Author: John Legendoffzelda
How much moving around is there in the Super Nintendo video game of Animaniacs? The Warner brothers (and the Warner sister) go into their idle animations, a dance where they shake their behinds in unison, not two seconds after the player leaves them still – that’s how much. For these latter-day TV cartoon characters, the Looney Tunes of the 1990s, their boundless sense of energy is a birthright as hallmarks of the renaissance age of animation. Their well-received series’ deft, media-savvy intake of animation and Hollywood history would certainly provide enough content for a video game; but the most appropriate adaptation would be one that moves at the same pace. In the 1990s, few companies could develop engagingly frenetic games quite like Konami, who gave another Warner Bros. property their own action treatment with this game. Packed with as much kinetic content as a regular episode, including a good amount of unorthodox gameplay styles, they almost made another prime licensed title. But it’s that same content which causes it to stumble badly in the end. To borrow a phrase, the game aspires to be zany to the max, but it just has too much bologna in its slacks.
Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are sent on a retrieval mission by Thaddeus Plotz that takes them throughout the Warner Bros. studio lot. Pinky and the Brain are incubating yet another attempt at taking over the world, this time by stealing a white-hot script from WB, making the film themselves, and using the inevitable profits to buy the world. That’s how they suspect it will work, anyway; the script is so valuable that the studio needs it back immediately. Before they get the chance to find out, the Warner siblings are to get back all twenty-four scenes of the script, most of which are scattered throughout the lot’s four studio buildings. Each studio is a self-contained stage with an overall theme modeled after a certain movie genre, and individual sections that contain what seems like a combined dozen film parodies happening all at once. Much as it is in the original show, these film spoofs work as a clever observation of the source material’s heritage – one that wouldn’t be complete without including some of producer Steven Spielberg’s works – and part of the fun in playing is seeing how many movies you can recognize. The rest of it is meant to come from actually controlling the Warners through the game’s determinedly unique structure, and it’s that notion that will dog the player throughout. The game only looks like a regular platformer, until the player discovers that enemies are more regularly avoided than they are attacked, and that each stage is made with a raked design more commonly seen in a beat-em-up. The width of these stages gives the Warners more space to run around, and they use this space to get out of the way of enemies and access extra areas with collectible content.
The Warners work as a team; they run and dash and jump in unison, and when one member is incapacitated the next one takes over. To reach higher spaces, they stack themselves so that the topmost sibling can climb up and the others can follow after. They have to work together, because they’re so weak individually – so many different things can knock them out of the game. The Warner siblings have no attack moves and only one hit point, and this limitation makes the whole game into a beat-em-up where the player can’t beat up anybody. Instead, they have to maneuver past obstacles through sections that wildly fluctuate from one format to another. Bypassing enemies does improve the pace of the game somewhat, but the game runs with that notion and increases the pace to a near-unmanageable cartoon speed.
There are automatic sections where the Warners chase a white rabbit around a lot of tree stumps, or outrun impending threats like a truck or a rapidly collapsing bridge. In the standard levels they’ll have to float past chomping sharks or avoid jumpy facehuggers, but most daunting of all they have to avoid the implacable security guard Ralph. He locks them in the tower whenever they get caught, and in that instance the remaining sibling must travel over there and ascend on a meager elevator, using a boomerang to fend off buzzards and – one more time – Ralph. The best thing that can be said about these plodding segments is that, along with three of the five boss fights, they’re one of the few set-pieces not about carefully avoiding everything.
When it isn’t an enemy that takes Yakko, Wakko, or Dot out of commission, they’ll probably do it to themselves. The biggest culprits in this case are the raised perspective common in each segment and the stiff controls, which make positioning the characters harder than usual. The upper and lower levels where the Warners have to move to advance are also where the collectible stuff is placed in this game: script pages and coins. The pages are placed very out of the way of normal progress, sometimes hidden from the camera or concealed in an interactive piece of the stage, and it’s a bit grating that the player should go out of his way to find them. The coins, which are more abundant, are used in tandem with the confusing slot machine at the bottom of the screen; collecting some amount of coins makes the slots spin and land on a selection of characters from the show, and certain combinations grant or take away, power-ups, but a complete understanding of how it works is lost on me. I can also glean that one-hundred coins grant an extra continue, but not how “holds” are acquired or why the slots often spin more than once. It likely won’t matter to the player how it works, given that there’s much more happening on screen that demands his attention.
Quick-time events and button-mashing segments blur into the long stretches of jumping and coin-collecting, and the whole frenzy obscures this title’s purpose as an extension of a great cartoon. This game is wall-to-wall with movie references, bright and sunny colors right out of TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) Entertainment, and strings of daunting challenges that can take the energy out of a regular player. The odd beat-em-up perspective and bouncing between gameplay styles seems like nothing but uniqueness for its own sake. Konami throws in a lot of variations and mechanics into this title, and though certainly it’s partially entertaining, it’s an overstuffed exercise in reflexes that isn’t accessible except to the toughest of action gamers. I suspect they’ll do fine playing Animaniacs; everyone else can catch the show on DVD.
Three out of five stars.
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