06/06/2013

BEETHOVEN'S 2ND (SNES)

Beethoven was a 1992 movie about a dog that was much larger than average. No, that was the whole thing. The dog was big. The movie audiences of the early Nineties were clearly much less sophisticated than they are now, and Beethoven was such a success that a sequel was released. The dog is still large in the follow-up, but now he has fathered a litter of puppies. The puppies have gone missing! Oh no! I'm getting all this information from the SNES game based on the film, by the way. I've never seen Beethoven's 2nd and that's not going to change, not even for the sake of this article.
Here we go, then - a SNES game based on the hastily-arranged sequel to a family movie about a big dog. It's RSP and Hi-Tech Expressions' 1993 I-really-wish-this-was-Cujo-em-up Beethoven's 2nd: The Ultimate Canine Caper.


Well, that's what it's called some of the time: the title screen just says Beethoven's 2nd, but the cover art calls it Beethoven: The Ultimate Canine Caper. I think I'll just call it Beethoven's 2nd. Normally I'd point out that this lack of clarity on something as basic as the game's goddamn name does not bode well, but this is Beethoven's 2nd. You know exactly how this is going to be.


Mission one: rescue Chubby, the young St. Bernard with body image issues. He's somewhere in suburbia. If I had to guess, I'd say this rescue mission is probably going to involve walking from left to right and jumping over things.


Well would you look at that, it's a platformer. Of course it's a platformer. What else was it going to be, a first-person shooter? Beethoven's Assault Rifle Rampage? C'mon, think it through.
Beethoven has the usual platformer tricks up his shaggy sleeves: he can walk around, he can jump, he's got a projectile attack in the form of a bark that you can charge up by holding the button down. You'll notice that none of this has anything to do with Beethoven's size, which is, after all, his most prominent feature. You can't even jump on enemies to hurt them, which would surely be your go-to method of attack if you were the size of an adolescent horse. No, touching enemies always hurts you. Hell, touching pretty much anything hurts you.


This poodle? Don't touch this poodle. It will hurt you.


This cat? Don't touch this cat. It will hurt you.


This radical skateboarding child, a youth so hip that you suspect that the words "tubular" and "gnarly" were invented just to describe him? Don't touch the kid. It will hurt you, despite this screenshot showing that Beethoven is almost twice his size and from that height would crush the child to death easily.


Look, Beethoven, you had trouble with children, smaller dogs and cats, for chrissakes. I think the man with the gun might be a bit too much for you to handle.
And these are the living enemies, the obstacles that can be dealt with by barking at them a few times. There's also plenty of hazardous scenery around that'll kill you if you're not careful. Not gaping chasms that litter the landscape, or course - this is the suburbs, there's no place for that kind of thing around here. No, your real nemesis will be the humble garden gate. There are seemingly hundreds of them for you to jump over in the first two stages, and if you time your jumps wrong you'll take damage, presumably to indicate that Beethoven has managed to impale himself on the sharp slats of the gate.


This will happen to you a lot, because (and I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear this) this game has some extremely wonky jumping physics. Normally Beethoven jumps in a very vertical manner with not much horizontal distance. Obviously this isn't helpful for getting over the gates, because you don't want Beethoven belly-flopping on to the sharpened wood. The game gets around this by also including a strange lunging jump with more length to it, but the problem with that is there's no way to tell when it's going to come out. I played through the whole game and I'm still not sure whether it's automatically activated by being close to an obstacle or if it's triggered by holding the d-pad for a while to build up some speed. All I can tell you is that sometimes Beethoven will put some effort into it and probably make the jump, but other times - and without warning - he'll jump pretty much straight up. Bad enough here in the suburbs where a missed jump will cost you some health, but later in the game there are gaping chasms that litter the scenery.


After much searching, Chubby has been located. Beethoven expresses no emotion. Finding his lost children is a job like any other, and Beethoven works without feelings. Finding his son or giving a lost skier some brandy from a little barrel around his neck, it's all the same to Beethoven.
Why was Chubby on the roof? Who knows? And indeed, who cares? I'm just happy to be free of this nightmarish suburban gate-gauntlet.


Except now I have to go through another stage, but this time carrying my offspring past the many dangers of the suburbs. Luckily I can leave Chubby at the starting point, clear out all the enemies and then go back to fetch him. I'd recommend doing this for all the puppy-escort stages, because Beethoven can't bark with a puppy in his mouth and the developer's one sop to Beethoven's size was to make him awkward and unwieldy to control, so good luck dodging attacks when you're in charge of a dog so big you could hollow it out and use it as a two-car garage.


I dropped Chubby off with his mother. Neither parent moves or makes a sound. I feel like I'm looking at a divorced dog couple sorting out child custody arrangements.


That's Beethoven's 2nd, then. Each area split into two stages, the first one where you locate a missing puppy and the second where you bring them back to share the uncomfortable silence that lingers between their cold, distant dog parents.


The second area is the park, where vicious squirrels throw nuts at poor old Beethoven and there is much to be feared from the falling of deadly apples. Really? Beethoven can be killed by falling apples, as though he'd been somehow transported to the start of I Wanna Be The Guy? I don't think the puppies have been kidnapped or anything, I think they're trying to distance themselves from their father out of sheer embarrassment.
Oh, and there are barbeques instead of pointy gates in the park stages. I do hope you managed to figure out the jumping mechanics.


What else? Oh yeah, sometimes Beethoven gets wet, be it from a broken water fountain or a dripping pipe, and being wet is his secret weapon. I mean, it's an actual weapon.


If you press A while Beethoven's wet, he shakes himself dry. The flying water droplets instantly destroy any enemies they touch because... I dunno, maybe Beethoven shakes so hard that the droplets act like a powerful water cannon. Maybe it's not water, and Beethoven is covered in an acidic powder that only requires rehydration to be turned into a deadly corrosive liquid. Whatever the explanation, it's useful maybe twice in the entire game. Both of those times I forgot the ability even existed and therefore never used it.


Why would I need to rescue a dog from a kennel? That's where dogs live! I'm sure... Tchaikovsky? Called your dog Tchaikovsky, huh? Well, whatever floats your boat, but if you're sticking to composers I'd have gone with Johann Sebastian Bark. Anyway, I'm sure Tchaikovsky will be fine if he's in a kennel.




Oh, I see, "kennel" was actually a code word for "enormous warehouse filled with vicious dogs, men with guns and vast, towering spires of poorly-balanced crates". I can see why you'd want a code word for that, it's a bit of a mouthful.


Here's where the bottomless chasms come into play, with crates that plummet without warning into the inky blackness that lies at the bottom of the "kennel," costing Beethoven a life in the process. I can't say whether the developers didn't include much platforming out of laziness or because they realised that trying to have fun while making Beethoven jump from platform to platform is like trying to have fun while your testicles are hooked up to a car battery, but we can all be grateful that this kind of falling-block nonsense is kept to a minimum.


Full disclosure: the first thing I did in the second kennel stage was to try dropping the puppy into the blackness below. You know, just to see what would happen / whether puppies bounce. I'm not proud of my actions. Anyway, Beethoven wouldn't let go unless his offspring was on solid ground. He must have some fatherly instincts after all.


There are moving platforms in the kennels. It really says something about the unambitious blandness of Beethoven's 2nd that I was momentarily taken aback by the concept of moving platforms. So taken aback, in fact, that I threw Beethoven down into whatever primordial murk lies at the kennel's floor. This time I did feel bad, but only because it meant I'd have to start the stage again.


The final stage is "The Wilderness," a barren landscape filled with mountain lions, rocks, gun-toting Park Rangers who look like they belong in a French kid's cartoon and a large supply of deadly twigs.


Yes, deadly twigs. You see that log that Beethoven's standing on? The log is safe, the log is solid, forget about the log. Focus instead on that tiny sprout that the giant and presumably fairly powerful dog is standing over. That thing will hurt Beethoven if he touches it, because boy are his paws delicate. This is what happens when you pamper your dogs too much, people. The only reason Beethoven's owner didn't carry him around everywhere in a handbag is because to do so would require a wheeled handbag so large you'd have to pay road tax on it.


Speaking of logs, here's a nice summation of the occasional deep ineptitude to be found in this game. If Beethoven walked to the right from his current position, you'd expect him to drop down and land on the log, correct? Sure, he'd hurt his dainty feet on the twig, but he'd be safe on the log, right?


Wrong, he somehow falls through all those potential landing sites and plummets to his death. Good work, dog-killer. The problem lies in Beethoven's innate dog-ness. A bipedal platform character, like Mario, has a very obvious contact point with the ground he's standing on. It's his two feet, which when viewed from the side pretty much look like one foot and one place that he needs to have on solid ground to keep himself safe. Beethoven doesn't have a clear contact point - it's not quite his back legs or his front legs but some undefined point in the middle, leaving you to guess whether you're going to land on your target platform or not, making the very core of the gameplay unpredictable and frustrating.


Still, it's not all bad. This stage does at least feature this background, which goes down as the one thing I genuinely liked about Beethoven's 2nd. If I took the same amount of time I spent playing through this game and spent it staring at this image instead, I'd be a happier person all around.


That's Beethoven - big enough to scare away a mountain lion, has trouble with twigs. I bet the mountain lion wouldn't mind standing on a twig.


The end of the game comes without fanfare or excitement - no final boss or surprise obstacle here - as you reunite the last of your puppies with its mother. How the mother got up here in the first place is never explained.
This image gives me a chance to mention one last grievance with this game, and that's your health bar. At the top-left of the screen there are usually some paw-prints that indicate how much health you have. Take a hit, lose a paw, seems sensible enough. Notice that here, I have no pawprints and yet still I live, because the developers of this game took the baffling decision to eschew the established traditions of every videogame ever and not have you die when your health reaches zero. You get an extra hit after that. A minor quirk, to be sure, but one that is all the more aggravating in its pointlessness.


"Hooray!" exclaims the ending message. "you saved the puppies." is scrawled below in handwriting that was probably intended to be charmingly childlike but which puts me in mind of a deranged serial killer. I feel like anyone who doesn't manage to complete the game finds a package on their doorstep a few days later that contains a mutilated dolls head and a note that says "you didnt save the puppies why didnt you save them you will PAY."


Too dark? Here, have a cute drawing from the credits. Aww, that's kinda nice.
Beethoven's 2nd was not nice. You and I both knew it was going to be bad, but it's bad more through unrelenting tedium than anything else. Yes, the controls are gummy and unpleasant, yes, getting Beethoven to to what you want is a pain in the backside, but that's not really a problem because the whole game is so flat and lifeless. Walk from left to right, jump occasionally, bark at a thing, question the purpose and trajectory of your miserable life. You don't need good controls for that.


It's not a terrible game because it doesn't try and fail at enough thing to qualify as something really awful. It seems fair to compare it to the SNES Wayne's World game - both came out around the same time, both platformers based on movies made by minor developers. Beethoven's 2nd is better - okay, not better but less horrendous - than Wayne's World because it does what it does fairly competently and doesn't try things it can't accomplish, like including maze-like stages that are still navigable or getting Bohemian Rhapsody to not sound awful coming out of a SNES. The fact that Beethoven's 2nd didn't piss all over something I love helps, too.


In the end, Beethoven's 2nd suffers the worst fate of any videogame - it's just boring. Too boring to love, too boring to hate, just boring enough to make you wonder if doing the housework would be more enjoyable than playing this game. Turns out it falls somewhere between doing the vacuuming and scrubbing out the bath.

5 comments:

  1. Sometimes I wonder why Hi-Tech Expressions made games out of licensed properties. They were decent, but they just came with zero fun whatsoever. They were just so...so...bland.

    I actually saw a Longplay of this a while back and it proved that this game is no exception to the whole "Hi-Tech Expressions = bland" rule. My word, they're like Jaleco except more bland.

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    Replies
    1. Hey, at least Jaleco occasionally tried something new, ha ha. I can't see myself ever becoming as fond of Hi Tech Expressions as I am of Jaleco, that's for sure.

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  2. "Full disclosure: the first thing I did in the second kennel stage was to try dropping the puppy into the blackness below. You know, just to see what would happen / whether puppies bounce."

    Or ticked off and mutated pulling itself back up by the ears to maul you like Peter Puppy on Earthworm Jim!

    Also, as I was reading this one, I started to wonder: have you considered doing an article on the Rocko's Modern Life game for SNES?

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    Replies
    1. That's the one where you have to guide Spunky past various obstacles, right? I've considered it, but I'm terrible at those kind of games so I might have to give it a miss...

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  3. Fun fact: the developer of this game, RSP, went on to become Running with Scissors, maker of the Postal games. The serial killer gag might be truer than you think.

    ReplyDelete

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