this bad, you can rent it just to see what pain really is. You’ve been warned.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

And so brings to a close another edition of Playing the Lame. I hope to get another review or two out before the end of the week, and next week should see an opinion column of some sort or another (I think I have an idea for y’all, we’ll see), so those that enjoy that sort of thing should keep an eye out. And once again, until next time… yes yes… I’m Mark B, and you’re not. Toodles.

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