Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Yeah that's right, on the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. You can hear the cheers of excitement.

Before the Gex series started introducing strange stories and stupid characters there was this, the original 1994 2D platforming game that gave people a reason to buy the 3DO console... until it was shipped to better platforms a couple of years later. But how does the original Gex hold up today?

Now I've had this situation before where if you mention "Gex", the first thing that pops into people's minds (especially if they backed Nintendo in the late 1990s) are the two 3D sequels that this game received; "Gex: Enter the Gecko" and "Gex: Deep Cover Gecko", both of which take a page from Super Mario 64. They're decent games... but compared to the first? No thanks.

The original Gex is a fantastic 2D platformer originally released in 1994 for the 3DO, a console that was technically superior to most others on the market. Gone were the low limits on storage space, sprite counts and colours, and in their place the ability to perform fancy special effects and a deliver a product fine layer of polish. The sequels struggled with 3D as it was a dimension not many had worked with at that point, and when they started re-dubbing things for the UK release and coming up with stupid plots, I think it stained the franchise somewhat. Perhaps that's why we've not seen a sequel in 11 years.

It's not so much that the later games are bad, it's just they're a prime example of what went wrong with the video game industry in the late 90s and early 2000s. Lots of third parties started cutting corners on their software and citing it on lack of storage. You start getting games with "ambiance" rather than "music", or if there is music, it's no longer as engaging as it once was. All the graphical power goes into rendering polygons with low resolution textures, and the end result doesn't look half as nice as what could be done with two dimensions. But for better or for worse, 3D meant a game would sell back then.

But I think we can start to say we're past that now. 2D gaming seems to be making a return after many years of exile to the handhelds. I guess people are starting to realise that some games (Sonic, Castlevania, Mega Man) just don't really work in the third dimension. New Super Mario Bros. has outsold Super Mario Galaxy and there's new Rayman, Kirby and Donkey Kong games coming out within the next few months, all of which are 2D. There's not much you can't do with 2D games anymore.

But anyway, as said, Gex was initially released on the 3DO before being brought to Windows PCs, the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation in 1996-ish. There is little difference between the four except the 3DO version has a buit-in save system, making it slightly better than the traditional password system the others have. Oh and you'll probably struggle to get the Windows version to boot these days, so that's not a good option. It isn't a reason to buy the extremely overpriced and under-supported 3DO console though. There are very few reasons to ever buy that thing. I just emulated the 3DO version because I could.

The basic concept of Gex is that he's been pulled into the world of television by the evil Rez. This basic plot device would be recycled in the sequels, but in the original, there's no secret agents or love interests or "friends", just Gex, on his own, trying to get out. You travel through the levels looking for remotes to progress, something that later becomes more and more of a challenge.

Gex's arsenal isn't much different to the 3D games. He can jump, whip enemies with his tail, and use his tongue to swallow items and (assuming he has the right powerup) fire projectiles. Holding down while jumping allows Gex to damage things below him, and, there's another button to allow him to run.

Each world is filled with a variety of different powerups, granting invincibility, super speed, extra hit points/lives, fire breath, ice breath or electric breath. The only slightly annoying thing is that the game only saves when you find cassette tapes, which are also hidden throughout some (but not all) stages. There are heaps of secrets and bonus stages dotted around, and a few bosses that you need to defeat.

Similarly to Duke Nukem 3D, Gex sprouts out one-liners all the time. He's voiced by American comedian, Dana Gould, and he does a very good job at giving the gecko some personality. Though he was kept for the American-branded sequels, Gex was re-dubbed in the UK for his 3D adventures, and as far as I'm concerned, ruined in the process. Apparently there's 300 or so quotes in the original game, which is pretty impressive stuff for 1994, and more than Duke Nukem 3D managed a year later.

The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. Gex is pre-rendered but the enemies and backgrounds don't need to be because they're on TV (and cover various genres including cartoons). I personally don't mind the graphics, but Gex's sprite does tend to look out of place almost all the time. Plus, because it's been rendered at a low resolution, the detail seen on the box art and in later titles isn't so obvious here. Not much that could have been done about that though (but hey, HD remake anyone).

The music is also great. Every main track is a few minutes long so in some cases, you don't notice when they start to loop. I was always a bit disappointed with the cartoon stage though. Even though Gex makes references to things like the Flintstones, none of the things in that level look at all similar to popular cartoon characters. There's no parodies of stuff you might find in Warner Bros. cartoons or whatever, which I thought was a bit boring, though they did fix this with the sequels. The result is a really boring looking cartoon, though I guess Crystal Dynamics were a bit concerned they'd run into legal troubles.

The interesting part of the original Gex is that you're able to climb up ALL walls, not just "special" ones that the 3D games mark out. You can draw similar comparisons to Metroid II and the Metroid Prime series, where in the former the spider ball powerup works EVERYWHERE while in the latter, it doesn't. Just some proof that 2D can beat 3D, if you were feeling a bit skeptical.

One of the slight problems with this game is that it becomes very difficult to play if you're not using a gamepad. You need quick reactions, and you also need to make use of the run button quite a bit in order to progress. As such, it's not great with keyboards.

Gex is mostly a brilliant game, it's just a shame it has mostly been forgotten about. There were plans for a PS2 sequel in 2002, but things have been silent since (and I suspect this entry missed the Game Boy Advance on the basis there's a level called "Twin Towers", with explosions). Having been swallowed by Eidos in 1998 who now act under Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics seem to have focused their efforts on producing entries in the Legacy of Kain series, and the newer Tomb Raider games.

There's nothing particularly wrong with that - the relaunch of Tomb Raider was quite a success and Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was also pretty good from what I remember. But have a look - since 2005 they've been developing nothing else but Tomb Raider. Do we really need yearly sequels? I thought most of the fuss around it died when the PlayStation 1 did. Give us a new Gex game!

Oh and just a bit of advice - don't bother emulating the 3DO. FreeDO could be nicer.


  1. The whole time I was reading this I was going back and forth, just beginning to research emulating 3D0. Thanks for the heads-up. It's been a long time since I last played Gex, and that seemed like a good reason to investigate, but I know how unfriendly some emulators can be.

  2. 3DO huh? cool. really enjoy the site as I have a fondness for the intrigue of obscure gaming like this, for various factors including nostalgia

  3. Sorry for my awful english, but it seems nobody except of me knows that PSone version of Gex can be saved on memory card. I know it because I have Gex save file on my memory card. I was search internet last days and couldn't find or figure out how I got this game to save. The only thing I can remember that it's need to press some buttons simultaneously when password appears on screen.