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Column: Bastards Of 32-Bit

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Fox Hunt

March 31, 2006 3:10 PM |

foxhunt1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Capcom's PlayStation title Fox Hunt, which debuted in September 1996 in North America.]

We don't need a spy, just...a guy.

We can look back and laugh now, but for whatever reason, full-motion video was at one time thought of as the future of gaming. Though it had its roots in the 1980s with arcade games like Dragon's Lair, FMV-based gameplay experienced a revival of sorts in the 90s, with the advent of the Sega CD and the release of infamous titles like Night Trap and Sewer Shark.

The trend continued on through the introduction of the Sony PlayStation. Early releases for the console included upgraded ports of FMV-based shooters like Novastorm and Starblade Alpha, and many titles persisted in the inclusion of live-action video cutscenes. To the horror of gamers burned by consoles like the Sega CD and the Philips CD-i, it seemed like FMV would never die.

Then, along came Fox Hunt.

foxhunt2.jpgSo good it'll save your life!

Despite FMV's bad reputation, Fox Hunt had a lot going for it. Developed by Capcom (yes, that Capcom!) for the Sony PlayStation, Fox Hunt was filmed with a budget of five million dollars, a huge amount in comparison to the money spent on the campy Digital Pictures FMV games of old. It's this budget that gave Fox Hunt its star power -- the game features actors George Lazenby and Rob Lowe in major roles -- and secured a soundtrack full of popular licensed music.

As a game, Fox Hunt was to be a multi-genre epic consisting of item collecting, puzzle solving, and shooting segments -- practically every gameplay element ever attempted in its FMV predecessors, except for perhaps Night Trap's vampire-trapping mechanic. If ever an FMV game could succeed and win over the bitter hearts of former Sega CD owners, it would be Fox Hunt.

from Fox Hunt to The West WingI'M HUNGRY

Naturally, Fox Hunt turned out to be one of the worst games of all time. Despite its promise, the game managed to cram the worst parts of every single FMV title ever made into one unplayable nightmare. The plot makes little sense. The puzzles make less sense. The shooting segments are almost impossible to play thanks to terrible controls, and otherwise talented actors are wasted in their brief appearances.

This is to say nothing of the full-motion video itself, which is three hours of the stupidest thing you will ever watch. Your jaw will go slack as you see your character clap his hands and laugh while he navigates a hospital maze in a rocket-powered wheelchair. You'll witness multiple "pull my finger" gags, one of which features the shocking twist of your character burping...and then farting! It's almost a shame that Fox Hunt is considered to be one of the rarest PlayStation games to ever be released, but then, this is probably for the best.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- its flaws, Fox Hunt remains a significant piece of gaming history. As one of the last games of its kind to be released for any console, it can be assumed that Fox Hunt's failure was what finally put an end to FMV-based gameplay for good. For this, we can all be grateful. Thank you, Fox Hunt.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Pokémon Snap

March 24, 2006 7:44 AM |

pokesnap01.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64.]

Because "Bastards of 32-Bit (And Also 64-Bit Sometimes)" wasn't as catchy.

Photography has largely existed in videogames as a supplemental element of gameplay. Titles in the Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto series, for example, give the player the ability to frame and shoot photographs, but the act seldom results in meaningful consequence. Rarer still are games that feature photography as a dominant gameplay mechanic. There's Gekisha Boy, and...well, that's pretty much it.

Amidst its RPG predecessors and a number of spinoffs into safe, marketable genres, Pokémon Snap stands out as an oddity. Rather than milk the Pokémon franchise with yet another puzzle or card battle game as the company is wont to do, Nintendo instead decided to try something new for the series's Nintendo 64 debut: a game based around photography. The reaction from fans was mixed, to say the least, and the game was generally ignored in favor of more conventional Pokémon releases.

pokesnap02.jpgOh! Wonderful!

The object of Pokémon Snap is to take the best possible pictures of various fictional creatures, as found in their natural habitats. There are optional items one can use to lure the Pokémon closer and to make them strike poses, but otherwise, gameplay centers around simple point-and-shoot photography. Points are awarded for picture clarity and subject matter, with dynamic action shots being the most desirable.

Players cruise along a predetermined path through an environment, and scripted events involving the Pokémon will occur at certain points during the trip. It's up to the player whether he or she wants to photograph these scenes at face value, or interfere with the goings-on in the interest of a better photo opportunity. For the most part, players will get the best results by screwing with nature as much as possible. A picture of Pikachu smiling at the camera will only get you so many points, but a shot taken after you bonk him on the head with an apple and knock him out cold will result in Professor Oak giving you bonus points and calling your cruelty "Very funny!"

magmar in the housePokémon without the Pokémon.

The game's leisurely pace offers a serene experience, free from the pressures and anxiety found in more action-oriented titles. The events that occur are generally out of your control, but there's just enough interactivity present to encourage replay, in the interest of getting better shots. Pokémon Snap also makes for a great two-player game, as players can take turns to try and capture the best picture of the elusive Psyduck, or alternately try and rack up the highest Charmander bodycount in the volcano level by Pester Balling the poor creatures into submission.

Pokémon Snap's unconventional gameplay may have been a turnoff to fans, but more tragic was the fact that this unique, original title went overlooked by many simply because of its possession of the Pokémon license. It doesn't take any sort of familiarity with the Pokémon franchise to find the simple fun in photography, and if you approach this one with an open mind, you might end up enjoying a Pokémon game more than you ever thought you would.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com , and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - Mr. Bones

March 17, 2006 5:03 PM |

mrbones01.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column discusses Zono-developed, Sega-published Sega Saturn 2D multi-genre title Mr. Bones, which was released in the U.S. in September 1996, and in Japan in June 1997.]

You know I got the blues.

Way back when, games only had to do one thing and do it well in order to be successful. The blending of genres was discouraged, and any attempt to do so often resulted in uneven titles like The Adventures of Bayou Billy for the NES: a game whose weakness in parts resulted in a mediocre whole. Genre blending is practically a requirement in many of today's games, however, and developers are under constant pressure to cram several games into one complete experience.

Somewhere between the old days and modern-day Bayou Billys like True Crime: New York City and 24: The Game came Mr. Bones for the Sega Saturn. Developed by Zono Inc., Mr. Bones is a genre blender to the extreme. Nearly every level of the game features different gameplay mechanics, and the end result is about as schizophrenic as you'd expect: some parts are fun, others are completely terrible. Yet somehow, the game makes for a compelling and worthwhile experience in the end.

mrbones02.jpgOh there go all my bones!

Mr. Bones is a dead blues guitarist resurrected by evil vampire magic. Stick with me here. As it turns out, Mr. Bones is the only non-evil skeleton to be brought back to life when a megalomaniacal vampire decides to raise an army of the dead to do his bidding. You'll guide Mr. Bones as he runs far away from home, learns to play guitar, hops into a parallel dimension, then returns to defeat the skeleton army and save the world by harnessing the power of the blues.

Though the plot sounds strange, Mr. Bones's gameplay is even more unconventional. Styles shift from level to level; one is a rhythm-based challenge that involves defeating a horde of evil skeletons by playing the guitar. Another is a joke-telling contest, where sentence fragments mapped to various buttons on the controller must be pieced together in proper order to tell a successful joke. A few stages overlay your character on top of FMV obstacle courses, and others even resemble overhead-view shooters.

mrbones03.jpgDon't think about it, just play it.

A majority of scenes contain gameplay of the sidescrolling platformer variety, though even these offer a surprising amount of originality. One such level is nothing more than a slow climb to the top of a series of glass platforms. There are few enemies, and the background is a slideshow of still images displaying a cosmic void. An old man's voice narrates and waxes philosophical throughout, his words punctuated by blues guitar riffs. Though the gameplay in this stage involves nothing more than a series of jumps, the minimalist presentation exudes spirituality and soul the likes of which are not found in many other games.

Then, a few stages later, you find yourself at a level called "The Ice Lake", which is about as unfun as it sounds. Bayou Billy syndrome strikes again. Still, despite some weak moments, Mr. Bones is worth a playthrough, especially if you use the level select code to skip the stupid parts. The fewer times you die at the ice lake, the more you will enjoy Mr. Bones.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com , and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]

COLUMN: 'Bastards of 32-Bit' - No One Can Stop Mr. Domino

March 10, 2006 4:26 PM |

mrdomino1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column features PlayStation game No One Can Stop Mr. Domino!, published by Artdink in Japan in January 1998, and released by Acclaim in the U.S. in October 1998.]

No one, I tell you. NO ONE!

It's easy to hate a company like Artdink. In years past, the Japanese development house has covered genres that vary from the niche (Oh boy! Train simulators!) to the hopelessly obtuse (Oh boy! Uh, aquatic reef simulators!), with many of their titles further hampered by the fact that they aren't very much fun to play.

No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, on the other hand, was one of Artdink's few games that successfully combined an interesting concept with compelling gameplay. Put out in America by Acclaim (of all people) back in 1998, most gamers never gave the title a second look, resulting in a quick and unceremonious trip to bargain bin obscurity for Mr. Domino.

mrdomino2.jpgGrandpa's in the house.

The game stars a little domino man out to use his domino powers to create havoc in the human world. Despite his mighty aspirations, Mr. Domino's powers are limited to placing a series of dominoes behind him as he runs a circular path around each level. Once a level is lapped at least once, Mr. Domino can run into previously-placed dominoes in order to cause chain reactions and trigger traps that will teach those filthy humans a lesson for ever taking him so lightly.

Make no mistake: Mr. Domino is the jerk to end all jerks. The game begins with him performing various acts of benign mischief against inanimate objects, but once you get to level three, the gloves come off. In this level, Mr. Domino attacks an innocent family by using dominoes to trigger traps around their house. Dad gets punched in the genitals. Mom gets caught in an explosion. At the end of the level, grandpa is crushed by a giant bell. Through all this, Mr. Domino never stops smiling.

mrdomino3.jpgSeriously, don't even try to stop him.

A level is completed whenever the required number of traps are triggered by falling dominoes. These traps can be set off one by one, but ideally, the player wants to trigger them all in succession in order to earn the highest scores. This is made difficult and occasionally frustrating thanks to the fact that Mr. Domino marches continually forward (no one can stop him, remember?) during each level, and the slightest misstep can ruin what was once a perfect domino setup. Skillfully dodging the obstacles in Mr. Domino's way and then watching a well-placed series of dominoes trigger several traps in a row offers the kind of satisfaction that makes it all worthwhile, however.

It's rare to see a puzzle game strive to accomplish something beyond the geometric shape dropping/matching/clearing archetype, and Mr. Domino does so with style and an inexplicable sense of humor. Don't let the terrifying prospect of an Acclaim and Artdink collaboration throw you; No One Can Stop Mr. Domino will only set you back a few bucks for a used copy, and it could very well be the most important story ever told about a domino man's struggle against humankind.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com , and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]