Monday 7 June 2010

Awesome Possum

Good god.

Tengen's back, releasing stupid games in 1993 with "Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt" for the Sega Mega Drive. Borrowing heavily from Sonic the Hedgehog (and maybe Bubsy the Bobcat?) Awesome Possum adds its own... environmental... theme to get kids engaged in things they can't change. It's painful excuse for manufacturing hundreds and thousands of plastic cartridges and boxes. A game who's mere existence goes against what it was trying to achieve.

Awesome Possum tries to tackle a few environmental issues that were relevant in 1993. Recycling, saving the rainforests and pollution. Thankfully because it was released in 1993, global warming wasn't a buzz-word, so I don't have to spend this rant defending my use of cars or electricity just because the manufacturers haven't bothered to switch from old tech.

All of the problems encountered with Awesome Possum have been curved significantly since the game's creation. Though they're still treated as "problems", they're not as problematic as they once were. Laws have been passed in various countries that reduce damage to the environment, and far less rubbish is taken to land-fill sites. Extreme levels of pollution was never something that was going to be solved by kids in 1993. I haven't seen the rainforest in the news in years!

But anyway the blame for all this environmental disaster is put on a Dr. Robotnik clone named "Dr. Machino", who also happens to have an army of strangely happy robots. For some reason the only person to defeat Dr. Machino is a Possum named... Awesome. It's very American and typical for the early 1990s who were at the time constantly re-writing the definition of "cool". I get this feeling that low ratings and reviews prompted developers to go back to message-less fun.

Awesome Possum himself is perhaps one of the most annoying mascots to show his face on screen, especially when his first line in game is the statement "I'm Awesome". If you thought Bubsy's voice was off-putting, you'll love Awesome, who feels the need to commentate on everything and boast about how great and brilliant he is. He's an extremely unlikable character, so much so that even the rest of the game doesn't bother to give him nice controls. Considering Awesome can only run and jump, the physics manage to be all over the place, and the jumping mechanism is extremely outdated even for 1993. Though it's far more pleasant than Bubsy due to a health meter, it's still very difficult to predict what's coming, and seeing as the game feels the need to use the EXTREME SPEEDS OF SONIC, things are a bit hectic at times.

You could also argue that because you're running past the scenery, you might not realise what's going on is "bad". It took me three levels to notice I was picking up rubbish, for example.

The dodgy physics also make Awesome Possum more difficult than it needs to be. If it's aimed at kids... chances are you want to make a game which kids can actually finish, but things can get a bit tricky later on. Perhaps this was part of the plan though, inspiring kids to get rid of all the pollution so that there's less obstacles for Awesome Possom to avoid, or maybe even to not purchase the game at all so no cartridges are even manufactured. Mind you, the title does reflect what the final result of the game actually is... we're allowed to inspire violence but not pollution!

One question that needs to be raised is the amount of robots that the Possum needs to avoid (or defeat by jumping on their heads). How are these things being powered? If we knew the secret perhaps this could actually help fix our energy concerns! Having clearly somehow harnessed the power of graviton particles in order to make rubbish float, perhaps this could be extended further solve the space problems the rainforest can cause?

The game also feels the need to ask you questions at the end of each stage, which very rarely have anything to do with the game. I assume this is the educational part of Awesome Possum, but to be honest with you, I can't see how it benefits. As I've said, if you get yourself a real education you can start seeing the flaws surrounding the game's themes, so I guess this was just to help distance itself from the games it's clearly inspired by.

Tengen aren't exactly known for brilliant graphics and Awesome Possum is no exception to this. It's acceptable, but it's not great, with some parts even looking a bit rushed. The music and sound effects are held back by poor use of the Mega Drive's sound chips but it should be noted that Awesome Possum makes extensive use of speech samples, something that was still uncommon in Mega Drive games of the time. Though Possum's lines are mind-numbingly terrible, I couldn't help but admire the title screen voices, even if they do sound a bit cheesy.

Unfortunately aside from this it does both look, sound and feel like a cheap game. You would think that perhaps an environmental game would make best use of the resources that were given to them, but it seems not. Thankfully Awesome Possum never made it to PAL regions, nor did it see any sequels... and I'm not sure it was particularly successful where it did show up either. Tengen itself wouldn't see it to the end of the year before being merged back into Atari, so no damage done.

So Awesome Possum isn't great but it's safe to say there are far worse platformers out there. The environmental theme and Awesome Possum himself hit the game's reputation hard, but there is a bit of a playable game left in this. It's of a decent length and could provide some entertainment value (at least compared to games like Bubsy), but it's not something I could officially recommend.

Oh and kudos to BanjoSonic for suggesting this one!

1 comment:

  1. And if one wants to aim a game at kids then the game shouldn't be having such a creepy Game Over screen or a "decaying" death animation, but at least the "decaying head" icon from the prototype was cut from the final.