Inside Pulse 12

Review: Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games (WII)

Chuck E. Cheese Cover
Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Developer: UFO Interactive
Genre: Party Games
Release Date: 08/02/2010

Story/Modes

Much like Voltaire’s Candide, UFO Interactive’s Wii game Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games is the story of a naïve young person entering into the cruel adult world. Surrounded on all sides by grotesque figures trying to entice the main protagonist into sin, the player must navigate a hellish world of uncaring adults, Dr. Moreauesque human/animal hybrids, and Sisyphean labor while trying to maintain a sense of right and wrong. After being cast out from home, the hero seeks to find enjoyment at the titular rodent themed restaurant and arcade. Faced with poverty in the face of unrestrained capitalistic excess, the protagonist is drafted into child labor by a mouse headed creature. This animal figure, which likely represents shyness and wisdom as per the shamanistic tradition, is known as Chuck E. Cheese. Whether this is his real name, or even if Chuck E. Cheese is an individual or a title, is an unanswered mystery.

Mr. Cheese drags the main character into a kitchen and forces him to make pizzas to order in a so-called game titled Pizza Mania. The orders are relayed through illustrations of the required ingredient, instead of in writing. This makes one ponder exactly how young the average indentured pizza cook is. After throwing the proper ingredients on to a series of pies, the hero is given a number of “tokens” equal to the number of pizzas made. Whether or not this breaks child labor and minimum wage laws is also unknown and warrants further research.

Tokens in hand, the hero figure either assembles a other series of pizzas or heads over to the arcade. The arcade is the main arena in Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games‘ metaphysical battle. Eighteen games of various genres and styles await the protagonist, each brighter and louder than the next. This blaring, glowing edifice to frivolity is initially limited to a handful of games, with the majority revealed only through the capricious spinning of the Lucky Wheel. Like the Wheel of Fortune in a tarot deck, the Lucky Wheel can unlock happiness, in the form of new games, or cause endless frustration as it continually hits games that are already available. Once every game in the arcade is unlocked, the Lucky Wheel is rendered useless, a map to the place you already are.

Screenshot2The other sixteen games in the arcade vary widely in meaning and worth. Alley Roller is the slight variation on classic Ski Ball, a dependable and well traveled path. There are few surprises to be had when playing Alley Roller and fewer disappointments. Select a lane, cock back your arm, and throw the ball towards the holes. Alley Roller‘s lone divergence from Ski Ball orthodoxy is the arcane glow that emanates from a select hole each round. These glowing holes have extra value, communicated in points, when the ball enters them. The significance of this is unknown and unexplored by the game’s narrative, leading me to suspect it is simply a McGuffin, glowing as brightly as the briefcase in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Basket Ball is an abstraction of the classic American game of basketball, miniaturized to only allow for one player. The player competes against the court itself, a simple hoop a few feet away. Instead of using the skill or reflexes of the player, the game of Basket Ball tosses the balls around randomly, often ignoring the player’s input. One possible interpretation of this phenomenon is that the makers of the game wanted to relay the futility of competition in the face of the void. What value is there to points in a cold, cruel world?

My research tells me that there is a popular game called Galaga that is normally available for play in the physical realm’s Chuck E. Cheese pizza and gaming establishments. Much like that game, Galaxy Shooter is the story of a lone pilot defending his planet from alien invaders in the black abyss of space, facing a wall of murderous enemies with only his own skill to depend on. The differences are small but notable. In Galaxy Shooter, the space craft is a mechanical representation of the ever present rodent overlord, Chuck E. Cheese. The alien space craft move more quickly and shoot even more aggressively as well. The result is a game in which death is swift and inevitable. Nothing can stop the onslaught from beyond the stars, which calls to mind H.P. Loveraft’s terrifying mythos.

Screenshot1The classic fraternity house game air hockey is a highly abstract form of ice hockey, with the two teams of players reduced to one player on each side, the hockey sticks rendered as knobbed paddles. Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games features a variation even further removed from the frigid rinks of Canada and Phoenix. This form of Air Hockey is controlled with the control pad on the Wiimote and is seemingly rigged to the player’s advantage. By acting as little as possible, the player can cause the game to defeat itself. I am reminded of Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, in which an equally malevolent machine destroys its creator and itself. The implications of this game bring to mind the Industrial Revolution and man’s own insignificance in the face of the rise of machines. There is a slightly Luddite theme to much of Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games, but this is the most blatant example by far.

The game Smash a Munch demands a bit of exposition. In the Chuck E. Cheese universe, Mr. Munch is a purple pizza eating monster. The symbolism of this figure is open to much interpretation. Unlike the rest of the cast, Mr. Munch does not have a species, being labeled only as “monster.” Coupled with his unnatural color, purple, and huge appetite, it is not too difficult to imagine that Mr. Munch was created to be a symbol of the unrestrained id. The character he replaced, Crusty the Cat, symbolized magic and mystery and independence, which could be seen as more in line with the super-ego. This shift towards the darker impulses of man, gluttony being a sin in most religions, makes Mr. Munch the most obvious source of temptation in the Chuck E. Cheese canon, a Satanic nemesis figure. The game he stars in is one of rage and wanton destruction, hinting that Mr. Munch may have more than gluttony on his mind. The player must swing the Wiimote each time Mr. Munch’s head appears from one of the holes on the game board. Speed and precise timing are key here, since there is no aiming required. There is a point bonus for successfully quelling the beast Munch in succession. Maintaining the protagonist’s innocence in the face of such greed and wrath is part of the balancing act the narrative demands.

Screenshot3Connect the Stars is a strange game. On one hand, it encourages the player to seek patterns in the stars, finding images in the heavens. This is a strong allusion to the ancient art of astrology. On the other hand, the stars must be connected in a specific order and within a short timeframe, which reminds one of the science of astronomy. One interpretation could be that Connect the Stars is about treading the path between faith and science, trying not to tip one way or the other. Another might be that Connect the Stars is an analogy for growing up, that the act of codifying the heavens is a step towards being a grownup.

Cowboy Jasper takes the standard childhood trope of wanting to be a cowboy and distills it down to a more pure form: cattle roping. The aim of the game is to lasso each of the charging cows with a well timed throw. Jasper T. Jowls, star of this game and the next, is a hound dog. With his sleepy gaze and drooping features, he initially seems to be a slothful figure, a symbol of laziness. This contrasts deeply with the nature of his games, which are among the faster paced in the arcade as well as the true nature of hound dogs. Hounds are hard working dogs, relied upon to do demanding work for their masters. Perhaps the jovial figure of Jasper is more akin to the Budai, a smiling figure of transcendence. Either way, I suspect that Cowboy Jasper‘s simple gameplay is an adult statement on the relative simplicity of childhood in relation to adulthood.

Jasper’s second game is Jasper’s Racing. This motorcycle racing game is based on a unique sense of priorities as it relates to motorcycling. Instead of racing other bikes or dodging the dreaded cagers in SUVs, Jasper must navigate a highway littered with soda cans and oil slicks. This can only be interpreted as a statement on the environment, given the high gas mileage vehicle Jasper rides and the use of litter as an antagonist. The purpose of this game might be to remind the protagonist, and the player, that no amount of speed can outrun the problems of modern life and that caution must be exercised at all times. Also, there is a subtle bit of wishful engineering, since Jasper’s motorcycle has windshield wipers, a rare, but not unheard of, feature.

Screenshot4The second appearance of the frightful Mr. Munch is in Mr. Munch’s Target Practice. This is a simple shooting gallery, like those found at carnivals and galas. Targets with various point values, extra ammunition, and the heads of Mr. and Mrs. Munch traverse across the screen horizontally. Shooting Mr. Munch’s head nets the player additional points, but shooting the head of Mrs. Munch causes a penalty. It is not adequately explained if Mrs. Munch is the wife or mother of Mr. Munch. Either way, it is quite telling that in a game named after him, Mr. Munch encourages the player to shoot at him and not the female figure in his life. Whether this is an example of classic Oedipal tendencies, a virgin/whore complex, or some sort of self loathing is unknown. One theory is that Mrs. Munch is actually Mr. Munch’s female side, perhaps even a drag persona. This would explain his rewarding of those who destroy his masculine image and protect his feminine visage.

The game Photo Hunt is an anomalous activity. While such games are not common in physical world Chuck E. Cheese locations, they are very common in bars. This piece of the adult world intruding into the theoretically safe haven of childhood is like the film splicing antics of Tyler Durden in Fight Club, only more insidious. The game is deceptive in its concept: find the differences between two images. What makes this deceptive is how difficult it can be to properly select the different area. The game makes it difficult to choose an area you think is different from the original, inspiring distrust in the game, the controller, and even in one’s own self. Could this game be preparation for the use of psychedelic drugs? One can only wonder…

Balloon Alphabet is a strange spelling game. Like a less macabre Hangman, letters are scattered about and the player must choose which ones to use to form the word that the accompanying image illustrates. Some of the images are unusual, as are the words. I have never, outside of academic pursuits, used the term XMAS, which is illustrated with a tree in the game. This game focuses the player’s vocabulary on a smaller, simpler set of words, as in the classic 1984. Another attempt at mind control seems par for the course as the protagonist journeys towards enlightenment.

Pattern recognition is arguably the most key element of human intellect. It is the part of the mind that gives humanity art and science, as well as celebrity faces on overcooked Lay’s Potato Chips. The game known only as Matching is built on the buttress of human pattern recognition. Cards with matching images are revealed, then hidden. The player must flip the cards and match the images in order to make them disappear. Doing this repeatedly empties the board, which is then refilled with even more cards. Such a piling on effect is reminiscent of the daily work grind most adults endure. Nothing stays done and achievement is usually only meant with an increase in responsibility at the expense of peace of mind. By enduring the constant process of trial and error, eventual success, and new challenge, the protagonist is shown the world of adults, particularly his distant father.

Numerology is an ancient path to knowledge and power. The various disciplines, like isopsephy and alchemy, have wielded tremendous influence throughout the ages and people are still fascinated by numbers, as evidenced by films like The Number 23. Counting 1234 is a game in which the player must count the number of Chuck E. Cheese character’s heads on the screen as quickly as possible. Tapping into the traditions of numerology is yet another temptation laid out before the protagonist as he, or she, journeys towards enlightenment.

Screenshot9The final game is especially noteworthy. Dancing Queen With Helen is a truly harrowing experience and is not to be taken lightly. Helen Henny is the only female character in the Chuck E. Cheese universe, and the only bird. The chicken totem is particularly potent, possessing the ability to learn quickly, to absorb new ideas and energy. The chicken is a fertility symbol, doubly strong since Helen is the lone feminine figure, aside from Mr. Munch’s hidden self. As well, the chicken is a spirit of creativity, which leads directly into Dancing Queen. Despite being named for a well known song by ABBA, the Dancing Queen With Helen game only has one piece of music attached to it, a beguiling siren song. This song is composed of synthesized beats and a strangely voice like sound that seems to sing in a pleasant form of gibberish. Overwhelmingly upbeat and positive, the song lays the foundation for a simple rhythm game. As the song plays, commands move across the screen and pass through a circle. Enter the command as it passes through the circle and points are awarded. This makes the enchanting Helen Henny dance, her limbs moving like a Shrinky Dink in the microwave oven. This dance is surely a primitive fertility ritual, performed here to entrance the young protagonist and drag him into adolescence. This muddies Helen’s role. She is as much, if not more, of a temptation then Mr. Munch, but her attributes are much more positive. In a sense, she is the door through which the protagonist must travel in order to become an adult. Her relationship with the rodent king is unknown.

Each of the eighteen games, save Pizza Mania, rewards the player with tickets. The ticket is a completely different form of currency than the token. The ticket initially seems to be the more valuable form of currency, since they can be exchanged for prizes. Strangely, as prizes are acquired, the relationship between the token and the ticket changes. Many of the prizes increase the amount of tickets awarded by the games, thus making tokens more valuable. At first, a token is only worth between one and five tickets, but tokens can eventually be worth dozens of tickets.

The ostensible reason for the protagonist to play the games in the arcade is to earn tickets so that prizes can be acquired. These prizes are stored in the hero’s room at home and can be viewed there. The ruthless acquisition of prizes is in itself a pitfall, because to acquire all the prizes is to lose all meaning. With all of the toys collected, the game itself loses its value. This is the great struggle of Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games.

Story/Modes: Bad

Graphics

Screenshot5Since the late 90’s, Chuck E. Cheese has undergone a transmogrification from a rat carnival barker into a skateboarding young mouse. This leads further credence to the whispers that Mr. Cheese is actually a league of lookalikes and not a unique individual or that the current Chuck is not the original, but likely a descendant. Either way, the entire look of Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games is informed by the same sort of bland, solid color vector art as the restaurant chain is. All of the game’s animation is unconvincing and strange, like a warped piece of paper blown against a fence in the wind. Many of the games are affected negatively by the poor animation, notably Galaxy Shooter and Jasper’s Racing.

A special mention must be made of the character designs available for the protagonist. They vary in race and gender, a normally admirable trait. Sadly, the Asian character is rendered as the worst sort of mid-20th century Chinese stereotype, from his Fu Manchu hat to his squinty eyes. It goes without saying that this is the worst sort of image to put forth, particularly in a game aimed at children. Perhaps it was done out of irony, but if so, the target audience will likely not get the joke. Such a reprehensible representation of any ethnic group is quite disconcerting.

Graphics: Bad

Sound

Much of the game’s soundtrack is filled with an agonizingly upbeat, vaguely techno soundtrack. The music reminded me of the NES. Not the classic tunes of Goonies II or Super Mario Bros. 3 so much as the musical score of Skate or Die 2. Choosing to create a soundtrack to a modern game in the style of a half remembered NES game is quite a daring artistic choice, one which the developers jumped into with both feet. The lack of voice acting is probably for the best, seeing as how the only Asian character in the game was an offensive stereotype.

Sounds: Very Bad

Control and Gameplay

With eighteen different games to control, plus a map to navigate and a bedroom to interact with, it would be a true marvel of game design if everything controlled flawlessly. Luckily, Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games does not dare scale those dizzying heights. Instead, the games in the arcade have controls that vary between almost playable and watching while waving your arms about. If each and every game controlled perfectly, the chance to teach children an important lesson about disappointment would have been lost. By making the experience scattershot and random, the player is prepared for a life of disappointment and misery, fitting well into the game’s Candide motif.

Another interesting touch the game has is the way Chuck E. Cheese himself interrupts the various games in order to congratulate the player. This positive reinforcement more often than not disrupts the flow of the game being played and prevents the player from getting into a groove or otherwise transcending the humdrum world of the arcade. Like a barking dog or a car alarm, the mouse master shakes the player from the dream of gaming bliss. This is a feature more games should feature in the future. No more perfect scores or speed runs! Only constant and cloying positive feedback after every minor achievement will do!

Control/Gameplay: Pretty Poor

Replayability

Screenshot6Each game only offers a scant amount of tickets with each play, and surely the player will want to acquire each and every one of the fabulous prizes available. How else would one fill their imaginary bedroom with loot? On top of having to play each game scads of times, particularly Pizza Mania, the player will likely want to hang out in the bedroom and interact with the awesome prizes they have won. Things are surely the reason to anything, no?

In addition to the scintillating prizes, there is a trophy room to fill with trophies. The trophies are earned through insane amounts of playing the arcade games. After they are earned, the trophies appear in the trophy room, where they can be admired. The best way to impress new friends would be to invite them over to your home, so that you may show them all of the prizes you have earned. Just when they think that you could not be more radical, pop over to the trophy room and nonchalantly show them the fake digital trophies you won playing almost air hockey. Everyone will think you are super cool.

Unfortunately, all of your super cool new friends cannot play the game with you. Because it is such an intensely personal quest for self discovery and actualization, there is no multiplayer mode in Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games. If your fellows want to take the journey through the game and reach enlightenment, they must purchase their own copy of the game. Who would want to play a Party Game with other people, anyway? What kind of party has more than one person attending it?

Replayability: Very Bad

Balance

Screenshot8The economic model of Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games guarantees that it will not be completed quickly. The only way to get ahead is by spending tickets to buy items that increase ticket output from games. Tickets can only be earned from playing games. Games require tokens to play them. Tokens can only be earned by toiling in the pizza kitchen under the watchful eye of Pasqually the Singing Chef. This economy rewards labor with demands for more labor. The cycle is endless.

To make matters worse, each game is poorly explained in the game, making success very hit or miss. Certain games, like Cowboy Jasper, are so hard that the tickets they spew out seem paltry. Other games, like Matching, are beyond easy, spooling out tickets like a loose slot machine. The difficulty levels of the games simply cannot be compared to one another directly.

Balance: Bad

Originality

When I purchased my Wii, it came with Wii Sports, an excellent mini game compilation. I also purchased Wii Play, a largely mediocre mini game compilation. I have reviewed several other Wii games that were made up of smaller games, each more dreadful than the last. None of those games touched the existential turmoil this game inspires inside of me.

What sets this game apart from the huddled masses of party games for the Wii are its setting and single player only status. By setting the game in the dark, beer sloshed innards of Chuck E. Cheese’s, the game has achieved a level of subtext and ennui hereto unseen in a Wii game, save Baroque. By forcing the player to experience all of this by themselves, without the release valve of another player, the game forces the player to take all of its content in without diffusion.

Originality: Dreadful

Addictiveness

While I made my way through Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games, I was faced with several distractions. I was invited out to a movie and on a shopping trip. People called me on the phone, wanting to talk about nothing at all. My friend Ryan wanted me to watch wrestling with him and eat Jimmy John’s sandwiches. A weak man would have given in to each and every one of these distractions in order to escape the steely gaze of Mr. Cheese. I am a weak man.

I found myself pulling away from the game in order to do the most menial and unnecessary of tasks, wrapping myself in the mundane world. Am I a coward or is this a truly terrible game? Only the universe knows for sure.

Addictiveness: Dreadful

Appeal Factor

Screenshot7There are three sorts of people who I can see this game appealing to. First, there are children. Children are mostly naïve and ignorant of the evils of man. They are blank slates that only know what they want, not what they need. Children will feast on anything you call pizza, no matter how dubious the title, and play most anything you call a game. With its brightly colored packaging, low price point, and connection to precious birthday memories, there will certainly be a number of children type people who will badger the taller people that drive them about into purchasing this game. While I suspect the subtleties will go over their heads, I have a feeling the feelings of ennui and boredom will not.

The second group of potential buyers are those seeking to appease child type humans. Not able to discern the wheat from the chaff, an admittedly difficult task when the Wii is involved, they will buy this as a gift. Blissfully unaware of the potential trauma they have inflicted on the children they claim to care for, these adults will smile beatifically and feel good about themselves for buying the child a video game. Novelty is a powerful marketing tool.

The third group is of a peculiar sort. These people enjoy seeing humanoid animals. They enjoy this so much that they collect drawings and videos of human/animal hybrids and some even dress as these creatures. Among their number, there are some who take the scientific analysis of human/animal hybrids seriously enough to create anatomically correct sketches of these theoretical chimeras. While I am not one to judge, I do find this group fascinating and may have to do a more in depth study of them in the future. Because Chuck E. Cheese’s features anthropomorphic animal suits and is more accessible than Disney World or Disney Land for the majority of Americans, many in this group have a particular attachment to Chuck E. Cheese and his cohorts. I do not know if they have drawn any anatomically correct illustrations of him.

Appeal Factor: Bad

Miscellaneous

Under the heading of miscellanea, I must put a question. Do you want to explore the depths of innocence and corruption? Do you want to experience the loneliness of childhood again? Do you lack the ability to discern between quality and thriftiness? Yes, I know that was actually three questions, but they all lead to the same place. Can you put a price tag on enlightenment and spiritual discovery? If you can, is that price more or less than twenty American bucks? With only your metaphysical wellbeing and wholeness in balance, the question is, can you afford not to play Chuck E. Cheese’s Party Games?

Miscellaneous: Bad

The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Very Bad
Control and Gameplay: Pretty Poor
Replayability: Very Bad
Balance: Bad
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Bad

FINAL SCORE: VERY BAD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
There are many good games in the world, games that you can play and have fun with and go back to in a few years and enjoy every bit as much as you did the first time. Games like that are pretty much the reason people play video games. This is not one of those games. This is the kind of game that makes you wonder why you bought a Wii instead of a 3DO. I could have spent this week playing Mad Dog McCree, dang it! Instead I played this, a game so bad I think it might have caused me to have a mild psychological breakdown. Avoid at all costs.