The Zero Hour

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

Chef’s Luv Shack

I’ve reviewed a fair few cartoon based games over the past year or so and…boy, does it get tiring. I reviewed Bart’s Nightmare long before the Nostalgia Critic pissed off the Let’s Play community with it, I played Scooby Doo Classic Creep Capers and cried myself to sleep for weeks, and the less said about Rugrats Cattle Capers (or whatever) the better.

Then it occurred to me, there’s been surprisingly little video games based on prime-time cartoons. Sure, Futurama and Family Guy have had games based on them, both with disappointing results, but its surprising there haven’t been more. Unsurprisingly The Simpsons have been steadily releasing games on and off over the years, but interestingly, and unbeknownst to everyone now, for a brief period in the late 90’s, there were South Park video games, 3 of them on the N64 in no less than 3 consecutive years, each one tackling different genres of video games with a unique South Park twist. Unfortunately, all 3 weren’t particularly enjoyable to play and probably contributed to Acclaim going bust. Also the fact that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys from the movie Baseketball, didn’t like them no doubt put off the chances of them giving the licensing over for a long time. Which begs the question, just how bad are these games? Oh for ****’s sake, I’ve got to play them to find out, haven’t I?

Let’s kick off with the game show spoofin’ sextravaganza Chef’s Luv Shack, brought you by the sultry baritone of Isaac Hayes. Grab a chair, put on some sexophone music (preferably not the one in Starfox Adventures, unless you’re into that kind of thing…), things are about to get hot.

As already mentioned, Chef’s Luv Shack is a game show, hosted by the man famous for the hit song “Suck On My Chocolate Salty Balls” So if you were expecting a tasteful family game experience, you’d better leave now…

On that subject, it’s a surprise this hasn’t cropped up on later platforms, the quiz show genre has, I the event of casual gaming, appeared in droves with the likes of Buzz, You Don’t know Jack, and about a billion titles on the Wii. The thing is, these games tend to get tired fairly quickly, they’re great for that period following Christmas dinner and the Doctor Who special with your gran and your siblings, but beyond that you’ll only bring them out when you have a reason to, and most of these games only have a set amount of questions and it doesn’t take long to memorise the answers, leading to an unfair advantage to someone who’s played it before. Arguably this is no different from board games, but those don’t set you back £40/$60 however much a new game sells for.

And this is one of the main problems with Chef’s Luv Shack, the categories tire quickly and the questions become repetitive, although I have to give it credit for not going down the South Park Trivia route and some of the questions are genuinely interesting, but it’s not a game you can play for more than half an hour without getting pretty bored, especially if you’re playing on your own. Yes, you’ll be shocked to hear that I have no friends, the only people who added me on Facebook are adbots, so when I asked if they wanted to come over and play Chef’s Luv Shack, they asked me back if I wanted some Viagra. So now I’m playing a crappy videogame on my own with a boner that won’t go away.

It’s quite incredible how they managed to completely screw up the simple idea of animating sprites, the game manages in the main screen to push up the eyes of Chef and your character way into their hats, so they look freakishly weird and un-natural, people like these characters and to see them like this is beyond dumb. The characters animate jerkily and awkwardly and it neither looks nor feels right. Combined with the weird low quality (and obviously stock) voice clips, it just feels rushed and half-arsed.

However, there is one (or several) saving grace to this, which is that every 4th question jumps you to a gameplay round, eg, Mario Party esque minigames. They’re not perfect, some of the rules aren’t explained, but they’re surprisingly a lot of fun and it’s nice to see time and effort has gone into something, except the go cart one, that one kinda sucks with sloppy controls. There’s some eat parodies in there as well, one lampoons Balloon Fight, another riffs on Donkey Kong, and one parodies bad video games…or is just a bad video game, it really does blur the line.

And that got me thinking, is the game intentionally bad like a terrible game show? I can understand it being purposely cheesier than an episode of Catchphrase (ask your mum) but did they go out their way to make an unenjoyable game? Maybe not, maybe it was rushed out for Christmas as most of these tie-ins are and development suffered accordingly. It’s not funny, it doesn’t feel like South Park, yeah it has kinda sorta enjoyable mini-games, but that’s the extend, this is the gaming equivalent of that crappy consolation prize that  gets handed out in game shows as a “thanks for playing”, the red wine to the winners speedboat on Bullseye, the stickmen statues to the coffee machine (and cuddly toy) on The Generation Game, the pool cues to the big cash prizes on Big Break. HAVE THE DATED 90’S GAME SHOW REFERENCES MADE MY POINT CLEAR?

Our survey says no.

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Duck Dodgers

Who is your favourite Looney Tunes character? Did you say anyone except Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck? Good because you’re WRONG. No-one likes Southern chickens, fast rodents or cats with the inability to catch birds. Well, maybe a little.

So Looney Tunes cartoons are, for lack of a better term; ****ing perfect and so because of their legacy, everyone at some point must have been excited to play video games about them, none of which have exactly fared well. Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle is the most well known, but was a pretty dull puzzle platformer thing, but somehow spawned 3 sequels. In fact, a lot of the characters have their own games, Porky Pig got a haunted mansion game, Roadrunner, even Yosemite Sam, but we’re not looking at those today, mostly because…well, they’re not very good. In fact, are there any good Looney Tunes games? Really? The answer is probably no. But let’s take a look see at Duck Dodgers.

Ok, Duck Dodgers, the name painfully referencing Buck Rodgers In The 24th Century, is a spin-off cartoon where Daffy Duck (or his great great descendant or whatever) plays some ridiculously long winded character who is a space hero saving the universe from sci-fi parodies, which he ultimately fails. Someone at some point thought it would be a neat concept for a game and so here we are 11 years later talking about it.

The first problems become apparent when loading the opening cinematic. The plus side is that it tries to look good, there is some charm in the graphics, but ultimately they just remind me of Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers, which if you recall, is not a good thing. In fact, there appears to missing graphics, one character was missing his nose. The dialogue is just as ambitious, the characters speak, but the subtitles fall behind and the speech and the voice clips just bleed into each other and it’s just painful, but thankfully I can skip through it and just get on with the game.

The story of the game is that Marvin The Martian has created an ultimate weapon to destroy earth, unfortunately because he didn’t think it through, it needs atoms to work. You know, like EVERYTHING EVER. Oh except these atoms aren’t microscopic, they’re about as big as my fist, which basically means **** science…why am I worried about the scientific accuracy of a game anyway? Moving on, Daffy Duck Dodgers has to collect the energy atoms before Marvin to stop him. He could have just found one, laid a trap for Marvin and arrested him for crimes against the universe and saved the space government a lot of money, but THAT’S NOT FUN. Instead we get a collect-em up 3D platformer, which…is?

TO be fair to the game, the actual platforming aspect isn’t too bad, it mostly revolves on you picking up little items that fix your health/give you extra lives and they tend to lead you to the atoms, which is a bit of a bummer for those who like to explore. In fact, the actual game kind of tricks you into a sense of non-linearity, you do have to complete one area completely before moving on to the next section. This isn’t a problem if you like doing lots in one go, but for a game that plays like Mario 64 in Space…before they did that themselves, it feels just a little bit restrictive and added to the fairly small levels, it kind of brings it down and doesn’t really set the game apart from other platformers.

It’s not helped by the games camera, which like most 3D platformers of the genre, really does not like the player, often screwing up your jumps or just panning when you don’t need it, and the first person view is very hard to navigate.

Ultimately, Duck Dodgers is a game that tries to be good. The level design tries to capture that cartoon aesthetic and place it in a 3D setting, but the cel shading and 2D/3D don’t really look very good on the Nintendo 64’s hardware, and Daffy constantly is missing pixels when you look at him. I liked the voice acting, but that maybe biased because Daffy is just generally pretty awesome, it never got on the wrong side of annoying, nor was it over used, unlike some games I’ve played recently, and its camera is just…****ing awful. But surprisingly, for reasons I genuinely can’t explain, maybe it’s a fairly fun enjoyable game and it looks like Duck Dodgers managed to avoid duck season this year, I guess.

Diva Starz: Mall Mania

You know that awkward phase in a girls life where they become all irritating and preppy and only care about their outfits, cute boys and hair accessories? I mean, I don’t know if it even exists outside of shitty American pre-teen movies, but you know, there’s a whole damn market for that kind of junk. Thanks to the Barbie craze of the 1960’s, every generation has a version of this, be it Bratz or some other thing, I don’t know nor care. Unsurprisingly, because of the stigma of games being aimed at boys, someone had to make a game aimed at that market of irritating giggly females. Which is why today, and because I’m so full of self-hatred and enjoy watching myself suffer, I’m playing “Diva Starz: Mall Mania”

First things first. You get to the start menu and the music is just awful. I mean, even though the GBC’s sound card isn’t the best, there’s still potential for some good music. Here’s just a chiptune chainsaw burrowing through your skull. So you press start as quickly as possible and start the game. You select a character out of a possible of five girls who are all basically the same, except for hair colour and one of them is a token black character, so fun for everyone. Except me. Obviously. Anyway, so the first level is the character getting to the mall on their scooter collecting items that I can’t recognise because the spriting is rubbish, it’s pretty much, press A to jump (they’re not even wearing helmets, good rolemodeling girls) and after a while the level ends. Once there, the game becomes a choice of 4 really boring minigames that I don’t think I finished because I fall asleep before the last one everytime. There’s a food court level where you have to take apart and rearrange a sundae onto someone elses plate, encouraging dietary problems and anorexia. Next is a level where you give them clothes to wear and are immediately told YOU’RE WRONG if you don’t select the correct outfit by the game like a stubborn Gok Wan. There’s a pet store level where you have to navigate a maze (great store design guys, really) and get a dog, which is so freaking bizarre. You know, when kids go shopping, they always go to the pet store and buy a dog. I bet she’ll bring it home and her parents’ll be like;

“You bought a dog? Why?”
“Because it goes with my shoes,”
“…Honey, pack your bags, you’re going to the catholic boarding school this year”

Anyway the next stage is a music level where you have to dance in a music shop (???) and press the right button that appears on the bottom of the screen, this is probably the strongest of the games, but it’s insanely slow, I was more worried about falling asleep than I was missing the correct button. And finally a bag shop where you throw stuff at bags on a conveyer belt for reasons I don’t understand, like the generation game at a monkey enclosure.

Oh and your reward for getting through these minigames? You get a freezeframe of your character (and their new dog) on the catwalk. Does that satisfy you? No. Good, you get to do it all again 4 more times with the other characters, have fun!

This game sucks like Chet’s party last night (read with rising inflection? Like everything’s a question?) and like, I wouldn’t be seen dead with it. It’s so last year, it’s so blasé and…you know what, I can’t keep that up. This game is truly awful, definitely amongst the worst I’ve played. Including Home Alone 2. The game is easy, the mini games aren’t original, or fun, they’re just boring, and the entire concept is fickle enough to make me hate anyone who even considered buying this game, let alone play it. It’s cheap shovelware aimed at people who won’t ever play it because they don’t stock it in River Island and because Gameboys aren’t fucking shoes. It’s like aiming a bible reading game for a pensioner who’s convinced video games are a spawn of satan, they’re not going to buy it, so why make the effort, make something more worthwhile, like…god damn it, now all I can think about is shoes.

SpongeBob Squarepants: The Movie

Ok, so I’ve not written anything in a while. I could blame national debt, riots, Hurricanes and various other things that are out of my control, but lets face it, none of them get in the way from my bed, to the TV to the computer, so I’m going to squarely say that I’ve been la…zing under my bed which fell on me for two weeks. Thankfully, I knew the number for the Library’s door to door service and rented a movie. Of course, at some point the order must have mixed up. I asked for The Passion Of The Christ, and they sent me…The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie.

Basically someone a long time ago thought it would be a good idea to, not only make a TV series…about a sponge and his…interesting friends…, but also to go and make a cinematic feature film of it, despite the fact that episode of Spongebob is usually light on plot and heavy on, let’s say “japes”. So the idea of “japes” for an hour and a half with little plot really did not have me itching to watch, and that’s from someone who plays games with no storyline…

But basically, the movie is about as stupid as you think it is. It starts off in a live action scene, where some pirates find some buried treasure. I immediately had to make sure I was watching Spongebob and not Muppet Treasure Island. So what’s the point of these pirates? Well, they’ve just got tickets to go see the SpongeBob Squarepants movie. Yes. It’s meta. It’s a movie within a movie. It’s Movieception, it’s the Movietrix, it’s whatever dumb trope/reference/term you want to use, and does it have any relevance other than them doing a shanty version of the theme song? Ha-ha. No.

So they board next to a cinema and raid the place before taking their seats, and the movie begins. The Krusty Krab, the McDonalds of the sea, is having a dilemma. Someone got the wrong order, so there’s mass panic and…what? There’s mass panic because there’s no cheese in a burger? Which can’t even be made underwater technically? Imagine if rioting over budget cuts happened…

So anyway, Spongebob, the manager shows up and we get a scene that makes putting a slab of cheese on a burger look tense. Yeah. Figure that out. I sure as hell can’t. And then Spongebob is treated as hero. I do that with my lunch every day? Do I get a round of applause? No. I wonder what would happen if he put some bacon or jalapeno peppers on there? He’d probably be treated as a god. So Spongebob is declared a hero and the movie ends.

No, that’s not true. He just wakes up. That’s right. All that was a dream sequence. 2 false openings. In 10 minutes. 2 FALSE OPENINGS. Where’s my copy of Muppet Treasure Island? I’m sticking that on instead.

To its credit, that scene does establish Spongebob wanting to be a manager. Which is a job he thinks he’s getting that day. He doesn’t, because he’s supposedly a kid (Don’t worry, this gets brought later time and time again) and he gets sad and depressed gets drunk off eating ice cream at a novelty restaurant…

Meanwhile, Plankton, owner of the Chum Bucket, the Burger King of the sea, irritated by the Krusty Krab’s success formulates an evil plan to destroy the Krusty Krab and do the same thing he does every night, take over the world. He steals King Neptune’s crown and blames it on Mr Krabs.

The thing is, the movie does a terrible job of introducing characters. You have to know who Spongebob is already to really see him as a protagonist, otherwise he’s a weird work obsessed nut of indertiminable…indetreminble….inter UNKNOWN age who helps his neighbour and work colleague shower and is friends with a Starfish who probably would spend the movie nude if he could, who is also mentally challenged.

Anyway, so King Neptune decides to kill Mr Krabs unless Spongebob can get his crown back. So Spongebob and Patrick go off to find it whilst Plankton (you know the puppet master behind this whole thing) brainwashes everyone and turns it into Planktopia, or Planktropolis. YAY PUNS!!! Wait, that doesn’t even work…Oh and the king’s daughter is voiced by Scarlett Johannson. Yes. That one.

And…sorry, that picture is pretty distracting….Anyway, so the plot kind of becomes pretty standard and takes a back seat to aforementioned “japes” including going to a Country bar for tough guys and having a bubble fight, being tricked into nearly being eaten by a fish, which is then eaten by another fish…again, which doesn’t make sense considering most characters are fish, and dying. Yep. Spongebob and Patrick die. The pirates cry and it fades out and the credits roll.

That last part doesn’t happen, they get brought back through Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution (topical gags are fun) and are brought into live action real world. You know, that trope that’s used in every kids movie these days. Thankfully, they don’t milk it and get back to the story with the help of David Hasselhoff Ex Machina. I’m not kidding. He shows up and swims them back to Bikini Bottom, they save the day, orders restored and blah blah, movie ends.

The thing that I find curious is how there’s very little attempt to actually up the production, it looks and feels like an extended episode, but with better guest stars. Which isn’t exactly a bad thing, it does capture the essence of the show and is genuinely pretty damn funny. The problem is, it’s only enjoyable if you know who everyone is, otherwise you just won’t care. I suppose if you watch it with children, they’ll tell you who the crab guy is, or the squirrel with the oxygen suit. It’s essentially a kids movie, and I guess they’ll probably enjoy it, despite the fact there are a couple of scenes of UNQUENCHING HORROR!!! Seriously, the facial expressions in some bits are pure nightmare fuel and so’s Patrick’s star. (I’ll let that one sink in)

It’s a pretty funny movie and for a kids movie that isn’t made by Disney or that Bluth guy, it’s a lot of fun, the dialogue’s amusing. the characters are pretty daft and likeable, the only problems I really had watching where the double use of Deus Ex Machina within about 10 minutes and two really awful musical numbers and the lack of DR PEPPER IN MAH FRIDGE! But that’s not Spongebob’s fault…OR IS IT?

Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers

Scooby Doo has a lot to answer for. Scrappy Doo, Freddy’s insistence on looking for clues…with Daphne…, and that awful live action movie, it astounds me that the format can keep going after 40 years and still be relatively the same, regardless of line-up changes. It’s because of this, I have to give credit to the developers of Classic Creep Capers, they’ve managed to perfectly capture the essence of the show including everything that infuriates me about that fucking cowardly dog…

NOT THAT ONE!

Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers is a re-telling of 4 classic Scooby Doo stories, from the very first, terribly named “What a night for a knight” to “Snow Joke” about, you guessed it, a Snow monster (actually a Steve Buscemi look a like) and you may wonder “oh how do they pull that off?” well, it’s pretty much a cartoon kids version of Resident Evil. I shit you not. That dark, terrifying tense horror game with the zombies, replaced with bright graphics and given a cartoon dog and stoner as lead characters. It’s an awful idea and should be taken out back and shot. It even copies Resident Evils controls, which really don’t work in contrast to the games fixed camera angles. You move forward, titling the analogue stick upwards. Camera changes and you’re now moving left, straight into a wall. Now considering that in many levels you get chased down corridors by the monster of the week, running into walls and losing health for no good reason is just ridiculous oh and it doesn’t help when you’ve got a Great Dane who follows you everywhere that occasionally blocks your path. Oh actually, there isn’t even health, it’s kind of a courage-o-meter. Whenever you get scared, you lose courage, lose enough courage and Shaggy runs away and you have to start from a checkpoint. It reminds me a bit of the Sanity meter in Eternal Darkness, except clunkier and really poorly implemented. It doesn’t help that you spend most of the game running from something anyway, so the “death” doesn’t really make much sense.

Oh shut the fuck up, Freddie, no-one likes you.

 

It’s quite remarkable this came out at the end of the N64’s life, whilst you get occasional flair in graphics, it’s mostly bad 3D polygons (Shaggy has about 1 pixel width arms) that it wouldn’t look out of place on the PS1. The writings just as bad, it tries to recreate the dialogue from the cartoon, but because it’s just text, it feels boring to read and just plain bad. Freddy will always ask you to search for clues, Daphne will always state the obvious and Velma, for all her knowledge pretty much doesn’t do anything until you collect all the pieces of the trap, apart from get kidnapped and have her glasses taken away, and oh boy does she make a spectacle of the fact she can’t see without her glasses (spectacle, glasses, get it. Hur hur hur). I still would though.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the worlds worst security guard...

Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers is just awful. The camera angles are terrible, the controls worse, the menus are fiddly and the dialogue boring. It’s predictable, it’s dull and almost painful to play and I don’t wish it on anyone. I actually recommend playing Resident Evil instead, even if you are a 7 year old, even if you find yourself traumatised, you’ll at least remember the experience. Zoinks indeed.