Sunday, March 2, 2014


In 1991, a little show called Taz-Mania hit the airwaves. A charming cartoon in the same vein as Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs, the show followed the Tasmanian Devil (Taz) and his antics on the island of Taz-Mania, based of course on the Australian island of Tasmania. The cartoon would last for a solid four years of modernized Looney Tunes action. When the show became a hit, a licensed game also called Taz-Mania came out for the Sega Genesis system. This game was a bestseller, tied in well with the source cartoon, and by almost all accounts was a pretty solid way to spend an afternoon.

This is not that game.

A couple years later, near the end of the series' run, someone decided to license the rights to the show to Sunsoft, otherwise known as "that one developer where licensed material goes to die." This is what resulted.

Devil thumbs.The problems with Taz-Mania begin on the opening menu itself. Once you get past the initial three selections of Start Game, Enter Password, and Game Options, your controls on the menu are reversed. Up becomes down, left becomes right, and vice versa. There's a good omen. Why would you do that? Is it because the toilets flush the opposite way in Australia? Do Australian games naturally reverse your controls? I'm not sure, but I know that when you actually start the game things don't get much better.

Each level of Taz-Mania opens with Taz cranking a movie reel to announce the name of the level as though it were some sort of film. Which would be fine, except the reels all say "Taz-Mania in...[level name]." The game is referring to its own main character as Taz-Mania! But that's the name of the island! If Sunsoft can't even get that right, you know we're in trouble. And sure enough, the very first thing you do in the game is make a difficult long jump onto a tiny platform. Which immediately falls away as you touch it. Boom, instant death. That's pretty much how Taz-Mania goes. There's no real way to tell what will and won't be a moving/falling platform until you step on it and die.

Pre-typhoon.And you know what you quickly find out as you play Taz-Mania? This game is a stereotypical platformer. That's not a condemnation in itself, but let's take a step back and think about what we're working with. What's the first image that pops into your mind when you think of Taz? Is it him spinning and making crazy noises, or is it him jumping around collecting diamonds and floating numbers for points? Probably the former, right? Well great, because this game will give you almost exclusively the latter. Look, I'm no game designer, and far be it from me to make a radical suggestion like this to the pros, but why not base a Taz game around, I don't know, SPINNING AT STUFF?

Instead, though you do get a limited number of "spins" per life, spinning just sends you completely out of control. Yes, you're invincible, and yes, you can wipe out enemies as you spin through them, but you have so little control over what you're doing that you're more likely to spin into a pit and fall to your death than anything else. So what's the point? The only time you can really get your spin on is on two little mini-levels that consist of what you see above - some random hunter forces you off a dock into the ocean (read - water level) and you have to spin rapidly to stay afloat. By "spin rapidly" I mean mash the A button as fast as you can. You'll have a power meter to show you how close you are to inhaling salt water, but even that is broken. The meter has 6 bars, but you can only ever reach 4. And the second time you encounter this level it lasts about twice as long. The only conclusion is that the game is actually trying to exhaust your thumb/finger stamina. God help you if you actually die partway through and have to do the whole thing again.

Ham slide.One actual positive about the game is its variety. While most levels find you jumping around generic platforms and over pits until you find an unmarked exit, there are a few other level types that find their way in. There's the aforementioned water-skidding button mash, of course, but there is also a whole world set in an amusement park. The levels there consist of Taz riding in a roller coaster car, jumping from track to track, and using springs to launch to still higher tracks. It's exceptionally dangerous, such that I can't imagine an amusement park actually constructing anything like it, but it manages to be one of the few saving graces of this game. Also in that world is the barbershop pole slide. At least, I think it's supposed to be a slide. You don't actually appear to slide down, so much as the background rotates nauseatingly and random junk flies up toward you. This includes, so far as I can tell, hambones.

There is, sadly, one level type that keeps reappearing despite your prayers for it to die in a fire. These levels consist of a sunny two lane road, ostensibly in whatever location the rest of the overarching stage takes place. This is naturally ludicrous when considering that the stages are things like Easter Island, an amusement park, and the inside of a cave. But that aside, the levels revolve around Taz running away into the distance while the road twists and turns and stuff appears in front of you. This "stuff" can be health, diamonds, or, most likely, hurdles. They can appear in the left lane, the right lane, or right smack on the dashed line between lanes. I'm not going to ask why there are roads littered with hurdles, because there is obviously no acceptable explanation, but the real problem is the utter lack of reaction time the game allows you. Unless you jump at the exact instant the hurdle appears on screen, you will hit it and lose health. But of course, since they want to pretend perspective matters, the hurdles start out small, such that you can't tell if it's a hurdle or a power-up of some kind. So you just run down the road jumping constantly like a moron and missing all the power-ups along the way.

Onixameldos.Like any good (or not-so-good) platformer, each world ends with a boss fight, and of course they are all immune to your spins. Why is this a Taz game again? Now, my memory of the cartoon is admittedly hazy, so I can't really speak to whether the bosses are related in any way to the show, but regardless: these are some stupid creatures. One boss looks like a bobcat, but it attacks by standing still and judging you while random boulders fall from the sky. Another is some kind of viking wizard that tries to kill you with fireballs until you dodge enough that it gets mad, sprouts tiny wings, and flies around grimacing. One is an apatosaurus that attacks you by trying to crush you with its chin. No, not biting. Chinning.

Even the final boss is just some zookeeper in a helicopter that you attack with see-saws. And he's the easiest boss by far! When you beat him the game says "WELL DONE YOU HAVE DEFEATED THE ZOO KEEPER" as Taz grins like an idiot. At first I thought this meant that beating the zookeeper was the actual objective of the game until I realized it was probably more accurate to assume the game had no real objective whatsoever and the developers just felt that was as good a spot as any to give up. Even the music stops playing halfway through the end credits, as though the game's composer realized partway through recording that he was the only guy still at the office. "Well, F this," he said as he took off for the weekend.

Roast devil.Once you get past the relatively enjoyable amusement park, you're stuck in a stage called "Dark Drip Island" and the rudeness factor really starts to rise. First off, this is where spikes decide to make their first unwelcome appearance. I know, I know. "For all this game's flaws, at least I haven't heard anything of spikes yet," you thought optimistically. Tough luck, bub. But that's not even the worst of it. Look at the right. There is no indication anywhere that the floor is going to kill you on contact until you're actually fried. And you know what? While mildly annoying, I'd be totally okay with that. But on the very next level there is another electrified rail and THAT one has a warning sign posted to let you know that it will kill you if you touch it. They wait until after you already know it's a deathtrap to tell you! And then the signs are EVERYWHERE. The entire level is littered with them! Come on!

But that's still not the biggest issue with the picture above. The real problem is that little unicycle cart. You have to ride around on them to get past the electrified rails, which wouldn't be a problem if not for the fact that they make a constant loud CLINK CLINK CLINK CLINK sound for as long as you're on them. And, to guarantee maximum exposure to this unholy din, they made sure the carts move like molasses. Which becomes a compounded problem when you realize that every level runs on a short timer. They scatter little clocks around as pickups to increase your chance of making it through, but by the time you get to Dark Drip Island, they have begun sticking them in spike traps.

Devil indeed.The rudeness culminates in a level involving ladders. You will never see a ladder before or after this level, but the entire level itself is practically nothing but the things. But see, Taz-Mania has a big issue across the board with detecting where you are in relation to things - power-ups, enemies, objects, etc. So this means that to actually climb a ladder, you must be exactly centered on its base. If you are the slightest bit off, the ladder is totally non-functional. Worse, when you reach the top of the ladder you can't directional jump. The moment you hit left or right you fall all the way down (and have to recenter yourself perfectly to try again). You have to jump straight up then finagle your way over in mid-air so you can proceed. And of course this level, where your forward progress is continuously stunted by bad programming, is the one they chose to be impossible to complete in the allotted time. You have to take side paths and find hidden time bonuses to be able to complete it. Again, I say: RUDE.

Overall, there are enough things that prevent Taz-Mania from falling so completely into the bad game abyss that it warrants a middling score instead of a terrible one. The amusement park stuff is legitimately fun for what it is. The different level types, though almost all are flawed, at least prevent you from getting bored. And the music is...tolerable. But there are problems aplenty with this game, and I didn't even get to the nit-picky stuff (like, why does Taz balance on one foot any time he's on anything that moves? Why can you jump on a ghost to kill it if cartoon logic is in effect?). Ultimately, the moral of the review is this: the best way to make a gem of a game is not to force the player to collect them while jumping on parrots. Because when it comes right down to it, that's really all Taz-Mania is. Give it a skip and then pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Bottom Line: 9/20

No comments:

Post a Comment