To paraphrase the opening of a better game than this one, here is a tale of paint and balls, eternally retold. It's Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd, developed by WXP and Activision and released on the Game Boy Advance in 2006!
Yes, it's a paintball simulator that you play on Nintendo's roughly SNES-powered handheld. A handheld with no analogue sticks and a tiny, dark screen. This is going to be a first-person shooter, isn't it? A bumpy road lies ahead with this one, and that road is slicked with luminous yellow paint. Worrying, indeed.
I have no idea what "Max'd" means in this context, by the way. Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd was also released on the consoles of the time, and those versions have more features and you can control them with an actual, you know, controller, so if anything this port should be called Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Min'd. From now on I'm going to be using the acronym GHTPM to refer to the game. I don't think my keyboard could take the strain of having to type out that title in full for the whole article.
I have yet to win any trophies. This is hardly surprising, given that I haven't played the game yet. Even a paintball legend like Greg Hastings has to start from the bottom in GHTPM. There are two play modes, the tournaments and a "Free Play" mode which as far as I can tell doesn't let you change the match settings or anything, it just chucks you into a paintball match. I prefer the structure that a professionally-run and fully licensed paintball tournament offers, however, so I'll be entering the Rookie cup.
I wasn't expecting a character select screen, but here we are, deliberating between the plasticine-y heads of Keely Watson and the eponymous Greg Hastings. Greg's pensive, faintly unnerving visage makes him look as though he's playing Renton in an American remake of Trainspotting.
Pick whichever one you like, or even the one you don't like, because you never get to see or hear them and they play identically. The only difference I could see was that their guns look different. Sorry, markers. Paintball guns are properly called markers. According to Wikipedia, this is because they were originally developed (amongst other reasons) to allow ranchers to mark their cattle by shooting them with paint. I feel that really says something about the nature of mankind, although I'm not sure what.
Okay, here we go. First round of the Rookie tournament. I'm ready for whatever GHTPM can throw at me.
No, I take it back, I wasn't quite ready for the game to be so punishing on the ol' optic nerves. I didn't expect it to look like Crysis 3 or anything, but this is ugly to the point where it effects the quality of the gameplay. It's difficult to locate your targets when everything's viewed through the faceplate of a hazmat worker sent to clear up the aftermath of a terrible accident at the MegaBloks factory.
There's my opponent now, foolishly standing up from behind cover. Now all I have to do is drag my crosshairs over him and press R to fire. If your paintball hits, then you win. This is a sport that will punish those who hesitate, so my advice would be to fire constantly on the off chance that your target will run in front of your gun. You do technically have a limited amount of paintballs, but even with my itchy trigger finger I never managed to use them all up. In fact, when I purposefully tried to use them all up to see what would happen I couldn't even manage that: you have so many that while you're standing around decorating the scenery your opponent will walk over and shoot you, or you'll run out of time. So, don't worry about running low on ammo and throw that yellow gunk around with the wild abandon of the custard pie room at a clown orgy.
Instead, be worried that you're fighting against a race of shapeshifting giants. Yes, GHTPM has some technical issues, but it's rare that you'll be getting this close to the other team if you ever intend on winning a match. Note the giant yellow smear of paint in the screenshot above. That means I've been shot. Getting shot is what I want to avoid.
Credit to the developers, they made a decent fist of cramming a multifunctional control scheme onto the GBA's limited supply of buttons. As you'd probably expect from a game working under these limitations, the d-pad moves you back and forwards and turns your viewpoint, and you can strafe if you move while holding A. You can also switch between standing and crouching positions and even switch which hand you're holding your gun in, a feature that seems useless at first until you realise you can press the L button to lean out from behind cover, the direction of your lean determined by which hand's holding your weapon. Of course, it is still useless, because the gunplay in GHTPM is so inaccurate that any kind of precision-based sniping approach to the matches simply won't work, but it's a good effort from the developers none-the-less. I can't really fault the controls themselves, they're the best they could really be given that they're on the Game Boy Advance. Apart from your left-right turning axis, that is: it's extremely sensitive and unless you caress the d-pad with the delicacy of a butterfly trying to disarm a bomb then you'll end up spinning right past the spot you were trying to aim at every time.
When you shoot someone, they stand still in a pose of surrender for a while before disappearing. This is what's happening in the screenshot above, I'm definitely not taking this person hostage so I can barter their life in exchange for safe passage out of Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd or anything.
If you're especially eagle-eyed, you might have noticed that in the background there lurks a clump of green and yellow pixels that might well be another competitor. If so, congratulations, you have better eyesight than me because I sure as hell didn't notice him until he'd shot me. In my defence, GHTPM doesn't warn you that once you've made some progress in the tournament the opposition team gets more players. Your team doesn't. Your "team" is always just you, on your own, which is as annoying as it sounds when you're facing off against the two or three members of the opposing team.
One thing you have on your side is what I've come to refer to as the Free Hit Bar. When you get shot, a bar pops up with a marker that moves back and forth. Press A to stop the marker, and if you manage to stop it in the green section then the paintball bounces off you without exploding and thus doesn't count as a hit. The marker travels faster with each consecutive hit, but getting the first one or two is easy enough and while it's as inaccurate as everything else in this game the Free Hit Bar goes a long way towards negating some of the frustration that could arise in a game where one hit means failure and you're playing on unbalanced teams.
Oh lovely, I found a bottle of wine. This seems appropriate, because playing GHTPM is giving me the kind of headache I usually only get after necking a bottle or two of Tesco's finest, cheapest Merlot.
No, of course this isn't actually wine. Do you think Greg Hastings, a true paintball pro and ambassador for the sport, would condone paintballing while inebriated? Think it through. It's actually a high-caffeine soft drink by the snigger-tastic name of Bawls. When you collect it, you move faster for five seconds. You can also collect extra paintballs sometimes. This isn't a game that really went all-out with the power-ups.
Today's VGJunk competition: try to figure out what the hell this is supposed to be a picture of. Feel free to answer in the comments below, just don't say "a bunch of bananas but the middle one has been left to go manky," because that's my answer.
After many struggles, both against the computer opposition and with the jerky framerate and extremely loose hit detection, I triumphed in the Rookie tournament. My reward? A trophy in the shape of a golden paintball gun. Well, it'll brighten up the trophy cabinet a little if nothing else. Did you know Alice Cooper wrote a theme song that wasn't used for the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun and it's really good? That doesn't have anything to do with anything, I just wanted an excuse to mention Alice Cooper.
With the Rookie tournament completed, you can step up to the Amateur league. Things work the same here, pretty much exactly the same as you must win three out of five matches to clear a bracket and clear five brackets to win the tourney. The look of the backgrounds change occasionally, but that's about it.
See? This one's really blue. Ahem. What else can I mention about this game? Well, for one thing the announcer likes to talk. I don't know if it's Greg himself or someone else, but he's not shy about using his small pool of voice clips at the end of a round, and because these matches are so short you'll be hearing them a lot. The most infuriating one is when you lose and he says "your team's a bunch of lumps!" Team? I'm one guy! I'm the very definition of not a team. The other odd one is that upon your victory he'll sometimes say "how's it feel to get max'd?," a question I feel ill-equipped to answer because I've got no idea what "max'd" means. In this context, "max'd" seems to mean "shot by a paintball" and so I suppose the answer is "it stings a bit"?
The Amateur tournament has been conquered. It was easy. Bunch of amateurs. I can't wait to see my new trophy, though!
Son of a bitch. That's it, I'm done with Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd. I did try the Pro tournament briefly, but the combination of increased difficulty and my patience running out meant that I didn't get very far. I apologise for not showing you the final trophy, although I have a feeling we've seen it twice already.
GHTPM is a game that leaves me at a loss to describe it. On a pure gameplay level, it's a pretty terrible experience - it's repetitive, unbalanced, overly simple and sometimes outright broken. For example, here's a picture of me trying and failing to shoot someone.
Notice that my crosshair is placed directly over them and they're crouching out in the open, yet my shots would just not register as hits. I'm still not sure if that's because your gun is about as precise as performing heart surgery with a pneumatic drill or if my opponent was actually crouching behind the wall and yet thanks to a quirk of the graphics engine I could see them, but any game where things like this happen can't honestly be described as anything other than poor.
Yet I'm sort of fascinated by the concept of a paintball videogame. On the one hand, it seems terribly redundant - the fun of paintball is that it allows you to inflict pain on your friends / co-workers / strangers in a manner that won't lead to hurt feelings or lawsuits while also being a nice bit of exercise. You don't get any of that in a videogame version of paintballing, so why not just play Battlefield or something? But a paintball game could offer a different take, a different feel to the usual videogame business of shooting people with "deadly" weapons, thanks to it's focus on tournaments and specific rulesets. If people paid any attention to age ratings on videogames, there could be a real market for paintball shooters thanks to the lower ratings that are given to shooters that don't feature people exploding into giblets when a missile intersects with their arse... but people don't pay attention to age ratings, as any time spent playing an shooter on XBox Live will tell you.
Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd is a bad game, although how much of that is down to the brutal compression job required to squeeze it onto a GBA cartridge I'm not sure. I haven't played them, but I feel fairly confident in saying the console versions probably much better than this but are still average, somewhat ugly and kind of limited first-person shooters. I want to try them, though. This game has made me want to play a "proper" paintball simulator, something I had never considered before. That's my review of GHTPM, then: it made me want to play a game like it, but not this specific game itself. I'm not sure how that would equate to an out-of-ten score. Enigma out of ten, maybe.