Sunday, April 25, 2010

On the subject of men in their underwear...

I picked up a used Game Boy Advance recently, which, as it turns out, was perhaps not the smartest financial decision I've ever made, because, as it also turns out, some time in the winter, under the belief that I'd never actually get around to picking up a used Game Boy Advance, I went ahead and gave away all my old GBA games, so for most of the week, the only thing I've had to play on it was that Breakout, Centipede and Warlords cart, and a copy of Final Fantasy V Advance that I'm saving for later.

(... hey, ever notice how you just about always see FF games named with fancy roman numerals in their titles? What the deal? Is the franchise too good for regular numbers? Did Dynasty Warriors use them all up?)

So, long story short, I've had to go on another shopping spree in order to pick up some more games just so that the money I spent on the damn thing might be slightly less of a complete waste. The truly funny part is that all this comes on the heels of having a serious discussion about the dangers of getting into game collecting. Yeah, let's just say that saving money was a very expensive activity that week.

But there's a silver lining to all this, in that on my first trip out, I snagged a nine dollar copy of a game I much loved back before tossing my collection, and a game I thought for sure I'd never see again, and I'm just so thrilled about this that I had to dedicate a post to this game in celebration.

So, let me introduce you to Mr. Pants:
This man right here, this full bodied line drawn figure in a bowler cap and fire engine red briefs, is a Rare creation, who started at the bottom rung of the internet doing surveys, before somehow developing his own following, which led to some cameos and eventually his own game, a game whose development cycle landed right in the middle of the Microsoft buyout. Thus, this game has a rather interesting history, one that might be worth getting into, but first, it bears mention that, outside of the general presentation, this game isn't really kusoge. It's actually a really awesome little puzzle game that just happens to be presented in a hilariously terrible way. But perhaps I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.

Apparently, this was originally meant to be Donkey Kong themed puzzle game, and, like I said in the last paragraph, Rare was scooped up by Microsoft. The details of the buyout aren't all that important, other than it's the main reason you'll never see Goldeneye on the Virtual Console, and Rare had to cut any Nintendo licensed content out of this game... or so it's told anyway. How they got from removing Donkey Kong from the game to adding Mr. Pants, we might never know, or at least I might never know, so instead of doing any sort of research to find out, I'm just gonna commit some crazy libel and pretend it went something like this:


MS: So, we see you've got a Donkey Kong game in the works, we're gonna have to kill that right away, aren't we?

Rare: Actually, with a fresh coat of paint, you could take the same game and put any character you want on the box, it really wouldn't make much difference.

MS: And... this is preferable to just scrapping the game and starting on a new one?

Rare: Maybe, maybe not, but it's a whole hell of a lot cheaper.

MS: I like your style, kid. You're gonna fit in well with the Microsoft family. So, what kind of character do you have in mind?

Rare: Well, we've got tons of unique characters under the Rare umbrella, some of them dating as far back as...

MS: What about that guy in his underwear?

Rare: ... our days working on... wait. Beg pardon?

MS: You know, the little guy in his underwear. He has a moustache, wears a hat... you know, the one from your old website survey.

Rare: What, you mean Mr. Pants?

MS: Yeah, Mr. whatsisname... whatever. The kids like that guy for some reason.

Rare: Well, yeah, I suppose they do, but...

MS: So there you go, problem solved. Just put him on the box and we got a game.

Rare: You do realize you're talking about a guy who has no real defining characteristic other than "doesn't wear trousers," right? Are you sure that's the guy you want on the box?

MS: Relax, let marketing handle the details, you just fix up the game so that it doesn't look all Nintendoish, you know how fussy they get about these things.

Rare: Oh, God, don't remind me.

MS: Right. So anyway, I gotta cut this short, I got two pimps and a lion tamer on a conference call, and I don't want to keep them waiting, so are there any more questions before I go?

Rare: Yeah, why are we being referred to as "Rare" and "MS," don't we have, you know, names?

MS: Actually, no, we don't. We're just fictional stand ins created by some guy in Canada who doesn't actually know what really happened in this meeting.

Rare: He really needs to get out more, doesn't he?


So anyway, however it came to be that Mr. Pants became the lead character, along with the freshly created... eh... Helpo, the living help icon who looks like a possessed light bulb, and has a somewhat disturbing childlike voice, you engage in pretty standard puzzle gaming. Rotate a series of odd shapes with one button, place them with the other. Shapes that are the same colour fuse together to make bigger, odder shapes. If you can create a quadrilateral (that's 4 sides and 4 corners, kids... and that's my educational quota for the month) that's at least 2x3 spaces in size, it will clear off the board, you'll get points, and random barnyard animal sound effects will play in the background. Like I said, standard puzzle game stuff.The real fun of the game, however, is that you can place shapes of different colours directly on top of one another, effectively wiping whatever was underneath out of existence completely. This becomes a big part of the game's strategy, as it's allows you to shave odd edges off of existing shapes, or potentially create combos. I'm not sure how long of a dev time this game had (keeping in mind that, as we've established, Donkey Kong was removed from the game, and a guy in his underwear was shoehorned in) but it's hard not to imagine this as a work of accidental genius.

Let's just imagine that some guy, maybe his name is Keith, is working on an early build of a game then called Donkey Kong Coconut Crackers, which we can only assume has something to do with coconuts, Donkey Kong, and of course, racism, when he decides to test what's he's got of the engine thus far before taking a break to go have a cup of tea, because apparently, people in England don't have any hang ups about heterosexual men drinking tea in public, but that's a bit beside the point.

So he starts up a game, and noodles around. At this point, he's programmed the part where the pieces land on the board, and he's got the part where same coloured pieces fuse together, but the other part of the equation, the part where you're prevented from dropping pieces onto spaces that are already taken, isn't in just yet. Keith kept telling his boss he was "getting around to it" but in reality, he was using his computer to look at British porn, which is a lot like regular porn, only more British... somehow.

I can't stress enough that you shouldn't take any of this as fact.

But anyway, long story short, Keith discovers that he's onto something while playing his little prototype, and sets about turning a boring, completely middle of the road puzzle mechanic into a very clever, and totally awesome, completely middle of the road puzzle mechanic. Little did he realize that Donkey Kong would then be repl... yeah you get the idea.

Well, anyway, not to harp too much on the main character, or the crazy circus music, or the fact that everything looks like it was drawn with crayons - I'm actually all for crayon aesthetic in games, it's a good look - but aside from some very minor interface oversights, and the fact that it is a bit thin on content, there really isn't all that much wrong with the game. It's fun, and if you like puzzle games, you'll like this one.

Okay, there is one last thing that warrants mention. As you clear different challenges, you earn trophies, and these trophies then appear along the bottom of the title screen. While I was grabbing a few screens for this post, I took the liberty of earning a bronze trophy in Marathon mode. When you head back to the title screen, said trophy appears like so:
Aw yeah! That's the stuff!

What I love about this is that, between the design of the trophy, and it's placement on the screen, there's no damn way that the folks at Rare couldn't have realized that they'd somehow dropped a pretty obvious phallic image directly onto the title screen. Maybe it was meant as a joke... maybe Keith did it at the last minute as a farewell prank before leaving Rare to pursue his dream of writing a novel. All I know is it's as clear as day. Hell, you don't even really get the full effect from a still image, because in motion, those red briefs behind the trophy actually swing from side to side.

So anyway, sorry this post took so long. As you can clearly see, I didn't use the time to hone my writing skills. And especially sorry to Rare, you guys probably aren't nearly as much a bunch of twits as I seem to think you are. Then again, you did allow yourselves to be purchased by Microsoft, so I'm sure there's nothing I could possibly say to reduce your dignity any lower than it already is.

Mr. Pants... whether you're making a cameo in Banjo-Tooie, asking us to take a survey, or starring in your very own game; camp Kusoge salutes you.

1 comment:

  1. One of my friends had shown me a ROM of this years ago but I'd never seen an actual copy of the game until last month, when I found some new in package on clearance on Micro Center. I hate the game but the amazingly terrible music and voice work gives me a pleasant tingle that reminds me of early-to-late 90s shareware games.