You might think the BBC only makes adaptations of Sherlock Holmes starring bad, sloth-featured actors and car review shows that are a feeble excuse for three men in their late-middle-age who should know better to piss about, but they also make kid's television. One such show was Tweenies, a post-Teletubbies extravaganza of faintly educational frolics featuring big-headed fuzzy-felt creatures - the Tweenies themselves. This is what the Tweenies look like:
Saying that a kid's TV show is creepy is usually an easy observation to make, but in the Tweenies' case it's true, and I think I've figured out why: they're supposed to be children, but they are quite obviously the size of human adults with vastly oversized heads, stomping about the place with the demented energy of toddlers from a race of giants whose true proportions we can only guess at.
Now, I'm not here to write about kid's TV shoes from the early 2000s - I'm here to write about videogames based on kid's TV shows from the early 2000s, like today's offering - Tell-Tale's 2001 Game Boy Color tie-in Tweenies: Doodles' Bones.
Wow, just look at these freaks. The one on the top-left appears to be standing in the middle of a carbon monoxide leak, while the purple kid has either unlocked the secret mysteries of the cosmos through mind-altering drugs, or he's just sat on a large metal spike.
The "Doodles" of the title is the dog, who you can see in the centre. I have to confess, the reason I decided to play Tweenies was because of the title. Doodles' Bones makes it sound like the Tweenies are up to something with poor Doodles' remains. Doodles' soul may never rest easy now that his bones are the playthings of the Tweenies.
The game's actually about Doodles' quest to find the pieces of the map that shows him where he buried his bones. There must be a better title to sum this up, surely? How about Doodles' Bone Quest? No, that makes it sound like he's looking for some intimate male companionship. Alright, fine, Doodles' Bones it is.
This is what we're doing, then. Doodles enlists the help of a Tweenie, who then prances through a short level to find a piece of the map. I say if Doodles was smart enough to make a map of his bone caches then he's clearly more intelligent than the Tweenies and probably doesn't need their help. The one on the bottom-left looks like a puppet version of Beavis, for chrissake.
Step one: take control of Doodles and find a Tweenie to help you. Doodles is a weird-looking dog, and not just because his fur resembles a close-up photo of spaghetti bolognese. He looks less like a dog and more like a human in a suit walking on all fours, probably because that's what he is. You'll forgive me if my time spent on the internet has left me wary of people in furry suits pretending to be animals.
Did Doodles turn into an old man to ask the Tweenies for help, or is this man merely an intermediary who translates Doodles' barks and growls into human speech? I do not know, all I can say is that the Tweenie called Fizz has to get some flowers ready for a ball. I'm sure I can manage that.
Well, that was easy. I just walked up to the wilted flowers and bang, they're blooming again. I didn't even have to press a button. The rest of the "action" is not much more difficult, and half of your time playing Tweenies will involve making your way through these short and extremely simple platforming sections. It's ledge-hopping of the most basic variety, with one button to run and another to jump, but somehow the developers could even get that quite right and as Fizz makes her way through this castle her jerky leaps and lethargic movements will frustrate you and probably put you in mind of a Game and Watch title.
The castle is full of ghosts. To my mind, this represents a problem in more urgent need of a solution than the sub-par floral arrangements. How are the guests at this ball going to react to all these ghosts? "Well, these bouquets of flowers are simply delightful, so much so that they have completely distracted me from the wailing spirits of the undying who torture the living with their spectral moans!"
The only noteworthy wrinkle in the "move right and jump over holes" gameplay is this bouncy castle. You can hold the jump button to bounce higher, allowing you to reach the flowers that have been placed amongst the rafters. Once I find these flowers - which, may I remind you, are up in the rafters - my next task will be to fire the gardener.
It doesn't take long to find all the flowers, which is for the best because young children have the attention spans of gnats and the gameplay on offer here is hardly enthralling.
Doodles will be pleased. Doodles is our kind and benevolent master. All bow to Doodles.
One Tweenie down, three to go. What's next?
Oh good, a circus-themed level. My favourite. Thankfully there are no clowns, unless you count your playable character, here seen peering intently at something protruding from the front of his trousers. What is it about circuses that bring out the worst in everything?
The reason that there are no clowns seems to be that they've been replaced by these custard-pie-throwing machines. I imagine their invention led to roving bands of Luddite clowns travelling from big top to big top, smashing the pie-throwing machines and pratfalling engines and mechanical bucket-of-water-oh-wait-it's-actually-confetti topplers with their oversized comedy sledgehammers.
The pie throwers do mean that, unlike in the first stage, you have to pay attention to what's happening in front of you, so I shouldn't complain about them. At least they give you something to do as you duck under their projectiles.
While there are no clowns themselves, this stage is home to a large clown face that cries when you walk into it. It doesn't hurt you or anything, it just sheds fat teardrops when you brush against it, proving once more that circuses are places that birth only nightmares, and the punishment for breaking the clowning code is to have the greasepainted skin of your face flayed away and stretched on a giant rack.
Also, a hovering lion. It might look like it's in mid-leap but no, it really is just floating in the gap between platforms, bobbing slowly up and down, challenging you to time your jumps correctly so you can collect the... what was I collecting again? Oh yeah, bowling pins. Find eight bowling pins. Well, I did that, so onward we march.
"Fizz, water some flowers. Milo, find me some bowling pins. Bella, bring me all the bananas in the jungle. All of them. Every single one. I don't care if that bunch is being held by the muscular hands of an angry gorilla, go and get it. Doodles has commanded it."
Here is Bella, in the jungle. She's got a little pith helmet, how charming. Someone has drawn a face on an old sock and hung it from a tree with the intention of making me believe it's a snake, but it's definitely an old sock with a face drawn on it.
Nothing has changed from the first stage aside from the graphics, although these spiderwebs are aggravating because they work like trampolines. This goes against the very concept of spiderwebs. They're supposed to hold you down, not fling you into the air. There's a reason there are no spiders that have evolved to shit out non-sticky bungee cords. Now I look forward to the comments telling me about the strange bungee-webbed spiders of the world.
The final Tweenie is Jake, and his stage is an underwater level. A circus stage and a swimming stage? You spoil me, sir. Actually, Jake doesn't really swim, he just floats in whatever direction you press. While it might seem like a nice change of pace, the removal of the platforming elements means that somehow, against all the odds, the developers of Tweenies: Doodles' Bones found a way to make the game even more boring. You might as well be controlling a mouse cursor.
Nice jellyfish, mind you.
Am I being too harsh on a game made for the littlest of little nippers? No, I'm not - the developers of these kinds of games are being harsh on children. Kids don't want crap, and kid's games don't have to be crap. Just take Kirby: the Kirby games are no more difficult than Tweenies, but they have more variety, more charm and more fun. Even if a game for kids was more difficult, so what? If you ask people what their favourite games from their early childhood were they're going to say things like Super Mario Bros and not Barney's Hide and Seek. And if these kids are really young, young enough that things like Tweenies is all they can handle, then they probably shouldn't be playing videogames at all - handhelds are generally recommended for kids three and up, and without wanting to give three-year-olds too much credit even they are going to get bored of this one easily.
Alright, back to the game and despite helping all the Tweenies fulfil their missions, I'd only completed half of Doodles' map. I wandered around for a while, the niggling worry that I'd have to suffer the embarrassment of resorting to a guide or finding the manual to figure out what I was supposed to be doing burning in the back of my mind, but eventually I realised I could go back indoors and activate a big lollipop thing that's home to another four minigames. "Mini" is the right word for them, too.
Minigame number one: press a button to drop a ball into the bucket of the matching colour. To my eternal shame, I missed the first one, but in my defence it seems that gravity works differently in the Tweenies universe and the speed at which the ball fell implied that it was dropping through mayonnaise rather than air. If you do manage to miss a bucket, that's when the game gets truly challenging because as the buckets have to cycle through the various colours and they move agonisingly slowly, you'll probably have fallen asleep before your next chance arrives.
Minigame number two: drag the objects into the fairytale picture and drop them in the correct place. Probably the most engaging of the minigames, but that's like saying that the middle of a slug is the tastiest part to eat. Also, check out the ball Cinderella is attending: she though she was in for a magical evening, but instead she's waltzing in a brown room that's completely bare except for a side table and a chandelier. Bet you wish your host had made some flowers bloom for your ball, eh, Cinders? Even some ghosts would liven things up a little, no pun intended.
Minigame number three: object scroll across the screen. Press the button when the object on the screen matches the object pictured at the bottom. Question what you're doing with your life. Think of all the greatness that people younger and more disadvantaged than you have accomplished with their lives. Weep openly. Eat a box of chocolate cereal with your bare hands.
Minigame number four: an absurdly easy "Simon Says" game where you use the d-pad to copy a four-note tune, all presented via one of the ugliest interfaces I have ever seen. It's the kind of tool Satan would use to torture the soul of a sinner who really, really loved Guitar Hero in life.
At last, the map is complete and Doodles' bones can be unearthed from the cold ground in which they lay. He'd bloody well better appreciate the effort.
Doodles is out in the garden, where you can make him dig in the mud to find his bones. You can consult your painstakingly-recreated map to pinpoint their locations, like so.
Ah yes, I see. Most illuminating. That's some good cartography, Doodles. Maybe you should be working for the Ordnance Survey instead of digging up the pathways that meander through the gardens of a race of melon-headed, fuzzy, over-sized children.
You could follow the map, or you could just wander around the small area until the spade symbol appears of Doodles, telling you you're in the right diggin' spot. I'm sure you can guess which one I did. Every time that spade appeared I prayed it meant pressing the button would let me whack Doodles with a shovel, but alas, it just helps you find all the bones. Which I did. Game over!
"Don't lose them again," says the Pete Postlethwaite of the Tweenies world. Please, Doodles, for the love of god, don't lose them again. I'm begging you. I don't want to go through this again.
Oh no, just look at Doodles' vacant eyes and lolling tongue. He's already lost the map, hasn't he?
So, as Tweenies: Doodles' Bones becomes a bitter memory, I'm left to reflect that it was a bad game with no redeeming features. Well, okay, some of the enemies were cute, especially the ghosts with the "what the hell is going on" expressions that were plastered across their ectoplasmic mugs. Besides that, this is the worst kind of lazy, insulting excuse for a videogame, and only the most avid of Tweenies fans - provided they're under the age of four - will get any enjoyment out of it. Still, it's less reprehensible than N*SYNC: Get to the Show, which is now and probably forever the worst game I've ever played. At least Tweenies could use the excuse that it was made for very small children, not young boyband fans who should know better. The only saving grace of this game? That the Game Boy Color couldn't handle having the Tweenies sing. I know I couldn't have handled it.