The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Monthly Archives: April 2011

Chuck Rock

There’s some kind of weird intrigue into cavemen, maybe it’s fascination as to how humanity evolved, maybe it’s us looking at the simplest times in the pre-Starbucks days when we were animals and fighting for our survival instead of checking e-mails. Or maybe we do it because of how stupid they look. Watch this clip.

Look at this guy, he’s not even wearing clothes and his hairs a mess, we should get Gok Wan to style this guy. Look at them, hunting for food, they haven’t even got an Aldi nearby, you call that living? Of course, for some reason at some point at some time, someone decided that actual cavemen doing cavemen things was boring, so they said “let’s modernise cavemen for a hip young audience” and gave us The Honeymooners goes prehistoric in the boring sitcom The Flinstones. Here was a family that drove cars, had dinosaurs as household tools, despite the fact that humans and dinosaurs never co-existed outside bad scientifically inaccurate fiction and humans had no need for cars or menial jobs moving rocks because they’re not lazy, couch potatoes who drink beer all day and watch the football. Except Fred Flintstone, but then he is American…

And having angrily crusaded against that sort of thing, this weeks game is…well, it’s just that. Chuck Rock is one of those novelty platformers that comes along every so often and by coincidence I always end up reviewing. BOO! Now, as far as bad concepts go, this is pretty much right at the bottom of the barrel. You play as Chuck, a caveman who’s in a rock band and HUR HUR Did you see what they did there, because rocks = stone age and look, there’s rock and roll music. Do you get it? Do you get it? DID YOU SEE THE **** JOKE IN THE TITLE? Anyway, so Chuck is your standard cartoon caveman, he’s hairy, he solves mysteries with teenage girls and he is actually the star of an unrelated Hana Barbera cartoon featuring a hairy testicle. I may have made that up. The plot of the game is your standard video game Mario rip-off excuse plot of the 2D platformer, Chuck Rock’s girlfriend has been stolen by fellow rock star and the father of bad pun names Gary Gritter, who later in life will be arrested for being a Neanderphile, and Chuck goes to get her back. Personally I’m surprised they didn’t take this further and add in other musicians in stone form, we’d have “The Red Hot Chili Pebbles” “Rock Stewart” or maybe even “The Rolling Flintstones” I wonder if a caveman of Ronnie Wood would even look any different…

Ok, so intial confusion sets in when you start playing and die a lot. Why? Because you can’t jump on enemies to kill them. Right, within 5 seconds, platforming rule 101 is out the window and it takes a couple of minutes to get used to Chuck Rock’s beer belly attack, let alone realise it’s there if you’re a old school platformer fiend who operates without a manual LIKE A BOSS! And only uses the D-pad and jump button. So you can be expected to go through the games learning curve at a less than steady pace. But don’t worry, Chuck’ll be ok if you pick up food in the form of hot dogs, boar heads, ham and other pre-made food that someones dropped from their trip from Tesco. Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the happy cartoon aesthetic of the design though. It’s like The Land Before Time V combined with early Earthworm Jim. With cavemen. Someone’s clearly taken some time in designing the backgrounds, unlike the poop smearing that was Home Alone 2. It’s a real shame they didn’t take that approach with the main character. They could have done caveman Ziggy Stardust, but instead we get middle aged balding beer belly, permanently dribbling character. That’s not relatable or cool. Then again, how do I know what’s relatable or cool, I’m playing games that are nearly 20 years old that no-one’s heard of…so how about them JLS’ and their dubhop?

Other than that, the platforming is relatively conventional with some quite good ideas, like putting a rock on a crocodiles face to trampoline you to higher platforms, believe me, it makes sense in context, and also being flown on pterodactyls to reach other parts of the level is pretty good, even if it does sink its talons into your face.

Chuck Rock is just a fairly average game. I got bored playing it. The music’s irritating, it’s references are dated (I told someone the Gary Glitter reference and they replied with “HE WAS A MUSICIAN?”) and the gameplay should feel instant, but requires trial and error at the very start of the game and suicide bombing in certain sections. The main character says Ooga Booga at the start of every stage, which I’m convinced is Caveman racism (go up to a caveman and say it, I guarantee you’ll get a punch in the face…oh wait) Now it’s not the worst platformer in the world, it doesn’t do anything particularly badly, apart from the aforementioned, enemy squashing, but at the same time, doesn’t do anything particularly well. And that’s it’s problem, it’s merely so average, it’s ok. Which is a shame, Chuck was supposed to be the face of the company, then they created this girl;

And we all….forgot about Chu…rock…excuse me…

Thanks to @Shiigua on twitter for some of the stone age puns.


The Next Generation

If you’ve paid attention to any mainstream game site over the past week, I’m sure you’ve caught your eye on one thing. The Wii 2. News started to leak about its successor last Thursday on Kotaku and since then we’ve been drip fed information from various anonymous sources claiming “confirmation” that the console will focus on the hardcore gamer, the controller will have a HD screen built containing a fully customisable interface and that its development name is Project Café (fingers crossed for a built in espresso machine).
Now, before you get all excited about this, I must disappoint you with the fact that despite all the confirmations, none of the sources are actually named and more importantly, none of those sources are Nintendo themselves. What’s happened is we’ve effectively just become involved in a big worldwide game of Chinese whispers, where this whole situation is being escalated out of hand and will no doubt lead to disappointment if Nintendo announce it and it’s just a Wii with prettier graphics. I think we need to file everything we’ve read about Project Café into rumours and speculation file till then, then when E3 rolls around, if its everything that’s been rumoured, you can be smug about being right then. Being smug about being right now isn’t worth it.

Of course, with that in mind, The Xbox 360 is 6 years old this year and the other consoles are nearly pushing 5 years, which is old age in console years and, sadly this means it’s that time again where we have to start thinking about the day they get put down and replaced with a younger sexier model. Of course, now it’s not that simple. Whilst when the Xbox 360 and Wii launched, there were games on mobile phones and on the internet, they were seen as small insignificant time-wasters. Flash games on the likes of can be very well made, but they were only seen as something to do in your lunch break or when you were bored in your ICT class. But over the past 2 years, mobile and social gaming, as evidenced through the phenomenal success of Angry Birds and Farmville, have come leaps and bounds and are very nearly at the stage where cheap apps and mobile games can take on consoles at their own game. The acceleration of technology and the turnaround of games consoles means that fairly soon, your mobile phone will be as powerful as your Xbox and will probably eclipse it fairly rapidly and once that happens and peripherals designed exclusively for games are released, it’s very likely that bigger name developers will begin to defect over to mobile platforms, due to cheaper development costs and greater chance of profit. Gamers will benefit from lower prices and instant accessibility due to it simply being a one click download, and the social aspect will enable online play that will no doubt be developed to rival the experience of an Xbox live game from anywhere in the world.

So how can Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo get round this? Well, it’s going to be a tough battle. The fact is, consoles are beginning to run out of steam and with the exception of more powerful graphics, (even this is beginning to reach its limits) there’s not much more they can innovate on. Microsoft made it their intention to make the Xbox 360 “the centre of the living room” and in doing so, they seem to have painted themselves into a corner. Games consoles now can play DVD’s and Blu-rays, stream and rent TV shows and films, hold conversations and socialise with others, browse the internet, download new content for their games and even download new games themselves. I joked at the start of this article that the new Nintendo console should contain a coffee machine, now I realise it’s the only thing that it probably won’t have. Now, there are several aspects that could be developed further, but the big question is “Is this the direction they’re going to go?”

Obviously, the PS3 already had 3D capabilities, but I can’t see 3D on home consoles catching on, mostly due to the expensive nature of the technology (3D development must cost a small fortune in itself and then you’ve still got to shell out even more for a 3D TV). Nintendo have also already denied any plans to continue 3D for their next home console, despite the success of the 3DS, due to no interest in the technology if it requires the use of 3D glasses.

Motion gaming seems to be fizzling out as well within a single generation with 1:1 motion already accomplished with WiiMotionPlus, Sony Move and Kinect’s sensors and whilst this is a shame, motion controls never managed to fully immerse players into the game in the same way as button controls have. However, they have been successful in capturing the imaginations of both developers and the public, it is impossible to deny that Super Mario Galaxy was a triumph in its use of controls.

Having said all that, maybe if and when the mobile phone or the tablet become the primary source of gaming, maybe consoles will do the impossible and innovate, giving us an experience that can’t be gotten on whatever device we’re using in a few years’ time. Similar to how arcade machines have been since the late ‘90’s and those have done pretty well.

Now, of course a good chunk of this is just my opinion and it’s all clearly speculative, so don’t start flipping out because “gaming is dead” because it’s not, it’s full of life more than ever. As far as I know, Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft could easily take to the stage at E3 and change everything and revitalise the market in ways we never saw possible, the whole social gaming movement could be a fad and die out. It’s a cliché phrase, but the future isn’t set in stone, whilst most generations prior have pretty much followed a standard pattern, we’re currently in the midst of an exciting transition period for gaming and if we keep our heads, I think it’ll be more similar than you expect…

King Of Dragons

I think it’s fair to consider how far the fantasy genre has become in recent years. Whereas all those years ago, it had the sole audience of 10 year olds sitting in their dark basement with a book of rules bigger than the bible recounting spells and gallivanting off on heroic quests to defeat trolls in a dungeon, ironically becoming said trolls later in life when they discovered 4chan (You know you are, don’t deny it). Some point in the early 2000’s, the fantasy genre took off into the mainstream, mostly thanks to  successful film and TV adaptations of Lord Of The Twilight: Potters Dark Materials in the land of Discworld. And you only have to look at video games to see that rubbing off, sure we’ve had Zelda for what feels like forever, but RPG action games set in the land of fairies and unicorns have been selling like hot cakes , World Of Warcraft is the most popular online game ever, Fable is one of Microsofts flagship franchises…god knows why, and I’m not even going to mention that Square Enix series…

Of course, back in the 1990’s, fantasy genres hadn’t quite burst into the mainstream yet, but Capcom were going to try with King of Dragons, or as it’s probably better known; Final Fight goes Medieval and surprisingly, it actually works…sorta. First of all, it’s surprisingly impressive the amount of options of characters. Elf, Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Dwarf, Zombie, Richard Madely. Ok I may have made a couple of those up…the zombie isn’t a playable character. Each one of these gives you a unique skill set, as you’d expect from this type of game. The elf is faster and has better range of attacks, but the health isn’t very good, the fighter is a more all round character, the dwarf is a dwarf, and Wizard plays shitty glam rock music every Christmas. It’s all personal preference which you choose as the game doesn’t really change depending on your character, which in a way is both good, because it allows you to experiment with different characters and learn their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s also awful because it doesn’t really give you any incentive to complete the game again, ironically this is an arcade game, so someone clearly failed if you don’t want to spend more money to play it again.

And another complaint is that the levels are really short and whilst this is justified with certain enemies being able to cut you like a hot knife through butter, it does seem to make the whole thing seem a bit fickle and pointless. Maybe this games a metaphor for life or something, you go through life and the things you enjoy are too short and and in the end we all get cut to pieces by an undead skeleton. On the plus side, it proves atheism, so thumbs up there. Now if you’ll excuse me, I made myself sad…

Ok, anti-depressants taken, substantial amount of alcohol consumed. Review will continue. So the plot is basically 1 of the chosen 5 has traverse the world and defeat the dragon taking on Minotaurs, Wyverns, Cyclops, skeletons, standard fantasy fare, right? And to its credit, it’s a lot of fun. There’s simplicity in its controls with simply move, attack and jump and there’s some neat RPG style level up techniques. I played as the Elf and at times I genuinely got confused whether I was playing King Of Dragons or a SNES remake of Zelda 2, before remembering that I hate Zelda 2 and stopped playing for about a week, but it’s the Final Fight similarity that brought me back. Taking that and shoving it in a fantasy setting is pretty awesome and the graphics are fantastic, with some of the bosses looking both monstrous and cartoony (play as the fighter and when you fight the Wyvern, at one point it lifts you into the air. BY YOUR NIPPLES) and the music, although reminding me of Zelda for obvious reasons, is equally pretty nice and fitting. Of course, when you beat a boss and the flashing out of place writing gives you an epileptic fit, you’re kind of screwed, but that’s not exactly the games fault…ok, it is a little.

The levels have some nice variety there as well, there’s a forest, a castle, a boat that feels all Clash of The Titans to the point where I expected someone to force feed me a post production rushed 3D level and despite it all being standard fantasy Dungeons & Dragons fare, there’s a cartoony element. All the characters have a special attack that’s literally them roaring, you lose some health, but it kills most of the enemies and if you’re lucky, the character just might roar for ****s and giggles. Oh and there’s an item that turns everyone into frogs. And why not.

And there’s King Of Dragons, to be honest there’s nothing particularly original about it, it’s Final Fight copied and pasted with Dungeons & Dragons, but if you like one or the other, or god forbid, both of them (Unrelated question, are there nerd fight clubs?) What’s there is pretty fun in the end, so it’s very difficult to hate it, and by god I tried. There’s minor flaws, like the skeleton army’s amazing ability to almost insta-kill you and the jumping’s a bit weak, but overall, it’s an enjoyable quick arcade game.  It even supports 2 players, so you and your friend can play together, which is also fantastic…if you have friends…now I’m sad again.


Who reads books anymore?  it’s entertainment that engages your brain, who wants that when you can watch Kiefer Sutherland mindlessly gun down people who aren’t Americans in 24 without having to think of one thing other than “that explosion was pretty cool”. Even regular books are on the way out with e-books and Amazons Kindle, which are basically just words on a LCD screen, although to be fair, I’m against that too and would prefer to see E-books as kindling. If you grew up at any point when a superior medium, like video games came along, inevitably the generation gap becomes apparent and an older person would immediately despise your method of entertainment and encourage you to take up theirs. I’m clearly talking about book reading when I say this, not masturbation, you sick ****. Now in the 90’s when video games and kids cartoons were at their peak, adults would shoe horn the appropriate way to act and life lessons into them. And one of the most popular of these is reading a book and that brings me to Pagemaster.

Made in 1994 for the Sega Mega Drive, Pagemaster is that rare combo of awful ideas. It’s a film license game, it’s a 2D sidescrolling platformer that tries to “emulate” better platformers, and it’s source material features Macaulay Culkin. Remind you of anything? Pagemaster is about escaping the world of reading, so you can be encouraged afterwards to put down your controller and go to the library, because you know that having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card. And here’s the games first problem. There’s books. Everywhere. Now, I like how some platforms are made out of books, I applaud that neat touch, but it’s just. Insane. The items are carried by books, the map is a book, the enemies are mostly books, you finish the level by going through a book. I think there’s a theme running through this, but I don’t see it…

Pagemaster is a bog standard platformer, you climb up on bookshelves (shelves, made of books, HILARITY) through themed worlds that are basically a poor mans Donkey Kong Country. The plus side to all of this is the platforming is surprisingly relatively pretty good, the only problem I found is when you try to grab hold of ledges, it sometimes doesn’t work. And whilst the platforming is fairly sold and the levels give you lots to do, it’s actually a problem. When you start a new game, you’re expected to go through a couple of relatively simple levels to get used to the controls. Not Pagemaster, folks. You can die within 3 seconds of starting every level. Walk a bit “hey a book, wonder what that…oh I’m dead” and then the levels are so big and expansive, you won’t know where to go ON THE SECOND LEVEL.  It’s like you’ve been thrown into a pool that goes on forever when you can’t swim and just left with the sole instruction “Survive” There’s some terrible and grating voice acting, occasionally you pick up an item and the main character (who looks like if Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy had a baby together, which for the record slash fictioners, I DON’T WANT TO SEE, stop it) will exclaim “My library card” even if he just picked up a basket of bombs. Yes, I said a basket of bombs, £5 from Waitrose. He’ll also go “uh-oh” in the most feminine way possible when he nearly gets crushed by a giant green hand. Of course, it could be the hand saying that, although I doubt it because someone with that voice wouldn’t let his nails get that filthy. Oh and there’s also not a save function. You die in any of the levels, it’s straight back to the start of the game, it’s like Mario 3 without the charm. And the addictiveness. And just about anything that made that game fun despite it being as hard as a porn stars willy.

Pagemaster is very much a game you can enjoy in short bursts, I don’t think people would queue up to marathon it and whilst the platforming is fairly reasonable, it’s let down by insane difficulty and general confusion from the viewer (Do I jump on the red book, is it the end of the level, a new power-up or will it just kill me…like books do) and at the same time, I doubt anyone decided after playing it “You know what, let’s go to the library and let’s go borrow a book” I was tempted, but this being 2011 Big Society Britain, the government has closed them all. **** you, coalition. I guess it proves having fun is still hard when you’ve got a library card…I guess this is the end of the review then.

Lawnmower Man

Sometimes, I look at this crazy world, with our iPhones, our kindles, our Cadburys crème eggs and our Microsoft arm flailing technology and I wonder. What the **** happened to the idea of virtual reality?

For those who can’t tell the difference between your remote control and a stick of rock, virtual reality is the idea of computer environments interact with physical presence, basically placing yourself into another reality. In 1999, Ken Hillis wrote a book called Digital Sensations: Space, Identity and Embodiment In Virtual Reality. When  not used as a paperweight, the book gives us a more critical and theoretical academic assessment of the complex set of cultural and political desires and practices culminating in the development of the technology. Further more, it’s been researched as a therapeutic tests to get rid of phobias and to rehabilitate people. Obviously no-one cares about that and just wants to know “HOW CAN I PLAY VIDEO GAMES WITH THIS?

Look at this woman, doesn’t she look stupid? Of course, that said, I am playing bad video games for a living…

Well, Virtual Reality being implemented to play games hasn’t exactly worked out well, experiments had been tried in the 90’s with Nintendo’s replacement face service The Virtual Boy that no-one liked , but all the attempts at virtual reality made you look like an incredible tool, so not many people pursued with it. Ironically, fast forward 20 years and everyone loves the Kinect, which manages to make you look like a complete tit without even trying…I mean, the Wii’s advertising campaign endorsed wanking competitions and this… but this is just bad…where was I going with this?

So VR in IRL is generally an awful idea, but it’s been exectuted fairly well in fiction, from the land of Tron and it’s sequel making everything look all neony, The Matrix looking all greeny… The Matrix Revolutions looking like crap. You get the picture. But somewhere between these was Lawnmower Man. Lawnmower Man is a game, based on a movie, based on a book, based on a…biblical text…probably. Truth be told, I didn’t know it was a film until after I’d played the game for a substantial length of time and quite frankly, I kind of wish I didn’t know. Usually at this point, I’d go into the plot, before realising that it just doesn’t make sense. The government or someone puts experiments on a guy called Joeb, whose described as a “simpleton”…because prejudice is fun. I wanted this to be about a man with Superpowers based on gardening. That would be fantastic…in fact, I’ve even drawn up a sketch of what it might look like.

Anyway, so you start the game off in Cyberspace, which is a first person perspective. It looks incredibly dated, I mean, you thought Tron was dated, but this just takes it to the next level (cwutididthar) You literally see some bright coloured 8 bit MS paint backgrounds and your characters hands and you “fly” to the exit. It looks stupid, it feels dumb and completely blows any expectation you have for the rest of the game. Then you start the ACTUAL game.

Don’t worry, the guy at the bottom is just on tv, channel 5 are doing live probing.

And here we start the real problems with the game, yes I can forgive the flashy MS Paint adventures mini game that I just flew through, but this is just…I can’t even comprehend it. It’s a side scrolling shooting game, except throughout playing, you have no idea wether your shots actually hit anything, I fired like 20 bullets at a dog, well, at least what I thought was a dog, the sprites were so bad, I couldn’t tell and then there’s this guy in some kind of heatvision at the bottom of the screen, who occasionally pops up and screams in silent utter pain and I’m still confused why. Why? Why has that happened? Why? Why’s there an ugly guy on the bottom of my screen? Why? But enough of that. The graphics in this game are just about indistinguishable. Everyone looks a poo. A poo that shoots at other turd like objects. Occasionally you get an obvious piece of good graphics like a car, or a helicopter, but these are usually once a level. Yes, you get to drive a helicopter, which isn’t as fun as you think, the second it gets close to the ground it explodes, because of the games ****ty Michael Bay physics. Anyway, You can also hack computers by doing puzzles, but the game gives you no indication to do this and whilst the puzzles are simple “What shape connects this?” or “What’s the next number in the sequence?” and “Who assassinated Kennedy, the guy in the building, the guy on the grassy knoll or the time traveller who came to “fix things?”” The game doesn’t nearly give you enough time with the shape ones, so you end going “bwwah this one, BOLLOCKS TO THIS, I’m playing Sonic” True story.

Drugs are bad, kids.

On the subject of Sonic, this game has a stupid collect ‘em up element to it with CDs, enemies die, they drop CDs, probably data or whatever, I’d be lying if I said I was actually paying attention to this games logic, but I like to think they’ve just come from HMV with Justin Biebers album and I’m doing them all a favour. The game’s also pretty repetitive as well on top of this, it is pretty much do “Weird dated VR level, Weird dated side scrolling level, weird dated VR level, weird dated side scrolling level” WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY GARDENING SUPER POWER GAME? Anyway, so you do this a few times, then you go into Turbo mode. Wait, what? Yes, this game has its own Big Lipped Alligator Moment and by god is it glorious. It’s like Starwing set in the Chaos Emerald stage of Sonic The Hedgehog tripping on acid. Oh yeah, and you’re like a human mecha jet thing. Think about for a few moments.

Enough time? Yeah, it’s the greatest thing ever. The rest of the game is just the worst thing imagineable…Ok, it’s not Home Alone 2 bad, but it’s bad, however, the Turbo Mode  is just so fun and so fantastic, it almost completely worth it. ALMOST! Remember that Turbo mode has just about no relevance to the games story, nor the rest of the game, and the very fact that a small flashy add-on is the best part of a game speaks volumes about the actual gameplay and storyline. Plus the fact that it throws in 3 different types of gameplay just shows that this game has no identity, 3 potential games shoved together sloppily, makes it 1 bad game and with that, I give you Lawnmower Man, goodnight!