13/08/2018

BAD DUDES VS DRAGONNINJA (ARCADE)

Where would videogames be without ninjas, eh? What disposable warriors would all the muscleheaded Schwarzenegger-alikes to plough through? From where would we get our fill of throwing stars and flowing headbands? Sub-Zero and Scorpion would have to be feuding accountants or something, and Vega from Street Fighter would be a regular matador instead of a ninja matador. It doesn’t bear thinking about, but don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of ninjas today. Perhaps all the ninjas. Brace yourself for Data East’s 1988 arcade classic Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja!


Here are the bad dudes now, looking like they’re traced from pictures of Bruce Lee. According to the NES port of the game their names are Blade and Striker, but those names are never mentioned in this arcade original. It’s not like the bad dudes need names, they do all their introductions with their fists and occasionally knives.


The bad dudes’ noble visages are downcast, as well they might be; rampant ninja related crimes weigh heavy on the shoulders of any and all self-appointed upholders of justice. Is this what previous generations of bad dudes fought and died for? For ninjas to strike at the very heart of America itself? When Whitehouse is not the exception, you know times are bad.
Yes, you know where this is going. It’s the lead-in to one of videogaming’s all-time most famous plots. Perhaps even the most famous videogame plot. Okay, okay, let’s get to it.


Bad Dudes kinda passed me by when I was a kid. I never played the NES version and almost never visited the arcades, so I when I was a bit older and got access to the internet I was surprised to learn that Bad Dudes’ plot outline was already a widely-known joke, a proto-meme. It’s not hard to see why. “Are you a bad enough dude to rescue Ronnie?” (or its slightly different NES variation) is such a bizarre yet wholly appropriate-for-the-time way of saying “rescue the president” that it’s impossible to forget. Plus there’s the implied challenge contained within. Are you a bad enough dude? How can you know? Have you been tested in the fires of combat? Has your badness ever been truly been measured? No man can know the extent of their badness until they have been to hell and back. A hell filled with ninjas. So go, young warrior, and rescue President Ronnie!


It’s straight into the action, and as the bad dude does some warm-up thigh stretches the first wave of the Dragon Ninja army runs into his outstretched feet and immediately dies. Man, that is one bad dude.
Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja is a beat-em-up, then. Single-plane fighting action wherein you help the bad dudes save the day using one button to jump and one button to attack. It’s not a very complex game, and can be best described as a mix of two other games; Irem’s seminal walk-n-kick-em-up Kung Fu Master / Spartan X, and Namco’s swingin’-sixties-inspired Rolling Thunder  - although to be fair, the main takeaway from Rolling Thunder is that you can hold up and jump to leap between two different paths. As you can see, in the screenshot above I’ve climbed up to the top of this fence. Part of being a bad dude is having the balance of a circus acrobat, apparently.


And that’s how you play Bad Dudes. Ninjas come at you from all angles, and it’s up to you to kick or punch them out of the way until you reach the end of each stage. Some ninjas have swords, some ninjas have shurikens, some ninjas throw caltrops on the ground to make the bad dudes regret not wearing sturdier ninja-kicking shoes. This is a game of many ninjas. All ninjas all the time, especially if you count dogs as a kind of four-legged ninja.


The amount of ninjas tasked with stopping the bad dudes is so gargantuan that the villains are literally shipping hordes of ninjas into the battle in massive lorries. It must be disheartening to spend years training in the deadly shadow arts of infiltration and assassination only to be told you need to study for an HGV license so you can drive the other ninjas around.


With so many ninjas, it’s a relief that (almost) all of them can be defeated in a single hit. I’ve said before that I don’t like it when brawlers pad themselves out by having enemies with overinflated health bars, much preferring beat-em-ups containing more enemies with smaller life pools. Well, Bad Dudes definitely falls into that category. Each ninja can be dealt with using one well-timed jumping kick or leg sweep. Oh, and you can also attack straight upwards by holding up and attack, which is useful when enemies are dropping down from the upper level. If the enemies all took multiple hits to defeat then Bad Dudes would quickly become a slog, bogged down under the weight of one million ninjas, but by having them be numerous but less durable things flow along at a decent clip. Plus, taking out four ninjas with a roundhouse kick makes you feel like a bad dude.
And what’s that up there, on the billboard? Why it’s a reference to Data East’s sort-of mascot character Karnov, a bald, stocky, fire-breathing Russian who had his own eponymous videogame and lots of other cameos in Data East games (including appearing as “Oddjob” in Sly Spy). I wonder if he’ll appear in Bad Dudes?



Oh, I see, he’s on the next screen. The sign bearing his name was a warning that you’re stepping onto Karnov’s turf, and he’s the boss of Bad Dudes’ first stage. He can breath fire! He’s got the ludicrously muscled torso but strangely small legs of a He-Man action figure! He’s… not all that difficult to beat, honestly. His attacks are slow enough that as long as you don’t get greedy, you can kick him a couple of times and then switch between the top and bottom layers of the stage to avoid Karnov’s retaliation.


With Karnov defeated, the bad dude raises his hands to the sky and exclaims “I’m Bad!” via the medium of sampled speech. So he’s bad, but whether he’s bad enough remains to be seen. Besting Karnov was hardly the sternest test of badness. Also, I assume “I’m Bad” is a reference to Michael Jackson because this game came out in 1988 and everything in 1988 was a reference to the King of Pop. So, the bad dude says “I’m Bad.” I would have also accepted “I’m Dangerous,” although given that I stepped on a lot of caltrops I’d say “I’m Invincible” is inaccurate.


It turns out that there’s an entire fleet of ninja-packed lorries, and that’s where stage two takes place. Moving along the top of the convoy as it travels across the screen is a fun concept and it does give you the rare opportunity to see a ninja surfing a Porsche 911, but by removing the bad dudes’ ability to jump between two different “planes” the play area is further compressed and the game loses a bit of complexity as a result. All you can really do is wait for the next truck to scroll onto the screen, kicking any ninjas foolish enough to leap towards you, and it ends up feeling a little passive.


I did figure out that you can hold the attack button to charge up your punches. As almost all enemies fall to a single hit the charged punches aren’t that useful, but there are one or two places where they come in handy and I’m certainly not complaining about the bad dudes having more ninja-clobbering tools at their disposal.


Stage two’s boss takes the fairly generic form of a ninja with claws. We’ve all seen a ninja with claws before. They’re further down the ninja totem pole than ninjas with sickles, ninjas with swords and ninjas with demon swords that harbour the spirit of an ancient dragon, but claw ninjas are a perfectly acceptable part of the ninja hierarchy. It is a shame that this ninja climbed to a position on the truck’s cab where I could stand slightly below the ninjas and hack away at his shins with little threat of retaliation, really.


Hey. Hey! Wake up! I know this screenshot has the power to immediately send a person into a narcoleptic stupor, but there’s still a whole bunch of Bad Dudes left to go and I’m gonna make sure you see every stage, goddammit.
So yeah, stage three is a sewer level and it is boring. Deeply, painfully boring. Greyer than battleship dock on an overcast day, so tedious to look at that the walls must surely be made of heavily-compacted copies of unsold Jeremy Clarkson books. Why would you do this, Data East? I just don’t get it. Did the developers think players might get distracted from the action if the scenery was any more interesting than this? I’ve seen charcoal briquettes with more joie de vivre than this background. Even a bit of graffiti would have been something; never have I yearned so strongly for a crudely-drawn penis.


The fighting is still the same. You may have noticed that the bad dude picked up a knife along the way, which give his attacks a bit of extra reach. Having the knife makes things kinda weird, if I’m honest. I’ve played a lot of games where I have to stab a bunch of people, but it feels different in Bad Dudes because you don’t feel like you’re fighting so much as hundred of ninjas are running face-first into your knife without much input on your part. I can’t blame the ninjas. I’d be desperate to get out of this joyless catacomb by any means necessary, too.


The boss is a multiple man, turning himself into a bunch of ninja clones that must be dealt with to find (and subsequently stab) the core ninja. It’s a more interesting fight than the previous two boss battles, and it’s also where the charge-up punch comes in useful because that attack seems to almost “spread” between nearby enemies when it connects. This means you can smash five or six ninjas across the room at once, and that’s definitely what I’d call playing to Bad Dudes’ strengths.


The next stage is set in the woods. It’s not a very interesting forest to look at in itself, but after the sewers it’s a magical fairy glen where each leaf glitters like liquid emerald. The most startling thing about this stage are the fire ninjas, who run across the screen and try to crash into you. They’re not men made of fire or anything, they’re regular ninjas that set themselves on fire before running across the screen. These ninjas are now so far from being the unseen spies and silent killers of legend that they might as well drop the ninja angle and start parading around with klaxons on their heads and a boombox playing dial-up modem noises under each arm.


Here we see one positive and one negative thing about Bad Dudes. On the plus side, you get to use nunchakus. That’s always fun, and in Bad Dudes they triple the range of your attacks so you can wipe out the ninjas with even greater efficiency. However, you might also see that there’s a dog down there, which means you have to kick dogs sometimes. They make a yelping noise and everything, just in case you didn’t already feel like history’s greatest monster for kicking a dog’s head in.


The boss is a big pro-wrestler type in facepaint and body armour. Gee, I wonder who he could possibly be based on. This is where Bad Dudes’ difficulty level spikes upwards, because the boss has a lot of health and is more than capable of killing you with two well-placed drop-kicks. The challenge is largely dependent on whether you’re carrying the nunchakus, because without their extra range you’re going to be spend a lot of time chipping away at the boss’ health bar and then running away when he so much as looks at you funny.


Now we’re on top of a train, in a stage that plays much like the one with the trucks except, you know, a train. Not much more to say about it, honestly. The by-now-familiar enemies, the kicks, the punches, the scrabbling across the floor to grab one of the health-restoring soft drinks occasionally dropped when a ninja is thumped hard enough like a faulty vending machine. This isn’t to say the gameplay isn’t still fun, though. I’m enjoying it, even if the backgrounds range from “mediocre” to “coma-inducing.” There’s one small touch that helps to keep the combat engaging, and that’s that, to a small degree, it’s context sensitive. Your moves will change depending on how far away the enemies are, but the best example is that attacking behind yourself is really smooth. If an enemy creeps up behind you and you move the joystick toward them and hit attack, your character fluidly performs a turning kick or what have you without having to turn around and then attack. This keeps the combat flowing along nicely, a very important consideration when you’re often surrounded by enemies.


One of the train carriages is emblazoned with the name and likeness of Chelnov, the Atomic Runner: eponymous star of his own Data East game. I was hoping that this’d turn out like the Karnov sign in the first stage and I’d get to fight Chelnov, but sadly that didn’t happen. I did have to fight Karnov again, though. He’s back, with grey skin, so I assume Karnov’s corpse was reanimated using black magic. A Karnov zombie. Zarnov, if you like.


Oh look, here’s one of those ninjas with a sickle that I mentioned earlier. This is the boss of the stage, and he’s got an even bigger health bar than the last boss plus some very far-reaching attacks. He’s about as much fun to fight as I’m making him sound.


More unbelievably dull scenery with this underground cave stage. There’s zombie Karnov over on the left. He’s a regular enemy now. How the mighty have fallen. Speaking of falling, deadly stalactites occasionally drop from the cave’s roof, although like all problems in Bad Dudes they can be dealt with using the tried-and-true method of violence. There’s not much else to say about this stage, folks. It’s not like there’s a spelunking minigame or anything to break up the ninjitsu carnage.


The boss is a Shaolin monk type brandishing a bo staff. One assumes this warrior spent many arduous years training with the weapon and didn’t just pick it up off the ground in surprise because they didn’t expect the bad dudes to get this far. That said, the boss attacks by holding their stick out and spinning around, so make your own judgements. It’s a surprisingly difficult technique to counter, requiring much hopping up to that platform at the back and considerable patience, and it really hammers home the fact that Bad Dudes is one of those games where the world would have been saved much quicker if the heroes had remembered to bring a gun.


The final stage continues the trend of bloody dreadful backgrounds, with a trip through a military base that’s all grey, all the time. Look, even the sodding ninjas are grey now! At least this stage has a couple of mildly diverting background elements, like this stencil on the wall that says “NAMSHIT.” Is this Data East taking a crude swipe at fellow arcade developers Namco? Unlikely, given that Namco published the Famicom versions of several Data East games including Karnov and, erm, Bad Dudes. It’s just rudeness for rudeness sake. Tut tut, Data East, very disappointing.


Then there’s the never-welcome boss rush at the end of the game, where you’re forced to fight all of the game’s bosses again in the kind of tedious padding that I’ve really come to hate during my time running VGJunk. Strangely, we’ve already seen zombie Karnov and the wrestler boss has received a   shiny new set of golden armour, but all the other bosses are exactly the same as the first time you fought them. C’mon, Data East, you could have zhuzhed the others up a little bit, given the stick fighter a golden stick or something. Oh well, it’ll have to go down as a missed opportunity.


At last, the final battle against the evil Dragon Ninja himself, complete with his own monogrammed helicopter. He’s got a pretty cool demon-mask look going on, and he attacks by throwing two things at you: fireballs that explode into pillars of flame and dogs. Of course, the obvious way to avoid these (and also avoid the mental anguish of kicking a bunch of dogs) is to jump up to the helicopter and fight the Dragon Ninja mano-a-mano. If you’ve managed to hang on to the nunchakus, this fight is an absolute joke – you can stand there and repeatedly whack the boss from a safe distance and the Dragon Ninja will keep attacking over and over, seemingly unable to figure out that he’s not actually hitting you. If you don’t have the nunchakus then, well, I hope you’re willing to slap a bunch of credits into the machine. I did not have the nunchakus. It was a long battle.


I got there in the end, though, and President Ronnie was freed. Back to the White House he goes. Erm, yay? Hmm. Let’s not get into the ramifications of that and instead focus on the fact that rescuing the leader of the free world is only worth a hamburger. Like, I know the bad dudes didn’t take this mission for the money or the glory, but a hamburger? They’d better at least be getting a large milkshake and as many extra packets of ketchup as they want with that.


It took three thousands words and repeatedly deaths at the hands of a kabuki maniac riding a helicopter, but finally the question of questions has an answer: yes, I am a bad enough dude to rescue the president. I was considerably more bad with a set of nunchakus in my hands, but even fighting bare-handed I managed to summon the requisite amount of badness to get the job done and you know what? I had some fun while I was at it. Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja does definitely have a solid gameplay core beneath the meme-ified plot and the raw ludicrousness of the title “Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja.” The fighting’s slick, it controls well, the collectible weapons are limited in number but fun to use and there’s a rare joy that comes from absolutely smashing your way through countless very weak ninja opponents.


That said – and while I couldn’t deny Bad Dudes’ position as a classic of the era and a foundational part of the genre – it’s not that great. The gameplay gets rather repetitive quite quickly and the look of the game is often surprisingly dull. If it had a bit more – more meaningful enemy varieties, more interesting locations, more types of weapons to use – I’d be able to rave about how great it is. However, I’ve got to put Bad Dudes into the “interesting historical artefact” pile rather than the “stone cold masterpiece” drawer. If you love Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja, please don’t take this analysis personally. I kinda love Bad Dudes too. It’s called Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja, for heaven’s sake.

04/08/2018

FELONY 11-79 / RUNABOUT (PS1)

To paraphrase legendary TV and radio host Alan Partridge – crash, bang, wallop, what a videogame! Strap yourself in and double - nay, triple – check your airbags, because it’s time for automotive insanity in Climax Entertainment’s 1997 Playstation Indiana-Jones-on-wheels-em-up Felony 11-79!


I did check whether “11-79” marks an appropriate section of the US Penal Code and as far as I can tell it does not. However, policecodes.net (which I’m sure is a totally accurate source for such information) claims that 11-79 is the radio code for “traffic accident, ambulance dispatched” and that definitely is appropriate for this game. I still don’t think Felony 11-79 is a great title, mind you. It implies that the police will be more involved than they are. The game’s called Runabout in Japan, which is an even less accurate title. “Runabout” brings to mind the cars that little old ladies use to tootle down to the shops in. So what would I have called this game? I dunno, Drive Fast and Crash a Lot or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pavement? Sure, let’s go with that.


I played Felony 11-79 a bunch when I was younger, but I’d completely forgotten that it has a plot, which is narrated by someone who really should be hosting a knock-off Outer Limits-type anthology show. You see, in the sixteenth century an explorer found an ancient city of riches, including one mysterious casket that cannot be opened even though it’s modern times now and we’ve got pneumatic drills.


The casket ends up in the possession of businessman Albert Brookmond IV, who looks a bit like a rejected design for the final boss in an SNK fighting game. You could just imagine him attending the same gentleman’s club as Geese Howard and Rugal Bernstein. Brookmond discovers that there are three keys needed to unseal the casket and claim the treasure within – a jade statue, some golden wings and a silver staff.


That’s where you, Mr. Runabout, come into it. The mysterious driver is hired by Brookmond to retrieve the keys on the basis that “he’s feared in the business world for his ruthless pursuit and disregard for the law.” I can’t help but notice that there’s no mention of his driving skills.


Felony 11-79 is a driving game, where you drive from one end of a semi-linear course to the other as quickly as possible… although there’s more to it than that, as we shall see. It’s definitely a straightforward game, though. The first mission is Down Town, a mixture of city streets, beachside highways and mountain tunnels. You goal is to “Steal the Jade Statue and run for it!” which tells you how much planning has gone onto this heist.


First you’ve got to select your vehicle, each of them with different strengths and weaknesses, including, y’know, strength and weakness. You start out with five vehicles that cover a decent variety of types, from this pick-up to a moped and a Mini. Given that it’s called the DRM I assume this truck is supposed to be a Dodge Ram, and it’s the Runabout series’ signature vehicle. I won’t be driving that for this first mission, though. In an attempt to stick to a middle ground between speed, handling and durability I’m going with the (I guess a BMW) 318. It’s the most average vehicle, so I’m not sure why the 318 isn’t the series’ lead vehicle. If cartoon and videogame have taught me anything it’s that the leader is usually the most average member of the team.
Right then, so how are we going to steal this statue? Sneak in during the dead of night? Grapple up to the roof, disable the laser grid, blow the safe with C4?


Or just crash straight through the front of the antiques store and grab the bloody thing. That’ll work too. This way you don’t have to worry about your driver getting spooked and leaving you at the scene of the crime. It’s genius, really.


Take me down to the polygon city, where the textures warp and the cars are blocky. Okay, so Felony 11-79 might not be the most visually elegant game on the PS1, but if you’re playing the game properly you should be travelling fast enough that the graphics are hardly important.


Controls-wise, Felony 11-79 is about as basic as this kind of game can get. You can accelerate, brake and steer, with a separate button for reversing. Some cars have manual transmission, so you’ll need to use the shoulder buttons to change gears in that case… and that’s about it. There’s not much in the way of special drifting techniques and no special items or weapons, just driving. And crashing. That happens a lot. Oh, and picking up object! Can’t forget that. If you look at the minimap in the screenshot above, you’ll see some red dots representing sticks of dynamite that you need to drive over and collect because later on in the stage there’s a barrier that cannot by knocked down simply by driving right into it at 100 miles an hour. Don’t worry, that tactic is viable in a lot of other places.


The dynamite is scattered across Chinatown, so you’ve got to pick your own route through the twisting streets while avoiding obstacles. Or not avoiding obstacles, if that’s your thing. You get cash for crash in this game, with each collision rewarding you a chunk of change depending on the value of the item you’ve just wrecked, from $15 for a traffic cone to a million bucks for the player who’s willing to drive into a subway train. We’ll get on to the subject of money later, but beware: crashing into things also damages your car, and if the damage bar at the bottom of the screen fills all the way up it’s game over.
Felony 11-79 also handles the visuals of crashing in a way that feels pretty unique for the time. Rather than just showing your car from behind all the time, when you crash the camera takes a more cinematic bent, showing the carnage from a variety of different angles. Does this make it more difficult to orient yourself after a crash, especially a crash that makes your car spin across the road wiping out street furniture like the Incredible Hulk leaving his local after kicking out time? Yes, it does. But it also feeds into the idea of "cinematic," movie-style getaway driving, which is kinda what Felony 11-79 is all about.


Having collected all the dynamite and travelled along the palm-fringed seaside road, we reach Private Place Michael. The gates are car-proof but not dynamite-proof. I suspect this is true of a lot of security gates in high-security luxury compounds, although if Michael really wanted to keep his place private he probably shouldn’t have built it right in the middle of a coastal highway.


Once you’re past Michael’s place, the stage is all about pure speed, with wide-open roads and fewer obstacles so you can focus on maintaining a high top speed without scraping up against the canyon walls or crashing into a petrol station. Technically the police are chasing you during this section, but if you’re driving anything but the very slowest vehicles (such as the moped) they never get close to catching you – and if you are on the moped you can get the police cars to ram you from behind. This does damage your vehicle, but it also instantly propels you from about 50 miles an hour to over one hundred and that can be helpful in its own way. Unless you’re facing a wall, of course.


Pedestrians cannot be run over. They scream a lot, but they run out of the way and you can’t hit ‘em, not even when you take a shortcut by driving straight through the lobby of this hotel. It might look like this giant waiter has become embedded within my car, but it’s just where I happened to take the screenshot. Give that waiter a raise, he’s manage to keep his drinks tray perfectly level even as a car smashes through his place of employment


After some more highway driving I reached the goal. The pursuing police cars could not stop in time, crashed into a row of uncommonly sturdy oil drums and exploded. The jade statue is now in our “hero’s” possession. Michael is presumably on the phone with the insurers of his Private Place and I managed to reach the end of the stage without my car exploding. Well, apart from when I filled it with dynamite and rammed that gate, but you know what I mean. I suppose that means it’s time to move on to stage two.


The second course is Sea Side, a sunset jaunt along, well, another coastal highway. There are a lot fewer urban areas in this one but consequently more traffic, so I decided to take the more nimble Mini out for a spin. A literal spin, given my driving skills and my panicked swerving as I tried and failed to avoid crashing into this toll booth.
The goal of this stage is to steal the silver wings, which are inside a limousine that’s driving towards you from the other end of the map. You’ll generally meet the limousine in the middle of the stage.


Yep, there it is. To steal the golden wings, you have to tail the limousine at a distance that doesn’t arouse suspicion until the driver stops for a break, at which point you can slowly drive up and grab the item in question.
No, I’m kidding, you crash into the limo. Head-on, if possible, because if you miss you’ll have to waste time turning around and chasing the limo down and the Mini is hardly the fastest car in the game, so every second counts.


After grabbing the wings, presumably while shouting “yoink!” through a mouthful of shattered glass and scraps of airbag, the stage once again becomes a race to the finish.
So far I’ve been talking about how Felony 11-79 works but it’s time to discuss how it feels, and the answer to that is, in my opinion, it feels great. I kinda love this game, honestly. It’s fast, extremely hectic and utterly unconcerned with anything approaching reality. It’s pure arcade-style action from start to finish, all wrapped up in a madcap shell of campy voice samples, wobbly pedestrian sprites that look like electrified inflatable tube men and pinball-inspired crash physics. The driving itself is definitely what you’d describe as “unpolished,” but either through design or happy accident this only serves to compliment the game’s theme of driving like a maniac.



A special mention has to go to Felony 11-79’s soundtrack – a collection of surf rock tracks performed by Japanese band the Surf Coasters. It turns out that the urgent guitar work and occasional organ riffs of surf rock is the perfect accompaniment to this kind of driving game. Who knew? Maybe I’m a little biased because I like surf rock in general, but I’d still say that the soundtrack is one of Felony 11-79’s strongest features.


Here you can see me attempting to take one of the game’s many shortcuts. I swear, the bridge looked a lot less raised when I started driving towards it. I was hoping to be able to leap over the partially-open bridge and save some time, but alas. Now I know it’s there, though, and that’s a big part of the fun of Felony 11-79: finding all the alternate routes and shortcuts, of which there are plenty. If you go back to the previous screenshot you can see that I had a choice between a longer route, or a shorter path that can be faster, assuming you’re good enough to navigate through the large amount of other road vehicles. Good job I decided to bring the Mini, then. Felony 11-79 is at its best during these kinds of sections, where you've got a good turn of speed and you're slaloming between obstacles and smashing through billboards. It all comes together in a viscerally satisfying way, as all the most enjoyable racing games do when you squeeze through a dangerous shortcut.


Stage complete, and golden wings acquired. The police cannot stop our mysterious driver. Not with threats of legal punishment, not by chasing him down and not even by physically blocking the road. I don’t know what that cop at the top thinks he’s going to do; beat our car to a halt with his truncheon? His superior officer must be near by and he’s just trying to look busy.


After clearing the first two courses, you unlock the third and final stage: Paris. That’s right, there are only three courses in Felony 11-79. It’s a very short game… if you’re just trying to get to the ending. There’s more to the game than that, though. As mentioned, there are plenty of hidden shortcuts to find, and you can always try to beat your high scores: there’s even a separate time trial mode. Plus, there are a bunch of extra cars to unlock, ranging from more powerful “normal” vehicles and rally cars to more interesting offerings like a city bus, a remote controlled car and a goddamn tank. The extra cars are unlocked in a variety of ways; sometimes by just clearing a stage, or by racking up a certain amount of cash by crashing into lots of things. Some are less easy to unlock, like the ones that require you to finish a stage without taking any damage. I regret that I will not be able to show you any vehicles unlocked via that method. Getting through a Felony 11-79 course with no damage is like trying to get through your friends’ Facebook feed without the feeling the existential dread that everyone is doing way better than you.


Back to France, and the mission has a slightly unusual set-up this time. You’ve got to find the silver staff, which is hidden in a statue. Crash into the statue to get the staff, naturellement. However, you also have to hit a telephone booth in order to summon your extraction helicopter, and the phone booths are everywhere. You can see a bunch of them on the map here, often placed in awkward, out of the way places, and the first time through this stage I wasted a bunch of time travelling backward to investigate these dots in case one of them was the statue. As it turns out, you can just ignore them and hit a telephone booth much later in the stage.


The statue is actually located at the far end of the game’s trickiest section: a maze-like warren of twisting paths and dead ends full of Parisian glamour and smashable flowerpots that don’t half slow your car down. It’s a nightmare to navigate at any kind of speed.


Good job you can avoid it by driving into the tunnels of the Paris Metro, really. Of course, getting your car back out of the subway is tricky, but it’s still faster than than negotiating Labyrintheville.


There’s one other major drawback to travelling via the subway, of course. Can’t argue with one million dollars, I suppose, but hitting the subway car did seem to ram me five hundred meters back the way I came, as you might expect. Swings and roundabouts, as they say.


I’ve found the statue and obviously I crashed into it, so now all I need to do is hit a phone box and dash towards the docks where the helicopter will be waiting to pick me up. From here it’s mostly smooth driving – and the opportunity to drive through a river, if you like – until you reach the docks.


Unfortunately some inconsiderate fool built a supermarket right in front of the docks, and you must drive through it to reach the goal. I imagine the driver is used to this. He didn’t bother getting out of his car to steal the priceless artefact, so why would he do so when he’s stocking up on toilet roll and chocolate biscuits? I can just see him blasting through Aldi, hanging a basket out of the window to scoop up tins of hlaf-price chicken soup.


Away I go, carried off in a shipping container that I hope someone thought to poke breathing holes into. That marks the end of Felony 11-79’s story mode; a mode that ended too soon. I was having a lot of fun with it, and I wish the game did have more courses. Oh well, we’ve got the ending to look forward to, at least.


It’s not a long ending. The keys are assembled, Albert Brookmond IV opens the casket and immediately gets his face melted off, Raiders of the Lost Ark style. The casket is shown to be full of gold coins, though, so maybe Brookmond simply wasn't pure enough of heart to receive the trasure within. That hubris, that is.


The driver looks real smug about this turn of events. He must have been paid in advance. Game over!
And what a fun little game it was. Something of a minor hidden gem, I’d say, and quite possibly that most arcade-y videogame I’ve ever played that wasn’t, you know, an arcade game. Felony 11-79 is one of those games that picks one thing to do and does it in a way that’s wholly it’s own, resulting in an experience that’s by no means perfect but which possesses a certain energy, a sense of uniqueness, that I can’t help but find very appealing.


The negatives are significant enough to make Felony 11-79 fall a long way short being a true classic, of course. Technical issues with messy (and sometimes downright ugly) graphics and occasionally frustrating camera twirls can make the game a bit of a pain at times, especially when the random nature of the crashes causes you to lose more time that you ought to because you can’t see how to extricate yourself from the twisted wreckage. The controls can be slippery, and it's surprisingly dificult to get your car driving in a straight line rather than veering across the road. Then there’s the crashes themselves. Smashing into every available object, vehicle and roadside decoration is a big part of Felony 11-79's appeal, but this does mean that the slightest contact triggers a “collision” and the game would play a bit more smoothly if this wasn’t the case and, for example, gently rubbing the side of another car as you pass it didn’t cause it to explode. It doesn’t help that the hitboxes (especially on the cars) feel very big and, well, boxy; I had plenty of crashes where I was sure I’d avoided the obstacle in question but the hitbox decided otherwise.


None of that stops Felony 11-79 being a ton of fun to play, though. Unlocking the secret vehicles gives the game some much-needed extra longevity, and I like how the game’s various meters and scoring systems come together. You need to get to the goal within the time limit, but you might also want to score lots of cash… but your car can’t be allowed to blow up, so you’re playing those three things against each other. You choice of vehicle also factors into this, as you decide whether to take something like the city bus that can ram its way through any traffic jam but isn’t exactly nimble or maybe plump for the Vespa scooter, which is so small it can find extra shortcuts. All this adds just enough complexity to “drive fast” formula to keep Felony 11-79 interesting beyond the initial novelty of playing a driving game that hands out cash prizes for crashing.


In short, I love Felony 11-79 and all its goofy charms. You should give it a try. It’s also got a few sequels, including one on the 3DS, so maybe I’ll check those out at some point. For now, though, I’ll crank up the surf rock and try to get the hang of some of the cars in this game that are manual transmission only. And you though I crashed a lot before.

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