Sunday 19 September 2010

Wacky Races (NES)

Out of all the Hanna Barbera shorts produced in the 60s and 70s, Wacky Races stands out as being one of the only franchises that lends itself well to video games. So as you can imagine, the bigwigs have tried to make it into a Mario Kart clone to steal cash from kids. But the franchise hasn't been damaged too much - the Dreamcast game was nice and the Game Boy Color game ended up being a fairly big deal.

But that's not to say it hasn't had its fair share of garbage. Perhaps the weirdest adaptation of the franchise is this 1992 PLATFORMER for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Though it is indeed fair to say that perhaps the NES couldn't handle a third-person perspective racer, by 1992 there was a perfectly capable SNES console that Atlus could have supported. Instead they chose to tie it to an inappropriate genre to catch the last waves built up by Super Mario Bros. 3.

I'll admit, most of the characters in Wacky Races are a bit forgettable unless you're a big fan of the show. The only characters that tend to survive are those that appeared in later cartoon shows - Dick Dastardly and Muttley, Penlope Pitstop (and the Ant Hill Mob). The exception is Peter Perfect because he's a git. Other characters such as Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear or Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth aren't remembered until you re-watch the show and go "oh yeah, these people exist".

Many of the characters in Wacky Races simply sucked and sometimes you have to wonder why they decided to introduce 11 new characters rather than recycle some of their older stock (though they'd inevitably do this in the 80s and 90s with various Yogi Bear shows). It comes as no surprise then that the focus in the NES game is placed solely on the adventures of Dick Dastardly and Muttley, perhaps the most famous of the bunch. In fact, scratch that, it only really focuses on Muttley, because I assume he's easier to make sprites of or something.

Muttley's job is to traverse across various side-scrolling levels for some reason under the orders of his owner. Initially Muttley can jump and... chomp enemies to death, but by picking up bones you can get powerups such as bombs, a hover move or extra health. This upgrade system is done Gradius style, in that different amounts of bones grants you access to different powerups. However, as there are only four different powerups, this seems a bit pointless to me.

As you can imagine, there's not much racing involved (though there is a time limit), but there's still a Wacky Races theme in place. Every couple of levels you're faced with a boss fight in which Muttley (on foot) has to deal with one of the many vehicles from the show. That's right, you're fighting cars, and it's not an easy task. These boss battles are difficult in nature and land many cheap hits, and as Muttley only starts off with three hitpoints, death is almost inevitable.

For 1992 the level of polish seen in Wacky Races isn't too great. Levels are boring and aren't really all that visually appealing for such a late NES game. My suspicion is that it's going for a "cartoon" look, which apparently equates to "don't bother" as far as Atlus were concerned, as most of these backgrounds lack any sort of detail or shading. It also breaks one of Squirrel's rules of good game design by having enemies that respawn once their path is off-screen.

The game lacks any music from the TV series, like a disturbing amount of other NES games, but still manages to output a passable set of tracks, even if they're nothing extraordinary. You would struggle to pair this with the Wacky Races franchise though, which is probably why it's been the subject of many pirate hacks over the years. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wacky Races franchise was stuck in as an afterthought.

So overall, a fairly mediocre platformer not really worthy of your time. It's a shame, because by 1992 there was 35 years worth of Hanna-Barbera cartoons to capitalise on, including several spiritual sequels to Wacky Races. None of these cartoons feature in the game or are even acknowledged, and instead we have levels filled with generic enemies, landscapes and music with no relation to anything. True there may have been licensing issues, but even with just the Wacky Races franchise at their disposal, they should have made a better game than this.

1 comment:

  1. And then some pirates hacked the likes of Pokemon and Monsters Inc. into this game.