For the past couple of weeks I’ve had a chest infection, so as you can imagine I’ve felt pretty miserable. On top of that, I’m in the middle of quitting smoking, so every minor frustration and annoyance feels as though it’s magnified a thousand-fold and if the company that keeps cold-calling and trying to sell me energy-efficient windows rings one more time I’m going to track down the person responsible and insert my telephone into them sideways. So, I thought to myself “what could provide both my body and mind with a soothing balm during these trying times? I know, I’ll write about a Game Boy Color game starring the Olsen Twins!” I am not an intelligent man. Here it is, then: the 2001 GBC debacle that is Crawfish Interactive’s Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course!
Here are Mary-Kate and Ashley now. Which one is Mary-Kate and which one is Ashley? I don’t have a bloody clue. I don’t know much of anything about the Olsen twins, in fact. I have the vague impression that they’re one of those cultural things marketed towards children that people who are old enough to know better get irrationally angry about, like Barney the Dinosaur or Justin Bieber. They’re actresses, right? That’s what Wikipedia says, anyway. Or at least they were actresses, but they seem to have stopped doing that now that they’ve made vast oceans of money via their various tie-in products and the fashion ranges that they run, which sounds like a very sensible way to handle the whole “child star” situation.
The first thing I noticed when I started up this game is that it sure does include a lot of corporate logos. Some are obvious inclusions, like the developer’s logo and one from publishers Acclaim. Others are a little more interesting, like these two. Dualstar is the Olsen twins’ production company, which handled their movies, videogames and other spin-offs. The fact that its logo looks like a big blue arse will seem very appropriate once we get into the gameplay. Then there’s the mention of the Olsen’s AOL keyword, which I’m sure will set the nostalgia centres fluttering amongst a certain set of VGJunk’s readership. Personally, I feel that the keyword being mary-kateandashley rather undermines the idea of keywords being short and snappy.
There’s also this rather insulting message that implies you’re not a “real girl” if you don’t want a videogame about trying to get boys to fancy you. Screw you, M-KA:CC. Because it’s a licensed Game Boy Color game based around tween entertainers, I’m sure you’ve all already realised that it should read “godawful minigames for easily confused but well-meaning parents.”
Okay, okay, I’ll get to the actual “game.” Your first job is to pick one of these brutally digitised pictures of Mary-Kate or Ashley to serve as your avatar. I suppose these pictures aren’t too bad when you consider that, you know, they’re on the Game Boy Color. Plus, the noseless look of the one at the top-right means you can pretend it’s a character illustration from Final Fantasy Tactics. You must also choose a colour to represent you. I went with orange, because it’s only a couple of weeks until October and I’ve been thinkin’ about pumpkins.
Then you select which of these three locations you want to play in, all of them typical places where teens like to hang out. Apparently. When I was a teen I hung out in my bedroom and, erm, that’s about it, but I’m sure happenin’ young kids like the Olsen twins love hanging around the park, presumably drinking White Lightning and trying the cigarettes they filched from their parents. You might notice that the mall, that ultimate beacon of teen activity, is locked. Don’t worry, I played enough of Crush Course to unlock it. Doctors remain unable to ascertain what exactly is wrong with me.
Oh look, it’s a board game. You roll a dice, move that amount of squares and are affected by whatever symbol is on the space you land on.
Unless you land on one of the many blank spaces, in which case nothing happens except the faces of the Olsen twins appear and, one assumes, shout “safe!” at you in the manner of a baseball umpire. That’s fifty percent of the game right there, folks.
Around the board you go, with between one and three CPU opponents hot on your tail. I suppose you could play Crush Course with other human people, but that would hardly be fair on them, would it? As far as I can tell, the main aim of the game is to collect hearts, and when you’ve got enough hearts a boy will declare their undying love for you. Something along those lines, anyway – I must confess I never really figured out exactly what Crush Course wanted from me. Besides my abject misery, that is. I never even learned how to consistently gain hearts. It’s all down to the squares you land on, that much is clear. Some squares are safe, as we’ve seen, but some will cause you to miss a turn or switch the direction that you’re travelling around the board. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll land on a space containing a minigame.
The most common minigame is the “crush minigame,” something that’s incredibly poorly named because “mini” doesn’t adequately describe how small it is and “game” is a flat-out lie. As you can see, you have to guess which of the boys has a crush on you. Get it right and you’ll earn a heart or two. Please note the use of the word “cuties” here. I’m glad I’m writing this down and not saying it loud, because if I were saying it loud I would have shattered my fingers trying to perform sufficiently large finger quotes around the word “cuties.”
Well, here they are. The cuties. I can’t decide which one is my favourite. Is it Dan, who looks like he’s trying to hide a bathroom sink in his mouth? Or perhaps it’s James, the ghastly result of a teleporter accident involving Hugh Grant and a bootleg Ghostface Halloween mask? Actually, I think Corey’s the best. Influenced by The Simpsons’ take on teen heartthrobs called Corey? Possibly, but mostly it’s his dimples and his bizarrely-proportioned jawline. That’s not a head, it’s a carrier bag stuffed with live weasels.
All the “cuties” are rather unpleasant to look at, having veered too far into the realms of the cartoonish, and I think part of the problem is the contrast between the real pictures of the real Olsen twins and the way the hunks are illustrated – specifically, they’re illustrated like a cheap colouring book you’d get in a £1 mystery bag. However they look, you can put this whole unpleasant charade to bed by quickly selecting one of the boys. It doesn’t matter which one, because the whole thing runs on guesswork and there’s no way to deduce which of the boys has a crush on you. In fact, a bit of fiddling with save states revealed that sometimes all of the boys will give you hearts if you pick them, proving that Mary-Kate and Ashley have captivated the entire school like a pair of pre-adult sirens.
Unfortunately, there are other minigames. These ones actually force you into some kind of gameplay. There are either quite a few minigames or about four of them, depending on how you want to look at it, and for most of the rest of this article I’ll be covering the various activities that you’re forced to endure.
This first one is called Locker Treasure, and the description makes Mary-Kate / Ashley sound like a raging kleptomaniac as they steal “treasures” from other people’s lockers.
It’s a platformer, I suppose. You jump around the candy-coloured lockers, collecting the items that range from small piles of coins to a surprisingly large amount of Stars of David. Grab as many as you can during the time limit and, erm, that’s about it.
I’m going to come right out and say it: this minigame is bloody awful. It’s incredibly shallow, the controls are spongy and your character drifts around the screen in a manner that’d be more appropriate for a game set on the moon rather than in a high school locker room. There’s a real problem with vertical surfaces, too: if you jump into a wall or the side of a platform, rather than falling straight down as you’d expect your character gets “stuck” inside the object, slowly sliding down the surface while a grating sound effect plays repeatedly. That’s not even the worst sound effect here, either: whenever you jump, there’s a strange, digital bonging sound, which is far too deep and ominous for a colourful Game Boy platformer about the Olsen twins. Imagine a videogame character has died, and as they wait at the River Styx they hear this sound, the macabre pealing of the ferryman’s bell.
Funnily enough, I think my personal Room 101 might actually contain a copy of Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course.
This is Science Mess, which takes the item-grabbing concept of the previous minigame but transplants it to a top-down perspective. And removes the jumping. You walk around and collect the items that are scattered on the floor. Prepare to be thrilled as your chosen Olsen slowly walks around a high school science lab! Gird yourself for the pulse-pounding excitement of light chores! All the boys in school are gathered at the windows, peering inside and thinking “wow, look at the way she picked up that beach ball that someone brought to science class: she really is the girl of my dreams!”
Obviously, this minigame is incredibly tedious and contains absolutely zero fun. The only slight distraction I got from it was trying to figure out why there’s an open manhole in the middle of this classroom. Then I realised it’s supposed to be a top-down view of a chair. That flight of fancy was semi-interesting for the four seconds it lasted, at least.
The coherence of the school setting is stretched to breaking point with the Scooter Race, which is exactly what it sounds like. Someone’s built a race course from old tyres in the school gym, and you must drive your moped to the finish line as quickly as possible. This is proof that the Olsen’s hypnotic, bewitching powers have extended from the student body to the faculty. My teachers wouldn’t even let us wear dark-soled shoes in the sports hall, never mind racing motor vehicles in there. They also never let us use the indoor football nets that were in there, either. I’m still bitter about that.
Anyway, scooter racing. It’s a frustrating battle against momentum, and your vehicle takes your controller inputs as mere suggestions rather than firm directives. You slide, and slide, and slide around, bumping into the tyres in a mode that suffers because it’s almost not terrible. If they dialled back the momentum a little and let you move faster, it’d be the best minigame of the bunch. Not that that’s saying much, and it’d still be the piece of sweetcorn sticking out of the turd even if it was improved. On top of the control issues, you can also drive straight though the tyres at certain points (something that I’m convinced wasn’t intentional) and yet again the sound effects plumb new depths of hideousness. Your scooter emits a constant shrieking wail that I’m struggling to describe, but I will say this: if you’re making a low-budget YouTube horror movie and you need a sound effect for when the monster appears and cause the camera to glitch out, I would recommend checking out Crush Course.
Onward to the park, which you would think would make a better setting for scooter races but what the hell do I know, it’s not like I ever go outside. The board game portion of Crush Course works the same in the park, but the minigames look different. Notice that I said look different.
Here’s one we haven’t seen yet, as the Olsen twins go fishing. It’s a simple matter of moving the cursor over each fish as they appear… or it would be simple if it also wasn’t burdened by the cursor having an extreme amount of momentum. You’ll spend most of your time here trying to drag the reticle out of the corners of the play area, but that’s okay because it’s not like you have to do anything to catch the fish, so you’ll still be collecting them even if you’re moving the target around at random.
As with all the other minigames, the problem here is that it’s just so boring. Every challenge you face seems to have been created by the developers working through the first three chapters of a “How to Design Flash Games for the Web” book, and none of them extend beyond moving a character or cursor from one place to another. Would the fishing game be bearable if it had any sort of complexity to it at all? Maybe certain fish that you had to avoid, or the requirement to perform a well-timed button press to reel the fish in? Erm, probably not. It would still be crap, but it would be slightly more interesting crap.
The crushing sense of dullness reaches its absolute nadir with the hedge maze. Walk to the centre of the hedge maze, don’t touch the hedges, contemplate running away to a convent and taking a vow of chastity if this is what it takes to form a romantic relationship.
There’s also Park Treasure, which is identical to Locker Treasure except with park instead of lockers. And by park, I mean floating lumps of turf. At least the Olsens are doing all this healthy jumping exercise out in the fresh air now.
The park also plays host to a boat race, which controls suspiciously similarly to the scooter race. You see what I mean about there being a limited supply of minigames, despite what Crush Course wants you to believe? You’ve got jump-and-collect, walk-and-collect, races, move the cursor over the thing and The Unending Labyrinths of Infinite Tedium. At least the boat races offers a few different routes for you to take, with some being quicker than others. However, the biggest difference between the boat and scooter races is that the boat race is the only minigame where I managed to crash into a large, erect nipple.
By the way, each location has its own different set of “cuties.” They’re still mostly terrifying, although I appreciate the inclusion of Wez as the token “smart guy who wears glasses.” However, Richie is clearly in his forties, and if he’s hanging around the park looking at teenage girls he should be getting arrested, not taking part in the cutie parade.
Lastly, there’s the mall. That unhappy emoticon is adequately capturing how I feel about having to play through the same set of minigames for a third time, but I’m here now so I might as well get on with it.
We’ve got Clothing Treasure, which recreates all the excitement of being a Primark employee by having you wander around a clothing store, picking up items that people have rudely thrown on the floor. Yes, it works in precisely the same way as the other top-down collecting games.
The mall version of the fishing game is this sale-em-up event, where you must use the cursor to pillage the shelves. There are bargains to be had on all the things teen girls love, like CDs and chunks of mouldy green cheese. No, I don’t have a clue either.
The mall also has its own maze game, as you make your way to your seat in a very poorly laid-out cinema. Do I need to tell you it’s exactly the same as the other mazes? No, I didn’t think so. I will say that at least this minigame has some attention to detail, because that floor looks just as disgusting as you’d expect from a mall cinema. I can almost feel what it would be like to walk on that carpet. Squish, crunch, squish, crunch.
And finally – there are other minigames, but I can’t bring myself to cover them – there’s the mall’s racing game, which is all about cars and skidding around in the car park. “Avoid crashing into other people’s cars,” the instructions say. That’s all well can good, but if you didn’t want me crashing into the other cars then why did you make my car handle like wet soap with olive oil for blood?
Good lord, what an absolute cavalcade of crap that was. Every minigame is utterly devoid of fun, complete non-events with the charm and personality of a damp sock. The only thing that stopped me from instantly falling into a coma the second I started playing them was the sound effects, which are some of the very worst I’ve ever heard in a videogame. Horrific, strangled-sounding electronic wails permeate every moment of the experience, as though the cartridge is haunted by a robot ghost with its genitals caught in a mousetrap.
I haven’t even mentioned how bad the board game portion of Crush Course is, either, so I’ll do that now: it’s garbage. It’s tedious, too random and I never really figured out exactly how it works. Sometimes when you finish a round, you’re shown a picture of one of the boys. Does… does that mean he’s mine now? The complex psychological brainwashing procedure of walking around a cinema looking for a specific seat has worked, and now he is mine to command? I haven’t got a clue. However, the very worst thing about the board game segments is how the minigame scoring works. If you land on a minigame, you have to play it, and if you score less points than the previous high score, you lose a heart. That makes a kind of sense. However, you can land on the same minigame multiple times during a round, and you have to beat your own high score or you lose a heart. Because the games are all so incredibly basic, it’s very difficult to not set a very high score and thus potentially dick yourself over later in the round, unless you purposefully play badly in order to make things easier for you later on. I don’t know about you, but any game that encourages you to do badly has gone terribly wrong in my book.
It seems that Crush Course wants you to keep playing and harvesting boys, if this password system is anything to go by. It gives you a code so you can save your character and continue your progress, although it does commit the cardinal sin of videogame passwords by including separate letters that almost identical to each other – the C and the G in this case. Having a part of the game made worse by such an easily-avoided issue sums up Crush Course rather neatly.
Perhaps there’s a true ending to Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course, a finale that’s revealed to you if you manage to add all the boys to your harem, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not reaching that point. I’ve had more than enough of this game, thank you very much. Everything about it is lazy, cynical and worst of all stultifyingly dull, topped off with sound effects wrenched from the very bowels of electronic hell. The usual back-and-forth “it was made for kids, but apparently by people who hate children” argument could be made, but I suppose there’s no point. Crush Course is a cash-grab, and an awful one at that. It’s certainly bad enough to be way down near the bottom of the list of “worst games I’ve ever played,” although it’s not bad enough to wrest that particular crown from Rugrats: Totally Angelica. I thought quite hard about why (to me, at least) Rugrats is the worse game when Crush Course is clearly just as wretched, and eventually I figured it out. Rugrats: Totally Angelica is more painful to play because it forces you to play it. Like, there are goals and objectives and to accomplish them you have to struggle with the game’s tsunami of bullshit. In Crush Course, everything is so pointless, so easy and so boring that you don’t have to interact with the game nearly as much. It’s awful, but its awfulness washes over you whereas Rugrats’ awfulness clings to your face and tries to gnaw your eyeballs out of your skull. I’ll leave you with that mental image as I bid farewell for today, and one final word of warning: don’t play Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course. It’s not big and it’s not clever.
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