23/09/2017

NINJA CRUSADERS (NES)

Before I even got past the title screen, today’s game has taught me something: namely, that I can’t see the word “crusaders” without mentally recreating the theme tune from the nineties Toxic Crusaders cartoon. It’s a good job I didn’t study the medieval history of the Middle East at university, huh? Anyway, here’s NMK and Sammy’s 1990 NES adventure Ninja Crusaders!


Or Ninja Crusaders Ryuga, if you prefer the Japanese title. I don’t think there’s much difference between the two versions, although the Famicom release does come on a rather fetching turquoise cartridge. This is the title screen for the US version, which features a strangely wispy-looking font that in no way makes me think of ninjas. The “you must be this high to ride” message from a run-down carnival ghost train, perhaps, but not ninjas.


The impetus for Ninja Crusaders’ action is that old familiar story: aliens from outer space have attacked the Earth. The ninjas, being the natural enemies of space monsters, rose up to defeat them but failed, and the aliens have conquered the planet. However, small pockets of ninja resistance remain, and two of these shadow warriors – named Talon and Blade in the western version – are ready to take the fight to the invaders and free the Earth. Quite how these ninjas think they’re going to save the world when the combined efforts of all the other ninjas didn’t pan out is not revealed. Maybe the aliens’ only weakness is unwarranted self-confidence.


Okay, so maybe we’re not fighting to save the world but simply for good old-fashioned revenge. I’m fine with that, although I kinda wish the game was called Ninja Revengers.


Here we go, then, with all the elements promised by the game’s introduction. We’ve got a ruined civilisation as a backdrop, we’ve got an angry ninja as the player character and we’ve got the footsoldier of an invading alien force. That’s the green robot at the bottom. One look at this screenshot is enough to clue you in on the basics of Ninja Crusaders’ gameplay: it’s a pretty traditional NES action game. One button to jump and one to attack, plenty of platforms to leap between and a host of vicious aliens standing between you and the stage’s exit, which is over on the right somewhere. So far, so familiar.


Your start out with a supply of shurikens with which to defend yourself. Most of the enemies you’ll be fighting are robots, and attacking the alien robo-hordes by flinging small pieces of metal at them is about as effective as it sounds. Okay, so that’s a bit harsh on the shurikens, because they do at least travel the length of the screen and you can throw them pretty fast. However, if you don’t think the shurikens are up to the job then fear not, because our ninja hero (who I presume is the Talon mentioned in the intro) can collect three other weapons to use as well, although sadly you can only have one equipped at a time. As well as the shurikens, there’s a kusarigama, (you know, the sickle-and-chain weapon,) a bo staff for all you Donatello lovers out there and a sword. You switch weapons by collecting the corresponding icons, and they all sit on a scale of being long-ranged but weak at the shuriken end up to the sword, which has a range of about four nanometres but destroys everything in one hit.


There’s a sword icon now, and after flinging shurikens for most of this stage and coming to the conclusion that I’d be better off using rude language, I’m more than ready to swap to the other traditional weapon of the ninja. There’s just one problem: how the bloody hell am I supposed to get up there? Your ninja is nimble and agile, but it’s not like he has go-go-gadget legs. I pondered this predicament for a while, but then the obvious answer hit me: I’ll turn into a tiger and use my enhanced animal abilities to jump up there.


I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner.
This is Ninja Crusaders’ main gimmick, then, and it’s one I rather enjoy: each weapon you can hold gives you the ability to turn into a different animal, thus granting the powers of tiger, scorpion, hawk and dragon like a Japanese version of Bravestarr.  The transformations are activated by holding up and attack and you can change back and forth (mostly) whenever you like, although I must say I’m glad I knew about them before I started playing Ninja Crusaders. You have to hold the buttons for quite a while and there’s no on-screen indicator telling the player that they can turn into a tiger so if someone, say, downloaded the game and played it blind via emulation there’s a good chance that they could play through the game without ever realising the animal transformations even existed.


After going to the effort of collecting the sword, I didn’t even end up using it. I was having too much fun as the tiger, and also the end of the stage is right there so there didn’t seem much point in turning back. The reach of the tiger’s attacks is very short – I’d guess about ten centimetres, if the Google search I just did for “how long tiger claws” is accurate – but that doesn’t matter because the tiger is very fast and can jump ridiculously high. I didn’t have to fight anything. I can just jump around as a tiger, see his stripes and know he’s clean, etcetera. This teaches the player a valuable lesson about Ninja Crusaders, which is that a lot of the time it’s better and more expedient to avoid the enemies and make a run for the exit.


Onward to the second stage, which the title card refers to as “Watery Grave.” I feel like you’re being unduly harsh on my gameplay skills, Ninja Crusaders. I’m sure I can make it past the second stage, even if it is a water level. At least Talon can swim fairly well, and even if he couldn’t you can avoid a lot of the damper parts of the stage by climbing around on the platforms. However, if you’ve managed to collect the kusarigama weapon then there’s an even easier way to get through the stage.


You can turn into a scorpion. The scorpion is very good at swimming, although I have no idea why – you’d think the developers would have picked some kind of aquatic animal to be good at swimming, maybe a crab or what-have-you, but a scorpion is what you get. Maybe it’s suppose to be an extinct sea scorpion like a eurypterus. It’s very quick in the water but on land it’s slow enough to be a liability, although it can attack from a decent distance by shooting out its tail stinger. The most notable thing about it is that NES games where characters unexpectedly transform into a scorpion will always remind me of that bonkers Star Wars Famicom game, so that’s nice.


There’s a boss at the end of this stage. It’s a biomechanical dragon-snake with the head of the Alien Queen from Aliens… or at least it did have the Alien Queen’s head, but I hit it once with the staff weapon I’d collected and its head fell off. It’s a fight of many surprises, this one: I was surprised to see the Alien Queen, I was surprised when the boss’ head fell off after one hit, I was surprised that being decapitated didn’t kill the boss but the biggest surprise of them all was that it only took three hits total for the boss to die. I guess the stick is a more powerful weapon than I anticipated.


I think I’ll stick with the stick for stage 2-1 – the Canyon Trap. I’m not sure what the “trap” portion of the stage entails. Is it all these green cyber-gorillas wandering around? They don’t really feel like a “trap,” though. I think they just live here, or they did until Talon dashed into action and beat them all to death with a big stick.


Having the staff means I get to try out the staff’s special power, which transforms Talon into a hawk and lets him fly high above all the bullshit of this alien invasion. You can’t attack when you’re in bird mode, but that doesn’t matter when you can ignore all the enemies. The aliens might have deployed an army of bipedal gun turrets, but those turrets can’t fire upwards. Honestly, it feels a bit broken, as though the developers forgot to include something that would impede the hawk’s progress.


The bird’s not nearly as useful in this stage – the Lake of Chaos – so I went back to the swimmin’ scorpion for a while. You can see the extending stinger attack in the screenshot above. It’s… not all that exciting, is it? I know, I know. It’s not an especially exciting stage. Maybe the boss at the end will liven things up?


Another boss, another alien creature with the head of a xenomorph from the Alien movies. It’s a rather nice sprite, actually, and because it seems to be riding on some sort of anti-gravity hover-palanquin I’m going to assume that it’s a spoiled, sybaritic member of the aliens’ aristocracy. Its tail appears to be a gun. I cannot confirm this, however, because the boss only took a couple of hits with the stick to defeat. It had time to roll towards me slightly. That’s all it had time to do.


Stage 3-1 is the Devil’s Forest, which feels like it should be the name of a cake. Anyway, it’s more of the same platform-hopping, monster-bopping action that we’ve seen throughout the rest of the game, except with more trees and a greater density of enemy forces. The latter of those two things can cause a problem because, and here’s the thing that might well be the deciding factor on whether you get any enjoyment out of Ninja Crusaders, you die in one hit. No health bars here, oh no. Get touched by a monster or grazed by a bullet and that’s it, you lose a life. Obviously this has the potential to become extremely frustrating, especially on your first playthrough of the game, but in the early stages it’s not quite as demoralising as it could be.


It helps that your ninja is fun to control. Talon moves responsively, and even better his movement speed and jumping abilities are fast enough and springy enough to give you a good chance of avoiding your foes, but they’re not so extreme or twitchy that you’ll end up accidentally running or leaping into the bad guys. It allows for a calm, measured approach that’ll come in helpful when the levels start getting tougher, but you’ve got enough athleticism to escape from tricky situations. Add in the potential benefits of the animal transformations and the unlimited continues you’re given, and Ninja Crusaders isn’t quite as daunting as it could have been.


It certainly feels less punishing than Ninja Gaiden, even though that game had a health bar. Ninja Gaiden is an obvious point of comparison with Ninja Crusaders, with both of them being side-scrolling NES ninja action games, and I’d say Ninja Crusaders comes out of the comparison rather well. The main difference is that Crusaders doesn’t feel quite as “rich” as Gaiden: the graphics are a little plainer, the music is okay but not nearly as good as Ninja Gaiden’s and the lack of presentational touches like Ninja Gaiden’s famed cutscenes means that Ninja Crusaders gives the impression of being the supermarket own-brand version of Tecmo’s game. The Sugar Coated Breakfast Flakes to Ninja Gaiden’s Frosties, if you like. However, in terms of gameplay they’re both quick, engaging and responsive, and the animal powers give Ninja Crusaders its own unique selling point.


The boss of stage 3-2 and presumably the lord of the wonderfully named Ironfist Castle is this insectoid pugilist, a spiky, scrappy character who wants nothing more that to punch Talon in the head with his crab claws. Maybe the boss is part pistol shrimp, that’d be a cool basis for a videogame boss. He’s good at what he does, too, and I had trouble defeating this chap because the range of its punches was greater than the length of Talon’s sword and, as I mentioned, you die in one hit. Hang on, sword? Oh yeah, I haven’t tried that transformation yet, let’s give it a go.


Well, that’s helpful: Talon is now a honking great dragon. A dragon that can fire energy blasts from its mouth. An invincible dragon. You don’t see Ryu Hayabusa doing that shit. Guess it’s time to move on to stage 4-1, then.


It’s a surprising change of location as the Hurricane Cruser (sic) stage takes place atop an aircraft carrier. A robot carrier, anyway. I didn’t see many aircraft. Lots of robots, though, and one thing I do very much like about Ninja Crusaders is the enemy designs. There are a good mixture of weirdo aliens and pleasantly chunky robots that look like they’re straight from a late-eighties cyberpunk anime, which is an aesthetic I’m sure we can all enjoy. However, they are taking quite a long time to kill, which unfortunately is the first hint that the latter half of Ninja Crusaders isn’t going to be nearly as much fun as the first. The problem is that you’re stuck using the shurikens or kusarigama, because from this point onwards there are no staffs or swords to collect at all. I suspect what happened is this: the developers realised that the hawk and dragon powers were simply too bloody useful, and you could negate most of the threats in the last few stages by simply flying over them, so they removed them entirely. It feels like a crappy solution to a problem of the developer’s own making, especially when you’re ineffectually flicking shurikens at SlaughterBot X-5000 for what feels like three weeks.


The other problem is that the difficulty that comes from one-hit deaths really starts to bite at this point. The action is getting faster and faster, and so are the enemies. Now they’ll pour onto the screen from seemingly random angles at lighting speed while also firing projectiles in a manner that‘s unpredictable enough for even Talon’s ninja reflexes to struggle against. Unfortunately, it turns Ninja Crusaders from a fast-paced romp into a test of memorisation, slowly inching forwards and trying to make a mental map of the enemy spawn points before taking a hit and having to do the stage all over again.


I had an especially troublesome time with these flying pink… tubes? Capsules? They look a bit like punchbags, which is ironic given that they kept kicking my arse. Eventually I managed to get through by advancing carefully enough to make sure I only fought one at a time wherever possible. I demand the name of this game be changed to Ninja Trepidation forthwith.


This stage has the first boss that puts up much of a challenge, although that’s down to Talon’s shortcomings rather than the boss itself. I’ve only got the kusarigama to hit it with and I can’t transform into a dragon, so I have to whittle away at the UFO’s health while avoiding the spray of insta-death projectiles its spits out. It’s an all-or-nothing fight, with one mistake forcing you to try again, but fortunately I figured out the trick to it early on. The UFO’s gun will aim towards you before it fires, but there’s a delay before it does shoot, so you can bait it into firing in one direction but then run underneath it to the other side before the gun goes off. Once you’ve got that down, it’s a test of not getting greedy with your attacks, because otherwise you’ll end up jumping into the side of the UFO and you don’t want to make it easy for the space monsters, do you?


Stage 5-1 is the Shadow Village, where all Sonic the Hedgehog’s annoying friends and sidekicks will be sent to live out a quiet retirement once they’re purged from all future Sonic games after the success of Sonic Mania. No, not really, it’s a village in the forest created by an ancient tribe that don’t know how to make doors. Seriously, what’s going on with that door? Is it actually eight tiny doors built for the wee forest folk? Look, I’m fixating on the door because there’s not much else to say about this stage that I haven’t already covered. It’s the just the regular “poke monsters with your kusarigama” gameplay. It’s still pretty good fun. And hey, because I keep mentioning kusarigamas it’s reminded me of Nioh, which is up there on my list of the best games of 2017, check it out if you like Dark Souls or the later Ninja Gaiden games.


Another boss, so soon after the last? The alien invaders are bricking it, clearly, and they'll do anything to stop Talon. This one’s a plant(?) monster that moves in a curious side-to-side manner, waving its tendrils at right angles. Imagine if the soundtrack to Little Shop of Horrors was “Walk Like an Egyptian” and not doo-wop, this is what Audrey II would look like. Like the UFO, it attacks with projectiles fired in a spread pattern, but there are bigger gaps between the bullets so you can avoid pretty much all of them by crouching in the bottom left corner.


The final stage is the Temple of the Cursed, and I’ve got to say that Ninja Crusaders has been killing it with these stage names. Anyway, I’m not sure what god this is a temple to, but whatever it is they really like turquoise platforms and... columns? Damn, they’re big into columns. “Building me a temple, huh?” the mysterious deity said, “make sure it’s got plenty of columns! No, more columns than that. Even more. Tell you what just, build the walls out of columns. Perfect!”


Oh, I get it. I’m the cursed one – cursed to have to see the background of this boss fight. Good god that’s ugly. Thinking about undergoing experimental surgery to replace your corneas with blocks of instant noodles? Why go through the hassle and expense of that procedure when you could just gaze upon Ninja Crusaders’ final boss battle?
That’s right, it’s the ultimate encounter with the alien’s leader. Actually, I have no evidence it’s the alien leader. It could be Frank from the xenomorph IT department for all I know, but he’s here and we’re going to fight. It’s a two-stage fight, as you might have expected, and in phase one the boss walks forwards and slashes at you with its big claw. Jump over the boss and get your hits in where you can. It’s not a complicated fight, and like so many boss encounters in this game the key is to not get greedy.


Then the boss’ exoskeleton falls off to reveal its, erm, skeleton. Now the fight swings from simple to annoyingly difficult, because the alien has remembered that projectiles are a thing, your weapons are crap, it takes a thousand hits to kill and, one more time, it’s instant death should you mess up for even a split-second. My top tip is that the boss fires its bone lance high then low, so duck under the first one and jump over the second. It’ll probably take you a fair amount of practise, but I believe in you, you’ll get there in the end.


The reward for your perseverance is an underwhelming ending consisting of some text on a black screen. Yep, Ninja Gaiden definitely wins out on the presentation front. Talon and, you know, the other ninja that was mentioned… Blade? Yeah, Blade, they return to the mysterious world of the ninja and that’s it. I suppose it makes sense. I know a ninja craves not glory and all that. Still, a picture of them or even just a “congratulations” message might have been nice.


Once Ninja Crusaders is over, you’re sent back to the beginning of the game, except all the aliens have more health now. Thanks, but I think I’ve had enough of Ninja Crusaders for now – but what I did play, I enjoyed. It’s a fun, solid game with an interesting transmogrification element that sadly gets left at the wayside in the final few stages. It’s not as big or flashy as some of the real superstars of the genre, but it scrapped its way to a place in my heart, and I might have enjoyed it even more if I’d played the simultaneous two-player mode that you can see pictured above. That’s a fairly rare feature for a NES action game! But you know the drill by now: I’m lonely, so very lonely, etc. At least I had a pink ninja scorpion with uncharacteristically strong swimming abilities to keep me company for today.

19/09/2017

MARY-KATE AND ASHLEY: CRUSH COURSE (GAME BOY COLOR)

For the past couple of weeks I’ve had a chest infection, so as you can imagine I’ve felt pretty miserable. On top of that, I’m in the middle of quitting smoking, so every minor frustration and annoyance feels as though it’s magnified a thousand-fold and if the company that keeps cold-calling and trying to sell me energy-efficient windows rings one more time I’m going to track down the person responsible and insert my telephone into them sideways. So, I thought to myself “what could provide both my body and mind with a soothing balm during these trying times? I know, I’ll write about a Game Boy Color game starring the Olsen Twins!” I am not an intelligent man. Here it is, then: the 2001 GBC debacle that is Crawfish Interactive’s Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course!


Here are Mary-Kate and Ashley now. Which one is Mary-Kate and which one is Ashley? I don’t have a bloody clue. I don’t know much of anything about the Olsen twins, in fact. I have the vague impression that they’re one of those cultural things marketed towards children that people who are old enough to know better get irrationally angry about, like Barney the Dinosaur or Justin Bieber. They’re actresses, right? That’s what Wikipedia says, anyway. Or at least they were actresses, but they seem to have stopped doing that now that they’ve made vast oceans of money via their various tie-in products and the fashion ranges that they run, which sounds like a very sensible way to handle the whole “child star” situation.


The first thing I noticed when I started up this game is that it sure does include a lot of corporate logos. Some are obvious inclusions, like the developer’s logo and one from publishers Acclaim. Others are a little more interesting, like these two. Dualstar is the Olsen twins’ production company, which handled their movies, videogames and other spin-offs. The fact that its logo looks like a big blue arse will seem very appropriate once we get into the gameplay. Then there’s the mention of the Olsen’s AOL keyword, which I’m sure will set the nostalgia centres fluttering amongst a certain set of VGJunk’s readership. Personally, I feel that the keyword being mary-kateandashley rather undermines the idea of keywords being short and snappy.


There’s also this rather insulting message that implies you’re not a “real girl” if you don’t want a videogame about trying to get boys to fancy you. Screw you, M-KA:CC. Because it’s a licensed Game Boy Color game based around tween entertainers, I’m sure you’ve all already realised that it should read “godawful minigames for easily confused but well-meaning parents.”


Okay, okay, I’ll get to the actual “game.” Your first job is to pick one of these brutally digitised pictures of Mary-Kate or Ashley to serve as your avatar. I suppose these pictures aren’t too bad when you consider that, you know, they’re on the Game Boy Color. Plus, the noseless look of the one at the top-right means you can pretend it’s a character illustration from Final Fantasy Tactics. You must also choose a colour to represent you. I went with orange, because it’s only a couple of weeks until October and I’ve been thinkin’ about pumpkins.


Then you select which of these three locations you want to play in, all of them typical places where teens like to hang out. Apparently. When I was a teen I hung out in my bedroom and, erm, that’s about it, but I’m sure happenin’ young kids like the Olsen twins love hanging around the park, presumably drinking White Lightning and trying the cigarettes they filched from their parents. You might notice that the mall, that ultimate beacon of teen activity, is locked. Don’t worry, I played enough of Crush Course to unlock it. Doctors remain unable to ascertain what exactly is wrong with me.


Oh look, it’s a board game. You roll a dice, move that amount of squares and are affected by whatever symbol is on the space you land on.


Unless you land on one of the many blank spaces, in which case nothing happens except the faces of the Olsen twins appear and, one assumes, shout “safe!” at you in the manner of a baseball umpire. That’s fifty percent of the game right there, folks.


Around the board you go, with between one and three CPU opponents hot on your tail. I suppose you could play Crush Course with other human people, but that would hardly be fair on them, would it? As far as I can tell, the main aim of the game is to collect hearts, and when you’ve got enough hearts a boy will declare their undying love for you. Something along those lines, anyway – I must confess I never really figured out exactly what Crush Course wanted from me. Besides my abject misery, that is. I never even learned how to consistently gain hearts. It’s all down to the squares you land on, that much is clear. Some squares are safe, as we’ve seen, but some will cause you to miss a turn or switch the direction that you’re travelling around the board. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll land on a space containing a minigame.


The most common minigame is the “crush minigame,” something that’s incredibly poorly named because “mini” doesn’t adequately describe how small it is and “game” is a flat-out lie. As you can see, you have to guess which of the boys has a crush on you. Get it right and you’ll earn a heart or two. Please note the use of the word “cuties” here. I’m glad I’m writing this down and not saying it loud, because if I were saying it loud I would have shattered my fingers trying to perform sufficiently large finger quotes around the word “cuties.”


Well, here they are. The cuties. I can’t decide which one is my favourite. Is it Dan, who looks like he’s trying to hide a bathroom sink in his mouth? Or perhaps it’s James, the ghastly result of a teleporter accident involving Hugh Grant and a bootleg Ghostface Halloween mask? Actually, I think Corey’s the best. Influenced by The Simpsons’ take on teen heartthrobs called Corey? Possibly, but mostly it’s his dimples and his bizarrely-proportioned jawline. That’s not a head, it’s a carrier bag stuffed with live weasels.
All the “cuties” are rather unpleasant to look at, having veered too far into the realms of the cartoonish, and I think part of the problem is the contrast between the real pictures of the real Olsen twins and the way the hunks are illustrated – specifically, they’re illustrated like a cheap colouring book you’d get in a £1 mystery bag. However they look, you can put this whole unpleasant charade to bed by quickly selecting one of the boys. It doesn’t matter which one, because the whole thing runs on guesswork and there’s no way to deduce which of the boys has a crush on you. In fact, a bit of fiddling with save states revealed that sometimes all of the boys will give you hearts if you pick them, proving that Mary-Kate and Ashley have captivated the entire school like a pair of pre-adult sirens.


Unfortunately, there are other minigames. These ones actually force you into some kind of gameplay. There are either quite a few minigames or about four of them, depending on how you want to look at it, and for most of the rest of this article I’ll be covering the various activities that you’re forced to endure.
This first one is called Locker Treasure, and the description makes Mary-Kate / Ashley sound like a raging kleptomaniac as they steal “treasures” from other people’s lockers.


It’s a platformer, I suppose. You jump around the candy-coloured lockers, collecting the items that range from small piles of coins to a surprisingly large amount of Stars of David. Grab as many as you can during the time limit and, erm, that’s about it.
I’m going to come right out and say it: this minigame is bloody awful. It’s incredibly shallow, the controls are spongy and your character drifts around the screen in a manner that’d be more appropriate for a game set on the moon rather than in a high school locker room. There’s a real problem with vertical surfaces, too: if you jump into a wall or the side of a platform, rather than falling straight down as you’d expect your character gets “stuck” inside the object, slowly sliding down the surface while a grating sound effect plays repeatedly. That’s not even the worst sound effect here, either: whenever you jump, there’s a strange, digital bonging sound, which is far too deep and ominous for a colourful Game Boy platformer about the Olsen twins. Imagine a videogame character has died, and as they wait at the River Styx they hear this sound, the macabre pealing of the ferryman’s bell.


Funnily enough, I think my personal Room 101 might actually contain a copy of Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course.


This is Science Mess, which takes the item-grabbing concept of the previous minigame but transplants it to a top-down perspective. And removes the jumping. You walk around and collect the items that are scattered on the floor. Prepare to be thrilled as your chosen Olsen slowly walks around a high school science lab! Gird yourself for the pulse-pounding excitement of light chores! All the boys in school are gathered at the windows, peering inside and thinking “wow, look at the way she picked up that beach ball that someone brought to science class: she really is the girl of my dreams!”
Obviously, this minigame is incredibly tedious and contains absolutely zero fun. The only slight distraction I got from it was trying to figure out why there’s an open manhole in the middle of this classroom. Then I realised it’s supposed to be a top-down view of a chair. That flight of fancy was semi-interesting for the four seconds it lasted, at least.


The coherence of the school setting is stretched to breaking point with the Scooter Race, which is exactly what it sounds like. Someone’s built a race course from old tyres in the school gym, and you must drive your moped to the finish line as quickly as possible. This is proof that the Olsen’s hypnotic, bewitching powers have extended from the student body to the faculty. My teachers wouldn’t even let us wear dark-soled shoes in the sports hall, never mind racing motor vehicles in there. They also never let us use the indoor football nets that were in there, either. I’m still bitter about that.
Anyway, scooter racing. It’s a frustrating battle against momentum, and your vehicle takes your controller inputs as mere suggestions rather than firm directives. You slide, and slide, and slide around, bumping into the tyres in a mode that suffers because it’s almost not terrible. If they dialled back the momentum a little and let you move faster, it’d be the best minigame of the bunch. Not that that’s saying much, and it’d still be the piece of sweetcorn sticking out of the turd even if it was improved. On top of the control issues, you can also drive straight though the tyres at certain points (something that I’m convinced wasn’t intentional) and yet again the sound effects plumb new depths of hideousness. Your scooter emits a constant shrieking wail that I’m struggling to describe, but I will say this: if you’re making a low-budget YouTube horror movie and you need a sound effect for when the monster appears and cause the camera to glitch out, I would recommend checking out Crush Course.


Onward to the park, which you would think would make a better setting for scooter races but what the hell do I know, it’s not like I ever go outside. The board game portion of Crush Course works the same in the park, but the minigames look different. Notice that I said look different.


Here’s one we haven’t seen yet, as the Olsen twins go fishing. It’s a simple matter of moving the cursor over each fish as they appear… or it would be simple if it also wasn’t burdened by the cursor having an extreme amount of momentum. You’ll spend most of your time here trying to drag the reticle out of the corners of the play area, but that’s okay because it’s not like you have to do anything to catch the fish, so you’ll still be collecting them even if you’re moving the target around at random.
As with all the other minigames, the problem here is that it’s just so boring. Every challenge you face seems to have been created by the developers working through the first three chapters of a “How to Design Flash Games for the Web” book, and none of them extend beyond moving a character or cursor from one place to another. Would the fishing game be bearable if it had any sort of complexity to it at all? Maybe certain fish that you had to avoid, or the requirement to perform a well-timed button press to reel the fish in? Erm, probably not. It would still be crap, but it would be slightly more interesting crap.


The crushing sense of dullness reaches its absolute nadir with the hedge maze. Walk to the centre of the hedge maze, don’t touch the hedges, contemplate running away to a convent and taking a vow of chastity if this is what it takes to form a romantic relationship.


There’s also Park Treasure, which is identical to Locker Treasure except with park instead of lockers. And by park, I mean floating lumps of turf. At least the Olsens are doing all this healthy jumping exercise out in the fresh air now.


The park also plays host to a boat race, which controls suspiciously similarly to the scooter race. You see what I mean about there being a limited supply of minigames, despite what Crush Course wants you to believe? You’ve got jump-and-collect, walk-and-collect, races, move the cursor over the thing and The Unending Labyrinths of Infinite Tedium. At least the boat races offers a few different routes for you to take, with some being quicker than others. However, the biggest difference between the boat and scooter races is that the boat race is the only minigame where I managed to crash into a large, erect nipple.


By the way, each location has its own different set of “cuties.” They’re still mostly terrifying, although I appreciate the inclusion of Wez as the token “smart guy who wears glasses.” However, Richie is clearly in his forties, and if he’s hanging around the park looking at teenage girls he should be getting arrested, not taking part in the cutie parade.


Lastly, there’s the mall. That unhappy emoticon is adequately capturing how I feel about having to play through the same set of minigames for a third time, but I’m here now so I might as well get on with it.


We’ve got Clothing Treasure, which recreates all the excitement of being a Primark employee by having you wander around a clothing store, picking up items that people have rudely thrown on the floor. Yes, it works in precisely the same way as the other top-down collecting games.


The mall version of the fishing game is this sale-em-up event, where you must use the cursor to pillage the shelves. There are bargains to be had on all the things teen girls love, like CDs and chunks of mouldy green cheese. No, I don’t have a clue either.


The mall also has its own maze game, as you make your way to your seat in a very poorly laid-out cinema. Do I need to tell you it’s exactly the same as the other mazes? No, I didn’t think so. I will say that at least this minigame has some attention to detail, because that floor looks just as disgusting as you’d expect from a mall cinema. I can almost feel what it would be like to walk on that carpet. Squish, crunch, squish, crunch.


And finally – there are other minigames, but I can’t bring myself to cover them – there’s the mall’s racing game, which is all about cars and skidding around in the car park. “Avoid crashing into other people’s cars,” the instructions say. That’s all well can good, but if you didn’t want me crashing into the other cars then why did you make my car handle like wet soap with olive oil for blood?


Good lord, what an absolute cavalcade of crap that was. Every minigame is utterly devoid of fun, complete non-events with the charm and personality of a damp sock. The only thing that stopped me from instantly falling into a coma the second I started playing them was the sound effects, which are some of the very worst I’ve ever heard in a videogame. Horrific, strangled-sounding electronic wails permeate every moment of the experience, as though the cartridge is haunted by a robot ghost with its genitals caught in a mousetrap.


I haven’t even mentioned how bad the board game portion of Crush Course is, either, so I’ll do that now: it’s garbage. It’s tedious, too random and I never really figured out exactly how it works. Sometimes when you finish a round, you’re shown a picture of one of the boys. Does… does that mean he’s mine now? The complex psychological brainwashing procedure of walking around a cinema looking for a specific seat has worked, and now he is mine to command? I haven’t got a clue. However, the very worst thing about the board game segments is how the minigame scoring works. If you land on a minigame, you have to play it, and if you score less points than the previous high score, you lose a heart. That makes a kind of sense. However, you can land on the same minigame multiple times during a round, and you have to beat your own high score or you lose a heart. Because the games are all so incredibly basic, it’s very difficult to not set a very high score and thus potentially dick yourself over later in the round, unless you purposefully play badly in order to make things easier for you later on. I don’t know about you, but any game that encourages you to do badly has gone terribly wrong in my book.


It seems that Crush Course wants you to keep playing and harvesting boys, if this password system is anything to go by. It gives you a code so you can save your character and continue your progress, although it does commit the cardinal sin of videogame passwords by including separate letters that almost identical to each other – the C and the G in this case. Having a part of the game made worse by such an easily-avoided issue sums up Crush Course rather neatly.


Perhaps there’s a true ending to Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course, a finale that’s revealed to you if you manage to add all the boys to your harem, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not reaching that point. I’ve had more than enough of this game, thank you very much. Everything about it is lazy, cynical and worst of all stultifyingly dull, topped off with sound effects wrenched from the very bowels of electronic hell. The usual back-and-forth “it was made for kids, but apparently by people who hate children” argument could be made, but I suppose there’s no point. Crush Course is a cash-grab, and an awful one at that. It’s certainly bad enough to be way down near the bottom of the list of “worst games I’ve ever played,” although it’s not bad enough to wrest that particular crown from Rugrats: Totally Angelica. I thought quite hard about why (to me, at least) Rugrats is the worse game when Crush Course is clearly just as wretched, and eventually I figured it out. Rugrats: Totally Angelica is more painful to play because it forces you to play it. Like, there are goals and objectives and to accomplish them you have to struggle with the game’s tsunami of bullshit. In Crush Course, everything is so pointless, so easy and so boring that you don’t have to interact with the game nearly as much. It’s awful, but its awfulness washes over you whereas Rugrats’ awfulness clings to your face and tries to gnaw your eyeballs out of your skull. I’ll leave you with that mental image as I bid farewell for today, and one final word of warning: don’t play Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

VGJUNK Archive

Search This Blog

Followers