Today I'm heading into prime "only 90'S KIDS will remember this!!!" territory - and also a potential world of darkness and pain, if my other experiences with licensed Game Boy Color kid's games are anything to go by - with an exploration of ImagineEngine's 2000 dork-em-up Disney's Doug: Doug's Big Game!
Given the subtitle Doug's Big Game I was hoping this was going to be about Doug travelling to Africa and shooting an elephant, but that's not the case. Other lies in the title are "big" (it isn't) and "game" (which I suppose it is, but just barely.) It definitely has Doug in it, though, so that's part's accurate.
If you're not familiar with Doug, he's the eponymous star of the Nickelodeon cartoon (later purchased by Disney) Doug. It concerned the ironically-named Doug Funnie, a pre-teen kid who moves to a new town called Bluffington with his family, where he has a variety of whimsical adventures with a colourful cast of characters. Literally colourful, with everyone aside from Doug's family having skin tones in a variety of bizarre hues from Hypoxia Purple to Electric Lime Green.
The obvious conclusion: Doug's new home town has been heavily irradiated by fallout from nearby nuclear testing. That's why Doug's hair seems to be falling out.
I have to be honest, I've never liked Doug but it still engenders a strange sense of not-quite nostalgia in me. I certainly saw enough of it as a kid - it was a fixture of Nickelodeon's programming, so I ended up absorbing lots of it while I was waiting for something better - Ren and Stimpy or Rocko's Modern Life, for instance - to come on. Being a fairly cynical child, my problem with Doug was that it's just so nice, with everyone learning lessons and basically getting along, while Doug himself is such a wet, limp schlub of a kid that it's hard to root for him. I mean, I was obviously a very dorky kid so when I'm thinking "Jesus, Doug, get it together" you know he must be pretty lame. Of course, now that I'm older I obviously don't hate Doug or anything. That'd be weird. Still, my overall memory of the show is that it was the animated equivalent of the word "bland," so that's bound to colour my perception of this game.
Okay, so Doug's Big Game doesn't look great at first glance but honestly I was expecting it to look much worse than this. Doug is recognisably Doug, which is a good start, although the weird blinking animation threw me slightly, because his eyes don't change shape or anything, they just disappear completely from his face every now and then.
This place is the mall. The mall is where all the cool kids like to hang out, so why is Doug here?
He's waiting to meet Patti Mayonnaise, the girl he has a crush on but he's too much of a wuss to do anything about it. Patti is late, and Doug's getting worried. He's a worrier, is Doug. I'd be more worried about my pencil-thin neck's continuing ability to hold aloft my giant head if I were you, pal. So where is Patti Mayonnaise? I have no idea. Let's ask Doug's hyper-intelligent pet dog Porkchop if he has any ideas.
Thanks. A lot of help you were. Also, why did you bring your dog along to this pseudo-date with the girl you fancy, Doug? That's weird. And why does the background appear to be a giant supercomputer? I have no idea what's going on, Doug has no idea what's going on and Porkchop looks and acts like he's just had a frontal lobotomy, so I suppose I'd better wander around for a while and see if I can find Patti before she stumbles across an activity more interesting than a date with Doug, like staring at a blank wall for several hours.
Heading into one of the mall's stores - supposedly a record shop but clearly some kind of Klax depository - and Doug finds another person. A stiff, person-like mannequin with a crudely-carved human face, anyway. Maybe they know where Patti is?
This kind citizen gives us a lead. Yaktoberfest is currently taking place at Lucky Duck Park, and as it's the highlight of of Bluffington's cultural calendar it makes sense that Patti would have ditched Doug and headed over there for the festivities. Girls cannot resist yaks. Thanks for the advice, mysterious girl. Us giant-headed types have to stick together, you know. Anyway, I hope your jaundice clears up soon. See you later!
To get to the park, you press start to open Doug's map screen. It's the one over on the right. No, not the one at the top shaped like a huge smug girl's head. That's the school, obviously. Doug's Big Game takes place across five different locations, each split into a couple of smaller (like, one or two screens big) areas. You've got the mall and Lucky Duck Park, as well as the school, Doug's neighbourhood and Downtown Bluffington which is, erm, another park. I'm extremely relieved to see that you can warp between each area from the map screen, because Doug saunters around a little too slowly and he seems to get awkwardly caught on the corners of objects a lot, so the less time spend manually walking around the better.
In the park is this stalk of anthropomorphic broccoli. I guess he's Doug's exchange student, because he talks in weird broken English, but he has a goat emergency so you can consider my interest well and truly piqued. He's somehow managed to lose three goats in the park, and although Doug protests that he hasn't got time for goat wrangling I knew there was no way I was getting out of this one, and so it proved. Thus, Doug must search the park for the three goats.
The park has a maze. The goats are inside the maze, which is what I was expecting. Sadly, I didn't realise that the maze was split into a left and right section, and so I spent a fruitless ten minutes or so searching the right maze for a goat. There was no goat there. When I eventually discovered the left section of the maze I found the first goat straight away, and with two goats to go I thought "well, I've already searched the right maze thoroughly and there was no goat in there." Cue another ten minutes of aimless wandering until I eventually decided to check again and discovered that there is a goat in the right side of the maze. It just doesn't appear until you've found the first goat. Thanks for that, Doug's Big Game. So, what, the other two goats were hiding until they saw me find the first one, upon which they crawled from the bushes says "shit, they got Gary, we're going to have to break cover in order to rescue him"?
Finding the goats did not help Doug locate Patti. It does make sense that it could have helped, because the broccoli kid told Doug that Patti was also searching for the goats, but she's already gone by the time you bring them back. What doesn't make sense is Doug then exclaiming that finding the goats "makes me a superhero! Sort of..." which serves as the clumsiest way possible for Doug's Big Game to introduce the other half of its gameplay repertoire.
It's Quailman, Doug's fantasy superhero alter-ego! I think this is one of the reasons that young VGJunk had such a negative opinion of Doug - he strained his imagination for an empowering superhero identity and the best he could come up with was one based on the quail, of all things - a bird famous for producing tiny eggs for middle-class people to eat and having a name synonymous with cowering in fear. Good work, Doug, you loser.
Oh look, it's a shoot-em-up section artlessly crammed into another game of a totally different genre. It's actually been a while since I've come across one of these, which isn't to say this is a welcome return.
Most of Doug's little quests end with a shooter section like this, where he's transformed into Quailman and has to fly around a small area and use his Quail-Eye to shoot a certain part of the stage - either a piece of the scenery or the boss' face - a few times. In this instance he must destroy the machine that has trapped Super Sport, Doug's mentally-constructed damsel-in-distress version of Patti that he can swoop in and save, making him look like a big man until everyone realises that Quailman is literally wearing y-fronts on the outside of his trousers.
So how's the actual gameplay in these sections? Eh, it's... well, it's boring. Quailman moves around okay if with perhaps a touch more inertia than you might expect, and while it can be difficult to avoid the projectiles that constantly home in on you these stages are short enough that you can usually just suck up the damage and get the job done before you die, making them minor diversions rather than a meaty chunk of gameplay goodness.
Alright, Porkchop, simmer down. That's what I'm trying to do, but there was a goat emergency. You can't just ignore something like that.
After finishing that mini-quest, Doug potters around for a while until he finds someone else to talk to. This strange purple girl ropes Doug into delivering party invitations. At first Doug refuses on the grounds that he's busy, but eventually the spineless glob gives in and hey, would you look at that, another mission. This time I've got to find a kid called Skunky - a nickname presumably bestowed upon them for their habit of spraying foul-smelling liquid from their anal glands - and Roger, the town bully.
Not having any idea where Skunky might be, I decided to put some of the quarters I'd been picking up off the ground to use by making a telephone call. Thankfully Doug's friend Skeeter picked up and told Doug where Skunky is. Fans of the cartoon will be disappointed to learn that Skeeter does not say "honk honk" at any point during the conversation.
Skeeter was true to his word, and Skunky is hanging around in the maze, alone. You'd probably expect that from someone named Skunky. Now to find Roger and hey, if calling Skeeter worked last time maybe he'll know where Roger is too. I wouldn't say I'm banking on Skeeter running an elaborate surveillance network over the entire town. but it would be quite helpful.
Skeeter wasn't home, so I tried a few more times and received a variety of "comedy" answers, including ringing Patti's dad and then freaking out when he asked what I wanted with his daughter. Eventually, I managed to get Roger himself on the telephone. When this happened, Doug said "I've got nothing to say to you!" and hung up. Erm, Doug? Is that true? I think you do have something to say to Roger, namely "where the bloody hell are you, you green-skinned freak?" Also, if he picked up his phone you'd think Roger is, you know, at home. However, Roger is not at home, making him the only person in Bluffington to own a mobile phone, a phone which he gave the number for to the dorky kid he likes to bully for some reason.
It turns out that Roger is in the park, too. He doesn't want to go to some loser party, at which point I may have audibly advised him to stick his invitation up his arse. In my defence, it was very late and I was very tired when I was playing this.
Finishing the quest means it's time for another Quailman segment, so here you go. Look at it with your eyes. Enjoy Roger's transformation into a giant samurai with rocket fists, making him ten thousand times cooler than Doug. You've got to shoot him in the face three times, but the gimmick here is that you only have three shots of Quail-Eye at your disposal. You can press A+B together to switch to Quail-Dog (Porkchop with a belt tied around his head) for another three shots, but use those up too and you fail the stage. There's no drawback to this besides having to play the stage again, so I'd recommend getting it right the first time.
After defeating Roger (in his daydreams, anyway), Doug is told that his sister Judy wants to see him ASAP. Here she is, standing in her bedroom that's decorated with a bright pink bed and matching rug, laminate flooring and a massive piece of toast propped up against the top wall.
Judy claims that while Doug was out he missed a phone call from his "little friend," and she uses this to blackmail her younger brother, forcing him to run errands for her before she'll tell him what the phone call was about. Seems like a normal sibling interaction to me, but Doug isn't happy about it. What are you going to, little man? Grow a pair? No, I thought not. Now go and fetch your sister an ice cream.
I would not buy ice cream from this man. I wouldn't go within one hundred feet of this man - if indeed he is a man and not some terrifying cosmic entity trying to force its way into our fragile reality - but apparently he has a monopoly on all the ice cream in town, so I have little choice but to interact with him.
I also had to got back to the Klax Emporium to pick up a "Shakespeare on Ice" CD. I wonder what's on that CD? Is it the soundtrack to a production of a Shakespeare play performed on ice, or is it an audio drama under which you can hear the faint but constant hiss of ice skates? Either way, Judy wants it and what Judy wants, Judy gets. I'm glad Judy's in the game, because as a hugely over-dramatic beatnik she is clearly Doug's best character.
Now Doug is fantasising about killing his sister. He seems to fall into these violent delusions a lot, does Doug. He's the quiet type, seems like a nice enough kid, doesn't have many friends, occasional violent revenge fantasies. I'm just saying, I wouldn't grant Doug a gun license. Maybe make him walk through a metal detector before he goes to school.
Also, in almost any other game I'd be really excited about the prospect of fighting a dragon with the head of a beatnik, but Doug's Big Game is such a dull and plodding experience that I just can't summon up the energy to care. Fortunately, it's almost over.
Once you've completed three tasks, the next person you talk to will tell you that Patti has been sighted in Doug's neighbourhood, so he quickly dashes back to his house and yes, there she is! At long last! I don't think she's so happy to see Doug, mind you, just look at the way she's leaning away from him.
Aww, isn't that sweet: to apologise for standing Doug up (and unaware that doing so made him fly into a nervous frenzy that saw him running around town asking everyone he met where Patti was,) Patti bought him a present: a CD of the Beets latest album. Ah yes, the Beets, Doug's favourite band. If there's one memory of the Doug cartoon that has been permanently seared into my mind, it's the refrain "ooh eee ooh, killer tofu" from this, the Beets' most famous hit. I still think of it when I see tofu. Thanks for that, Doug.
"I love surprises. Thanks, Patti." said Doug, his dead eyes regarding her coldly, no trace of emotion on his face.
And so Doug's Big Game ends with the same kind of mumbly pleasantness that makes up every atom of the Doug universe. Doug and Patti are friends, they have a nice time together and Doug goes home to plan more of his elaborate revenge against society.
Quailman. So, so lame.
But that's not all! You've seen three of the mini-quests that you can enjoy in Doug's Big Game, but there are actually quite a few of them and they're randomised on each playthrough to create the ultimate wandering-about simulator, so here are a few more of them.
In this one, you have to find a super-genius child. He's in this arcade - this painful, retina-frying arcade - but that's beside the point. A significant part of Doug's Big Game has been about collecting quarters, and now here I am, standing in an arcade with twenty dollars worth of change burning a hole in Doug's comfortable yet stylish brown shorts... and none of these machines work. That's just cruel. Could the developers not have least thrown up a cheapo version of Space Invaders or Pong or something? It just doesn't feel right at all.
One of the quests has Doug sneaking into detention - which he accomplishes by getting the foreign kid to yodel in the school car park - in order to speak to Roger. Roger asks Doug if he's in detention for "being a loser," which is obviously not true. If a teacher told Doug he had to go to detention for being a loser, Doug's already fragile sense of self-worth would totally disintegrate and he'd probably torch the school. No, what we learn here is that detention in Doug's world is hardcore. Look at that background, I think Bluffington's naughty children are being set afloat on a prison ship.
You can also meet Doug's neighbour Mr. Dink in his basement. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that Mr. Dink's basement has a real "torture chamber" vibe going on here, it is? I think it's down to Mr. Dink's sprite, the heavy shadows on his sweater and that fact in the show he's extremely ebullient but here he has the facial expression of a man who is about to do something he knows is terrible but it's the only way to momentarily stop the screaming voices in his head.
I couldn't finish this article without showing you Doug's friend Skeeter. He's blue! He also appears to be trying to warn Doug about and alien race called the Sleeches and their attempts to kickstart human evolution. Was there ever an X-Files parody on Doug? There must have been, they existed in the same time frame and every other show from that time seemed to reference The X-Files at some point.
But she's not waiting, is she, Porkchop? That's the whole premise of the game. She was supposed to be waiting for me but she flounced off somewhere and now I'm trying to find her. Stop being so dramatic. That's Judy's domain.
Porkchop's frustration at Doug's lack of haste are a hint that if you take too long fulfilling your errands, you can get a bad ending, in which the final conversation between Doug and Patti is slightly awkward, as though Patti has just realised that Doug is duller than perhaps any person in the entire cosmos and she's trying to get away from him while still being polite. As "bad ends" go it's hardly being dead in your jeep the whole time or the future refusing to change, but for Doug it must be absolutely crushing.
"Women, huh? Am I right?" No, Doug. You are not right. No-one who daydreams about dressing up like that can ever be right.
In conclusion, Disney's Doug: Doug's Big Game Starring Doug - a Disney Production should really be called Fetch Quests: The Video Game. They're not even interesting fetch quests, either: there are no puzzles to solve, no work for your brain to do at all, just walk from one place to the other and pick up an item or talk to a person, maybe using the payphone if you get stuck. The one saving grace of this part of the game is that map that lets you warp around - if you had to walk from area to area Doug's Big Game would be tedious enough to put the world's anaesthesiologists out of work. The shoot-em-up sections are no better - perfunctory and repetitive, like that one phone call a week you make to your mother out of a sense of duty, but with the added frustration of slippery physics and a chronic lack of variety. The difficulty level is strange, too, because it's so embarrassingly easy. When it comes to these Game Boy Color tie-in games, that's usually because their aimed at four-year-old, but Doug's audience was considerably older than that and could surely have handled a challenge greater than "walking around". The whole thing is presented in a garish package of ugly graphics and annoying sound, too, so there's no relief to be found in the aesthetics.
On the plus side, the concept of the random minigames isn't bad in itself, and at least there's some replayability. I think I'd still rather have a game like this than some abysmal platformer, too, and the developers did come up with scenarios that I could see happening in the cartoon. In the end, though, it's just too stultifyingly dull to be worth bothering with for anyone but most ardent Doug fan. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to the Hampster Dance or the Macarena or something that might dislodge that bloody Killer Tofu song from my brain.