As the saying goes, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. It's unlikely that today's game has ever caused such a serious injury, but when you see some of the things I made with it you might wish that it could. It's Leland Interactive's 1993 Megadrive Picasso-and-Mozart-em-up Fun 'n Games!
Fun and games, huh? All too often here at VGJunk I get the games bit but not the fun, so I'll be holding Fun 'n Games to its promises. I'm already a bit worried, mind you. A cartoony bubble font and a "wacky" backwards letter in the title? That doesn't bode well.
Fun 'n Games is a compilation of various activities and a couple of games, presented here in this garish Pee Wee's Playhouse-esque nightmare of anthropomorphised furniture and electrical equipment. Okay, so maybe "nightmare" is going a bit far: the only one of these I really wouldn't trust is that wardrobe on the right. It's just too easy to imagine it as some kind of Venus Fly Closet that lures people in with its pouting lips and promises of a hip new outfit, only to grab them when they get close and remove their clothes to add to it's ever growing nest of garments. That is something that's easy to imagine, right? It's not just me being weird? Oh good, thanks for the reassurance.
Each of these objects is a portal to one of Fun 'n Games' activities, so I guess I'll go through them one at a time, starting with the jukebox on the left. It's that warm, inviting smile that drew me in.
I was a little surprised that the jukebox didn't just play music, as jukeboxes tend to do - in fact it's the "Magic Music Machine," a simple music editor for creating your own compositions in a chunky, Fisher-Price sort of way. Already the cry goes up, "this is just Mario Paint!" to which I can only say yes, yes it is. It's a bit more complex than Nintendo's entry into the home console composer genre, mind you, with a greater variety of instruments, the ability to include sharp and flat notes, drum tracks to add percussion and a wider selection of classic pre-made songs for you to listen to, not that you could figure out which track is which based on their icons.
Each tile on the lower row of icons is a different familiar song, and while some of them do make sense - the US flag is The Star-Spangled Banner and Santa's head plays a grating version of Jingle Bells when poked - the rest are completely baffling. Red blob with a yellow thing sticking out of it? That's Yankee Doodle Dandy, which just leaves me amazed there wasn't a better way to represent a cap with a feather stuck in it. To the right of that is a Space Hopper with an expression of abject misery on its rubbery face. That is the icon for Bingo Was His Name-O. So it's supposed to be a dog, then? One of those flesh-coloured dogs you see so often? Okay then. My favourite is the kaleidoscopic mess of colour fourth from the left, the one that looks like a bootleg Mondrian drawn in wax crayons. That's Pop Goes The Weasel, somehow. Amazing.
In truth, the Magic Music Machine is pretty impressive for a music-making Megadrive application. The main problem is that the Megadrive controller doesn't have enough buttons, and dragging the cursor around (especially when you want to play or stop your track) with the d-pad is as tedious as it sounds. Apparently you can use the Megadrive's Sega Mouse to control the cursor, which would be all well and good if anyone had ever owned one. I've never used one, never ever seen one, but I can still definitively state that using the Sega Mouse is a better way to control the cursor in Fun 'n Games than the joypad.
Actually sticking your track together is a snap, though. Fun, even, surprisingly flexible without being too complicated. It only took me a matter of moments to knock out the first bar of Sweet Child O' Mine, so have a listen and see what you think.
Not bad, huh? Slash himself would be proud, but there's always room for improvement, even amongst the timeless classics of the Guns 'n Roses canon. For example, haven't you always wondered what Sweet Child O' Mine would sound like if every note was accompanied by the monotone barking of a seal?
Like that, mostly. For some reason there are a bunch of animal sounds available to you, only you can't change their pitch so they make the exact same noise wherever you put them. The only explanation I can come up with for this is that they're included just in case you're determined to make an painstakingly accurate version of Old McDonald Had A Farm. This still doesn't explain everything, however, because there are seldom seals on rural farms.
Activity number two is a body-swapping game of extreme simplicity. Cycle through a collection of heads, bodies and legs in order to create the twisted fantasies of your innermost desires, or a chef with the body of a chicken. I hope for your sake those two things don't overlap.
It works okay, although it's rather lazily drawn and a lot of the parts don't line up correctly, with sharp, obvious edges where large and small pieces don't fit together quite right. Good for a couple of minutes of entertainment and that's about it. Here are some of my personal favourite creations.
Musclebro the psychotic weightlifting rooster! Stay away from steroids, kids, lest your increased muscle mass come at the cost of sprouting a feathered head with the mad, bulging eyes of one of Satan's more enthusiastic helpers.
Duke Nukem ditches the shades and becomes a lady. That's probably a good thing, he could do with learning first hand what it's like to be objectified.
Also, this thing. This grotesque, twisted thing. I think "Lovecraftian" is a fairly good descriptor for this one, even if it does look a touch too cheerful to be an insensate devourer of souls from the dream-regions beyond man's ken.
Next up: Mario Paint! I mean, the drawing potion of Fun 'n Games. Okay, I'll level with you, this is so similar to Mario Paint it feels more like a bootleg recreation than an original game. The icons are all in similar places, it has a very familiar set of different animations for deleting your work complete with the same honking horn sound effect, you can make and use stamps, there are colouring book pages... actually, let's have a look at some of the colouring book pages, because there are quite a few of them, many more than in Mario Paint.
A lot of them are reasonable enough, like this underwater scene, or zoo animals, or tanks and jet planes laying waste to a battlefield.
Colouring in war pictures? It's like I'm six years old again, although even as a child I don't think I ever coloured a battle scene in such vibrant and pleasant hues. I've been playing too many Sega arcade game recently, it seems.
Ah yes, that's much better. I've moved on from being six and into the angsty early teen years. I would have loved to open a birthday card that just said "HAIL SATAN" on it when I was that age. Or indeed this age. Any age, really. I'd be less pleased about receiving that cake, though, because it's absolutely tiny. Unless the birthday card is A2 size or something? I don't know, something has gone terribly wrong in this image. This isn't even the most confusing colouring page, either.
Here we have the outside of a wedding chapel. You might want to colour in a picture of a wedding, sure - it certainly sounds like the kind of bone a developer would throw to any young girls who might play their game as an afterthought - but this isn't a picture of a wedding. It's a picture of a building inside which a wedding may or may not be taking place. I'm almost disappointed there aren't more pages like this: the empty car park just after a big rock concert, a mournful steward manning a turnstile as the cup final kicks off, the NASA janitor mopping floors while Apollo 11 touches down on the moon.
Drawing pictures isn't bad at all: here I've recreated Francis Bacon's Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, and I'm sure you'll agree that I've managed to capture the raw anguish and unsettling power of the original. Not the original original, that's just the Pope sitting in a chair, I mean Bacon's version.
There are plenty of tools to play around with, including most of the basics you'd expect like flood-filling and pen tools, as well as a few more unusual types like a couple of fractal generators. Once again it's the controls that are the limiting factor on this one, and the cumbersome task of drawing with the d-pad is even more excruciating when the only cursor speed are "too fast" and "like a snail that's still coming around from dental anaesthetic".
Unlike in Mario Paint you can't make your own animations, (unless I just couldn't figure it out,) but some of the stamps are pre-animated for your artistic enjoyment, like this dog. This poor, broken dog. Just looking at this misbegotten pink lump is depressing me, so I'm going to move on to the next activity by clicking on the man-eating wardrobe.
It's a paper doll dress-up simulator, where you can choose an outfit for the androgynous model by cycling through an array of clothes, hats, accessories and haircuts. That's all there is to it. Every time you change an item a voice clip plays, saying things like "cool" and "gross" and, to my astonishment, "grody," a word which I have never heard used before outside the context of it being mocked as a word people don't actually say.
It's not as much fun as the body-swapping game, with less scope for amusing results because you're just changing someone's clothes and not their very genetic make-up. The best I could come up with was "overweight Mark Twain with Elvis trousers carrying a pitchfork". I think the pitchfork's the weirdest part of that image, and some of the accessories are kinda strange. There's what appears to be a briefcase soaked in blood, for one thing. Very American Psycho, that.
Also, while I was trying to make the most "anime" character I could - a quest sparked by those pointed shoulderpads - I stumbled across this... thing you can place in their hands. I stared at it for a good long while, trying to decipher its form. My first thought, one I immediately wished I hadn't had, was that they were picking up a discarded prophylactic, but further contemplation revealed that it's a fishing net. Those yellow things are starfish. I will freely admit that this conclusion is open to interpretation and that the item they are holding is so vague and poorly defined that it could be almost anything.
On to the "games" part of Fun 'n Games, then, with a selection of three videogames for you try your hand up once your creative juices have run dry - Mouse Maze, Space Lazer and one with the extremely promising title of Whack-a-Clown. All three games are exactly what you're imagining them to be after seeing their names, but let's take a look at each of them.
Mouse Maze is a Pac-Man clone where you play as a mouse who must make his way through the labyrinth, avoiding cats and mouse traps while collecting all the slices of what is either cheese suffering from an unfortunate graphical error that renders it red and green, or Chicago-style pizza.
Some facts about Mouse Maze: firstly, if you collect one of the bone icons your mouse transforms into a dog, allowing you to eat any cats in your path. It's the Power Pellet from Pac-Man, only it allows you to eat cats instead of ghosts. I'm not sure why the ability to eat cats feels like a weirder power to have than the ability to eat ghosts, but it does. Secondly, the developers through it would be a really swell idea to punish you for having the audacity to play their little mouse game by using a series of increasingly vile backgrounds to give you a migraine.
Just look at the state of that, a swirling misery-blanket of tinned spaghetti splashed over a purple background. The scenery doesn't help, but even if Mouse Maze was a graphical masterpiece it wouldn't change the fact that it's a dull clone of an ancient game that you have almost certainly played a superior version of. It's one relatively original feature is that the game gradually gets faster and faster as you complete stages, which means your failure is inevitable after twelve-or-so levels. Chopin's Funeral March plays when you get a game over, just in case you were in any doubt about the fate of your rodent avatar.
Next is Space Lazer, a tedious crosshair shooter with absolutely nothing to recommend it. Definitely the weakest of the three games, this one suffers from having enemy attacks that you can't see coming and which drain your energy pretty much constantly.
The only thing worth mentioning about it is that the enemies in the second stage look like sad-eyed yet exotic caterpillar heads, something you'd normally expect to see in a documentary about the deforestation of the Amazon and not in deep space.
Finally there's Whack-a-Clown. It involves smashing clowns in the face with a hammer, and therefore I have no hesitation in awarding it ten out of ten and saying it's the best game I've played in years.
That's about it for the Megadrive / Genesis version of Fun 'n Games, but before I wrap this up I should mention that it was released on the SNES, too. The SNES version has several features that recommend it over the Megadrive equivalent, the most compelling of which is that you're a lot more likely to see a SNES mouse in the wild than a Megadrive one, and using a mouse really goes a long way towards making Fun 'n Games, well, fun. The music also sounds less grating and the colouring book pictures are more interesting / sensible.
However, Whack-a-Clown is completely absent, thus making the SNES version worthless.
Fun 'n Games does deliver some fun, although none of it comes from the games - it may have three of them, but they're all inferior to Mario Paint's flyswatter game and not one of them even come close to being worthy of a full release. No, the value of Fun 'n Games is in the painting and music composition areas, and they are rather good when you consider the limitation they're working under. They're intuitive, responsive and, despite being hampered by poor joypad controls, are mostly a fun way to exercise your creative muscles, or at least they would have been in 1993.
To me, that's the most interesting thing about Fun 'n Games - it's tied to a very specific period of time in the history of console gaming. While there were "art creation" titles available on consoles prior to the 16-bit generation, they lacked the power (and range of colours) to be much fun, but by the time the generation after the SNES and Megadrive was in full swing there was no need to release art programs on consoles because of the massively increased prevalence of PCs in people's homes. Would you rather draw digital pictures on your PS1 or your mouse-enabled, printer equipped computer? Exactly. So Fun 'n Games is one of the last of its kind, and I salute it for letting kids pass the time between shooting aliens and saving princesses in a constructive and fairly enjoyable manner. Did I mention you can hit clowns with a hammer? They make a really pained groan when you clobber them, too. Wonderful.