Author: John Legendoffzelda
The box art to Beavis and Butt-Head, in lieu of an ESRB rating, has a small rectangle warning that the game is “Appropriate for Ages 13 and Older”. The message is more of a statement about the title characters’ knee-jerk reputation than it is an indicator of the game’s content – any player with a serious knowledge about the show will find that on the Super Nintendo, these teenage derelicts’ antics have become outrageously well-mannered. It could be inferred that the mostly neutralized, fart-free cartoon violence is more of Nintendo’s content-policing, but it was still the responsibility of Viacom New Media (and Realtime Associates) to program this material into an entertaining product. In the 16-bit era, though, the curse with video games based on Viacom properties was that they were all at their best aggressively mediocre; and the same goes with this treatment of MTV’s dual youth-market icons. While still more playable than the abysmal Wayne’s World, that compliment doesn’t save this game from just being a handful of neat ideas dispersed in a mix of unfortunate licensed-game clichés: disconnected appearances of people and places, ridiculous difficulty, and a limp overall presentation.
From the start, everything seems like a simplified parody of the show. Beavis and Butt-Head are watching TV when a commercial comes on announcing a GWAR concert in their hometown, and the two infer that they’ll get in for free if they go around doing “really cool things”. Only they know if they mean to do good deeds or just things that amuse themselves, but given all of the obstacles that they face, it’s clear that no one else thinks their actions are cool. The duo zap themselves to various parts of Highland, Texas by flicking through channels on their TV, and in every corner of town enemies bombard them from all directions. They get attacked by random skateboarders, nasty Dobermans, surprise basketballs, manhole covers, disgruntled students throwing apple cores; and that’s only the beginning. Beavis and Butt-Head encounter these enemies in long side-scrolling stages, where the objective is always getting to the end without taking too much damage. Sometimes the areas within stages are long stretches of walking; sometimes the duo will have to traipse over clotheslines or hanging light fixtures. Sometimes a stage will have doorways that branch into separate rooms or sections, and on occasion there will be environmental puzzles that rely on the two’s ability to work with each other. Nothing about the game is repetitive exactly, but the egregiousness of gameplay will still make many of these individualized components seem monotonous.
What’s frustrating about the gameplay is that several parts to it had potential. Those extra rooms and the exploration they encourage create a welcome rhythm, one that breaks the linearity of the action by inviting the player to spend their time looking for interactive tidbits. What players will find is that they can obtain quarters from payphones; they can spend those quarters on health-restoring snacks from vending machines; and they can rummage through cabinets to find extra items. The two are also able to equip weapons to defend themselves in each stage, whether limited shots or melee items, and there’s a delectable strand of video game logic to the way they work. Fire extinguishers can be plucked from their specialized containers on the wall, and toy guns have their ammo increased by picking up another toy gun. All of these items have a throwaway practicality that serves exclusively to advance Beavis and Butt-Head through the game, and the sublime detail put into them make these features much too good for the game they inhabit. All of the other parts are lazy and inseparable from the dully annoying difficulty curve present throughout the entire game. No individual section of a stage has any checkpoints, but that wouldn’t nearly be such an issue if Beavis and Butt-Head weren’t such vulnerable characters. They get bombarded at a nearly relentless pace, and both absurd reflexes and rote attention to every on-screen occurrence are required to at least not get hit by all of them. The attention part isn’t helped by certain segments where the two must navigate some new danger and the screen goes inert, only scrolling ahead when they go to the right and seemingly push it.
The harmful things in those places aren’t as easy to detect, and that’s a problem when taking damage is a serious liability; the first hit, without exception, drains over half of the player’s health bar, and each successive hit takes half of what’s remaining until Beavis and Butt-Head fall to the ground. Why even mislead players about the hit point mechanic by using a solid bar, if damage has such a rigidly incremented system anyway? That incongruous detail is an issue, but it definitely steps aside in regards to the enemies’ uniform nature; maybe most of them are easy to defeat, but they still move erratically, pursue the duo repeatedly (Principal McVicker and their denim-clad nemesis Todd especially), and are sometimes positioned in the most problematic spots. Those spots are usually where Beavis and Butt-Head must perform a certain acrobatic move involving one using their legs to launch the other, and it often unnecessarily ends in failure; the most ridiculous outcome being that the person successfully thrown will walk through the enemy and back to where they started. The ability to switch between characters, a feature otherwise used for alternating weapons, means that if and when a character wanders into a malicious hit box, this simple puzzle mechanic turns into an annoying game of chance.
Bonus rounds and a password system invite the player to continue on, but the developers overlook the fact that with ten-character passwords, onomatopoeias are hard to memorize. They focus instead on how the player gets to replicate Beavis and Butt-Head’s inane laughter, a particular quirk that makes you wonder if important attention was erroneously diverted during production. As it is, the game is much less fun than it thinks it is and the enterprise as a whole is a wasted opportunity, working at less than half the standard it should be and made with components that are wildly uneven in their realization. Amidst the terrible ersatz hard-rock and generic cartoon antics meant to replicate the show’s MTV edge, the only things that ever tap into that spirit are the graphics; with any other video game they would be slapdash and inexcusable, but here they surprisingly (accidentally?) reflect the misanthropically crude animation of the show. Beavis and Butt-Head doesn’t show any serious forms of misanthropy, which keeps it from being a hateful disaster. But it’s tamer than you think, and the fans that play this game will be seriously unhappy with the low amount of anything cool.
Two out of five stars.
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