06/12/2014

POSTMAN PAT AND THE GREENDALE ROCKET (GAME BOY ADVANCE)

Postman Pat, Postman Pat, Postman Pat ran over his cat. Blood and guts went flying, everyone was crying, Postman Pat's a very happy man. Those were the alternate lyrics to the Postman Pat theme song that we used to sing as kids, because that's what kids do with songs. I know a rousing chorus of "he's got the whole world in his pants" was enough to see me through many primary school hymn sessions. Yes, it's every child's favourite postal deliver worker Postman Pat, starring today in Neko Entertainment's 2007 Game Boy Advance Royal-Mail-em-up Postman Pat and the Greendale Rocket!


Postman Pat is a British kid's show about a postman named Pat. That's really all there is to it, or at least it was when I was young - these days Pat works for the Special Delivery Service and has a helicopter, apparently. The Postman Pat from my childhood did nothing more strenuous than pootle around the village in his little van, delivering mail and dealing with minor inconveniences like fallen trees blocking the road and letters getting wet in the rain. When I say "dealing with them," I mean he manages to deliver the parcel instead of just posting a "sorry you were out" notice through the letterbox without knocking like any other Royal Mail employee. Pat's most striking physical feature is his head, a cylindrical flesh-tube sporting a nose the size of Pinocchio's after the wooden boy tried to explain to his dad that he was just holding onto the weed for a friend.


The Greendale Rocket of the title is not, sadly, a space rocket. Pat will not be the first person to deliver junk mail to the moon - that honour will go to the brave astro-couriers of the twenty-third century, who will risk their lives to make sure the Sea of Tranquility never runs low on takeaway menus and offers on cheap double glazing. No, the Greendale Rocket is a steam train. The Greendale Rocket does not seem to be working - hardly surprising given that it's a steam train and this game is presumably set in 2007 - and the overall aim of the game is to get it running again.


Pat is ready to help everybody on this major engineering and restoration project, where no doubt his skills of driving a van and walking up garden paths will come in very useful.


So, Postman Pat and the Greendale Rocket is another of those made-for-kids, low-effort affairs that I've become oh so familiar with over the years, but unlike games such as NSYNC: Get to the Show and Diva Starz: Mall Mania, PPatGR is quite heavily based around platforming action. Okay,"action" is far too strong a word. Let's go with "platform meandering". There are still plenty of mingames - shovelware developers of the 2000s were apparently unshakable in their conviction that the young 'uns wanted an endless parade of assorted inconsequential fluff - but jumping around the village and collecting stamps, letters and parcels makes up the majority of the gameplay.
It really is just jumping, too, and Pat has even less moves than Super Mario because at least Mario can run. All Pat can do is hop into the air and (very occasionally) push an object by walking into it. Everything in the game - the platforming, the minigames, advancing the on-screen text - is controlled using only the d-pad and the A button. Simplicity in a videogame can be refreshing. In this case it is not. Pat's jumping controls are responsive, at least, but then you'd bloody well hope so with only one button to manage.


After a while spent wandering to the right, I came across a trough filled with water, or possibly a communal swimming pool. Those things on the side look like diving boards, at any rate. The mystery of why a small English country village has a swimming pool in the middle of the pavement aside, it was too big for Pat to jump across and so I thought hey, maybe Pat can swim?


Pat cannot swim. He cannot even survive the merest dunking, and contact with water causes him to die instantly. Perhaps he suffered an immediate brain aneurysm at the thought of all the paperwork he'd have to fill out to explain his now-waterlogged cargo of mail. "Royal Mail Damaged Mail Insurance Form Question 1: How did the damage occur? Answer: I jumped fully-clothed into a swimming pool. I'm fired, aren't I?"
The solution to this watery obstacle comes in the form of Pat's black-and-white cat Jess. Jess is waiting near the pool, and when you walk near him control switches from Pat to Jess. Great, I thought, cats are agile creatures, so Jess can surely make this jump.


Jess cannot make the jump. I'm beginning to suspect that this pool is not even filled with water but a powerful mutagen. I think Jess is halfway to turning into a cat version of the Joker in the image above.


No, the real solution is to use Jess' cat powers to climb up this drainpipe. Then you can jump across the rooftops and activate the totally normal platform made from extremely common floating rocks. Hey, I've spent plenty of time in small villages in the Yorkshire Dales and I can confirm that outdoor swimming pools with mysterious hovering boulders over them are as common a sight as hikers in questionable shorts.
With the platform moved into position, control returns to Pat, who can continue on his journey. The occasional need to take control of Jess, either to climb up something or to walk through a small passageway, is about as far as PPatGR goes toward creating new vistas of videogaming experience. I suppose it's better than nothing, even if Jess (who is a cat) controls almost exactly the same as Postman Pat (who is an adult human male).


Once the first stage is over - it didn't take long, even with the accidental drownings - you get to play the first minigame. In his mad mail-collecting frenzy, Pat has not only scooped up all the parcels but also a large amount of fruit, vegetables and canned goods. Naturally you have to get these back to the residents of Greendale before they realise no-one's got any food and they loot the village shop, so in this minigame you have to sort the goods into one of these three sacks. Parcels go in the middle bag, fruit and veg on the left and tin cans on the right. To call it a bad minigame might be unfair, because there's nothing here to be bad. It's a complete non-entity with all the drama and excitement of aimlessly flicking through the TV channels late at night.


Stage three: driving Pat's van through the streets of Greendale. To drive, hold A and press up and down on the d-pad to swerve around the hundreds of traffic cones that someone with no understanding of even the basic concept of a traffic has scattered haphazardly throughout the village. The road surfaces are all perfectly fine, there are no workmen present, so why are there more cones here than in the bedroom of a drunken kleptomaniac student? There's a surprisingly tight time limit, too, surprising given that the previous stages were so easy, so I could see kids getting frustrated by the sheer volume of the pointy orange hordes. Not me, though, I'm totally cool and super great at videogames so I breezed past all of them on my way to find Ajay. Oh, right, supposedly the goal of this stage is to find someone called Ajay. I hope he's not hiding under a traffic cone or we could be in for a long search.


Ajay is the driver of the Greendale Rocket, it seems, and he wouldn't get to work until Pat brought him the large prune you can see at the bottom-left of the screen. Ajay demands that he's running regularly before his train will, you see.
That's the basic shape of PPatGR, then; each "world" is made up of a simple-to-the-point-of-redundancy platforming stage and a slightly aggravating driving stage made worse by the nagging feeling that you shouldn't be getting annoyed by something so basic, with a minigame sandwiched between the two. Let's get cracking and see the rest of them, shall we?


Postman Frog, Postman Frog,
Postman Frog crawled out of this bog.
He can't post your letters,
'Cause he got ate by herons,
Postman Frog should not have been employed.
Well, at least the forest-themed platforming stage wasn't the first one out of the gate in this game, although that first trip through Greendale was hardly a harrowing voyage through the decaying urban sprawl.


The second minigame involves hammering the A button to fly a kite, a kite that you must use to collect these unusually airborne letters. If you'll allow me one more dig at the Royal Mail - and if you've ever had a problem with them then I'm sure you will - it would explain a lot about their level of service if they used kites as a regular delivery system. I do hope this is all taking place on Pat's day off, you know. I'm fairly certain ditching your round to piss about with a kite is a sackable offence.
As for the actual event, where the driving was more challenging than you might expect for the target demographic, flying this bloody kite is just hard. Going for the low-flying letters is the problem, as it's all too easy to not press the button quite fast enough and see your kite fall to the ground, and there's no warning of when you're approaching this arbitrary limit. PPatGR gives you infinite lives, so it's not like you're going to get a game over, but it could definitely have been less annoying.


Postman Pat: terrible at flying kites. So bad at flying kites, in fact, that he has to chase it down in a motor vehicle. Quite what this has to do with either the postal service or getting a steam locomotive running is not explained, but that kite needs retrieving and the only way to do that is to drive as fast as possible through the narrow country lanes surrounding Greendale. In this case "as fast as possible" isn't very fast at all because Pat's van has the aerodynamic profile of a pile of housebricks, but it's still sending a dangerous message about road safety to the youth.


As night falls on Greendale, Pat heads to his local for a few pints to relax him after a strenuous day of kite-flying and driving around in his little red van. Unfortunately he overdoes it on the sherry and has to cling onto this wheelie bin for support as he stumbles home, leaving his own "special delivery" inside that the disgusted owner of the bin will have to clean out with a jet washer.
Before you get too excited about the appearance of these pushable items, I should make it clear that they're only part of a puzzle in the same way that opening a cupboard door is a puzzle. You push the wheelie bin (or sometimes a hay bale) over to a wall that's too high to jump over, you jump onto the wheelie bin, jump over the now-surmountable obstacle, et voilĂ . It's hardly Myst. It's hardly anything, really.


The minigames hit a new low as the vicar gives Pat a bucket and tells him to catch the water dripping through the church roof. "How long will I have to do this?" asks Pat. "Until we raise the eighty thousand pounds needed to repair the roof." Replies the Reverend. "We're having a bring-and-buy sale on Saturday, I'm sure that will do the trick." Is the whole "church needs money to buy a new roof" thing as common in the rest of the world as it is in Britain? I suppose probably not so much in America, those churches aren't generally as old as the one in Europe
There is one impressive thing about this minigame, though: the developers managed to do away with even the A button. It won't be long now before I'm just watching a really bad episode of Postman Pat.


Holy moly, those traffic cones are actually being used in a reasonable, sensible manner! I honestly did not expect to see that. I thought I was going to be forever slaloming through a haphazard forest of cones, distributed around town as though they were dropped into place by slinging them from a helicopter.


Jess pounces on a letter, so that letter will be torn to shreds immediately. That's the kind of thing cats do, right? I don't know. I'm not a cat person nor, despite the rumours, am I a cat-person. A cat person is different from a cat-person, because only the latter transforms into a jaguar at night and slaughters the local livestock. Anyway, here you can see Jess' other talent besides climbing up drainpipes, and that's entering small tunnels into which Pat cannot fit. You can also see that PPatGR does sometimes try reward the player for exploring or at least paying attention: there's another tunnel to the left with collectibles in it, but stepping on the blue button sends you straight back to playing as Pat so you have to have the presence of mind to jump over the button to get the extra goodies. Goodies which do nothing, as far as I can tell - there might be something special for collecting every single thing in every stage but it'll take someone much more dedicated that me to find that out.


The next minigame gives Jess a starring role in a forced scrolling section where the player must catch eighty butterflies, presumably before you run out of screen to scroll through. It's certainly more engaging than catching the dripping water, but then so is starting intently at the back of your own hand for three hours. Oddly, the butterflies are rendered in noticeably poorer graphics than everything else. For the most, PPatGR has been a fairly pleasant game visually - a little fuzzy, perhaps, but nothing like as ugly as these garishly coloured butterflies with their heavy black outlines.


I hope you'll forgive me for skipping the fourth driving section, but you're not missing anything anyway because it's the same as all the others. The final platforming stage, on the other hand, has been tinted with strangely melancholic sunset tones, and it looks rather nice. It'd look better if the collectable items didn't obscure so much of the screen and the status bar wasn't such an obnoxious "filthy motorway service station cafe" combination of colours and fonts, but nothing's perfect.


Here's me forgetting that Jess can't jump any further than Pat and completely missing that platform. It's a good job cats always land on their feet, although that won't matter if Jess falls into another one of Greendale's myriad pavement swimming pools.


There's one last minigame to play, and it's all about stamping parcels and letters while Mrs. Goggins, the postmistress, stares blankly at you from the background. She's been rendered catatonic by the dizzying speed at which these items fly across Pat's field of view, speed that will almost certainly cause you to become flustered and accidentally stamp a birthday present and what the hell are you doing Pat only letters and parcels get stamped! I'm not joking, these items are fair shooting across the screen and it's impossible to stamp them all, so the minigame falls into this weird mishmash where it's not difficult but it's still stressful. As long as you concentrate on not hitting the gifts - because a mistake like that stops your stamp working for a while - you'll be able to do it fine unless you have the world's most embarrassing coronary. "Cause of Death: got overexcited by a children's videogame" is not something you want your family to see.


Then there's one final driving section, the same gameplay as the others but the action's enlivened by the hideous blackness of the Outer Dimensions that has begun to seep into Postman Pat's universe, bring madness and death to all those it consumes. On the plus side, no traffic cones.


That's it, we're done here. Postman Pat has successfully brought together all the things that the Greendale Rocket was lacking: a prune, a wad of crumpled tin foil, a whistle, a wrench and a small bag of dice. Hmm. Maybe you should have brought the locomotive some bigger wheels, Pat. It looks like a shopping trolley that's got ideas above its station with those things sticking out of the bottom. Oh well, I won't be riding it, so when it slides off the rails don't come crying to me. Except you can't, because I've already peeled off into the sunset, having somehow figured out how to do sick wheelies in my post van.


Postman Pat and the Greendale Rocket managed to exceed the expectations I had for it, but then again my expectations had been hammered into the dirt by almost every other "kids" game I've ever played. The minigames are tedious, but they're generally not obnoxious about it and wouldn't you rather be bored than actively upset? That's right. Okay, so the driving sections aren't great either, but the platforming stages are... well, they're alright for very young players. It looks pretty nice and the music is impressively tolerable considering every track is based around the Postman Pat theme. I still wouldn't give this to a young relative to play - I'd give them Super Mario Bros. or a sheet of paper with "VIDEO GAME" written on it - but as these things go it's not soul-crushingly awful. It's amazing how much difference even the tiniest of care and attention can make, and that's exactly the amount of care and attention that went into this one.

4 comments:

  1. In America it's always carpet or floors our church need-- because I think members of the congregation do the labor for free and don't really know what they're doing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huh, how odd that it's essentially the complete opposite!

      Delete
  2. "On the plus side, no traffic cones."
    Really, now.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What Happens if You Stamp the Presents?

    ReplyDelete

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