Was my decision to write about today's game influenced by the fact I watched Killer Klowns From Outer Space the night before? Almost certainly, but I would have gotten around to it during one Halloween season or other. By the way, if you're looking for a good Halloween film, I can recommend Killer Klowns From Outer Space. It's a lot of fun, and I guarantee you'll get the theme song stuck in your head. Enough about movies, though - I'm here to write about games, and today's game is Midway's gore-drenched, mime-packed 1998 lightgun shooter CarnEvil!
That'll be an evil carnival, then. The other option would be evil Spanish meat, and as the world's leading suppliers of delicious hams and chorizos I think it would be unfair to accuse the Spanish of dabbling in evil meat.
CarnEvil's intro begins with a little poetry, because even the gentler arts have a place in the Halloween season. It's not the most lyrical ode I've ever read, but at least it rhymes properly, which puts it a level above the poetry from Demonslair.
The poem tells how CarnEvil can be resurrected by finding a jester's tomb and inserting a magical token. It seems like the horror of CarnEvil should be easy enough to avoid, then. Don't go to the graveyard, don't find the jester's tomb and don't insert coins like it was, well, an arcade game. These aren't difficult tasks to not do.
Of course, there wouldn't be much of a game if some big idiot didn't come along and feed the jester some loose change, and that exactly what happens: while enjoying a night-time ride through the Greely Valley cemetery as part of Spooky Sam's Ghost Tour, our protagonist thinks to himself "hey, screw you, poem - nothing with such an obvious rhyme scheme is going to tell me what to do!" and deposits the fateful clown credit.
Horror movies are often derided for having their characters take the stupidest possible course of action upon finding themselves trapped in a haunted house or being chased by a deranged killer, but I think CarnEvil's introduction has them all beat. You had one job, you dolt: don't mess with the clown grave. I mean, that should go without saying, but you had a very specific warning about this. Now there's a needle-fanged clown's head trying to bite your face off and you have no-one to blame but yourself.
CarnEvil offers the player a choice of three stages at the start of the game, and boy do they all sound enticing. Well, maybe not "Rickety Town" because it sounds like a town where everyone suffers from a Vitamin D deficiency. Haunted House and Freak Show, though, those are gold. Clear all three stages and you can head to the Big Top for the final showdown, and I'll be starting with the Haunted House. It's on the left, so the developers clearly want me to head there first, right?
Happy Halloween, everyone! I hope this image will keep you warm through the long October nights (because you're hiding under your duvet). This is the jester from the intro, a floating head called Umlaut who introduces each stage with maniacal laughter and some Cryptkeeper-ish puns. In this instance, he tells us we're going to meet a ghoul who lost her head and I don't think he means this ghoul overreacted or lost her sense of proportion.
A zombie lurks in a graveyard, and because CarnEvil is a lightgun game in a very traditional mode all you have to do is aim and shoot. Shoot it in the head, if you can. Then shoot every other monster, phantom and circus performer you see until the game is finished. CarnEvil's gameplay is very basic, and if you've ever played an arcade lightgun game before you'll know exactly what to do. There are no gimmicks in this one besides the macabre setting, no special sniper sections or extra controls or mechanics for taking cover, just a shooting gallery of freaks. As such, this article is pretty much going to be a guided tour of CarnEvil's more grotesque sights, because I've already said almost everything there is to say about the gameplay. You can collect a few different, limited-ammo weapons and sometimes you have to not shoot a normal human girl, but that's about it and you know what? I love it. When you get as excited as I do by all this horror stuff, you don't need any fancy gameplay mechanics to have a good time.
C'mon, just look at this - I'm not even inside the haunted house yet, and I'm already shooting grim reapers that have had such a productive day harvesting the souls of the dead that they spill five or six of those souls when you kill them, souls that are now presumably condemned to a horrifying eternity of un-life. Just prior to this, a zombie attacked by throwing a human torso at me. I think it's fair to say I am fully sold on CarnEvil's charms.
Here is an innocent person. Do not shoot the innocent person. Get used to seeing this innocent person, because she appears multiple times in each stage, sometimes requiring you to save her by shooting a nearby enemy and sometimes just jumping up in front of a terrified man with a gun and making a loud noise. Amazingly, especially given that second pattern of behaviour, I managed to avoid shooting my friend here nearly one hundred percent of the time. I think it's because she stands out against the dark backgrounds.
No sooner had I stepped through the front door than I was attacked by Hambone, a hulking undead giant with a hockey mask and a chaingun for an arm. Also, Hambone is on fire. This is a shame, because I kinda wanted to give him a hug, but I'll have to settle for the usual lightgun boss fight - shoot the enemy's weak spot to interrupt their attacks before they can hurt you. In Hambone's case, that means shooting his gun-arm so he can't riddle you with bullets and then riddling him with your bullets. Does that count as irony? "Getting shot while you're trying to shoot someone" isn't in that Alanis Morissette song so it's hard to tell.
More zombies, some with knives, but I'm more interested in that painting in the background that shows a mantis-woman holding a maggot baby. I was so interested in it, in fact, that one of these zombies managed to throw a knife into my skull, but I think it was worth it. I want to know about the mantis-lady. Does she live here? Also, who's maggot baby is that? Because I don't think mantises start out as maggots, do they? Mr. and Mrs. Mantis could not conceive naturally - not after the first attempt, when Mrs. Mantis ate her partner's head - so they adopted. See, it's these little details that can really bring a game to life.
Speaking of the backgrounds and the graphics in general, CarnEvil is very much a game of its time in that regard, with nicely-detailed pre-rendered backgrounds being inhabited by rather boxy polygonal enemies. While I really do like the backgrounds, and they're packed with detail, their pre-rendered nature means there's very little interaction with the scenery. That's usually one of my favourite things about lightgun games, and I've made my love of destructible scenery clear in the past, but while more interactivity with your surroundings would have possibly improved CarnEvil I'm happy enough with what's on offer.
Hambone is back! I love how his name is listed as "Hambone - The Revenge" under his health bar this time. I look forward to CarnEvil Part VIII: Hambone Takes Manhattan.
There's no much new about this fight, except that Hambone's arm is now a gun that fires skulls. A gun that fires skulls. What a time to be alive.
The haunted mansion has a kitchen, complete with zombie cook in a chef's hat, which is pretty magical. I wonder what he's cooking? Spookhetti? Ghoulash? Hey, if that jester skull gets to make these ghastly puns then so do I.
Now that I come to review these screenshots, I notice that there's a bucket full of dismembered human parts at the bottom-left of the screen and a leg on the chopping block. I thought I'd mention it, just in case my bad food jokes made you think CarnEvil was getting a bit too light-hearted.
I feel like I'm skipping a fair few things that I could mention about this stage in the interests of keeping this article under 20,000 words, but there's no way I'd neglect to mention that after climbing onto the roof for undisclosed reasons - reasons one assumes are closely linked to our hero's well-established denseness - a haunted car nudges you off the roof and into an open grave with a comedy tombstone. As if that wasn't great enough, these two zombies shuffle over to investigate, not out of any desire to eat you but just to see what the hell is going on. They just look so confused, you can almost see the vestiges of their brains struggling with the fact that it's usually the dead ones that go in the hole. A tiny part of me felt bad about shooting their heads clean off their necks.
Here's Evil Marie, the boss of the haunted house. So, the Marie in question is Marie Antoinette, then? Okay, good. There's no explanation as to why the reanimated corpse of a French queen is here trying to kill me with an axe, and frankly I don't want an explanation. I'm just happy that this is something someone at Midway decided was be a good idea for a boss in a lightgun game. You don't get to gun down prominent figures from the French Revolution in Time Crisis, now do you?
Given the relative ease of the stage preceding the fight, I was not prepared for how difficult this battle was. The problem was that it took me quite a while to realise that Marie's weak point is her neck - I blame this partly on her ridiculous jiggling breasts. The certainly have a way of diverting the player's attention, and quicker than you can say "did they really give her boob physics?" Marie has lobbed an axe into your skull. Even when you do know her weakness there's still the challenge of actually hitting her bloody (ha!) neck as she pirouettes around in the air, but with patience and some accurate aiming you'll see her off.
I was trying to think of a way to work Marie's death by impalement on a tombstone into a Schwarzenegger-style quip, but the best I could come up with was "let them eat spike" and that's just not good enough, I have standards, you know. Oh, yeah, the spookhetti pun. No, I don't have standards.
On to Rickety Town, a fairground stage that starts with our hero hopping aboard a Christmas-themed rollercoaster where horrible little elves try to smash his head in with oversized candy canes - and if you'd ever seen me packing away the Christmas treats you'd know it takes a lot for me to describe a candy cane as "oversized". The name of the rollercoaster is the Slay Ride, naturally. I'm going to have to check my diary and see what I was up to in 1998, because I think I might have helped design CarnEvil and somehow forgotten about it.
The breakneck speed with which CarnEvil mixes up its locations continues, and soon you're fighting dinosaurs on a prehistoric teacup ride. Not people in dinosaur costumes, mind, I'm fully convinced that these are living bipedal reptiles with a hunger for human flesh. Just look at that thing's eyes, only a feeling creature would have an expression like that - a terrifying yet strangely adorable expression. It just wants to play, but sadly the only game it knows is Human Intestine Jump-Rope.
There's a food court to blast your way through, and in a wonderful touch it's staffed by surly teenage zombies. Their murderous rage is merely the destructive outward expression of the fear that they'll be working the drive-through window all their lives while their friends go off to college and live meaningful, interesting lives. In one of CarnEvil's rare moments of background interactivity, you can shoot the target up there to dunk one of the teen zombies into the deep fryer. Would you think less of me if I told you I found that really funny? You probably should.
In a game packed to the bleeding, suppurating gills with hideous monsters it takes a lot to claim the crown as number one thing you'd least like to find standing at the end of your bed upon waking from a nightmare, but I think Smilin' Bob here has a good shot at the title. He only wants to help. He wants to help you with his wrench. He wants to help you until you stop twitching and leaking. He only wants to help you rest.
Still, there's a billboard behind Bob that promises "Burritos a big as your head" so honestly I think I'll take the risk of visiting Rickety Town.
The stage began with a Christmas theme and that's how it ends, as the player takes on a decidedly un-jolly old elf called Krampus. More Old Nick than Saint Nick, the "real" Krampus is a figure from European folklore who acts as sort of a nega-Santa: while Father Christmas deals with the children who fell on the "nice" side of the list, Krampus takes care of the "naughty" ones, usually by stuffing them in a sack and carrying them away and carrying them away to his lair to do whatever it is that Krampus does to little kids. I'm going with "eat them," because that's the least horrible scenario that came to mind.
CarnEvil's Krampus differs from traditional depictions in that he's less of a hairy, goat-headed beast and more of a giant blue Santa with antlers and hands that look equally effective at disembowelment and raking leaves. There's not much to say about the battle itself because it boils down to shooting Krampus as fast as possible so his attacks don't hit you, something that's not always possible given that your basic gun can only fire a measly six shots before having to reload. I think that's my biggest gripe with CarnEvil: a larger clip for your weapon would have made things a little more enjoyable.
Anyway, you'll be able to bring down Kramups with enough concentrated fire and, let's be honest, he's pretty hard to miss. Onward to the Freak Show!
Yep, that is definitely a freak. You look up freak in the dictionary and you're gonna see a picture of this guy. I mean, I won't see his picture, because my dictionary doesn't have pictures, you big baby. So, what else have we got?
The most common freak you'll see during the first half of the stage is Flap Jack the two-headed man. Where's his other head? Dangling between his legs, legs which are actually the arms of a second torso growing directly from the bottom of the first torso. It must be a common defect in Flap Jack's family because there are plenty of him, popping up to attack and not really minding that much when they get shot. The sound goofy. Sorry, I mean they sound like Goofy. I half-expected them to shout "gawrsh!" upon dying.
At the half-way point of the stage you get to fight Eyeclops, a broadsword-swingin' demon knight who has the distinct disadvantage of a body covered in weak spots. He's got eyes in his biceps, for pity's sake. I don't think that's conducive to a successful career as a medieval warrior. Every time you flex your guns to impress the comely tavern maidens it'll feel like someone's squeezing your eyeball. I suppose it could be an advantage of the pro arm-wrestling circuit - the ability to give your opponent a death-stare no matter where they're looking might give you the psychological edge - but no, Eyeclops is sticking with guarding the entrance to the Freak Show's castle even though he's really bad at it. Eyeclops is also a Cockney, for some reason. Some websites like "ancient Greek" as the rhyming slang for "freak," which is oddly appropriate for a boss named after the Cyclops, but I think someone has made that one up in the recent past.
The inside of the castle is packed with these S&M freaks. Hey, that phrase works both ways - they're freaks who like S&M and they're real freaks about S&M in the same way that I'm a freak for side-scrolling beat-em-ups. You can tell they're really into it, because they've got enormous nails hammered into their bodies like an enthusiastic but amateurish Hellraiser remake. I don't think 50 Shades of Grey ever went that far. Did CarnEvil generate any controversy on its release? This seems like the kind of thing that would generate controversy, although admittedly the impact of this freak is lessened by the way he's got a bucket jammed on his head.
This is what I mean about the limited background interaction - that freak is standing right inside this iron maiden! If only I could shoot it closed somehow, it'd save me a few bullets if nothing else.
Oh, thank you, girl that I keep saving! My dedication to not blasting you the second you appeared on screen all those other times has really paid off.
A trip through the castle's drainage system dumps you in a mechanised area. That's aanother thing I like about CarnEvil, you're always on the move: there's no parade of goons lurching into the same single-screen backdrop in this one, our hero covers more ground than most racehorses do in a calendar year.
The machinery down here is devoted to collecting the corpses of the torture freaks and mushing them into a meaty slop that is then served up in giant bowls. But what could possibly require feeding with an endless conveyor belt of human flesh slurry? If you guessed "the boss of this stage" then yes, you are correct, and what a boss it is.
Say hello to Junior, the gargantuan mutant baby! Holy shit, that is one hell of thing to be fighting in a videogame. I have to wonder whether the developers played Zombies Ate My Neighbours, saw that game's giant baby boss and though "yeah, I like the concept, but it's just not deformed enough." Junior's head is held together by enormous staples, for chrissakes. This is fantastic.
I took cover in an oversized doll's house, but Junior responded by vomiting all over me so I guess it wasn't my smartest move ever. Don't forget, that vomit is composed entirely of ground-up freak-meat. Nothing so wholesome as strained carrots in there.
Apparently, if you go into the game's setting you can replace this boss battle with a fight against a giant teddy bear called Deaddy. This is probably to mollify arcade owners who were uncomfortable with the idea of shooting babies, although I can't imagine that ever being the case.
After many, many bullets, Junior takes so much punishment that he toddles back towards his cot. His cot is also a huge electric chair, which explains why Junior looks like one of my attempts at cooking steak in the screenshot above. Hey, look, officer, I had to shoot the baby, it was either him or me. Officer? No, please, put down the gun!
With the first three levels cleared, you can head to the Big Top and experience all the fun of the circus! And what do circuses have? Staggeringly unhealthy food loaded with e. coli? Well, yes. Animal cruelty? That too, but what I meant was clowns. The worst of all the freaks, the most hideous of all the monsters, a cavalcade of clowns will twirl and tumble from the foetid corners that they call home to murder anyone who enters their garish, greasepainted domain! Roll up, roll up, we've got teeny-tiny clowns with the mouths of sharks and the unmistakable gleam of madness in their eyes!
We've got brutish, hulking clowns that will grind your bones into the dirt of the centre ring with their knuckleduster-laden fists!
Doctor, doctor, I feel funny! Well, so do these madcap medical menaces, merry at the thought of some mirthful malpractise! They're on a mission to revive the use of "sawbones" as a synonym for doctor and it's your bones that are going to be sore! HONKHONKHONKHONNNNK!
So, yeah, clowns. Lots of clowns. There are few things as satisfying as shooting a clown. Even doing it in a videogame is good fun.
There are also mimes. The mimes don't attack, they just keep on doing their mime act, but the developers were obviously well aware of humanity's inbuilt desire to harm any mimes they see and so you're allowed to gun them down with no repercussions. There's even a machinegun power-up provided to help you get the job done more efficiently. Thanks, Midway.
By the way, my favourite thing about the mimes is that if you shoot their heads off, they chase after their severed noggins for a little while before succumbing to catastrophic blood loss.
I'm not sure I like this new Batman reboot.
After shooting your way through most of the clowns Hell has to offer, as well as a few of these bat-mites and rabid circus poodles, our hero climbs up to the high-wire because it is apparently very important to him to let you know that he is the dumbest son of a bitch to have ever lived. He does okay up there, considering he's not a trained trapeze artists (that we know of), but eventually a bat-man sneaks up on him and knocks our hero back doing to the ground.
I think this is my favourite bit in the whole of CarnEvil, which is really saying something - after landing with a thud, a clown ambulance rolls up and disgorges a paramedic team of little clowns, eager to facilitate some pre-emptive organ harvesting. We're only a few days in, and I think I've already found the defining moment of the 2014 VGJunk Halloween season.
Eventually the head villain gets tired of seeing you kill all his minions, and so the final battle is joined. This is Tökkentäkker, and he's a ringmaster, appropriately enough. I assume his name is supposed to look like "token taker," but all I need to know is where his weak-point is so I can sh- oi, get back here!
You have to fight Umlaut first, which honestly took me by surprise. I'd kinda of forgotten about the hideous little bonebox, but it's okay - he doesn't stick around for long. Umlaut's only attack is to try and bite you, which means he has to fly real close and thus present a nice big target for you to aim at. He doesn't have much of a health bar, either, so soon enough it's back to fighting Tökkentäkker.
Tökkentäkker gets to shout "skeletons, attack!" and skeletons do indeed attack. I'm in the wrong line of work. I've never really known what I wanted out out of life, but now it's clear - I want a job where I get to shout "skeletons, attack!" and it doesn't get me fired, like when I worked at that medical supply company.
More of a mini-stage than just a boss fight, dealing with Tökkentäkker involves chasing him around his airship and trying to shoot him the second you catch up to him, because he's very quick on the draw and you get little (if any) chance to knock him out of his attack animations. Skeletons aside, it's a rather underwhelming boss fight and CarnEvil's lowest ebb. Tökkentäkker is just some guy who dressed like a steampunk enthusiast. Earlier I fought a massive devil-baby. Tökkentäkker can't match up to that. It's not a bad fight, just not as engaging as the rest of the game, and thanks to his substantial health bar I was relieved when I finally finished Tökkentäkker off and he fell into the propeller of his airship, where he was unceremoniously diced into a million polygon pieces.
Oh god, someone catch that artist's mannequin, it's not wearing a parachute!
CarnEvil is over, and we're back where we began - our hero fondling a golden token he found in a tombstone. He's going to put it straight back in the slot, isn't he?
Good work, champ.
If Ghost Hunters was a gentle introduction to this year's Halloween Spooktacular, CarnEvil has turned the dial all the way up to maximum with a winning combination of extremely basic but very enjoyable lightgun action and a setting packed with gore, mutants and a thick vein of black humour. I loved it, as you can probably tell. Sadly, CarnEvil never received a home console port and it's never likely to, and it can be a bit wonky when emulated, but if you get a chance to play it I can fully endorse it. Unless you're scared of clowns, killer babies, murderous robots, ghostly French aristocrats and haunted cars, but in that case, what the hell are you doing reading VGJunk at Halloween?
Time to check in with the Halloween-O-Meter, and I've decided that CarnEvil has done enough to to earn the "coveted" ten out of ten rating! How exciting! I was dithering between awarding it nine or ten, but then I realised that the big clowns have pumpkins on their clothes. That did it. 10/10, good work everybody.