You all know who Wolverine is, right? Good, that'll save some time. Here he is in Software Creation's 1991 Bub-em-up, erm, Wolverine!
When I think of everyone's favourite Canadian killing machine, I think of one thing: this.
That probably gives you a good idea of my age. What I don't think of when I see Wolverine, or any of the X-Men for that matter, is eight-bit videogames. That seems a bit strange, because being a child I loved both superheroes and eight-bit videogames, but I don't remember playing any eight-bit superhero-based games. I'd like to think that I had some kind of psychic shield that protected me from crappy games, but my experiences with Dragon's Lair prove that isn't true. Anyway, at least it means I can play Wolverine without any nostalgia or bitter memories of smashed control pads getting in the way of what will no doubt be an intelligent and insightful critique of the game.
Wolverine is a platform adventure where the player, controlling the titular Wolverine, jumps between floating platforms and punches guys in the chops, thus making it the same as roughly 95% of all licensed NES games. Wolverine has been imprisoned on a mysterious island, and he must fight his way out, traversing said platforms and punching said guys in the mush until he escapes, possibly with an anti-hero style quip on his hairy lips but probably not with a song in his heart.
The controls are straightforward enough: A to jump and B to punch, and by pressing select you can extend your deadly Adamantium claws. Attacking when you have your deadly rending claws out makes your attacks more powerful (as you would bloody well hope) but also oddly drains your health. Luckily, you can't use your claws once your health has dropped to a certain level, avoiding what could have been an embarrassing situation when Wolverine died due to punching the air too hard. If you manage to kill enough enemies in a row, Wolverine goes into "berserk" mode, which means he flails at the air like a hyperactive child whilst being invincible.
The first stage sees our hero in some kind of high-tech, turtleshell-based platform storeroom. The enemies mainly seem to consist of featureless white humanoids (no, not Ryan Reynolds) who disappear and reappear at will while shooting white globs at you. There are also some that fly around, and a less mature person than myself might point out that they appear to be flying via the power of their own flatulence.
The main issue with these enemies isn't so much their attacks but the fact that they occupy so much space. You see, unlike almost every other videogame ever made, when Wolverine gets hit, he doesn't get a brief period of invincibility. Nope, he just continues taking damage as long as he is in contact with an enemy, so if you time a jump wrong and land on one of the (tiny) platforms that has an enemy on it, your health quickly drains away. The mighty Wolverine lies defeated, and all because someone invaded his personal space.
The first stage is pretty short, and there's no boss at the end. Oh well, onto the next stage I gu...
Ahh! Goddamnit Sabretooth, don't do that. And take out those Hallowe'en vampire teeth! Oddly, the game shows you this screen and then... nothing. Sabretooth doesn't appear, and you simply move onto the next stage. I guess he just doesn't want to be forgotten.
Stage two is, apparently, a "Trial by Air". You know what that means: lots of hovering platforms with no floor beneath them. It certainly has a Megaman feel to it, although I'm not sure if the lack of knockback when you get hit makes it easier or more difficult.
You can find Psylocke hiding in the level, squirreled away in a secret room instead of using her superpowers to help her teammate, the selfish cow. She gives you a device that summons another mutant, Havok, and he gives you some health back, which seems like a lot of rigmarole just for a healthpack. You can also find Jubilee in a later level, but her power is to let you hold your breath for slightly longer. Even in videogames, Jubilee is rubbish.
The enemies are much the same, although some of them now have mortars. Your main opponent is the stage itself, with big magnets trying pulling you off the platforms and to your doom. Such is the curse of having a metal skeleton, I guess.
Again, it's a short stage, and there's no boss. No bosses in a side-scrolling-action-platforming-comic-book-license game? A strange decision, especially given the amount of foes Wolverine has. You could have about eight bosses a level! Once you've finished the stage, Sabretooth pops up again.
So he's, like, watching me? Creepy. Surprisingly, "watch your step" doesn't mean that the next stage is full of floating platforms.
No, stage three is "Trial by Traps", although a more accurate title might have been "Trial by Traps and shallow pools of water and ninjas, we'll throw in some ninjas".
That ninja has terrible posture. The traps in this stage are rather nicely animated, although the giant swinging axe did suddenly remind me of Dragon's Lair and I had to stop playing for a while, until the cold sweats and shivering had stopped. This levels is actually very good fun, challenging without being unfair, and it includes ninjas and giant Aztec faces.
Can't say fairer than that, can you? Once you've reached the exit, Sabretooth pops up again.
Are... are you coming on to me, Sabretooth? Wolverine in a swimsuit doesn't bear thinking about, although if I know the internet there is almost certainly a site devoted to crudely-drawn fanart of Wolverine in various types of beachwear. Please do not send me link to it.
Obviously, it's a water-themed stage. You've got to manoeuvre Wolverine through a series of narrow, water-filled passageways, a task made all the more difficult by the hundreds of propellers that fill the water. It makes sense that they could hurt you: I'm sure even Wolverine doesn't fancy being diced by whirring metal blades, even if he can heal from it later. It also makes sense that the frogmen who patrol the stage can hurt you by shooting you. Fair enough, getting shot hurts. What I can't understand is deadly bubbles.
The mighty Wolverine, a super-powerful mutant with metal bones and a healing factor that lets him regenerate from any injury, can be hurt by a bubble popping against his skin. These deadly bubbles seem to crop up pretty damn often in videogames, especially games of this period, and they are as filled with bullshit now as they were then. Why would they even hurt? Are they bubbles of acid? Are they filled with a poisonous gas? NO THEY'RE JUST FUCKING BUBBLES. The only explanation I can think of is that whenever a hero gets hurt by a bubble, they are merely feigning injury to try and spare the feelings of whatever villain though that installing a bubble-blowing machine would be the perfect way to destroy their nemesis. "Oh no... bubbles! You really got me that time, Dr. Villainman! Oh, ouch, they slice me like a million blades when they pop against my skin/hide/armour. Truly you have bested me this time!"
Although it's more likely that bubbles are simple to draw and animate. Still, dangerous bubbles are everywhere and must be destroyed: if I must be the champion of this noble cause, then so be it.
Sabretooth makes his customary end-of-stage appearance:
"Because I'm taking you to the cinema tonight. HA HA HA!"
Not really - the next stage is the Trial by Terror. Ooooh, spooky.
Spooky indeed, as Wolverine makes his way through a faintly Castlevania-esque stage. The enemies are... well, I'm not sure. There're some extending piles of green mucus, half a Grim Reaper who throws skulls at you, and what appears to be a Frankenstein's Monster version of one of the members of Daft Punk.
The game starts to get a bit difficult here for a couple of reasons. One is the afore-mentioned lack of knockback when you take damage, meaning you can easily lose all you health when one of the (surprisingly fast) monsters walks into you. This is compounded by the fact that, even with his claws extended, Wolverine's attacks have a range of around seven microns. Thirdly, there's a lot less space to move around on this stage because the enemies are bigger. Still, at least the game is kind enough to start you at the spot where you died, rather than forcing you to go back to a checkpoint.
After a while you descend into some crypt, complete with tombs that say "Logan" on them. Yep, that'll scare Wolverine into stopping his pursuit of Sabretooth. Speaking of The 'Tooth, what does he have to say for himself?
"That's the movie we're going to see tonight! HA HA HA!"
Fire stage? You better bet this is a fire stage.
Yes, it contains all the tedious clichés of the fire-based stage: timed plumes of flame, insta-death fire pits, yawn yawn yawn. It does also have some odd enemies, like the green flares-wearing robot pictured above and these chap(s).
Is that supposed to be one guy in a two-tone hazmat suit? Two people who accidentally climbed into the same hazmat suit? Conjoined twins? Whatever they are, they're best avoided rather than fought, as are most of the enemies from here on out. At least it's not a long stage.
Do you really want an honest answer to that question, Sabretooth?
Stage seven, and we're heading "Into the Fortress".
The fortress was apparently designed by a particularly flamboyant interior designer, and by flamboyant I mean blind. I have no what the giant yellow patterns on the walls are meant to represent, although their resemblance to dry pasta makes this stage feel like it's taking place inside some kind of child's craft project.
The level is mostly comprised of gun turrets and jumps over spike-pits, which makes it better than the last few levels because you don't have to fight anything. In fact, I did surprisingly well on this stage by throwing caution to the wind, just running and jumping though it with no regard for my health bar.
After a while it descends into one long spike-pit that you must cross using the tiny platforms. Sure it's dull, but at least it minimizes the orange/blue clash of the background. I've learned to be thankful for small mercies.
Right, that's the fortress infiltrated. Now it's time to defeat the evil Sabretooth!
Goddamnit Sabretooth you lazy sod, get back here and fight me. Why would Magneto even help Sabretooth? Has Sabretooth suddenly gained control of the world's supply of iron filings? Does he have compromising photographs of Magneto does something unspeakable with a fridge? Look, fine, whatever: I'll go and defeat Magneto.
Well, this stage is certainly busy. It's got a little of everything from the previous stages including, but not limited to, spike pits, conveyor belts, gun turrets, deadly floors and lots of platforms. It also sees the return of the featureless white humanoids (no, not Brendan Fraser), except this time some of them have grenade launcher that they hold in the manner of an 80's glam-metal guitarist.
The stage is a bit of a maze, but eventually you'll reach Magneto. And what a fearsome sight he is!
The X-Men's most famous foe, reduced to the level of hopeless lackey. You have to punch the forcefield at the bottom whilst avoiding the rocks he drops from his strange vending-machine contraption. Once the forcefield is down, you can get right up to him and settle his hash in the only way Wolverine knows how: with calm, reasoned debate. No of course not, he stabs him with his claws.
Once Magneto is defeated, you get a brief scene where Wolverine stands around with his fellow crime-fighting freaks Jubilee, Psylocke and Havok, wondering aloud where Sabretooth has gotten to.
Where the hell was he hiding? Inside Jubilee's coat? So much for Wolverine's super-keen sense of smell, although you wouldn't think you'd need enhanced olfactory capabilities to smell Sabretooth coming. So, the scene is set for the final battle, while no doubt somewhere just off camera Magneto is licking his wounds and wondering how it came to this.
For a hulking, semi-feral mutant warrior, Sabretooth sure likes prancing around. For the whole fight, all he does is bounce around like a ballerina with rubber legs and throw shurikens at you. What a colossal berk, although it's still a better strategy than Magneto's pitiful effort. It took me a while to figure out that you're not supposed to beat him in a toe-to-toe slugfest; instead, you have to lure him over to the right-hand-side of the screen, where you can punch him off a mountain. To be fair, that does sound like a very Wolverine way of dealing with the situation.
So, Sabretooth's defeated, and you've completed the game.
See that picture? That's the ending. The entire ending, apart from a bit of text that says "The end?". Well, I certainly feel rewarded and fulfilled.
I'm not sure how I feel about this Wolverine game. For a licensed game, it's really not that bad. Wolverine moves around quickly and smoothly, the graphics are decent and the music (although there are only a few tracks) is put together well and has some very nice drum samples. It feels like it could have been a really good game; perhaps if they'd concentrated on the more acrobatic element and minimized the fighting, or made the combat less rubbish. The strange lack of actual villains for you to fight doesn't help, either, because no-one is interested in beating up featureless white humanoids (no, not Hayden Christiansen) for the duration of a game set in a universe full of superpowered heroes.
All in all, I'd have to put Wolverine down as a missed opportunity. It could have been great, and it's still reasonably fun to play, but it's certainly not the best at what it does. Ha! I knew I'd get that in there somewhere.
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