CONTENT WARNING!

This post contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all readers. The material in question includes:

- Bad language
- Flashing imagery (for the epileptic)
- Sexual and suggestive content
- Graphic violence
- Frightening imagery
- Disturbing true crime stories
- Religious topics
- Mentions of historical tragedies
“Something weird’s going on with my childhood…”

Of course, it felt wholly appropriate that Mom was made just as terribly uncomfortable by the game as I normally am by anime the last time Liv and I played GameCube games together, and it’s not like the nauseatingly fast-paced hand-to-hand clashes in Dragon Ball Z don’t give me severe anxiety, so let’s just move right onto the main topic of this post.

Ultimately, these three games were just the tip of the iceberg, because for one reason or another, my family was drawn to some of the lowest-rated and most obscure games that the systems we owned supported, and while many of these reasons were rather clear—they often involved properties from the golden age of Nickelodeon or favorite holidays of ours like Halloween—none of them were popular among general players or even really all that good. Some were considerably better than others, and others didn’t even have multiplayer, which honestly kind of defeated the point of playing them, now that I look back on it. But, hey, we enjoyed them, goddamn it, and that was all that mattered at the time… even if said enjoyment came from Shrek huffing nitrous oxide and expelling balls of fire from his ass.

By the way, since one of my reasons for revisiting these oddballs is to examine them with fresh adult eyes, why not start with the game that not only do I have the most to say about nowadays, but that also boasts my family’s favorite multiplayer mode to this day?

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Now, when it comes to the blanket term “weirdness”, I’m actually more or less a champion of weird ideas as long as (a) I think they’re well-executed and (b) they don’t make me uncomfortable to the point where I just want to turn the game off. After a while of playing it, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai has the latter effect on me, and considering the part of its story mode that I remember the most is Goku waddling awkwardly from side to side with Raditz in his arms—a sequence in which Raditz will break out of your grip and knock you out if you so much as fail to rotate the control stick fast enough—it admittedly also fails in the former. Granted, this is the same series where a racist tar baby genie lives in a cloud palace and Cell uses his tail to suck all the water and protein from a businessman’s body while Piccolo just casually watches it happen right in front of him. It’s safe to assume that any characters and storylines it introduces are nonsensical dreck.

Anywho, SEGA and Sonic Team’s bizarre 2003 platformer Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg is almost as bad in these areas, but only in its story mode. In fact, the premise, gameplay, and stage design are absolutely perfect for multiplayer, as players can choose to combatively or peacefully compete against one another. Basically, the premise of the game is that four children roam a land of beauty and variety called Morning Land, rolling enormous eggs and feeding them fruits until they’re ready to hatch. Thus, with a “cock-a-doodle-doo” in broken English—a call that comes out more like they’re hobbling through the lyrics to “I Am the Walrus”—the eggs hatch, unleashing a vast array of magical animals, weapons, and gear.

It should be apparent by now that this is an infinitely creative formula to craft family-friendly multiplayer gamemodes around, with my family and I playing hatch session after hatch session (which is essentially just a race to hatch eggs and earn a certain amount of points, our usual number being either 15 or 30) in Pirates Island, Blizzard Castle, and the small and large variations of Forest Village, as the other stages tend to freak out everyone except me due to their obstacles and the lack of barricades around their outer boundaries. We try to find the animal eggs that give us the most points, junk any eggs with useless or less important items, and sneak metallic, logo-branded “Sonic eggs” without being noticed. While these Sonic eggs often hatch one out of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and even a chao if we’re lucky, we might also get characters from SEGA franchises like NiGHTS, Samba De Amigo, and Phantasy Star Online that only I’ve heard of. For this reason, these other characters can all eat a bag of something phallic, as far as my family’s concerned.

Aside from them, notable animals include a ridable ostrich and land shark; a green rabbit-pelican hybrid; a purple porcupine-seal hybrid; a cute bear-turtle hybrid that Liv’s always despised for no discernible reason; a striped bull that Liv’s named Benny as a loving tribute to Dora the Explorer; a blue penguin that forces us all to quote the “Penguin on the Telly” skit from Monty Python; and a flying monkey with electric powers that I’ve named Shock the Monkey because who doesn’t love Peter Gabriel?

I can go on all day about the soundtrack, as it’s right up there with Super Mario Sunshine as far as lovely, upbeat instrumental rhythms go, but only as long as there aren’t any annoying kids singing over them. So, with that out of the way, we can get into the game’s story mode, which is where it all completely falls apart. I mean, the game is basically Sonic Team’s Mario Sunshine equivalent—especially considering its very shine sprite-reminiscent emblems of courage—but especially when it comes to its characters and storytelling.

Basically, Morning Land is populated and guarded exclusively by chickens, and one random day, a legion of black magic-infested animals called the Crows… even though it also consists of cats, insects, frogs, armadillos, dinosaurs, ninja magpies voiced by Ms. Fowl, and every other animal you can think of… decide it’s time to take over, lifting the dark canopy of nighttime over the once-sunny paradise. A human boy named Billy finds an injured chick while hanging out with his friends, somehow identifies a flock of literal crows as its attackers, and whacks one of these mockingbirds upside the head with a stick, which would no doubt draw intense scrutiny from Atticus Finch.

Because of his instantaneous preparation to star in the inevitable remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a chicken god named Menie-Funie (??????????) senses great courage in him and declares that he alone must help bring morning back to Morning Land. After several chicks make the laughable blanket statement that morning time “brightens up people’s hearts” and nighttime “brings out the darkness within their hearts” like the poetic lovechild of Werner Herzog and Elie Wiesel—on which a night owl like me calls bullshit, by the way—he’s forced to wear an embarrassing “legendary chicken suit” like poor Ralphie in his bunny costume from A Christmas Story and learns that the emblems of courage must be collected to keep the Crows from stealing the Giant Egg, the chickens of Morning Land’s sacred artifact.

Billy hatches a chicken elder from its golden egg in each region of Morning Land—Forest Village, Pirates Island, Dino Mountain, Blizzard Castle, Circus Park, and Sand Ruin—so they can restore sunlight to the region and let him in on the secrets of the Giant Egg.

First, it was Knuckles wearing a cowboy hat, and now this?!

Then again, Billy still has to take down the tyrant and his rapidly spreading puddles of corrosive brain matter, although the second phase of the final boss fight begins with his legendary chicken suit—and, to that effect, his egg-rolling and weaponizing powers—being stripped away from him. Now, considering the constant repetition of the “courage” Billy has inside of him, this sudden twist should lead to a natural end result, which is Billy learning to save the day without his magical powers, in the spirit of Dumbo no longer relying on his feather. After all, who needs superhuman strength and an animal-hatching rooster call when you have good old-fashioned human…

…oh, he got his suit back before I could finish my thought.

I guess if this game’s logic can claim that nighttime is an objectively miserable time of day and that everyone’s a morning person, it might as well claim that courage is a literal superpower, too. Yes, I know his courage is ultimately what brings his suit back, but (a) if the chicken suit’s summoned entirely through courage, then Billy’s friends must all be equally as courageous as him, thus making it clear that he’s not the only one who can save the day; and (b) it makes the whole “message” of courage feel lazily shoehorned in, like it’s under the guise of, “Well, we should probably make our ridiculous chicken egg-rolling game about something.” It really does go to show that this game has a multiplayer-only premise, as once you try to drag a story and characters into the mix, the whole thing becomes little more than a hollow eggshell.

If all the fun family memories it’s left behind make up the true highlight of the game, second place goes to the process of making a music video for the end of a gameplay montage on my old YouTube modding channel, as you can watch down below.

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It’s impossible for me to deny that Billy Hatcher has a top-notch gameplay formula despite its weak story. I mean, it’s no surprise that the same creative minds who hatched (yuck yuck!) villains like Shadow and Chaos, Knuckles’s treasure-hunting gameplay, and the ARK stages from the Sonic Adventure games—not to mention the sheer scale and visual flair of Sonic Heroes‘s stages—came up with such an innovative formula.

This being the case, having the gall to call a Nickelodeon-themed minigame collection by the same game-developing hacks who brought us Ninjabread Man and its several shameless clones “a better game” would be enough to give any old-school gamer a life-threatening brain hemorrhage. Well, luckily for them, I can’t make that huge a generalization, but at least Nick Party Blast lacks the same off-putting dialogue and story elements from Sonic Team’s KFC bucket of finger-lickin’ nonsense.

The premise is exactly what it sounds like on the surface, only it comes from a very specific period in Nickelodeon’s history, that being the early 2000s but before hits like Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show Em decided she loved twenty years after it first aired. Yep, it came out during those golden years, featuring cast members from SpongeBob, Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, and Invader Zim—i.e., the awesome shows from that era and the creepy alien edgelord program that inspired a teenager to murder his neighbor. Fortunately, though, it was still late enough that Ren & Stimpy wasn’t able to be featured, as its creator was too busy turning it into a juvenile adult cartoon and grooming underaged girls.

Minigames like Food Fight (unfortunately not in reference to Animal House, but fortunately not in reference to that god-awful CGI movie, either), Pipes, Basketball, and Coins can be completed in singleplayer or multiplayer while hosted by none other than Catdog. Granted, if you aren’t willing to jump right into the action as a fan of Nickelodeon from this era, you might have it in mind to turn back once you hear the menu music. I mean… sure, it’s maddeningly catchy as a country banjo tune in the spirit of the Catdog intro theme, and yet, I still get the distressing feeling that it’s the same song you hear playing on an endless loop in Hell.

For a piece of shovelware that acts as little more than marketing material, it’s a corny little shitfest of fast food restaurant vandalism, potentially hazardous lazy river cruises, and circuit board construction competitions. It sure as hell doesn’t look very detailed or pleasant in a graphical sense, even for the GameCube—you know, the same system on which Metroid Prime featured Xbox 360-level graphics and geometry—but it’s still just a bunch of silly, stupid fun for members of the family to laugh at while taking on the roles of their favorite Nicktoons characters, which was probably the original intention anyhow.

In fact, some of the soundtrack is surprisingly decent for something so obviously cheap and slapdash, as I still own and play the Rugrats and Wild Thornberrys level themes for my own personal use. Of course, given the unfocused lunacy of the gameplay, I get the sense that much of the laughter from my more recent multiplayer sessions with Liv, Em, and Em’s newly-wed Alex was primarily because we had no idea what was even happening at a certain point. The cumulative effect of said lunacy isn’t exactly helped by the characters’ voices, either, as they basically repeat the same two lines over and over again—you can only hear Eliza Thornberry ask “Was it something I said?” so many times before your brain cracks à la Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation.

It’s kind of like when the live-action Grinch movie with Jim Carrey was playing at my Mom’s condo during the holidays, during which Em and Alex were laughing like a room full of drunk friends while Mom and I, two people who’d never seen it before, were forced to watch in befuddlement as both our brains rotted to the core simultaneously. Some people are bound to enjoy the chaos more than others, and in my case, the real enjoyment begins whenever Cat’s verbal exchanges with Dog are cobbled together with as many hard cuts as the long-memed fence-climbing clip from Taken 2. Well, either that or whenever Mr. Krabs shuffles to the left in the Krusty Krab’s kitchen, a detail that seven-year-old me thought was the funniest goddamn thing in the universe. Hey, anything to detract from the nightmare fuel that is the Data Design Interactive startup logo.

Now, there’s something I’m never hoping to see before a slapstick food fight.
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While Nick Party Blast is little more than a cacophony of slime splats, repeating character dialogue, insanity-inducing banjo music, and what I’m just going to pretend are unscripted arguments between Tom Kenny and Jim Cummings, the GameCube supports a multitude of far higher-quality Nickelodeon titles. Sure, that one may have been my family’s only crossover title, but a very early game of ours was Rugrats: Royal Ransom, which, to this day, I still regard as legitimately good despite its simplicity and minor gameplay quirks.

While it doesn’t feature the show’s entire cast of characters, the majority of the main cast is featured, and with all of their proper voice actors, too! It’s actually impressive how Rugrats titles like this, Search for Reptar, and Studio Tour feature all of the proper actors, whereas basically none of the SpongeBob games could get Clancy Brown back as Mr. Krabs or Ernest Borgnine back as Mermaidman (although they could inexplicably get Tim Conway back as Barnacleboy).

The story is also airtight despite its own level of simplicity, with Stu Pickles having developed a multi-themed play fort called the PlayPalace 3000. Before the babies can board it, however, Angelica takes it for herself, even stealing the babies’ toys to become her “loyal suspects”. Yes, even the writing is on par with that of the show. Thus, the kids set out to pass each of the PlayPalace’s levels and tiers and take it back from its mean queen, with the voice of Susie guiding them along the way. Yeah, her narration does get pretty annoying at times, but at least she’s always supportive—the game fortunately has Angelica mocking you in her insufferable spoiled rich girl voice as to balance out the annoyance, and good lord, does that make it satisfying to catapult boulders at her in the final level!

If you’d prefer to see more grounded real-world and surreal dream sequences in a Rugrats game, I’d argue that you should stick with Search for Reptar, but it obviously predated me as a PS1 title, so this game was my best option. After all, its variety of locations is part of its appeal, with each tier of the PlayPalace containing up to three worlds and each world containing two or three levels, both on-foot and vehicle-based: tier one holds the jungle, snow, and bonus game worlds; tier two holds the circus, desert, and sea worlds; and tier three contains the dinosaur, medieval, and space worlds.

The level design is wide-open, freely explorable, and stylistically consistent, with a surprising range to the difficulty of the objectives. Whereas you can essentially sit back and relax as you complete Mr. Snowtato Head, Temple of the Lamp, and Cheesy Chase, I still find myself fuming more than usual in the process of completing Punting Papayas and Fly High Egg Hunt, especially when trying to reach some of the nest locations in the latter. On top of that, the soundtrack tops Nick Party Blast‘s by a country mile and a half. That’s right—no peppy, repetitive banjo tune straight out of the “Squeal Like a Pig” sequence from Deliverance! It compliments the game’s environments while remaining faithful to the homey feel of the show (although the Search for Reptar soundtrack does capture the musical style far more faithfully), the peacefully whimsical level themes for Snowplace to Hide and Mr. Snowtato Head—the latter level being focused around a destroyed snowman who’s unmistakably voiced by Cosmo from Fairly OddParents—being prime examples.

Now, on a mostly unrelated subject, it seems like this can be said about mostly all the GameCube and Wii games I loved as a kid, but this game in particular has always held a soothing yet at times slightly off-putting “liminal space” quality, mainly due to the dinky whimsicality of its soundtrack and the flatness of its graphics and color schemes. Hell, as if this doesn’t do enough to stoke the flames of nostalgia, I discovered a bit of beta content while rewatching a longplay of the game. See, a prerelease trailer exists in the files for the GameCube title Rocket Power: Beach Bandits, which I extracted from the ROM myself out of curiosity after finding it on YouTube, and aside from subtle differences in most of the stages’ lighting and color schemes, Chucky is shown fighting a dragon in a scrapped medieval level. I believe one commenter on the YouTube upload was on-point when referring to it as “children’s first Beta64”.

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Looking back, it was a wise decision to break off from the subject of Nick Party Blast with a far higher-quality title like Royal Ransom, because the hilariously atrocious quality is back, this time in Shrek form! Now, playing this game as often as my sisters and I used to should already raise a shit-load of questions about how we spent our time on weekends, but the story behind how we started playing it should raise a whole lot more.

Dad, Liv, and I went to GameStop at the Exton Square Mall in 2005, and Dad told us we could each get one game for our GameCube. I picked out Shrek: Extra Large as a fan of the movie while Liv picked out a Pokémon game as a fan of… you guessed it! Nintendogs! I can’t recall which Pokémon game it was, as all I saw her play was a training session with Pikachu taking place in a suburban house’s living room, but suffice it so say, she played this for about ten minutes before stopping altogether, or at least as far as I’m aware.

So, how long did we play Shrek: Extra Large before throwing it in the garbage?

Well, um… we… never threw it away.

No, for some… ungodly reason, we just… kept playing it. I mean, when you look at it as just any old GameCube Shrek game—in which case, most people seem to think it is, considering it became infamous thanks to a gameplay video released by YouTube’s favorite anti-Semite PewDiePie years ago—it certainly appears to be utter garbage, and… well, yes, it kind of is, but even I wasn’t aware until fairly recently of how similar it is to Sonic Adventure DX, namely in that it’s more or less an updated GameCube port of the official Shrek tie-in game for the original Xbox.

While neither version is considered to be very good, the initial release is notable for having been the first-ever commercial game to utilize the deferred shading system, making it capable of more advanced 3D graphics rendering than what was typical at the time. Strangely, though, comparing the two versions has led me to believe that Extra Large may actually be better than the initial release. This is mainly because added and modified cutscenes serve to flesh out the plot beyond the original game’s, not to mention the more impressive of the two new levels it introduces—that being Lonely Mountain, a snowy level at the top of a Himalayas-style mountain range with a bearded troll, leprechaun, dragon skeleton, giant condor, and genuinely gorgeous background music track.

Moreover, it makes all of the missions for each world completable without interruption to make up for how the original release basically teleports you to the same location on the world map following the completion of every mission, thus forcing you to circle back to where you were to complete the next one. Granted, I’m mostly looking at this from a narrative and creative point of view, as it lacks the same visual flair as the original version’s deferred shading system while also introducing new performance issues… you know, aside from the new but not-quite-so-improved model for Shrek himself. You might recognize it when you see it.

The real difference? Only one will be crawling his way into your dreams tonight.

While I’m not exactly ashamed of having played it, as I do side with my sisters’ sentiment that it’s laughably bad yet surprisingly enjoyable, I am a little disappointed that we never followed it up with the Shrek 2 tie-in game, considering it featured multiplayer co-op and acted as the source of many more players’ own pleasant childhood memories. More significant than that, however, is that it actually featured the main cast in playable form, as neither the original Shrek game nor Extra Large even featured them in non-playable form. Yep, that means no Donkey appearance whatsoever! Not even so much as a ten-second cameo! This fact actually makes the box art for Extra Large in particular misleading, given Donkey appears prominently on it but never in the actual game.

Just for some context, Fiona is involved in the story, although she never appears in physical form until the final level. The story essentially boils down to Merlin the Wizard (yes, that Merlin the Wizard) capturing Fiona, as the Magic Mirror explains, although Extra Large does remake the entire intro in a classic storybook style, which gives Merlin motivation to kidnap Fiona by having him held in his tower by an equally villainous Ice Queen. Fiona will only be released if Shrek retrieves Merlin’s crystal ball so he may be freed from the Ice Queen, which, when paired with the sort of random addition of his weakness to dragon’s breath, does do something for Merlin as a character other than making him a cartoon villain…

…but that’s where the high praise pretty much ends, because now’s the time to get into shaky objectivity with an underlying layer of cynicism. After all, I’m sure many would argue that the increased role of the Ice Queen (originally named the Ice Cream Queen) just overcomplicates the story, and Merlin does inexplicably appear in the Ice Queen’s lair in the Molasses Sewers without his crystal ball, although I guess this might be intended as just an astral projection of him.

The best way to sum up the gameplay is akin to the writing of Godzilla vs. Kong in the words of Jay from RedLetterMedia, which is that it feels like it was executed by a child as both a positive and negative quality. Some fun combat and parkour mechanics are incorporated—Extra Large even adds additional combat moves like the superpunch and bellyflop—but the most critical components are based around burping and farting, namely by picking up onions to pass gas and even chili peppers to burp/fart flames. These are used to stun and damage enemies, respectively, but either way, I should probably be embarrassed to have grown up playing it for this reason alone. At least the movies incorporated crude humor in ways that were legitimately clever and funny, whereas this is a game based almost entirely around farting on dancing cows and blowing open sealed doors with explosive flatulence.

The level design in general is fairly decent, as is the case with some of the soundtrack (I genuinely like the dystopian steampunk atmosphere of Sweetsville Industrial Park and its theme music, and the Enchanted Forest theme music is honestly pretty catchy despite otherwise being crap), but there are some, uh… awkward qualities that come with the positives.

Shrek’s Swamp has absolutely zero background music, leaving only natural ambience and a whole lot of unnerving vibes; the Enchanted Forest features rather antsy iterations of Hansel and Gretel with possible mental health conditions, as well as a terrifying bridge troll who cannot be damaged and will sometimes even spawn up in the tree forts to make for the ultimate panic attack; Mother Goose Land has the happy, smiling sun equivalent of the moon from Majora’s Mask; and Sweetsville Industrial Park pits you against a dim-witted brawler made of candy named Frankendrop, whose voice and physical appearance are rather off-putting and zombie-like in their own right (in fact, there even seems to be some beta content in the form of “Mini Me” Frankendrop swearing like a sailor in two unused voice clips, both of which you can listen to below).

Oh, yeah, and then, there’s just Shrek. There’s Shrek and his revamped face that someone actually thought looked better than his initial design… and honestly, I’m starting to think they were right, because it’s the perfect halfway point between Hello Kitty cuteness and the stuff of nightmares.

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If Shrek: Extra Large is my family’s favorite April Fools’ joke, then what other holiday gaming institutions became commonplace in my household? Well, in the spoopy realm of All Hallow’s Day, we acquired (at a time and place I’m still not exactly sure of, but I do believe it was a game that Em initially bought for herself) an endearing little gem that virtually no one else knows about called Spirits & Spells.

I mean, Castleween. I mean, Spirits & Spells.

Okay, its release has as much of an interesting background as Shrek: Extra Large‘s, as it’s technically two separate games made by three separate developers for three separate systems. It was developed for the GameCube by Wanadoo Edition, for the PS2 by Wanadoo and Kalisto Entertainment, and for the Game Boy Advance by Magic Pockets. Almost as confusing is that, as a native European title, it’s titled Castleween overseas and Spirits & Spells in North America. Because only one version—Wanadoo’s North American GameCube version—is the one my family cares about and remembers, I’ll only be sticking to this version.

Besides, the title “Castleween” just makes me think of the awful Best of the Worst movie HauntedWeen, and while the GameCube version has a beautiful box art illustration, the Japanese box art is primarily anime-styled, and the 3D render of its female lead on the PS2 box art… well, let’s just say, soul-eating season came early this year.

Jesus… guess the GameCube saved my parents the bother of extra therapy costs.

For a lone oddity existing within the deepest bowels of the GameCube library, I don’t think there’s ever been a single game on the market infused with more Halloween spirit than Spirits & Spells. This becomes apparent as soon as you start playing, with the wonderful orchestral score over the gothic cemetery title screen background. You even get to hear the background info presented by the best video game narrator since Crazy Taxi, his sly yet enthusiastic cadence serving as a tribute of sorts to vocal greats of the horror genre like Vincent Price and Boris Karloff.

The story premise itself is as airtight as that of Royal Ransom, telling the story of how two feuding children named Alicia and Greg—dressed as a witch and a devil, respectively—go trick-or-treating with their friends at an old mansion, only for their friends to be turned to stone by a pumpkin-headed Boogeyman. In the process of fleeing the scene, they become lost in the mysterious World of the Dead just beyond the mansion’s grounds, where they acquire powers related to their costumes and set out to rescue the souls of their peers with the help of a witty blue goblin. Bam, that’s the premise!

Unfortunately, the second chapter is basically just the first chapter in snowy weather (not that it doesn’t produce an appealing atmosphere as a result), and the story ends rather clumsily after deciding that a mad scientist we’ve never seen before is the new antagonist, but it consistently maintains the same spooky vibes throughout all of its chapters, from the Shrouded Cemetery and the Bridge of Mists to the Haunted House and the Mad Scientist’s Lair. Even the score carries on the same sense of Halloween delight the whole way through, as it always sounds creepy and mystic without taking itself too seriously. Granted, considering the wicked witch enemy type turns into a frog upon dying—an awkward fusion of The Wizard of Oz and The Frog Prince—it’s safe to say that it isn’t always consistent with its sources of inspiration.

Well, there’s that and the witches apparently sharing the voice of Courtney from The Amanda Show.

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This is certainly the game I’ll be discussing the least, as it’s less about the game itself than it is about who exactly I recall playing it with. While I used to play all the other games discussed here alongside my family members, that wasn’t the case with all of them. Just take SpongeBob: Battle for Bikini Bottom, a game that’s way too popular and fondly remembered to be featured here, as I never actually owned that game growing up—I’d only play it with my best friend in elementary school Mattie McCullough at his place, where he taught me about inputting cheat codes and beating the final boss. As a matter of fact, some of that advice would come in handy about fifteen years later, when I started playing the pitch-perfect remaster that is Battle for Bikini Bottom: Rehydrated.

This Ninja Turtles game, on the other hand, was played with a neighbor named Tyler Wright, and for this reason or another, my memories with it are rather fuzzy. Seemingly the most obscure and lowest-rated title in the TMNT trilogy for the GameCube, it was primarily focused on a sci-fi schlock alien race from the comics, the Triceratons (modeled after the dinosaur species Chasmosaurus, obviously), as opposed to the relatively grounded Foot Clan, although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that they’re the part of the game I remember the least. Yeah, it’s safe to say that this was a rather hard game to track down as an adult, considering I couldn’t even remember the full title. I started playing the first game in the trilogy, but only to discover how radically different it was—sure, the models and levels featured similar cel shading, but the game I remember playing was definitely darker and grimier in a stylistic sense.

At a certain point, I had to skim through longplay after longplay until I found a sequence I recognized, and lo and behold, I eventually found what I was looking for on the same channel as the longplays for Royal Ransom, Shrek, and Extra Large. Probably the strangest detail is that most of what I remember from it comes in episode two, which starts after the first sixteen missions. On top of that, it primarily focuses on human villains as opposed to the Triceratons, which factors into one of the sequences that have been burnt into my memory more than any others.

Other than my devotion to hopping and fucking around as opposed to the objective, which was tomfoolery that Tyler really seemed to get aggravated by, my memories begin at the sewer fight a little less than halfway through chapter one, as well as a weird “stand your ground” mission in which all four turtles stand out in the open in a single-file line right in front of the Triceratons as they engage in combat with them. I believe it was Rich Evans from RedLetterMedia who once coined the term “Tactical Get-Mowed-Down Formation” on an episode of Best of the Worst.

Splinter: “You are made of stupid.”

It all starts to come back to me again at the sewer fight, turret shootout, and hoverboard chase missions that open episode two, but it’s only after all of them that we reach the boss fight that’s singlehandedly preserved my remembrance for having played this game. The boss fight in question features two enemies at once, those being a black turtleneck-sporting brute with boxing gloves and a white “Smooth Criminal” suit-wearing swordsman named Mr. Touch and Mr. Go, respectively. Hardy har har.

Why this fight in particular? Well, that, I… don’t have a surefire answer to, but it’s likely because (a) the fuzzy, gloomy, and desaturated aesthetic mixed with Mr. Touch’s awkward glove-adjusting animation made for an off-putting and surreal visual experience; and (b) we ended up fighting both of them a second time later on in a rather abrupt turn of events. As for where the rest of the game went in my long-term memory? You know, to be honest, I was probably just fucking around rather than paying attention to anything that was happening, so it’s debatable on whether it was ever there to begin with.

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You know what’s weirder than my relationship with any other franchise? That would be the one I’ve had with the Star Wars franchise. I enjoyed it growing up for the same reasons as anyone else my age, although a lot of that can be attributed to my love for collecting the six-inch action figures during the late 2000s. This was back when the boxes had the clone and stormtrooper helmet backplates, as two of the first ones I ever bought were from the CGI Clone Wars and Legacy Collection lines, those being R2-D2 from the former and 2002 Clone Wars Obi-Wan from the latter. Then again, for some reason I can’t quite deduce, I specifically recall taking a car ride through Exton with my dad after getting the Count Dooku hologram figure, during which “Suedehead” by Morrissey happened to be playing. I think that just boils down to the suburban comfort of living there at the time.

Regardless, I was a pretty huge fan of the CGI Clone Wars film and series until I stopped following along by season three, so you can be sure that video games based around them were of immediate interest to me. After all, since I’m now… you know… a grown man, the toys I used to collect have been swapped out for video games, as I’m able to play nostalgic games like LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga and LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars without having to drop a thousand bucks on a LEGO Death Star or Millennium Falcon—the former of which was an actual several-day project I completed as a kid while vacationing in York, Maine. Point is, this naturally led me to play one lightsaber-based Clone Wars fighting game for the Wii, plus another one called Republic Heroes that my brain could only withstand for about thirty minutes.

Yes, Lightsaber Duels is considerably better than Republic Heroes, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I was only drawn to it as a fan of the show. Hell, this specific appeal is made blatantly obvious in the main menu, where a looping clip from the episode “Duel of the Droids” literally plays in the background. I mean, there were always recurring problems with the response times and accuracy of the Wii’s motion controls, but claiming this game’s utilization of said motion controls to be several notches below that of Wii Sports would be pretty generous—that game utilizes them with precision, which was one of the many reasons why it quickly became a classic.

Regardless, as long as you, family, and friends are able to get past that, this game can be rather fun to not only clash sabers in recognizable Clone Wars locations as characters like Ahsoka, Plo Koon, Ventress, and Grievous, but also make use of your environment to deal extra damage. It’s essentially the Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, or Tekken of Star Wars in the same vein that the multiplayer mode of The Force Unleashed II is the Super Smash Bros. of Star Wars.

Wait, what’s that? Didn’t know that was a thing that existed? Well, that’s because it’s a thing you’d only know existed if you initially played The Force Unleashed II on the Wii, although that’s not to say it was very good or memorable.

Anywho, despite the key planets and landmarks from both the series and the 2008 film, from the Teth Castle and the Tatooine Dune Sea to the Separatist Listening Post and the Malevolence, others like Raxus Prime and the Separatist Droid Factory are exclusive to this game. It’s actually inside the droid factory that you face and unlock a playable fighter called the EG-5 Jedi Hunter Droid, which exists in zero capacity outside Lightsaber Duels and Republic Heroes despite its perfect physical design for the show and Star Wars in general.

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I wouldn’t go as far as to call my history with the Sims franchise checkered until I moved away from Pennsylvania in early 2013, when I fell madly in love with The Sims 3… probably because my real life had taken such a drastic nosedive. While it’s become more of an excuse to bring old friends of mine back to me, pit Dr. House and Kyu Sugardust against each other, and capture the personal lives of RedLetterMedia as embarrassing as they probably are and then some, I still consider it one of my top five favorite games of all time. I mean, there was that very brief period where I tried its strange Wii port, which bore very little resemblance to the PC version by abandoning its point-and-click formula for a more console-appropriate third-person movement and interaction system, but funny enough, it wasn’t even the first time I experienced that unusual gameplay system in a Sims game.

No, that would be the series’s first foray into more kid-friendly simulation game territory, such a successful beginning to an equally successful spinoff series that no one else has talked about it for seventeen years. That’s sarcasm, of course, but believe it or not, I used to play MySims religiously for at least a couple years after both my sisters called it quits, and given its anime art style, that’s a pretty shocking notion to think about. Let’s just say, as an adult who adores Sims 3 as a freely explorable and customizable opportunity to trigger utter lunacy and get seduced by beautiful women… well… MySims is cute, I guess. But it’s also kind of lame in hindsight.

Yet, I was still able to form the same autism-enhanced emotional connection as I had with other Wii games at the time, and that mostly comes down to the homey feel that the pleasant soundtrack and blocky geometry establishes. When it comes to character customization and build mode, it’s certainly lacking compared to Sims 3—in fact, it’s essentially the halfway point between those of Sims 1 and Sims 2—but rather than create-a-style or traditional color swatches, it allows buildings and items developed in the player’s workshop to be painted and decorated with “essences”, which can be acquired through everything from interactions with other sims to fishing and digging. Each essence is correlated with one out of five “interests”: cute, fun, geeky, spooky, studious, and tasty. No, that last one does not imply that associated sims have a predisposition to being cannibalized.

Maybe, it was just the vast map size that distracted me (expansive deserts, woodlands, and other regions of the world can be unlocked as new sims continue to move in), and the game fortunately isn’t animated as cheaply or disjointedly as anime, but its art style certainly makes it an uncomfortable one to revisit nowadays.

So, the question is, have I finally been able to say goodbye to this game and say hello to Animal Crossing? My answer to that is yes, but my enjoyment playing this game has been somewhat restored through the power of modding! See, for the creation of a video on my modding channel based around showcasing modified textures in obscure GameCube and Wii games, I reimagined this game to bring what it should’ve always been to life, that being none other than MySims: Hellscape! Yes, for the first time, you get to take on the role of Beelzebub himself, subjecting sinners to their much-deserved suffering and accomplishing tasks for his… errr… very beautiful wife.

Oh, and it also turns the fabulously gay hotel bellhop into a nazi SS officer. Press A to serve Satan!

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Ah, the PlayStation 2. The most commercially successful gaming system of all time. Home of such acclaimed classics as GTA: San Andreas, Shadow of the Colossus, Spider-Man 2, The Simpsons: Hit & Run, and… Sonic Heroes? Yep, uh… it would appear that, according to Wikipedia, Sonic Heroes outsold both LEGO Star Wars games, both of the original Star Wars: Battlefront games, BOTH SAM RAIMI SPIDER-MAN TIE-IN GAMES, The Simpsons: Hit & Run, and the original Max Payne. No, you did not have a stroke just now. It just so happened to have sold just under three million copies on the PS2 alone. Pardon me, for I believe I just heard the distinct bone-smashing sound of the common “no one played Sonic Heroes” claim hitting the ground after its flight out the window.

Well, regardless of which game inexplicably reached number thirty-five on the sales chart, you might assume that my experience with this system in particular growing up was nonexistent, given all the information I’ve previously provided on this blog, but alas, I did in fact own it when I was little… well, I mean, my sister Emily owned it. Also, there was only one game she ever owned or played on it, and it was just some random rhythm title with the weirdest fucking track selection since the time some punk artist named William Control threw a disturbing real 911 call onto his album as a hidden track. Speaking of which, R.I.P. Ruth Price. That rapscallion picked the wrong old lady to try and strangle, alright.

Essentially a precursor to Just Dance, Dance Dance Revolution used to be a pretty iconic rhythm game franchise, having become synonymous with its instantly recognizable signature dance mat, popular in arcades around the world (including the Fun-O-Rama in York, Maine, which has been such a key landmark in my family and relatives’ summer vacations that my dad’s joked about giving me the tickets he earned there on his deathbed, only to be made a fool of when he learns that it closed down thirty years prior), and no doubt responsible for an endless slew of ankle, knee, and groin injuries since its inception.

Of course, plenty of entries have been successful in their own right, as the series even managed to spawn a Nintendo crossover in the form of DDR: Mario Mix… but DDR Extreme 2 wasn’t one of them.

Yet, this was the one we knew and loved, as the track selection wasn’t always weird. You had numbers like “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, “Wonderful Night” by Fatboy Slim, and “Get Busy” by Sean Paul, the first of which led both my sisters and I to perform it during poolside karaoke one summer in Aruba. As a matter of fact, there were plenty of fast-paced dance covers of massive ’90s and early 2000s pop hits like “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé and “Oops!… I Did it Again” by Britney Spears, but then, you had a few bizarre dance covers of older classics like “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins and “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

The more normal listings end with the obscure Europop number “Boom Boom Dollar” by King Kong & The Jungle Girls, German pop number “Captain Jack” by… um… Captain Jack, “In the Heat of the Night” by E-ROTIC, and “My, My, My” by Armand Van Helden, as the rest are recurring original KONAMI tracks that all prove fast and overwhelming enough to make you feel like you’re stuck in the downtown nightclub from chapter two of Max Payne 3.

Now, I’m really not sure if Em ever made it through the two infuriating “final boss” songs, “PARANOIA survivor” and “PARANOIA survivor MAX”, but I’d love to believe that, if she ever did, she would unlock a hidden track that utilizes the infamous “You Are an Idiot” worm from the early internet. You can thank some unknown YouTuber for making that fever dream a reality.

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My history with The Sims being a rare example, you might not get the sense that I’ve ever had much nostalgia or passion for the simulation genre. For the most part, this would be an accurate assumption, but I do have my fair share of experience with one very, very specific subgenre in particular: amusement park simulation.

This… errr… unexpected trend began when Em used to play RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 on her home computer, her sessions consisting half-and-half of legitimate theme park management and tormenting guests by attempting to drown them and building the most boring and dangerous rides imaginable. This was at a time when we would watch each other play about as much as we’d actually play ourselves, if not more so, especially since there were so many games that Em essentially kept all to herself. I’d frequently watch both my sisters play classic Rune Scape on their laptops, just as another apt example. Since then, we pretty much abandoned the subgenre until I inevitably rediscovered it on my own time, but I recall finally bringing home and booting up my first Xbox 360 in 2007, after which I’d give my first three games a test run.

Actually, that statement is filled to the brim with inaccuracies. In truth, I reached the Egg Cerberus boss fight in Sonic ’06 before feeling too deflated by the death of the Sonic I knew to continue; I never even bothered to open the box for Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, as it was probably even left in its plastic shrink wrap that whole time; and my sisters were left to play through most of the third game themselves. No wonder Dad gave the whole system away to charity while I wasn’t looking. The third game of that neglected trilogy was Thrillville: Off the Rails, and while it has a small cult following… well, it’s called a cult following for a reason.

In brief, the game (and, to that effect, its predictably named predecessor Thrillville) is exactly what you get when you cross RollerCoaster Tycoon with The Sims, as you take on the role of the titular Thrillville amusement park’s manager while interacting with and gaining the trust of your guests. Meanwhile, Doc Brown from Back to the Future guides you along your corporate journey, and all while you compete with the sketchy conglomerate Globo-Joy.

I mean, sure, that sounds like all manner of fun, but seriously—what makes this one random management simulator unique? Well, the right answer to that would be “quite a lot”, but for starters, it’s notable for its hilariously dated dialogue. Aside from using corny lingo that I have to assume wasn’t even up-to-date for the time, it shares a similarly aggravating problem to Hunie… okay, you know what? Why don’t we just call it FunieNot from now on so I don’t feel like taking a shower every time it’s brought up?

Anywho, it shares a similar problem, which is that even so much as disagreeing with the person you’re talking to is enough to bring your relationship down a peg. You pretty much get the cold shoulder just for being honest, even when you’re polite about it. At least there’s a cheeky touch of charm that naturally comes with the Sims 1-level models and geometry, I guess. Then again, there is one strange stylistic detail that comes with the impressive array of minigames correlated with attractions, stalls, and park workers. For some reason, the start screens of certain minigames like those for the cheerleader and janitor park workers adopt a very specific anime style.

Why was this style chosen in a title published by LucasArts? The answers am bananas.

Whatever.

There are plenty of strange quirks to the general management and gameplay systems, like the fact that sprinting pretty much transforms you into the Flash, and I’ve got to admit it—I was always unnerved by its similar “liminal space” quality to that of Rugrats: Royal Ransom (which is ironic, given the fact that people are fucking everywhere in the park), a hard-to-explain vibe that was more prevalent when starting a minigame than at any other time. Yeah, it would seem as though retro games in general tend to have a strange feeling to them.

Fortunately, a part of the game that doesn’t carry these vibes is the soundtrack, ’cause goddamn, does it blow the roof off the place! While some songs like “Perfect Day” by Rapscallion are remembered fondly for blind nostalgic reverence more than anything, I still listen to killer earworms like “Whiplash” by Monkeynaught—AKA, the blatant AC/DC soundalike—on my own time outside the game. Others are correlated with minigames, like the mild synth and funk background tune for Stunt Rider, a motorbike-riding oddity that basically acted as a less graphic Happy Wheels well before Happy Wheels‘s time.

Do y’all remember Happy Wheels? ‘Cause I don’t.

Now, I’m not sure if my source is correct or just an antagonistic voice in my head, but one of the composers for the Stunt Rider theme is apparently Jesse Harlin, who I recognize as having been responsible for the phenomenal Mafia III score. Then again, DICE turns out to have developed the original Shrek game and Shrek: Extra Large well before they utilized Electronic Arts’s Frostbite engine with the Battlefield games and the Star Wars: Battlefront reboots, so I guess we all have to start somewhere, don’t we? Regardless, the most recognizable minigame is that of an arcade hero named Bandito Chinchilla, for whom his humorous Western ballad couldn’t possibly set the tone any better.

Phew! I was in the middle of an identity crisis there!

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