This week’s edition marks the end of the four parts series about forgotten platform games characters. We have seen animal mascots for the first two weeks, while the last article was about those that were not quite human either. This time, I will present six human characters that tried to become the next big thing in the platformer genre, but ultimately failed.
Before going on with the article, I would just like to mention something about the characters I studied this week, and which I think is sorely lacking in today’s videogames. It seems like the art of coming up with awesomely cheesy character names is completely lost. Sure, “Sly Cooper” or “Jak and Daxter” might sound good enough, and in reality it probably is, but I am a big fan of everything that has that “cheesy good” vibe, which is very different from something that is “cheesy bad”.
Here’s an example: a lot of wrestling fans will remember that when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was originally searching for a name that would convey his coldness, he asked the creative team, which came up with a list of truly bad names. On that list was “Chilly McFreeze”. That is “cheesy bad”. A name that sounds just cheesy enough to be fun without being too bad would be something like today’s first character. Sometimes I think that gamers have lost their sense of humour. Everything has to be serious and “hardcore” these days. One of the sole exceptions I am seeing is Pokémon, which is the only place where a character named Jigglypuff can succeed. Thank God for the little monsters.
Kid Kool: This is exactly what I mean. Nowadays, you wouldn’t see a character named “Kid Kool”, because the developers would either think that he wouldn’t be taken seriously (which is probably true) or that it isn’t marketable at all. However, back then, it was entirely normal since this is a guy who comes from the era of “Cowabunga” and other exclamations with attitude. This character starred in only one game, which was released on the NES back in 1988. This game has a special place in my heart because it provides an additional challenge in a genre that often lacks in difficulty. Let me explain.
The objective of Kid Kool is to retrieve seven magical herbs that will cure a sick king. The quest must be completed within three game days, which are each equal to about an hour of gameplay. During that time, the setting changes to both night and day while a counter counts down to your doom. Should you fail and take more than three days to gather the herbs, you will get the bad ending, where Kid Kool arrives to the castle only to find out that the king is DEAD. However, should you have good enough skills and finish the game before the timer runs out, the king is cured and he will offer you jewels and a princess as a reward. Sounds good enough for me.
While the game didn’t achieve that much success, which would explain why nobody knows who Kid Kool is anymore, Vic Tokai still thought it had a good concept and made similar games which were considered spiritual sequels, but released for different systems with completely unrelated characters. None of them got any success either, but at least, the developer gave it its all.
Joe & Mac: This game was the only one my brother and I played for about two months after it was released. Joe and Mac are two cavemen, but they are also ninjas. They are simply out to rescue a group of girls that was kidnapped by rival cavemen. It’s not the most developed storyline in history, but it provides a fun and interesting setting as the two characters travel through the prehistoric world, fighting both humans and dinosaurs. The choice of weapons is varied enough, giving Joe and Mac plenty of means to do battle. The game is fun enough when played alone, but the cooperative mode is where the real entertainment is. Taking out enemies as a team is very satisfying, but the real challenge comes from trying to work together. The two players have to share weapons and power-ups, but they also need to time their jumps and stay together. If one of them is left behind, that player loses a life. When you add the fact that Joe and Mac could hurt each others, you get a frantic and fun multiplayer experience.
The first game was originally an arcade game, and it was popular enough to be ported to many platforms, including the Genesis, the Super NES, the Game Boy, the Amiga and Windows. A sequel was also released for the SNES, titled Joe & Mac: Lost in the Tropics, while Joe & Mac Returns was released as an arcade game. Like many sequels of semi-popular games, it didn’t achieve the same amount of glory as the original, and the series was dropped entirely. With a lot of people being fascinated by ninjas right now, you would think that caveman ninjas would be a perfect fit in this era. Even though I’d like to see Joe and Mac return in a beat em up game – I don’t think that a 3D platformer would fit their style – the genre’s track record in the last generation has left me a bit scared of what could happen. Good beat em up games are few and far between, and I don’t think that this franchise is what’s needed to make things better.
Keith Courage: WOAH. A TG-16 game? Indeed, the TurboGrafx-16 had platformers that did not star Bonk. In fact, this was the original pack-in game for the system when it was released in 1988. As with most games included with a system, Nec and Hudson wanted this one to show off the console’s strong points and make a huge splash. In the long run, this game did neither, and once I am done explaining what it is about, you will probably understand why. I mean sure, it had colourful graphics and everything that should have brought in the kiddies, but sometimes, that’s just not enough to save a game.
Keith Courage is a member of the N.I.C.E. – The Nations for International Citizens of Earth – who decides to help when a meteor strikes the planet. Out of the crater appear the B.A.D. – the Beastly Alien Dudes – who planted their headquarters underground and plan to invade the surface. In the overworld, you are a normal guy with a sword, but once underground, you activate your special Nova Suit and become a half-man, half-robot beast armed with a lightning sword. Go and kill the B.A.D.! Gameplay-wise, this is a standard affair where you hit enemies with your sword until you make it to the end of the level. There are seven of them, all of which contain two parts – the overworld and the underworld. It’s nothing special really, and the only thing standing out is the cute little acronyms for the two factions. It’s no surprise that as soon as they found something better, Hudson decided to go with the “Hey look! A caveman with a huge head in a half-decent game!” tactic. Keith Courage has not been seen since.
Wonder Boy: A lot could be said about this guy, and that’s the whole problem. I’m not sure if this franchise was killed off because its sales were lacking or because the developers got tired of messing around with the storyline. It all started fine and dandy, but soon enough, localisation, last minute changes and edits to names and sprites made everything way more complicated than a small, mindless platform games series should be. Let’s see if I can make things simple.
Wonder Boy started as an arcade game, which was eventually ported to the Master System. However, it was also ported to the NES with some sprites changed and was renamed Adventure Island. From that point, both series evolved in different directions. The Wonder Boy series went to Monster World and never looked back, releasing six games, one of which didn’t even really starred Wonder Boy. The only thing connecting everything together is the fact that these are platform games with the same main character (except for the last one). Other than that, most of them feature the titular character fighting monsters with a sword in games that range from great to mildly-entertaining on the fun spectrum.
The last game starring Wonder Boy was published in 1991 while the last one in the series was released in 1994. Since then, he has made the mandatory apparitions in Sega’s collection games as well as on the Wii’s Virtual Console. A game has been released in Japan which put every game in the series on one disk for 2500 Yen. This is somewhere around 20$, which is a great price if you are a fan of the character. As for its demise, I am at a loss to explain it. I don’t have any sales data, and as far as I remember, gamers generally liked the franchise. What can I say? It happens. I guess Sega just moved on and left the guy behind.
Boogerman: If you ever found potty humour entertaining, then this is your man. He’s a superhero that burps, farts, spits and flick boogers. He does nothing else specials, but he says that you don’t need superpowers when you’ve got a busy body. All in all, he’s probably the most disgusting videogame character you have ever played. His story is that he is millionaire with a hero alter-ego who was dusting an anti-pollution machine when he sneezed. The machine activated, a portal opened and a hand came out to steal its power source. Boogerman followed and jumped into the portal to investigate.
From that point, the game lets you explore many worlds in traditional platformer manners, such as Flatulent Swamps, Boogerville, Mucus Mountain and other lands named after different functions of the human body. To defeat enemies, you use Boogerman’s “abilities” like farting and throwing boogers. The game was interesting enough, with big and bright graphics as well as a very unique setting. The controls were responsive enough and in all honesty, it was amusing. No sequels were made and despite some notoriety, Boogerman was ignored by its creators until Clayfighter 63 1/3 was released for the N64. This game pulled out all the stops trying to establish the man as a powerhouse, including him as a secret character and even hiring Dan Castellaneta as his voice actor. The only problem is that the game itself was a total flop, spelling the end of nearly everything associated with it, even Boogerman. With Interplay being in major financial problems for a while, it should come as no surprise that most of its franchises have yet to see more action.
Tomba!: Also known as “Tombi” in PAL regions, this character was the darling of critics worldwide at the time of its release in 1998. Everybody seemed to love the game, citing its mission-based system and imaginative characters as reasons of its greatness. If everything was right, it was going to be the next big thing on the Playstation, but gamers didn’t flock to the title as anticipated. Developers Whoopee Camp gave it another shot, releasing Tomba! 2: The Evil Swine Return in 1999. The game didn’t get as much good reviews as its predecessor, and finally, Whoopee Camp went out of business in 2000.
The story of Tomba! is a great one in my opinion. As a pink-haired shorts-wearing jungle boy, you must save your island from the magic of evil pigs. To add insult to injury, the pigs stole gold as well as your grandfather’s bracelet. How do you defeat these pigs? You catch them with your evil pig bags! It’s simple, it’s fun and it’s a shame that the game didn’t find success as easily as lesser games did. I even found the second one to be a lot of fun despite the game being even less popular than the first. Sure, this time, it was simply about saving your girlfriend, but I never held that fact against Mario either. As long as the game is fun, that’s what we want, right?
While the game is still largely forgotten these days, it looks like some collectors woke up late and eventually realized the quality of this game. I checked on ebay, and the original game can fetch up to 70$ used. As the saying goes, real genius is rarely recognized in its own time.
There you go. Four weeks of forgotten platforming heroes, 24 characters covered. I know that many other forgotten characters have not been profiled here, but I went with those I felt were more interesting, or with personal favourites.
The only goal of these columns was to bring back some forgotten classic back into the spotlight with the hope that some people will discover these hidden gems for the first time. Of course, I guess I also wanted to tell people not to waste 5$ on Punky Skunk or Bubsy should they find it in a discount bin somewhere. You never know when you’re going to need these five bucks. Maybe you’ll be craving for some M & M’s sooner or later.