Thursday, April 19, 2018

Stuff I Grew Up With/Video Game Corner: Rampage: World Tour (1997)

I think it's been made clear by this point that I'm very much a child of the 90's and, while I'm definitely up on all things relating to movies past and present, when it comes to video games, if it was made before that decade, chances are I've never played it or never even heard of it until much later than I normally would have. Obviously, I played the original three Super Mario Bros. games on the NES many times as a kid and still play them to this day (at least, in their Super Mario All-Stars forms), as well as some of the original Donkey Kong games on that original system, but when it comes to many other big name game franchises from the early days of gaming, I know of them but have never played them. Castlevania? Nope. Metroid? Mm-mm. The Legend of Zelda? Nah. (Never been interested in that franchise, anyway.) Bubble Bobble? Ninja Gaiden? Double Dragon? Seriously, never even heard of them until I started watching the Angry Video Game Nerd. And again, that's just home video games; when it comes to arcade games, forget it. Case in point, I'd never heard of Rampage until I read about the Nintendo 64 port of Rampage: World Tour in an early 1998 issue of Nintendo Power magazine and, while I would eventually play the arcade version in the back of a store like a Wal-Mart or Target, even then, I didn't know until recently that this was a remake of an earlier game (that wasn't helped by the fact that the follow-up to this was called Rampage 2 but let's not get ahead of ourselves). Regardless, if you've been reading my blog for a long time now, it probably won't surprise you to learn that the game's images in that magazine immediately grabbed my attention. Not only was the idea of playing as monsters that were blatant parodies of King Kong and Godzilla appealing but also just the thought that the only goal was to destroy and eat as much as you could before the time ran out. It wasn't long after that when I began seeing the TV commercials for it, which were pretty funny, as they began with this guy who comes up to a podium to make a "statement," only to let out this really loud belch, and then became just a montage of gameplay footage, with a woman talking about how up to three players could destroy the world by eating everything they could find. Again, it looked like a lot of fun and inherently appealing, so I had to play it.

When it came out, I began renting it from the video rental stores in our area, both the one in my home town and another near where my aunt lived, before finally buying it in early 1999 and I played it not only by myself but also often with my cousins and the son of my aunt's live-in boyfriend. There's no way I can describe it other than to say it was an absolute blast. It was really simple and easy to figure out how to play, and we just had fun not only smashing everything that was onscreen but also giving each other jabs every now and then (all bets were off when it came to the mini-games where we had to fight each other). Off-hand, I would say that Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye were the absolute best multiplayer games we had during our childhood, but this was still a fun one. While I think that's the best way to play it, even playing by myself, both back then and now, the simplicity makes it enjoyable. That said, though, I think it's a game that's best played in small doses, as it can get repetitive very quickly and the fact that you have unlimited continues (at least in single player mode) takes away any real challenge that would make you want to keep playing for a significant length of time.

The story and the gameplay are as basic as you can get. Three scientists working for the Scumlabs corporation, George, Lizzy, and Ralph, are exposed to a chemical explosion at one of the facilities and mutate into giant monsters that destroy the nearby town. They begin traveling the world, wrecking every city they come across, in a mission to completely wipe Scumlabs off the face of the Earth. That's all there is to it: you choose one of the three monsters, destroy every building and structure you come across in each stage (preferably before the military evacuates and bombs the city), while fighting off the military forces, and then move on to the next city. Most of the levels are American cities but the game gives you the option to travel to a foreign country and eventually destroy the Scumlabs facility there through the option of punching "World Tour" signs and flags that correspond to the countries. Regardless, there are 129 levels in total and they all consist of the same goal, with only minute differences in-between. Therefore, you're not going to get a detail level-by-level breakdown like you often do with my video game reviews, as I'd just be saying the same thing again and again and it'd get boring really quick (I will, however, talk about what happens at the end of the game).

Rampage has never been a tonally serious franchise but, when I compare the art style of this game to that of the original arcade game, it's clear that this is the one where it got positively cartoonish. Not only do the monsters look far goofier than they did before, with the implausible body proportions and their silly expressions, but the game as a whole is done in a claymation style, which becomes very apparent during the cut-scenes in-between certain levels when you see Dr. Elizabeth Veronica tallying the scores and talking to someone over the phone, whom I assume is meant to be the evil CEO Eustace DeMonic, whom you see glaring at the screen every time you destroy a Scumlabs facility. That said, the game does have an appeal with how it looks, with the graphics also being bright and colorful, and the levels are nicely detailed, with lots of stuff going on in the foreground around you, like people and vehicles running at your feet and planes, helicopters, and other aircraft flying past, and various layers to the background, with the farthest ones looking like they're hand-drawn. The only thing is that both the people and the buildings look the same for the most part, even when you're in different countries. They'll throw in pieces of architecture that you associate with various countries (pagodas, Aztec-style pyramids, etc.), as well as people wearing the appropriate clothing (Buckingham Palace guards, snake charmer-like people wearing turbans, and so on), but for the most part, it's the same Caucasian people running around generic urban infrastructure. But, then again, this is a game that involves monsters puking when they eat something bad, people getting splattered into bloody skeletons whenever they're kicked or stomped, silly-looking robots for you to face, and so on, so it's not like it's meant to be 100% true to life.

Even as a kid, I thought it was strange that this was a multiplayer game for the Nintendo 64 that didn't take advantage of the console's full capabilities and had it so that only three people could play at a time instead of the maximum of four (in fact, I can't think of another multiplayer game for the system where that was the case). I know that's how it was in the arcade but when they ported it to the N64, they could have made some changes and thrown in a fourth monster. Regardless, I always liked how the monsters looked and the fact that they were meant to be parodies of classic movie monsters, with George being King Kong and Lizzy being Godzilla (it always annoyed me how the Godzilla equivalent was a female but I often chose her, regardless), but Ralph kind of stood out in how he's a typical-looking werewolf, just ballooned up to an enormous size. All of the monsters have virtually the same statistics, with the same moves (punching, kicking, jumping while doing both, and being able to hover in the air for a brief moment when you press the A-button repeatedly after jumping), and the differences between them are very slight. George appears to be the most well-rounded of the three, being one of the heaviest and especially good at climbing; Lizzy is the lightest and, by extension, moves the quickest; and Ralph is something of a balance of the two of them. Their "voices," while all having an unnatural, mutant quality to them, are individually unique sound to each one, with George having the deepest, most growly one, especially when he's eating, while Lizzy has the highest-pitched sound that comes across as vaguely feminine, and Ralph is in the middle, sounding male but also much more high-pitched than George. Each of the monsters also have their own individual mega-foods, which restore a good chunk of their health, and security items that you can find during the gameplay, with George's being a banana bunch and teddy bear, Lizzy a ladybug (which I don't get the relevance of at all; in fact, I never knew that's what that sprite was meant to be until just recently) and a doll, and Ralph a steak and a bone. Finally, when you choose your monster during the select screen, you can also change their color palette by pressing up or down.

There are several types of buildings that you can climb and destroy: small houses and fast-food restaurants, medium-size office and apartment buildings and motels (the most common type), and really tall skyscrapers. You also have several options in bringing them down. You can climb up the sides, smashing each window one by one, and grabbing or, depending on what it is, avoiding whatever you find inside (the buildings don't last long after you've completely demolished one side of them); grab onto them and kick them from the sides several times in order to completely blow out whole floors; or climb up top and smash them down to the ground, either by pounding the roofs or jumping up and stomping them floor by floor. All three methods are viable but you have to choose which one will work in a given situation, like if you're running out of time or you're taking heavy fire from the defense forces, and you also have to keep in mind that some of these methods make it impossible to get the items hidden in the windows. There are also short but wide buildings, like funeral parlors and city halls, that expose a long, bouncy steel beam up top when you climb on the roof and you can bounce on them several times in order to fight oncoming flying enemies or to reach special objects that appear up in the sky; if you don't feel like bouncing, though, you can just grab onto their sides and punch them until they collapse. Going back to what I said about a time limit, if you take too long to destroy a city, sirens will go off and the military will soon in and bomb the remaining buildings after they've evacuated everyone. You'll be able to go on to the next level if this happens but you won't get as high a score.

There are all sorts of items to be found in the windows and on the city streets: various foods, including people and various livestock in crates that tumble out of cargo planes and jumbo jets you destroy, objects that give you points when punched, and different types of power-ups. The latter include "More Power," which grant you the ability to wipe entire floors of buildings and some of the tougher enemies with one punch or kick after you hit a boxing glove, a barbell, or weights; "More Time," when you punch hourglasses (these seem to show up in the shortest levels, though); "Hot Loogie," which allows you to spit fireballs that completely engulf buildings or enemies on the ground after you find and hit TV sets with faces on them that turn red; "Death Breath," allowing you to let out a scream that destroys every building, aircraft, and enemy in your direction after you hit a TV with a screaming face (both of these power-ups can last for three to four uses and carry over from level to level); the aforementioned different security items for the individual monsters; light-blue triangles that, when punched, blow up every vehicle and aircraft onscreen; and the foreign flags that, along with the "WORLD TOUR" signs you find on the streets, take you to different countries. Other notable items include a calculator, which will increase the effectiveness of bonus items you grab afterward; types of animals that, when eaten, cause your monster to sneeze and take out an entire floor of a building (for George, it's dogs; Lizzy, it's birds; and Ralph, it's cats), and, best of all, purple toxic waste lying on the ground in levels featuring a Scumlabs facility. If you eat it, you'll turn into V.E.R.N. (Violently Enraged Radioactive Nemesis), a big, demonic, purple, bat-like creature that has the ability to destroy the tougher enemies and entire floors in buildings in one swipe. Once you've become him, you're basically invincible for the rest of the level, so it's best to find the toxic waste as soon as possible.

While people, by and large, barely restore your health when you eat them, a way to make them work is to eat a bunch of them at once at the "Tourist Traps" you find in certain cities. These are small structures separate from the buildings that you can smash open to reveal big crowds of people that just stand there and allow you to gobble them up without any resistance. They don't count as being necessary to destroy in order to move on to the next level, so if you destroy all the buildings before you reach a Tourist Trap, you won't have enough time to get into it and eat everyone before you're whisked away to the score screen. There are also objects that appear in the sky, like solitary clouds, circling eagles, satellites, Scumlab blimps, men hanging from balloon bunches, and the like, that give you points when you touch them and keep doing so until they explode. You don't even have to punch them but rather, just let your body come into contact with them. Sometimes, you can stand atop a building and touch them but, more often than not, you have to use the short, wide buildings with bouncy innards to reach them. Finally, in some levels, a big alien mothership, no doubt inspired by Independence Day, which was only a year old when the game hit the arcades, will show up and float through the level, as it randomly teleports and beams up little green aliens on the street. You can destroy it for points as well, although you have to punch it and it takes a good number of them to finally make it blow up, so it's best to ignore it unless you have plenty of time to spare.

Of course, there are plenty of hazards to be found in the levels as well, and I'm not just talking about enemies. There are a number of objects that you find hidden in the windows that are hazardous to your health, be it making you puke if you eat them or deliberately harming you if you punch them. While the former are often easy to identify, as they're stuff you can tell would be harmful to eat (paint-cans and brushes, radiation symbols, bars of soap, and such), sometimes you can be thrown for a loop by what you can eat, like potted plants and tables with fishbowls. As for the latter, you have lit lamps and active TV sets and computers that will electrocute you if you hit them (if you wait a few seconds, they become safe to hit for points), as well as ovens and fireplaces that, when hit, will let loose a moving flame that'll burn down the building... but will also engulf you if you punch the flame itself. Once in a while, you'll uncover a bomb that will blow the building to smithereens within a second of your uncovering it and a rubber duck that may seem completely innocuous but, if you punch it five times, the evacuation sirens will sound earlier than they should! You also have to make sure not to eat benches, phone-booths, and food-stands on the street, wait for neon signs on the sides of buildings to briefly flash off when you punch them, and beware of rubble from destroyed buildings that can either give you a hot foot, zap you, or make you cough from the smoke, as well as patches of water, be they the ocean or puddles that you smash open when you jump at a spot where there's a canal, because you slowly lose health when you fall in water. Some levels have military installations that fire missiles up into the air and back down at you; they'll set you on fire if they hit. Others have random lightning bolts that are nigh impossible to avoid because they hit when you least expect them.There are pieces of furniture, specifically white chairs, brown sofas, and little chairs, that don't do anything other than smash down onto the street when you hit them in the windows, and if you hit a toilet, a bathtub, or a washing machine when you find one of them, you'll get sprayed in the face with water and fall off the building. You can grab and eat people you find using them, though (and I just now realized that in some cases, you're grabbing and eating a guy sitting on a toilet... can you spell "ew?")

The enemies you face in the game range from being little more than pests to real hazards to your health. People that shoot or throw sticks of dynamite at you, be they civilians who lean out the building windows or cops and soldiers on the street, aren't much of a threat but their constant shooting can add up over time, so it's best to take them out of the equation when you can (some of them drop bombs on the street that will blow you sky-high if you step on them). Soldiers who drive by on the road while unloading machine guns on you can really sap your health, as the angled lines of bullets they fire can be nigh impossible to avoid, and those on the ground that hit you with bazookas and the ones hiding under the manhole covers are downright annoying, as they can knock you off a building or stop you in your tracks. (What's funny, though, is that if you scoop up one of those latter soldiers when they pop up to blast you, you'll send the manhole cover bouncing and it'll destroy any type of enemy vehicle it hits.) The helicopters that constantly harass you are even worse than the jeeps because they can follow you everywhere, can easily turn around and come at you for another pass, and they're unlimited, no matter how many you destroy. In some levels, in order to correspond with the aforementioned mothership, small alien ships will take the place of the helicopters, zooming from one side of the screen to another, often while zig-zagging up and down, while shooting lasers at you. Speaking of lasers, laser jets, which are these silver-colored, futuristic-looking jet-planes, are similar to the helicopters and spacecrafts but the key difference is that their lasers make them more potent. At the same time, they simply hover up and down in one spot and, if you jump at one while facing the same direction as the nose, you can grab on top of it and ride it for a few seconds, decimating anything in your path.

One of the worst types of enemies are these dickheads with jetpacks who fly around and blast you with flamethrowers. They take only three hits to destroy but they're very quick and agile and often hover just out of reach of your punch, which is irritating, because they can set you on fire and cause you to fall off a building. A similar enemy, called a "Frybot," shows up on the ground and is basically an AT-ST from Star Wars that fires volleys of bullets at you. It takes only four hits to destroy but every time you hit it, it comes back with its flamethrower, which is nearly impossible to avoid when you're as close to it as you have to be to score a hit. The most annoying enemies for me are the tanks, as their shells knock you on your back and they can hit you with two or three of them before you manage to reach them. Once you do, though, you can kick them three times to destroy them and you can jump and ride on them too, although it's harder to pull off than the jets. Finally, there's the "Beezleborg," Scumlabs' ultimate weapon that you can guarantee on facing whenever you get the cut-scene where Dr. Elizabeth Veronica asks about it. It's a big, tough-looking robot with a skull on its forearm that drops bombs on the street and can punch you halfway across the level. If you don't have a power-up, the only way to inflict damage on it is to come at it with a running kick to avoid getting punched, while also avoiding the bombs it drops, and even then, it takes a number of hits to destroy... only for it to reveal a Frybot that requires a few more hits!

As I haven't played the game with another person in many years, I think I forgot that it is possible to run out of lives in multiplayer mode, whereas in single player mode, you have unlimited continues. I can remember when I played with my cousins how, eventually, you'd die and never come back, forcing your buddy to carry on without you (that is, if they didn't eat you when you turned back into a naked human when you ran out of energy), which is how it was in the arcade. I'm not sure but I think it's also possible to get a game over in the single player mode if, when you revert back to human form, you don't immediately continue and your human dies by wandering into some flaming or electrical rubble. Again, I could be wrong on that and if I am, somebody could correct me on that, but otherwise, it seems like when you're playing by yourself, you keep going until you win, whereas in multiplayer, you have to be less gun-ho.

There are several types of bonus levels that you can play in the game, one of which you go to automatically whenever you get the "World Tour" option (it also happens at the end of the game if there are Scumlabs facilities remaining in other countries after you've cleared out all those in North America). It's a very quick bit of you holding onto the top of a jumbo jet and flying through an airspace that's full of bonus items like Scumlabs blimps, hot air balloons, civilians hanging onto balloons, small clouds, and satellites, all of which you can aim for. The best item to go for is a ring of circling stars, which gives you a power-up when you reach the next city. However, there are also bombs tied to balloons floating in the air that, while they don't hurt you can, momentarily stun you and can prevent you from reaching other items around you. Another bonus level that comes up now and then is one where the goal is simply to eat as many people on the ground as you can before you run out of time in order to get some extra points. It's best to go for the people who keep parachuting in as they land, rather than those that are already on the ground as your monster tends to toss them up into the air and catch them in the mouth, which can waste your time, rather than simply grabbing them and popping them in. As for the multiplayer bonus games, you had Death Match, where the two or three of you fight in a ring until one completely drains the other(s) of health, and Grudge Match, which is set on a ball-field and the winner is whichever one hasn't lost consciousness when time runs out.

Speaking of "Buddy Bashing," that's one of the things that you're graded on after destroying each city along with four other variables: Property Damage, People, Food, and Vehicles. The Buddy Bashing, which is possible since you can punch, kick, and use power-ups on each other (you can even kick each other in the groin and make the other monster moan in pain), is done just out of fun but the other variables are multiplied 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 respectively, with a special achievement being awarded for whichever one you excel at, "Wrecking Balls o' Doom!" when you destroy a lot of buildings and infrastructure or "Pig Out!" when you positively gorge yourself. Like I said before, though, if you're unable to destroy a city before the jets come in and bomb it, your score will be smaller.

Normally, this is where I would go into the level by level breakdown but again, with this game, the goals, items, hazards, and enemies are the same from one to another, with only the most minute differences in the details, so it would get boring and redundant very quickly. Besides those that I've already gone into, other things that you're guaranteed to run into each level include various types of non-threatening vehicles that you can destroy (like police cars, which you can send whirling through the air when you hit them from behind; orange-colored civilian cars that will fly straight up and come down whistling like a bomb if you hit them in the same way; and tanker, ice cream, and record trucks that blow up and incinerate anyone standing near them when you hit them), cargo planes and jumbo jets that drop crates full of either livestock or fruit when you punch them (some of them don't have anything in them and others actually contain policemen who immediately start shooting at you), and buses and trains on both the street and in the background that you can punch and send them flying wildly throughout the level. It's also funny sometimes to watch some of the human characters you find on the street, as some of them are completely oblivious to what's going on, either sitting on benches while reading the newspaper (they actually look up for a second and go back to reading, as if to say, "Oh, okay,"), sleeping on said benches, talking in the phone-booths, or just standing around and conversing, including big groups of people who don't run for the hills until you get right on top of them. That's, of course, to say nothing of the people in the windows who are either sitting on the toilet, lazing in the bathtub, sitting on couches or on stairs, or watching TV like they're completely unaware that their city is being raided by giant monsters. What's really weird, though, is how you sometimes see these old, decrepit-looking men on the street who leave behind a skeleton that falls apart when you eat them, as well as these little sheds containing three skeletons when you smash them... which can be found near certain houses. I never thought about that until I was replaying the game but, man, that's kind of dark, isn't it?

While the levels are basically the same for the most part, the look and layout of the areas you attack change not only to show where in the world you are but also whether you're attacking little podunk towns in the middle of nowhere (particularly in the western U.S.), small suburbs with long stretches of road between neighborhoods (sometimes, you start out in these roads and have to walk to the action), fairly big towns, and large cities. In-between levels, you get these taglines that are both funny and sometimes informative, with the first one simply telling you to destroy all buildings to go to the next level, while others offer up advice like, "PUKING IS PAINFUL! Watch what you eat," and, "Looting is lucrative. Collect cash for points." Some of them are just meant to be silly, like, "BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS. Eat interesting people," "INDULGE YOURSELF. You can diet when you get back home," and, "If other monsters don't love and respect you, beat the snot out of them." You do see notable real-life landmarks in some of the cities that you go to, like the Statue of Liberty in New York and Big Ben in London but save for the latter and the Houses of Parliament, that's about all you get. Remember, this game is pre-9/11, before people came very sensitive about the depiction of city destruction in media, so you'd think you would be able to destroy the Empire State Building or, at the very least, the Chrysler Building in New York, but no, the tallest building that you destroy is in Chicago Loop (and no, I don't think it's meant to be the Sears Tower). Still it is interesting to see those monuments and they correspond nicely to the cities you're meant to be attacking, which is more than I can say for the random appearances of alien spaceships and motherships. Sometimes it makes sense, like in New Mexico (you know, Roswell) and Washington, D.C. (the cover-up conspiracy), but in other cities, their popping up is at pure random. By the way, the aliens that are beamed down to the ground are edible and they make the same kind of yelling noises like men and women when you eat them, so you at least know what gender of alien you ate (some of them inexplicably make the sound when you eat small groups of people).

Once you've destroyed all of the Scumlabs facilities in the world, you end up in the town of "Toxic Hollow," where you face a mutated form of Eustace DeMonic that bounces around the level and knocks into you whenever you get in his way. You can defeat him by either jumping on his head or flying-kicking him enough times to where he collapses into a big pile of guts but it's not required that you do so in order to move on. Once you've destroyed Toxic Hollow, you move on to the final level, which "Luna Tech," Scumlabs' base on the moon. Everything here is basically the same as it was on Earth, only the architecture and vehicles are all futuristic and space-oriented, with people wearing astronaut-like suits, space probes sitting on the ground, and satellites floating above the buildings (note how, in the background, the Earth has a chunk bitten out of it, like the game's logo). Flying saucers are a common enemy here, as are the flamethrower-wielding soldiers with jetpacks, a laser jet, a Beelzeborg, and another monstrous Eustace DeMonic (I don't know if this is meant to be the same one or if it's a clone). The disappointing is that it's the final level and yet, it's no different from any of the others; again, you need only destroy everything in order to win, and there's no big, epic boss battle to wrap things up, save for killing the monstrous DeMonic again, which isn't even required. It's anticlimactic and lackluster in my opinion. In any case, after you've won and entered your initials into the game's scoring system, the game ends on a cinematic of Dr. Elizabeth Veronica (who's wearing quite a sexy spacesuit) landing on the moon's surface in a space shuttle and attempting to kill the monsters with a laser cannon that deploys from her ship's back. However, all it does is shrink them down to a small size and they manage to make their way into the shuttle and surround her. Whatever happens next is left to your imagination.

The game is pretty limited in terms of its music, which was done by Frank Linseisen and Matt Schneider, who also worked on the game's sound and the latter of whom was a programmer and had a hand in the artwork. There are four main cues for the game: this big, epic-sounding, adventurous main theme that plays over the main menu, the bonus level journeys to other countries, and during the game's ending cinematic; a sort of serious, urgent piece that plays during the first level and when you first arrive in a foreign country; and two other rocking level themes, one of which is kind of subdued while the other goes all out. There are a couple of other pieces of music here and there, like for the other bonus levels, but those are the ones that stick out and they're fine enough but it would have been nice to have a little more variety. The sound design is in the same boat: what's there sounds good, like the screams of the people you eat and when they fall out of windows, the explosions, the sound of crumbling buildings, and the sounds of the weapons firing, but it's pretty limited. There are some memorable sounds that you hear when you get one of the special items, like a gong for More Power, a bell-tower chiming for Security, and high-pitched dings for the others. As expected, the music and sound come across much better in the arcade version.

While it's best played with friends, Rampage: World Tour is still enjoyable if you play it by yourself, as the sheer simplicity of the game, where your only goal is to smash and eat everything and everyone you come across, makes it inherently enjoyable and very easy to just pick up and play. It has three cool monsters to choose from, a colorful, cartoonish art-style that's akin to claymation, there are funny details to the levels that you can find if you look for them, different ways to go about smashing buildings, various and interesting items to go for, enemies that range from mere pests to be genuine threats, and it's kind of cool to go around the world to various cities and completely level them. However, it's a game that's best played in small doses, as the repetitive nature of the levels, both in their mechanics and their overall designs, can make you burn out if you play for too long and it's a shame that the designers didn't do more to differentiate them and make them feel like the cities they're meant to represent. What's more, the music and sound design, while nice, is a little limited and the game's ending is lackluster and anything but epic, which I think is a mistake for any action-adventure game, no matter the gameplay style. But, in the end, if you want to just turn your brain off and kill some time, you could do far worse, and if you have a couple of friends over, then crack some beers, get some pizza, and go to town!

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