Author: John Legendoffzelda
The DiC produced syndicated TV show Inspector Gadget, about a rubber-limbed cyborg detective and his adventures defeating a criminal mastermind, had a video game made of it a whole seven years after the series ended. For an adaptation to come out seven years after its source material fades is a real test of the fanbase, but this would seem an exception. This cartoon is much like other cartoons of the 1980s, ones that belong to an unspoken nostalgia pantheon created by the eager people who watched those shows as kids and continue their sentiments to this day; if they could maintain such shared interest for this long, seven years wouldn’t seem like anything. Along with that, having the game be released by Super Bomberman creators Hudson Soft would validate their prolonged interest. For everyone else, this delayed update would indicate how forgettable the cartoon is beyond its paratext (the catchphrases, the slinky theme song), and in the case of Inspector Gadget, how egregious it is without it in any format. It may have a lot of surface appeal, but the show is a second-rate piece of retro junk, and so is the game.
Dr. Claw, leader of the evil organization M.A.D. and nemesis of Gadget, has kidnapped his niece and hyper-competent sidekick Penny. Motivated by his boss Chief Quimby, Gadget chases Claw from England to Switzerland to Egypt, to rescue her. Gadget travels through several locales teeming with M.A.D. agents along the way, and he confronts them with both his extendable limbs and a special boxing glove he can launch from his hat. The game design sees to it that he makes use of his other gadgets as well, and arranges parts of the stages that necessitate them. A dart gun and an upwards-extending hand will stretch from his head, and he’ll use both to climb walls and grab onto special hooks. Two types of helicopter blades also pop out of his hat, one that lets Gadget hover over a section of the stage and another that can be controlled to attack an enemy that’s otherwise out of reach. Icons of these gadgets, their ammunition, and of hats, are designed with neat little tiles hidden within blocks and bonus areas and are abundant in each stage.
The game really encourages the player to use the gadgets, and almost half of the time they’re quite handy. Enemy arrangements sometimes allow for a quick dart or bomb to be lobbed at them for easy combat, and the hover blades can even be upgraded to an invincibility mode, letting Gadget knock over bad guys without touching the ground. For the other half, they’re just bothersome. The hover blades make Gadget lurch hastily and sometimes miss a ledge; the bombs have little range; and it’s impossible to jump and fire a dart at the same time. The homing blades can miss their target if the player makes a wrong press of the directional pad, which can mean everything when a conditional hazard like the blowing wind makes the player choose between staying on a platform and hitting the snowman above him. While it’s the most interesting element of the game, the gadget utilization is a mixed bag.
That’s not good, because apart from those gadgets the rest of the game is a long stretch of unvarying cookie-cutter action. Gadget has two hit points, and losing the first one strips him down to his boxer shorts like in Ghosts n’ Goblins. With Gadget so vulnerable, the player has to take notice of the enemies’ erratic patterns of movement and the stages’ own pacing. Claw’s agents may run away while throwing mallets at the player, or they may drop dangerous nuts and bolts from inside their copters when Gadget gets close enough. Simple punching and kicking is often sufficient in eliminating enemies and making conditions easier, but the stages act against the player as well. There’s a time limit to each stage that might or might not reset when a section is cleared, and it continues to intimidate when Gadget has to repeat a stretch of platforms. Gadget has a brisk walk but a short jump, and obstacles have a tendency to appear out of nowhere and knock him back if not outright defeat him. The stages’ multi-layered designs, offering multiple paths through the same area, are what cause these ambushes, and Gadget’s limited skills as a platforming character are part of why they’re so boring. Unrelated to his running and jumping skills, the stages are long and uninvigorating stretches of platforms and ledges in every instance – even the minecart part of the game feels lifeless. The boss battles with Dr. Claw (or at least, his chair) provide some reprieve from the gameplay, even if the right gadget can make rather quick work of Claw. It beats fumbling with the same gadget through an uninspired series of jumps with a pressing time limit.
The plainness of the stage designs extend to the look of Inspector Gadget as a whole, which as a game doesn’t give the impression that it was based on a cartoon (Or, if you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy the show’s animation, the low visual quality seems appropriate). The sprites are small and the backgrounds are flat and colorless. The only interesting visual that happens is the motion blur Gadget’s legs make when he jumps forward. Except for some fog overlays or the occasional screen scrambling into pixels, the Super Nintendo’s capabilities are woefully underused. The music omits the show’s theme song, which especially puts into perspective how unmemorable the soundtrack is, and the sound effects are even worse. Making every single enemy say “Ow!” when hit is quite lazy on the developers’ part, and it’s hard to find an SNES sound effect tinnier than the sound of the Gadgetmobile revving up.
Inspector Gadget is dry and just this side of average, which really puts to shame the idea of a rubber-limbed cyborg. If it were a little more derivative it could maybe have been a neat Super Mario World imitation or something. As it is, the kids who came of preadolescence after the original show ended received TV cartoons superior to Inspector Gadget, with similar video game adaptations as well. I say let them create the new nostalgia.
Three out of five stars.
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