21/05/2016

GREENDOG (MEGADRIVE / GENESIS)

Today's game is all about sun, sand, surf, strenuous physical exercise and not wearing a shirt - all of which are anathema to me, so it's a bloody good job I'm experiencing them via a videogame and not in real life. It's time to get radical and / or gnarly in Interactive Design's 1992 Megadrive Aztec-curse-em-up Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude!


Makes you wonder how he came by the name "Greendog," doesn't it? I doubt that's what's on his birth certificate, and a nickname like that must have a story behind it. Maybe he grew up in the bayou and that's what he called alligators when he was a kid. Maybe he makes a living by painting dogs green and selling "My Labrador Was Abducted by Aliens!" stories to trashy magazines. Any theory you can come up with is valid, so go nuts.


While surfing in the Caribbean, Greendog wipes out and smashes face-first into a sandy beach. Embedded head-down and ankle-deep in the pristine white sands, he is unable to free himself and succumbs to asphyxiation. Thus marks the end of Greendog. He was truly a tubular dude.


No, not really. Instead he pulls himself free only to find that he's acquired a golden pendant somewhere along the way, as though he had surfed through an underwater Elizabeth Duke on his way to the beach. Greendog is appreciative of his new jewellery at first, but then he tries to take it off and he can't. Usually I'd assume that this is down to Greendog being too thick to figure out how a clasp works, but as he's barely done anything yet I should probably hold off on accusing him of being dumber than a sack of particularly dense rocks.


Thanks, Exposition Babe. The Aztec Curse has taken the form of a shapely women in order to reveal its secrets, but even in human form it cannot disguise its glowing red eyes, eyes that burn with the fires of the underworld. Or so I thought, but it turns out this is Greendog's girlfriend and she's called Bambi. Bambi is a learned expert in obscure Aztec curses, and she informs Greendog that the only way to remove the necklace is to collect and reassemble all six pieces of the Aztec treasure. She also says that the cursed necklace will fill any animal or creature that sees Greendog with an unshakeable desire to destroy our hero, and I appreciate the attempt to explain why birds and fish would sooner condemn themselves to death than see Greendog proceed unchallenged. All too often are videogame character beset by the unreasonably lethal contents of a petting zoo for no apparent reason, but "ensorcelled by ancient magics" is an explanation I can get behind.


And so it begins. The bird has seen me and, compelled by the curse, will stop at nothing to forcibly insert itself somewhere into Greendog's body.
The basics, then: Greendog is your typical side-scrolling platformer, for the most part. Later stages mix it up, but the bulk of the gameplay consists of the tried-and-true formula of walking to the right while jumping over obstacles and pits. To defeat the enemies, Greendog can attack them by throwing frisbees.


Here's the frisbee attack, and I will be referring to it as a frisbee for the duration, lawyers of the Wham-O Toy Company be damned. Greendog is trying to eliminate the jumping fish, a fish that I think is supposed to be a piranha but looks more like a goldfish with a mouth full of sugar cubes. I would definitely recommend taking out the fish before jumping across the rocks, because if the fish hits you - or you fall into the water - the fish will attach itself to Greendog and drain his health until you shake it off by thrashing around on the controller. That the fish clamps on to Greendog does make it more likely to be a piranha, I suppose, but just imagine how horrible it'd feel to have a goldfish sticking to your bare skin through nothing more than the power of suction.
Speaking of taking damage, Greendog runs contrary to almost every other platformer by not starting you with a full health bar that decreases when you get hit, but rather providing an empty "damage" bar that fills up as you're attacked until it reaches the top and you lose a life. Why the developers of Greendog decided to have it this way 'round is a mystery. Perhaps it was just to make me think I had way less health than I actually did every time I looked at the bar, the cheeky bastards.


Greendog is the mostly the same old platform-hopping, projectile-throwing action that was so prevalent in the 16-bit era, but that's not necessarily a complaint and Greendog mostly handles the meat and potatoes of the action well enough. Greendog's jumps are a little more floaty than you might expect and if you're like me you'll probably end up overshooting a lot of the small platforms in the opening area, but once you get used to them they're not so bad. What is bad - bad game design, pure and simple - is this section here. Greendog can progress no further unless he grabs onto that bird, which then carries him down the waterfall. The thing is, that bird is identical to all the other birds in the stage, birds that damage you if you touch them. So, I spent a good couple of minutes waiting for a moving platform or something to appear because jumping into the previously deadly birds seemed like almost as bad an idea as traipsing through the rainforest with no shoes on.


I made it down eventually, and my reward was some vine swinging. On this front, Greendog gets a thumbs up from me. I've played plenty of games where swinging from vines / ropes / chains has been an exercise in frustration as the direction my character moved in when I jumped off seemed to be determined by an unseen force spinning a Twister-style wheel, but in this game it works very fluidly.


I have reached an ancient Aztec temple. Did the Aztec empire extend to the islands of the Caribbean? I am fairly certain it did not, but here we are, navigating the much less linear stone corridors of this aged site, jamming our frisbee into the animal heads on the wall. That's what's going on up there, it's not sticking its tongue out, and the animal heads work as switches that activate when you insert your frisbee. As I say, it's a much less linear area that rewards exploration - mostly with fairly useless point items, but also sometimes health refills and special items. The special items, activated with a button press, come in a variety of different flavours: an umbrella hat that protects you from damage, a stopwatch that freezes enemies, a hovering frisbee that mercilessly assaults any enemies it sees. While they're quite interesting - I find frisbee based drone warfare interesting, at least - sadly you don't see them that often and they feel like something of a wasted opportunity.


What else is there in the temple? A variety of traps, for one. There are springs that launch you upwards when you stand on them, usually into spikes on the ceiling, but that's okay because if you're paying attention you can see the springs before you step on them. They're cunningly disguised to look very similar to the regular floor, but they can be spotted in advance. The same cannot be said of the crumbling floors, which are indistinguishable from the regular floors and as such can bite me. Falling through a crumbling floor usually means you have to retrace your steps through an area you've previously cleared, which isn't much fun and only becomes less enjoyable when you make it back to where you were and promptly stand on another completely normal-looking collapsing block. The temple stages are okay, but not nearly fun enough for me to want to memorise the structural integrity of every last paving slab.


There's a boss of sorts at the end, a rotating totem pole where each face fires a different kind of projectile - and can only be damaged - when it's facing you. Straightforward bullets and blocks that fall from the ceiling are the main two, so the battle is really all about standing in the right place and pressing attack. I know you could say that about roughly eighty percent of videogame bosses, but Greendog is not the most dynamic chap in the word and so positioning is definitely emphasised over acrobatic dodging. Or you could sign up for the VGJunk Tips Hotline, where I'll tell you my top-secret strategy: reach the boss with full health and hammer the "throw frisbee" button while ignoring its attacks. Shit, I've given away the secret.


With the treasure claimed, (treasure that looks like a demonic doorstop,) Greendog can travel to the next island through the courtesy of his two feet. That's right, he's got a pedal-powered helicopter. Inspecting it closely, it seems to be made from plumbing supplies, a toilet seat and a taxidermied snake as the joystick. He's currently on the island of Grenada, and he's going to pedal his way to Mustique. According to Google Maps, that is a distance of roughly one hundred kilometres. I'm looking forward to the next stage, where Greendog's decision to spit in the face of physics results in his thighs swelling up to the size of mighty redwoods.


Oh, you're actually going to make me pedal to the next island? I wasn't expecting that. Fortunately it's just the final few minutes of the journey, but even that feels like a few minutes too long, and these pedalcopter section appear between every stage. You have to constantly tap the jump button to stay airborne while either avoiding the enemies or bopping them with the pedalcopter's secret weapon: a boxing glove on a spring. It's not a difficult stage. Nor is it an especially fun stage. It's mostly exercise for your thumb, but it does provide the rare opportunity to punch a fish. I don't think I've punched a fish in a videogame since I played Vampire Savior.


The next area begins, and the developers apparently grew tired of the "platforming" part of the platform genre and removed it entirely. The beach is a flat plane with only enemies to avoid and no holes to fall down, thus excising fifty percent of the gameplay. The fact that one of the enemy types is a strutting starfish in sunglasses that explodes as nonchalantly as it's possible to explode when you get near it goes some way towards redeeming the stage, but not nearly far enough.


There's an even bigger problem with this stage, however. As you may have noticed, there is a dog in this stage. The dog follows you around and is non-hostile, apparently being immune to the pendant's curse, which drives all other animals into a frenzied bloodlust - the dog is clearly, on a deep, spiritual level, too much of a Good Dog to be affected. So, there's a dog. Greendog throws frisbees. However, unless I'm missing something, you can't play frisbee with the dog. Excuse my language, but strong emotions sometimes must be expressed through strong words: what the fuck? I've never been so disappointed. As soon as I saw that dog I assumed you'd be able to play frisbee with it but no, this perfect set-up has been completely wasted and the dog is just there. It is an absolute travesty, and due to this colossal blunder I must break my normal rule about not giving numerical scores and award Greendog a rating of zero out of infinity.


True to his radical roots, Greendog spends the next stage skateboarding through another Aztec temple. It was nice of the Aztecs to fill their temple with ramps and half-pipes, and the inclusion of deadly spikes all over the place fits in nicely with their reputation for brutal bloodsports. Did you know, for instance, that in Aztec times the winner of the X Games had their heart cut out with an obsidian dagger?
I appreciate the attempts to mix the gameplay up, and the skateboarding sections are pretty okay. I wouldn't go much higher than "okay," however, because there are some annoyingly-placed springs that launch you back a few screens, and it's frustratingly easy to misjudge when your wheels are touching the ground. If they're not touching the ground you can't jump, and if you don't jump off ramps you're going to to be enduring a lot of very hardcore acupuncture sessions. At least it's not forced scrolling, so you can take your time and get a feel for what the next section holds.


The next island - I skipped the pedalcopter section because they're all functionally and graphically identical - begins with Greendog showing a deep misunderstanding of how snorkels work by walking around inside a giant fishtank. The silhouetted figure in the window at the back, presumably an aquarium employee, does not seem to care that there's a strange man harassing the fish. Then again, there also appears to be people fishing in the aquarium, so Greendog is the least of his problems.


And then I got eaten by a clam.
This is another completely flat level, and being underwater adds nothing to the gameplay beyond making Greendog's jumps even more buoyant than usual, but this is still one of the better stages thanks to some well thought-out enemy placement that leads to a smoothly enjoyable experience that has you almost falling into a Castlevania-style rhythm of movement. It also looks nice, too, with detailed backgrounds and even a bit of parallax scrolling. Many of Greendog's stages are a touch bland, especially the temples, but this one's much more visually engaging.


Speaking of bland temples, this one's underwater! I have no problem with the idea that Greendog can hold his breath for this long, not after he flew his pedalcopter 100 kilometers across open ocean. He's clearly not human. Not, really, go back and have a proper look at Greendog. He's shaped vaguely like a human, but all the details are wrong. His head is a featureless orb of flesh, his "hair" looks like a hat crudely carved from butter and he's got bizarre dinosaur legs. My theory is that Greendog is the first attempt by an alien race to create an infiltration unit, an undercover operative that can blend in with the hu-mans and learn their secrets. Unfortunately the aliens had only heard poorly-translated, third-hand accounts of what a human actually looks like, and so Greendog ended up resembling a mannequin that's been dropped down a thousand flights of stairs.


Here we are in Jamaica with another skateboarding section. The strange thing is, you can choose whether you do it on a skateboard or rollerblades. Is there a difference between the skateboard and the rollerblades? Not that I could see, so naturally I picked the skateboard, because skateboards are inherently cooler than rollerblades despite me forever associating them with Linkin Park and my younger brother's friends attempts to build ramps outside our house.
This section is littered with parking meters. Touching them pushes you back to an earlier point in the stage. Greendog seems overly fond of this mechanic, from the springs to the pipes that suck you up in the underwater stage to these parking meters, and frankly I grew very tired of it very quickly, to the point that it actually took longer getting through the stages because I was adamant I wouldn't fall into these traps, hamstrung by my own pride once again.


Next is the subway, where I'm being assaulted by tourists who look even less human than Greendog. Those aren't human heads, those are potatoes that have been left on a sunny windowsill for too long.
By the way, I looked it up and as far as I can tell there are no subways in Jamaica. My efforts to fact-check this were hampered by the fast food chain Subway's corporate presence in Jamaica. If you want to Eat Fresh in old Kingston Town, you can. If you want to get around the city, take the bus.


Also in the subway are these women, sitting patiently, minding their own business as they wait for the train... until you get close to them.


Okay, wow. That's pretty goddamn racist, and it completely took me by surprise. Congratulations to the creators of Greendog, I thought it was just another fairly uninspired Megadrive platformer but they managed to find a way of making it so much worse than that. I wouldn't have been so surprised had Greendog been developed by a Japanese team - Japanese attitudes towards non-Japanese people are often what you might kindly describe as "not good" - but there's a Ric Green listed as "creator" in the credits and Interactive Design seem to have been based in California so you can't really mitigate it by claiming cultural differences.


After that ugliness, Greendog gets back to its regularly-scheduled gameplay, with another skateboarding section in a temple and another pedalcopter trip before dropping the player into a treetop village populated by what I'm assuming are supposed to be Aztec warriors. Or Australian Buddhist monks, given the robes and boomerangs. It was nice to return to the vine-swinging and enemy avoidance parts of the game, which are definitely where Greendog's gameplay is the strongest. Maybe I'm simply a little burned out on platformers after years of writing this site and what I'm experiencing as blandness is really just over-familiarity, and I can see how Greendog might well have its fans. It doesn't do too much wrong, I suppose, apart from the traps that push you back and, you know, the racism.


The final island is St. Vincent, and it begins with a trip through some waterlogged caves. The water level rises and falls as you progress, and it's an effective way of spicing up the now familiar action. However, Greendog seems to have mislaid his snorkel - perhaps having thrown it away to reduce weight on his pedalcopter trips - so to fall in the water is instant death.


There's even a proper boss! I was very happy to see him. You know me, I love skeletons, especially after fighting that same totem pole boss multiple times. And what could be more appropriate as the guardian of a lost Caribbean treasure than a skeleton pirate? It's a very simple fight, one of those quintessential videogame battles where you hit the boss a couple of times, jump over it when it gets close and repeat.


Things do get more complicated when the skeleton's legs, tired of the incompetence of their upper half, strike out on their own to give Greendog, well, a kicking.
The placing of the skeleton is sort of weird, though. I expected him to be the final boss, but once you rattle his bones thoroughly enough to claim victory the game continues onwards...


...with another skateboarding / rollerblading section that adds new definition to the phrase "tacked on." There's nothing new or interesting about it, so here's a screenshot of me about to impale Greendog on a wall of spikes. It's my fault, I was trying to get to the end as quickly as possible. You've rolled through one Aztec temple, you've rolled through 'em all.


Having collected all the pieces of the treasure, they reform into... a surfboard. A surfboard that appears to be made of rocks, which is weird because the treasures were clearly gold in their separated state. As rewards go, a granite surfboard feels like a kick in the balls. If BMX was Greendog's extreme sport of choice, would he have received a bike make from wet noodles? Also note that Greendog's half-formed homunculus head appears to be attempting a smile, and it's creepy, as though a black slit has been carved into the malleable putty of his face.


Oh, it's a flying granite surfboard. Well, that makes much more sense. Greendog ends with a sequel hook as Bambi says the power of the "Surfboard of the Ancients" still "needs to be released," but apparently Greendog 2 didn't need to be released and apart from a Game Gear port this was the only adventure of Greendog, the grotesque flesh-marionette. I don't think we'll be seeing one any time soon, either. The time of gnarly surfer dude has rather passed us by. There is no place for totally tubular dude in today's fast-paced modern world.


Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude is a fairly average game in a well-populated genre, but at times it does feel like it's at least trying to do something different. It's got variety, I'll give it that, but while the platforming stages that focus on dealing with enemies are quite good fun, the pedalcopter and later skateboarding stages balance it out by being extremely dull. In the end you're left with an an unsatisfying melange of gameplay chunks, like a supermarket value-brand can of vegetable soup - watery and not particularly nourishing. Then there's that moment of ugly stereotyping, which soured me on the whole game. So, Greendog does not get a recommendation from me, as much as it pains me to condemn a game that includes a skeleton pirate.

14/05/2016

CASPER (GAME BOY)

Today, the philosophical implications of playing as a dead child sadly do little to distract from the gameplay in Casper for the Game Boy, created by Bonsai Entertainment and released in 1996.


That's Casper the Friendly Ghost, of course. I'm sure you all know who Casper is, even if you haven't consumed much media starring the ectoplasmic young lad. If you don't know who he is, Casper is a ghost who is friendly, in contrast to all the other ghosts who each have a personality roughly in line with every Post Office cashier I've ever had to deal with. This posits a universe where the way one becomes a ghost is not by having unfinished business or suffering a violent death but by simply being a proper dick, and Casper is a freakish anomaly that upsets this natural order. That's why all the other ghosts hate him.
Casper the Game Boy game is based loosely on the 1995 movie version of Casper, which I discussed during the article about Casper: Friends Around the World. It's the movie where Casper develops a faintly creepy stalkerish crush on Christina Ricci's character Kat, including a scene where he whispers "can I keep you?" at her as though she were a stray dog. Bill Pullman also falls into a sewer and dies, so it's got some comedy elements. I think the movie is where most British people's knowledge of Casper comes from - it's certainly where I know him from - so hopefully I'll understand what's going on in the game.


The game begins with one vaguely humanoid lump dragging another vaguely humanoid lump towards a spooky mansion. It'd be spookier if the outside wasn't decorated with giant love-hearts, mind you. I have to assume the d├ęcor is Casper's doing. Anyway, once you're inside the non-spectral humanoid lump disappears and Casper is presented with four doors, each of them leading to (and take a deep breath now for your upcoming groan) a different minigame. That's right, Casper is yet another Game Boy minigame collection, with the added bonus that the minigames are all ripped off from other games that already exist. I can hardly wait to get started.



Is "ooz" something that really deserves to be protected? It couldn't even be bothered to spell "ooze" properly, and if it cares so little about itself then why should I care about ooz? What has ooz ever done for me?


This is the first minigame, and Casper is off to a bad start in the same way that grabbing your newborn's umbilical cord and using them like a yo-yo is a bad start to parenthood., in that it's much less fun than you'd think it would be. The ooz is at the bottom of the screen and must be protected from the ghosts that fall down from the top of the screen. I think they're supposed to be Casper's uncles, Fatso, Stinky and Stretch, but their sprites are so ill-defined that they could easily be the results of someone filling their nose with cottage cheese and sneezing at the screen. If the ghosts touch the ooz, the ooz is damaged, and if there's too much damage the game is over. So, how does Casper stop the ghosts? By shooting them. You move a crosshair around and shoot the ghosts, thus making a mockery of the "friendly" part of Casper's name. It's hard to imagine a friendly ghost taking control of some ectoplasmic anti-aircraft cannon, but that must be what's happening here.


How does it play? Like a giant sack of arseholes. For starters, it's so visually boring that playing it for too long will cause the kind of hallucinations you get in a sensory deprivation tank, and that makes it hard to shoot the ghosts. Another thing that makes it hard to shoot the ghosts is the collision detection, which is astonishingly bad considering "is crosshair over target y/n" is all it has to figure out - but eighty percent of your shots will pass through the ghosts as if they were, well, ghosts. Eventually I figured out you can increase the odds of landing a hit by aiming somewhere around the ghost's "head," but even that isn't consistent. Oh, and you can't move the crosshair while you're firing and the ghosts move quite fast so if you fire and miss then you might as well give up, because that particular ghost has bested you and your ooz will suffer for it.


Having managed to drag myself through this miserable minigame, an experience which reminded me that the English language is sorely lacking in words that mean both "super boring" and "gratingly unpleasant," Casper was rewarded with some points and some ooz. This screen also says mentions that Casper has seven lives, which seems like a cruel thing to say to a dead person.


I'm trying to think of a way to describe the second minigame without mentioning Lode Runner, but I can't because it's just Lode Runner. The aim is to grab enough vials of ooz (the collectible you can see in the corners of the level) to open the exit while avoiding the other ghosts. See the crumbly-looking sections of floor? If you stand on those and press A, Casper uses his magic wand to disintegrate that section of floor. The non-friendly ghosts then all into these holes and are temporarily stunned and did I mention that this is Lode Runner? A lobotomised, low-effort Lode Runner, but still. Most of the stage is spent waiting around for the ghosts to fall into the holes so you can move past, which doesn't exactly make for a thrilling gameplay experience. The boredom I can just about stand - I'd just been thoroughly prepared by the previous minigame, after all - but my bigger problem is this: Casper has to use ladders to move up and down, and the rough sections of floor slow him down, despite being a flying, intangible glob of friendliness. How the hell is he even climbing that ladder? He doesn't have any feet! If you're going to make a game about a ghost, yeah, maybe make some kind of effort to have it be ghost-related? That'd be nice.


If you touch a ghost you lose a life, which results in this scene where one of Casper's uncles literally kicks him out of the house. If you ignore the fact that the sprites look like absolutely nothing at all, this is easily my favourite part of the game and I purposefully lost lives on more than one occasion just to see Casper getting punted into the night like a drunk at closing time.


The next game finally clinches it: the thing that killed Casper was boredom. A ghost (shocking, I know) drops books from the top of the screen with agonising slowness, and Casper must help the books into the helpfully-labelled book return slot. How can he do this?


By transforming into a paddle / trampoline and bouncing the books across the other screen in a shallow rip-off of the old Game & Watch title Fire. However dull you think that sounds, don't forget that this all plays out at a pace most glaciers would find aggravatingly lethargic. Oh, and the collision detection is shit in this game, too, with books frequently passing through the edge of the Casper-paddle. The only other twist is that sometimes collectable bottles of ooz appear but you can only grab them when you're in non-paddle form. If the game wasn't slower than molasses wearing cast-iron socks this might have made for a more engaging experience as you tried to dash between the books and the ooz. I'm not saying it would have been good, but I'd happily take "marginally less awful" at this point.


The final minigame of the four seems designed to remind me of all the shelves I've ever put up. Thanks for that, Casper. At first, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing here, and all I could do was cycle through a variety of indecipherable sprites, but then I hit the select button.


Oh, I see, so I'm supposed to be setting up an elaborate Heath Robinson machine to... hang on, Kat? Was that supposed to be Christina Ricci?


Of the four colours available to you - a palette that includes black, I hasten to add - you went with white to depict Kat's hair. Good job, team. There's something incredibly depressing about this image, too, a certain dismal air that makes it hard to look at. I think it's her expression. I just cannot imagine what emotion would cause someone's face to look like that, besides the cold embrace of death.


I eventually got everything set up, no thanks to the in-game graphics. I mean, the game tried to tell me that's an egg-laying chicken when it is quite clearly a duck, and I never would have figured out what the "egg-cracker" was without being told - it looks like an "extreme '90s" version of one of those drinking birds. I got there in the end, though. Attach a rope to the chicken, pull the rope to startle it into laying an egg, the egg rolls down the ramps, gets opened by the egg opener and gracefully slides onto Kat's plate.


"Haahaa, I like egg, egg is nice food."


Once you've cleared the four games, Casper floats up some stairs and enters another room... where the same four games await, proving that Casper is trapped in some kind of purgatorial limbo and he's trying to drag us in with him.


There aren't any changes to the gameplay, either. The Lode Runner knock-off has an ever-so-slightly different layout, and the book-bouncing and shooting games are the same only you have to play them for longer before you're granted the mercy of the results screen.


At least the contraption-building game is a little different - this time you have to wake Casper up. I thought it'd be as simple as dropping the bowling ball onto his dumb, marshmallowy face - I would feel no remorse in doing this to someone who sleeps in a bed with their own name carved on their headboard, complete with trademark symbol. Your obsession with your personal brand has run amok, Casper! Sadly, just using the bowling ball doesn't work. I forget exactly what the correct set-up was, but looking at this screenshot it seems that a tiny chef's hat and a butterfly-catching net somehow combine to launch a rocket from atop a random collection of pixels. The rocket flies up, nudges the bowling ball, the ball rolls down the ramp and knocks the bucket of water on Casper's face. I still think my "bowling ball meets face" plan was better. It has brevity on its side, that's for damn sure.


Guess what happens when you've finished the minigames for a second time? If you said anything other than "you do them all a third time" then I'm envious of your hopeful, optimistic nature. Yes, you have to play them again, except now they're even longer. I'll spare you from having to see them again, instead using this time to tell you that the description of this item as an "ordinary nail" is making me suspicious that it's actually not ordinary at all.


Finally, something different is happening! Casper pushes Kat down a slope while ghosts try to fly into them, and you've got to avoid the obstacles by laboriously dragging the chair left or right. The ghosts are no threat at all and I think every one of them can be avoided by saying as far to the left of the screen as possible. The real danger comes from the rotating... things. You can just about make one out on the right of the above screenshot, it's the thing that looks like a bunch of squares with a broom attached to the end. They cover a huge portion of the screen as they travel, and if you're not in the right position when they appear then you've got almost no chance of avoiding them. At first this didn't seem to be a problem, and getting hit by them appeared to have no negative consequences. Then I noticed I lost a life every time they hit me, but the game didn't think this information was important enough to bother sharing with the player aside from having the life counter silently decrease.


Ah yes, the Lazuras Machine, a device capable of bringing the dead back to life. It's named, of course, after the biblical figure Lazuras, who was resurrected by Juses.


The graphics have finally achieved a high enough level of fidelity to confirm that Casper's uncles Stinky, Stretch and Fatso are present in the game. Their faces being part of the mechanism for controlling the Lazarus Machine goes without explanation, however. Surely it just needs a big lever that flips between "dead" and "not dead," right? Anyway, this is a simple memory game, where the ghost heads are activated in a certain order, which you must remember and replicate.


But I don't want to get ooz for Casper, he whined. I want Casper to go away.


In a desperate final attempt at padding, Casper makes you go through one more "Ooz Runner" before the game ends, making me wonder what I did wrong to deserve such punishment. It's not any different than the other Ooz Runner stages, either - it's all just standing around until the ghosts move into the right places, and playing it provides the same heady rush as waiting for a bus that's already ten minutes late.


Oh thank god, I made it to the end. It's difficult to tell, but the final scene shows Casper and Kat dancing while a choir sings behind them. I know it looks like Kat is trying to strangle Casper, but don't be silly. That's clearly not what's supposed to be happening. I mean, he's already dead. What you need is an exorcism, friend.


That's Casper, then, but there was nothing friendly about making me suffer through this. It's not just a bad game, it's multiple bad games, all lazily cobbled together from boring gameplay, wonky hit detection and graphics that are sometimes so bad that they hinder your ability to play the bloody game. It's all so incredibly dull, that's the thing. You could forgive a lack of quality to some extent if the game was even the slightest bit interesting, but everything included here had been done before and much, much better. The strange thing is, despite the gameplay being just as bad as Rugrats: Totally Angelica and both games being cynical licensed cash-ins, I don't hate Casper nearly as much as Totally Angelica. I'm not sure why that is, apart from the obvious explanation that Totally Angelica takes longer to play through. Casper doesn't have that faint whiff of sexism to it, either, and as bad as the graphics are at least they're not in the retina-searing colours of Rugrats. I suspect the real answer is that Casper is simply so tedious it's reduced my capacity to feel emotions, including hate. I might have to play God Hand for a while before the next article, so I can learn to love again.

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