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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - iOS (2011)

by Kurt Kalata

American Cover

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Every single word in this title is a lie. There are no teenagers, no mutants, no ninjas, and no turtles. Well, there actually be may turtles - it's hard to tell. In this made-in-Vietnam bootleg product for the iPhone and iPod Touch, you control a blob that is colored in some manner of green and brown. Your morass of illegibleness has a gun though. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn't have guns, did they? Probably not.

As the "Game Over" screen indicates, though, you are actually a commando of some sort. The goal is to shoot things, which seem to be other things that look like your character, but a different color. They crawl out of holes from any old random place on the screen, including the sky. The background is straight from the NES version of Contra, except there are two spots which have been blurred by a Photoshop filter in an incredibly pitiful attempt (maybe?) to mask its source material.

It's essentially a Cabal clone, where you shoot enemies by tapping the screen and control your character with the tilt sensor. The best part is when you tilt too far, your amorphous avatar falls off the screen, never to be heard from again. The bullets are red squares - this may be intentional. The enemies attack with large, white rectangles - this is probably not intentional. The screen is filled with numbers which appears to be inexplicable at first glance, and determining their meaning is probably the most fun to be had in the game. (Spoiler: The number in the upper right corner is your number of lives, which counts up from zero. The number in the center are the vague coordinates of wherever you're shooting. The number on your character indicates his action state - zero for standing, and various positive and negative numbers when he's moving.) Also, when you "lose", it fails to reset the high score.

So here we have a title that features a relatively popular license in its title and on its title screen, despite not only having nothing else to do with them and clearly not owning the rights to do so, but a game that rips major assets - badly! - from a very recognizable Nintendo game, in a derivative product that's in an alpha state, released to the world for $4.99. In order to find this sort of thing in a previous era, you'd have to trawl the marketplaces of those countries with all but the flimsiest of grasps on copyright law - but for awhile you could find it available at your fingertips on the Apple App Store! That's not the worst part - the game was released on August 18th, 2011, and was available for a whole six weeks before the press caught wind of it, alerted Apple and had it taken down. To contrast, MolleIndustria's Phone Story, a perfectly legit, workable game that happened to be heavily critical of Apple, was removed from the store after a mere few days. Censorship, as it turns out, is far more important than dealing with products that exist solely to defraud unsuspecting parents.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Ground Zero Texas - Sega CD (1992)

by Christopher J. Snelgrove

American Cover

European Cover

Magazine Ad

If any one company could be said to be at blame for the Sega CD being synonymous with the term "FMV Gaming," Digital Pictures would probably be the first on the list. Responsible for the Sega CD launch title Sewer Shark, they also published the infamous Night Trap, its spiritual successor Double Switch, and the series of video-editing software titles known as "Make My Video" games, which time has been even less kind to. Ground Zero Texas built on its predecessors to deliver what Digital Pictures marketed as their biggest budget project yet; which isn't hard to believe. Compared to the small casts of Night Trap and Double Switch, Ground Zero Texas is practically a full scale Hollywood production.

Set in a fictional town on the US-Mexican border called El Cadron, Ground Zero Texas focuses on an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque alien invasion. Creatures called the "Reticulans" have begun invading, kidnapping townspeople, and taking their place. As part of an insurgent military squad, the player is with controlling remote cameras at four locations in the town, each equipped with laser cannons. Since there's no weapons currently capable of killing the Reticulans, the best the camera lasers can do is stun them.

There isn't much depth at all to Ground Zero Texas, but it certainly keeps the player on their toes more than Night Trap did. Rather than sitting around waiting for things to happen, mere seconds pass before something major occurs in one of the four locations. Sometimes it's a story event, sometimes it's a clip of random townspeople going about mundane affairs(one of whom has to be gunned down as an imposter), but more often than not, it's a repeated shooting gallery of the same four or five imposters in each location. The shooting is controlled entirely through the D-pad and A button, with the B button used to bring up a temporary shield, and the C button used to switch to the other three areas, paired with the D-pad to select them. One would think that the ill-fated Menacer light-gun would've worked well for this experience, but no support was implemented. The only real difficult parts are shooting certain townspeople during story sequences, since the targeting region can be extremely small and hard to hit within the span of a few seconds.

Defending each area is where Ground Zero Texas gets extremely tedious. Each time a location gets attacked, it has to be defended until all the imposters are gunned down. If multiple areas come under attack at once (which happens more often than not), then the player has to multitask. Each area has a shield, but they never last long, and if the fourth area (the Hotel Room HQ) gets gunned down, it's game over. Although the other three cameras can get repaired, if they go down more than three cumulative times, they're beyond repair, and the game ends. The third (and most amusing) way to end the game is to shoot more than three innocents during any point in the game, whether during a shooting scene or even a random story sequence. This leads to the commander of the operation kicking down the door to the player's control room, and punching him in the side of the head; while screaming "I don't want the likes of you watching my back! The chopper's waiting! YOU'RE DONE!" Later on, when the player finds upgraded weaponry that can actually kill the aliens (and their robotic stormtrooper henchmen, called into play when things really go to hell), any single shot to a human will end the game.

Since many sequences in the game have alternate outcomes (such as different possible townspeople being the imposters), it has a fair amount of replay value, but not nearly enough to make up for the chore of actually playing it. Still, none of the acting is especially abysmal; it's campy at worst, and some of the story scenes are genuinely amusing, such as a squad of FBI agents investigating smugglers of drugs and drug money throughout the events of the game. Its relative classiness can attributed to Dwight H. Little, a B-list director known for the likes of Rapid Fire, Marked For Death and Halloween 4, which is the FMV game equivalent of hiring Spielberg. Furthermore, one of the (several) writers responsible was Edward Neumeier of Robocop and Starship Troopers fame.

There's not much else to Ground Zero Texas, besides a brief investigative sequence in the second chapter. During the first chapter, key events will have an alien attack each area's operative. If the player saves them, they get one number of a four-digit code. The code is required to find the alien's hideout and get access to their weaponry. Without the right code, a nuke blows El Cadron skyhigh. If it weren't for the extremely repetitive gameplay, Ground Zero Texas would make for a fun (if campy) short-lived experience, as most decent FMV games do. Instead, the tedium involved will more than likely lead to someone giving up the first time a fluke misfire or overwhelming odds leads to the game over screen.

Interestingly, the game also had a relatively high budget of two million dollars. There's an interesting quote from Ken Melville, Digital Pictures co-founder, about the video quality. "All our video had to be tortured, kicking and screaming, into the most horrifying, blurry, reduced-color-palette mess imaginable in the Mega CD. I shudder to think about it." This quote is baffling in any context, considering the company had already released more than a few games on the platform, and was well aware at how crappy their games would eventually end up looking. So why was so much money poured into something that was not only an aggravating game but would undoubtedly look terrible? Such was the irrational exhuberance of the burgeoning multimedia era of the early 90s.

Ground Zero Texas

Ground Zero Texas

Ground Zero Texas

Ground Zero Texas


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Sprung: A Game Where Everyone Scores - Nintendo DS (2004)

by Kurt Kalata

American Cover

Sprung

Sprung

The "dating sim" has been a thing in the Japanese game marketplace for quite a long time, whether it be an RPG-style stat grinder a la Tokimeki Memorial or a straight-forward visual novel. Sprung, developed by Guillemot, Inc. (who later changed their name to Longtail Studios and developed the illustrious Best Friends Tonight, also for the DS, and Grey's Anatomy: The Video Game) and published by Ubisoft at the launch of the DS, is of the latter. These types of games have never caught on in North America for any number of reasons, and Sprung does absolutely nothing to win any points in its favor.

The story focuses on a bunch of nitwits who go on vacation to a ski resort to try to get laid. In a rather progressive move, you can choose to be either the guy, Brett, or the girl, Becky. Brett has a longtime crush on Becky and is trying to move out of the friend zone. Meanwhile, Becky is trying to get over a failed relationship by finding some hunks to snog. Their major personality traits is that they are main characters, and therefore not as broadly drawn as the ten or so other supporting cast members, all of whom fall into teen movies cliches including two of Brett's friends/wingmen (both nimrods), the slut, the nerd, the snob, the bitch, the hippie (alright, that one's a bit less normal) and a bunch of others. The tropes are well worn and not inherently terrible, but Sprung fails massively for two major reasons.

The writing, as one might imagine, is atrocious. And this game is all writing - there is nothing to do but listen to people talk and then respond. The dialogue has that sort of quality where it seems like it was written in a foreign language and then translated into English, but it wasn't. The jokes are baffling and sometimes just don't make sense. The worst of it are the "Golden Line Notebook" awards, which are "oh snap!" bits of dialogue spoken by your character that are apparently so clever that the game makes a note of them. One of them is a Pauly Shore catchphrase. That is one of the better ones.

And then there's the crux of the game. There are roughly thirty "chapters" split evenly between Brett and Becky. There is a set goal at the end of each chapter, which you accomplish by successfully navigate the dialogue trees. If you don't, you lose and need to restart from a checkpoint (or more commonly, the beginning of the chapter.) What it all amounts to is a guessing game to figure out whatever the hell it is that the game wants you to say. Granted, there's a certain pleasure in humiliating the insufferable main characters, such as telling Becky to immediately shack up with the supermodel scout, which will, of course, cause you to lose. But having to repeat the whole stupid nightclub segment as Brett, chatting up the same girls over and over, just so you can get all of their numbers, represents a total failure of game structure. What's more is that you quickly amass a huge library of items that are largely useless, but are occasionally required to win. Their uses are not always telegraphed - pepper spraying Becky's stalker ex-boyfriend might seem like a good idea after he refuses to leave you alone, but that will get you a life sentence in prison. There's also an ever-present illusion of choice. There are some vague branches through the story (do you want Becky to be a model or a waitress?), but for the main story, there's no real choice about who your character gets to date. Brett and Becky are destined to end up together, no matter what you want, which represents a completely misunderstanding about the digital wish fulfillment that dating sims are supposed to be all about.

It's not that these types of games are inherently bad - a few years later, the likes of Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk showed that these visual-novel-style Japanese adventure games could be perfectly likeable, and Persona 3/4's social linking is the closest most English speakers have to a true dating sim, and does it well. And it's cool that Sprung actually pays attention to female gamers, an early strike to capture the larger audience that the DS was aiming for. Plus the art and animation is actually quite good, a huge step up from the static portraits in most Japanese games, and is quite possibly the first game on a portable Nintendo platform to feature the word "asshole". But beyond that is a game that's an embarassment for everyone involved, including the player.

Sprung

Sprung


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Codename: Eagle - Commodore 64 / ZX Spectrum / Amstrad CPC (1986)

by Wild Weasel

Cover

Codename: Eagle

Codename: Eagle

"Even a terrible game can be fun in multiplayer." That's a pretty common mantra, particularly in response to questions regarding how games like Halo and Call of Duty continue to sell despite rather inconsistent and divisive campaign modes. The whole point of the mantra is that, even if a game has washed out textures, weak sound effects, glitchy physics and unstable net code, it could still be fun when playing it with friends - even hilarious at times. Such a thing is most certainly the case with Talonsoft's 1999 FPS, Codename Eagle, developed by Refraction Games, who would eventually merge with Digital Illusions CE and go on to make the Battlefield series on the same basic engine.

Codename Eagle tells the story of an alternate history where the Bolshevik Revolution has failed, and Pietre, the new Tsar of Russia, takes power and crushes every nation that dares stand in his way. It is the mid-1920's and a resistance movement has formed, undertaking covert missions to finally stop this madness once and for all, before Tsar Pietre dominates the entire planet. The alternate history setting offers some interesting technological differences, such as a handheld machine gun powered by a rather large gear, biplanes with a bomber and gunner seat, heavily armed zeppelins, tanks of all sorts, and (in a later patch) even a helicopter. One would think that the setting would be excellent for a single-player campaign. Unfortunately, Codename Eagle's SP mode is filled with frustrating moments, from psychic AI, to missions where you're required to actually land planes (very difficult for reasons stated later), and lastly, wolves.

The game's codebase is flawed in many ways. While the maps are huge, the vehicle physics are not perfect, with cars tending to flip in spectacular ways before inevitably exploding, planes that can fly at unlikely angles, tanks that will explode if they come in contact with railroad tracks, and zeppelins that will become incorporeal and immune to all but blast damage if they happen to pass through any terrain mid-flight (and Lord help the person that tries to get out of the driver's seat after this happens, as he will likely fall through the floor and die of falling damage).

The thing is, though, that these glitchy physics actually lend themselves to the most hilarious game of multiplayer capture-the-flag ever. The ghostly zeppelin can be used to stage a diversionary assault on an enemy base, while another player on a motorcycle goes for the flag, shortly thereafter being picked up by a passing bomber plane (since the plane does not need to come to a halt for players to enter or exit the plane). While there were many patches to the multiplayer portion of the game, the silly physics remain, and are likely the reason why players still continue coming back to the game time after time. It's also no wonder, then, that the developers' next game, Battlefield 1942, kicked off with such a huge player base from players wanting more not-quite-realistic military action. BF1942 even at some point had a mod, Codename Eagle: Legends, which perfectly recreated Codename Eagle's "No Man's Land" multiplayer map. It's the perfect blend of a game filled with so many objective flaws that just happens to be a total blast to play.

Codename: Eagle

Codename: Eagle


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