28/03/2012

PORKY PIG'S HAUNTED HOLIDAY (SNES)

As a kid, when it came to cartoons I was unmoved by the charms of the House of Mouse and fixed my allegiance firmly to Warner Bros. and the Looney Tunes. I loved Daffy Duck, especially some of the very early shorts where he's less "daffy" and more "completely psychotic", and I loved Bugs Bunny. You know who I never gave a toss about? Porky Pig. Ah, Porky - the eternal sidekick, the stuttering foil, a second-tier character if ever there was one. It wasn't always that way, though. Porky was once the studio's biggest cartoon "star", until he was supplanted by the much funnier Daffy and Bugs and reduced to smashing his head through bass drums and being Duck Dodgers' put-upon space cadet. Someone still loved him, though, and in 1995 a company called Phoenix Interactive Entertainment released Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday for the SNES and once more Porky was thrust into the limelight. Or alternatively, Warner Bros decreed that Porky should star in game because no-one was buying his merchandise. Let's not get bogged down in the petty details, though - whatever the reasons for its existence, this is definitely a SNES game about Porky Pig.

Filmed in Warner's famous Murk-O-Vision, this title screen does not bode well. It manages to be busy and bland at the same time, but at least that's recognisably Porky Pig. But why is Porky embarking on a grand adventure?

"As Porky Pig is looking through holiday brochures to plan his upcoming vacation, he drifts off to sleep and finds himself in a haunted haunted holiday nightmare."
Yes, it does say "haunted" twice. Porky's nightmares are so terrifying that they're double haunted. Maybe there'll be ghosts who are, in turn, haunted by the tortured souls of those they have wronged.
So, Porky sets out on a dream-quest, travelling through six nightmares until he reaches the end of the game and wakes up with a lingering sense of dread.

Straight away there's an unexpectedly pleasant touch. As illustrated by the picture above, every time you start a new game a different season is selected and the background changes accordingly. There's even a Christmas version, which was a little weird to see during what is the warmest March I can remember. Isn't that nice? Hopefully, Phoenix will be able to maintain this level of innovation as the game progresses. No, I'm kidding, of course they won't. It's still a nice touch, though.

There's Porky, valiantly making his way through the Haunted Forest whilst avoiding the spinning ball-and-chain traps and the bats that flit around the level. Yes, it's a platformer. What did you expect, a first-person shooter? You should know better by now. It's a pretty limited platformer, too: Porky can move left and right, there's one button for jump and that's about it. It's not even as unique as McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure - at least Ronald had his magic hankies to spice things up. It's unsurprising, given Porky's less-than-athletic build, but it's still disappointing. Porky just waddles slowly along, jumping over the occasional hole. You jump on things to kill them, of course, the pressure generated when Porky's weight is focused into his trotters being more than enough to dispatch most enemies. Enemies like those bats, as well as leprechauns holding serving trays laden with living shoes, shoes with a burning desire to kick Porky right in his fat arse.

Yeah, I have no idea either. But hey, it's a dream; it doesn't have to make sense. Maybe Porky has a Garth Algar-style phobia of the creatures of Irish folklore.
So, you move through the stages, hopping over pits and bopping enemies in a style that's been done much better in countless other games. Porky's just not that much fun to control - he's slow, he's a big target, his collision detection (especially when you're jumping onto the edge of a platform) seems unpredictable and every single time you make a big jump Porky makes a very irritating noise. It sounds like he's shouting "Yiff!" whenever he lands. I didn't need to be pondering what Porky gets up to in his spare time, thanks.

At least the graphics aren't bad. I particularly like the background of spooky trees pictured above. Even the music for the first stage is pretty good - it's certainly quite creepy, and has a teeny-tiny (and I mean really small, let's not get carried away here) feel of A Link to the Past to it.



There's not much else to say about the first stage. Porky controls like you'd expect a farmyard animal to, the gameplay is generic to the point of deja vu and there's a giant ghost in a top hat.

His name is Spooky Sid, and his name is a lie because he is most definitely not spooky. Sinister, yes - he's sporting the kind of grin you usually only see just before you black out and wake up later chained to the wall of a torture dungeon - but not spooky. All you have to do to beat him is wait until he takes his hat off and then jump on his head. Ah, if only all life's problems were solved so easily. Five pig/ghost head interactions later and Spooky Sid is dragged back to the stygian depths from which he escaped in the first place, and Porky can move onto stage two.

It's the Wild West, and even with the roving gangs of razor-sharp tumbleweeds it's hardly nightmarish, is it? You'd think an anthropomorphic pig-man would have more interesting nightmares, like being chased by a giant bacon slicer or repeatedly being turned away from Jewish meals.

I'll admit that these guys are pretty creepy, though. Hollow-eyed moose heads that skitter around on tiny legs already look enough like something out of The Thing to be unsettling, but it only gets worse when you see the bullets they fire. At first I though they were little pandas, with the black bits on top being the ears and the ones in the middle as eyes, but once I looked closer I realised those were eyes. This is a living bullet, and he's disturbingly happy about penetrating Porky's flesh and blasting out the other side though a gaping, ragged exit wound. I'm choosing to believe that these bullets are parasites that infect moose corpse and then bring their severed heads back to life. They stalk the land, looking for fresh victims, and then fire out of their rotting host and into their next victim. Maybe the Wild West is pretty terrifying after all.

The boss is everyone's favourite red-headed cowboy with anger management problems, Yosemite Sam. There's also a strangely convoluted mechanic involved, because Yosemite Sam's enormous balloony hat protects him from a head-on assault. To defeat him, you've got to use the conveniently positioned see-saw to flip a saucepan lid into the air when he fires at you. The lid must be from Le Creuset or something, because it easily deflects his bullets and once Sam's out of ammo, the fight is over. Sadly the deflected bullets don't put into motion a vast, complicated machine of interlocking parts that takes ages to accomplish a simple task while Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" plays in the background, but there you go.

Impotence: it's nothing to be ashamed of, Sam.

Stage three is Atlantis, which starts off looking rather like a raft ride down the Amazon. I guess that means those neon green bird-fish are supposed to be piranhas, but Porky doesn't give two fucks about the rare fish beneath his trotters. He's spied a cupcake hiding in a palm tree, and he will stop at nothing to get it. These nightmares can't be all that bad if they contain cupcakes, possibly the least threatening thing in recorded human history. The last stage had puppies, too! Porky 's subconscious is a strange place indeed.
I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that cupcakes act as Haunted Holiday's version of Super Mario's coins - collect one hundred and you'll receive an extra life, plus you get some health back if you reach fifty. Also you'll get diabetes, but that's Porky's problem.
Remember when I praised the music in the first stage? Yeah, that didn't last. The Atlantis theme is really bad.



It's more a problem of instrumentation than composition, but when the instruments sound like electric bagpipes being forced into the back end of a cat it becomes something of a moot point. The whole soundtrack to this game is wildly inconsistent, reaching occasional high-points before being bludgeoned back down to "hateful" territory by the piercing electronic drone of the samples used.
Porky decides the only way to escape this maddening barrage of sound is to jump into the sea. I can't say I blame him.

The Lost City of Atlantis, home to an ancient race who worshipped Sylvester the cat as a God. I can definitely see Tweety Pie in the Satan role, the irritating yellow git.
These undersea stages take a more maze-like approach, with various different passageways to explore and the floaty "underwater" jumping physics to contend with. There are a couple of nice moments, like creating ridable bubbles by jumping on some strange aquatic elephant creatures, but mostly it's a bland trek through some grey ruins. By far the highlights of the stage are these little guys:

Now that's one pissed-off fish - he's really taken umbrage at being forced to appear in this sub-par licensed platformer. I'd tell him to call his agent, but as a figment of cartoon pig's dreaming mind, and as a fish, he is unlikely to have that kind of representation.

Heading back to the surface, Porky's quest is interrupted by this stage's boss - Willie "Great" White, a fearsome shark who... what? What do you mean "he looks nothing like a shark"? Sure, sharks don't normally wear bow ties... okay, you're right. Willie here bears only the slightest resemblance to a shark. In fact, more than anything else he looks like Mr. Sparkle.

There's you answer, fishbulb. Unlike Yosemite Sam, you can beat Willie by jumping on his head. The natural order is restored! Just make sure you don't fall into the water because, unlike jumping towards a shark's mouth, it's very dangerous. I'm sure you'll figure it out.
What's next for our brave hero? What twisted dreamscape will provide the backdrop to Porky's latest adventure? What heart-stopping landscape, teeming with twisted creatures born in a swirling maelstrom of chaos, will stand in oh it's a mine level.

ZZZ.

It's exactly like every other mine level in every other 16-bit platform game, except you don't get to ride in a mine cart. I guess that was considered too exciting for inclusion. I know I've been complaining about the stages so far not being very "dreamlike", but at least that can be explained by Porky reading his holiday brochures before he falls asleep. Not the mines, though - surely Porky wasn't planning a relaxing four-day mini-break far beneath the Earth's surface, toiling away at a coal face?
If you like wandering aimlessly through a labyrinth of grey tunnels, taking part in the occasional Indiana Jones-style rolling boulder chase scene, then this stage is really going to blow your mind. For everyone else - the normal, sensible ones - it'll just be boring.

The boss is hardly a wild rollercoaster of thrills, either. Tweety Pie has been transformed, via a magic potion, into a beastly Mr. Hyde version of his usual "adorable" self. You'd better hurry up and jump on his head, Porky: who knows what he'll do to Sylvester if he catches him in this state, but I've read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and if that's anything to go by I don't want to find out.
Big as he may be, this boss is so laughably easy that I started to wonder if his inclusion wasn't a trick, or some avant-garde joke that I'm not quite sophisticated enough to get. The thing is, Tweety can't hurt you. Neither can the water. It took me quite a while to realise that you aren't completely safe from harm, because every now and then a tiny drop of water will splash out of the pool, and that droplet can hurt you. This "boss battle" would have been more difficult if Tweety hadn't transformed, because he'd have been a smaller target and therefore harder to jump on to. You've really shot yourself in the foot there, Tweety.
Anyway, let's get out of this tedious mine and take a trip to the spectacular Alps!

I don't remember that demonic icicle ever appearing in a Looney Tunes cartoon, but my knowledge of the subject is hardly encyclopaedic. Maybe there's a short where Bugs Bunny outsmarts a Lovecraftian race of interdimensional cone-people - like I said, I don't know it all.
So, we've got a snow stage. After the stunning ingenuity of the mine stage, an ice level was always on the cards. There are icicles and snowmen, and plenty of snow-capped peaks. Thankfully, Porky doesn't slide around on the ice; his trotters obviously provide excellent grip, especially when combined with all that cupcake weight. It's a very basic stage, you've just got... hang on, what's that?

Porky encounters a tear in the fabric of space-time, and to his credit he takes this violation of the universe's physical laws rather well. With no hesitation, (mostly because by now I'd reached a point where I really wanted the game to be over,) Porky leaps into the unknown!

Don't worry, it's still only a platform game - it's just the backgrounds that have changed, with Porky now exploring a Dali-esque surrealist pocket dimension.

At least, it would be Dali-esque if ol' Salvador had worked exclusively in the two media of carrots and giant dice. That's ninety percent of this stage right there: Porky riding a carrot around various structures made of dice. It's definitely more dream-like than the rest of the stages; it's just that it seems more like the dream of a vegetarian Warhammer fan than a cartoon pig.

Still, a room full of floating eyeballs is always a design choice that I can fully support. In videogames, I mean. Not in your own house or anything. That'd just be weird.

Something that's not really that weird at all is the boss, Monster Max the Yeti. Rather than having a boss battle in the slightly-more-interesting-than-usual dreamscape, we're back to the boring old Alps for yet another battle where all you have to do is hop on the boss' head five times. Maybe the developers couldn't come up with a monster made entirely out of carrots and dice; maybe Warner Brothers had just finished studying the data from their latest focus groups and by God those kids are goin' crazy for yetis, so make sure you stick a yeti in there somewhere - even better if he has "attitude". This particular yeti has no attitude, be it extreme or otherwise, and as such he is easy prey for Porky's head-stomping shenanigans. Next stage, please!

At last, a stage that has some connection to the "haunted nightmare" theme of this game! It's also the final stage, but I'll take what I can get. As you can see, this last stage takes place in a spooky castle. I love that neon sign, it's a good touch.

I'm sure you can imagine what a stage set in a haunted Looney Tunes castle looks like. There are fire-breathing helmets, killer rats, more swinging ball-and-chain traps and pits filled with spiked cannonballs that Porky must swing across. A truly terrifying set of deadly traps, but on the bright side this castle is fitted with plush wall-to-wall carpets.

And it even has its own swimming pool! Whoever owns this place is sitting on a goldmine - if they just stripped out all the death-traps and relocated the rats and boxing kangaroos to a small petting zoo in the main gardens, this castle could make one hell of a hotel. Travel links might be something of problem as the castle is located in the subconscious of a cartoon pig, but I'm sure the owner could sort something out. But just who is the king of this (potentially profitable) castle?

It's Daffy Duck and his adorably gormless robot friend! Daffy is a vampire now, and he's got a robot bodyguard? No, it doesn't make much sense. The robot is your true target: only by jumping on its head five times can you complete the game. However, its vulnerable brain-circuitry is protected by a force-field, which can only be disrupted by jumping on Daffy's head. Highly advanced robot-duck brain interfacing technology or lazily-designed final battle? I couldn't possibly say, but I will point out that Daffy is only very slightly more difficult to defeat that Tweety. All you need to do is jump on Daffy's head and stay there.

Porky bounces up and down forever, keeping Daffy dizzied the whole time, and eventually the robot wanders past so you can hit him. You might even be able to bounce off Daffy's head, onto the robot and then back onto Daffy without touching the floor, although I was so busy marvelling at the utter pointlessness of this fight that I didn't really try it out.
Hit the robot enough times and Daffy gives up, his brain fried by all the feedback from his now destroyed robot. Congratulations, you have made it through Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday.

Porky wakes up, clears his head of the nightmares that have plagued him for, oh, the past thirty minutes, and then settles back down into a more peaceful sleep. But he's not alone...

Later that night, Porky is sacrificed by a cabal of Mickey Mouse-worshipping cultists and turned into some of the most delicious bacon you can imagine. Roll credits!

I feel a little guilty for complaining about this game now, because the credits reveal that it was made in my home county of Yorkshire. I should have been supporting local business! Although in my defence it would've been a lot easier to praise Phoenix Interactive Entertainment if they hadn't made a game whose blandness is so thorough and overwhelming that I had to keep pinching myself while playing it to make sure I hadn't fallen into a coma.
All this game does is exist, and it doesn't have any reason to do so. It adds absolutely nothing to the genre, takes all its ideas from better games and stars Porky bloody Pig of all characters. Not that it matters: you could replace Porky's sprite with any Warner character and you wouldn't know the difference, because Porky is so dull and featureless he adds absolutely nothing to the game. Even on a technical level, PPHH achieves mediocrity - the controls and physics aren't bad enough to be, y'know, bad... but they're not good enough to be much fun, either. The few interesting touches dotted through the game don't make up for the fact that this is a boring, pointless game that you should avoid, at least until you've played every other platformer in the world.

Maybe I'm being too hard on Porky. Maybe somebody out there loves him. Maybe he has millions of screaming fans who camp outside stores in order to be the first to purchase his latest bit of merchandise. He must have some fans, because a games developer would never waste their money making a game about an unpopular cartoon character, right?

Oh.

4 comments:

  1. Hi, I stumbled upon this blog from your Tumblr, and just have to say I'm really enjoying your articles and reviews.

    I'm only commenting on this old article to point out that the neon sign is a reference to a couple of older cartoons: http://whycantiholdallthese.tumblr.com/tagged/mad-science

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    Replies
    1. Cool, thanks for letting me know about this, I love learning this kind of thing. Glad you're enjoying VGJunk!

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  2. Hey there. Really enjoy your reviews of games like these. This was actually a childhood game of mine (well, we had a copy in the daycare and since everyone had to "share" nobody ever had enough time to make it past yosemite) and, playing it again, it doesn't really hold up so well.

    A few things to note:

    -The leprechauns originate from many old porky cartoons where porky is tormented by leprechauns, such as "The Wearing of The Grin" (1951)
    -The enemies in level 2 (the desert) actually COME from the truly surreal porky in wackyland cartoon from the classic era of warner bros shorts (notably, the duck-horn thing and the guy with carrying around a jail cell). Neither these enemies nor additional enemies actually appear in the "Wackyland" level that's part of the alps, which is somewhat ironic to say the least.

    I can't vouch for the demon icicles, spooky sid or fishbulb, though. Those are just generic and dumb and have nothing to do with porky pig.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, cool, thanks for the new info! I was wondering why the enemies seemed so sort-of familiar, and now I know - only half of them were made up for the game!

      Delete

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