What could be better than a film based off of a hilarious comedy sketch, you ask? A video game based off the movie based off the comedy sketch, of course! Or so one might be led to believe. The 1980 cult classic comedy “The Blues Brothers” was chock full of video game potential: car chase scenes, seedy Chicago atmospheres, riotous musical numbers; even Carrie Fisher packing a rocket launcher. Spectacular! Somehow this feast of fun, when in the hands of Titus Software, turned into a repetitive platformer with very little action and a regretful absence of Blues. A G-rated Mario borrower was nothing fresh to the video game world, and as a result this game has understandably gone largely overlooked.
While the NES version of “The Blues Brothers” was at least tied to the movie by having the protagonists evade the police, in the SNES version Jake and Elwood (referred to hereafter affectionately as ‘Jawood’ or ‘the Bros’) instead fight nature and navigate the concrete desert of Chicago on their journey. They are equipped with mini-LP bullets which they shoot at bulldogs, psychotic flies, bear traps and lawnmowers. After the 24th level it becomes evident that Jawood are the stars of a sold-out concert featuring themselves, The Blues Brothers. However as to why they were inclined to spend time galvanizing all over town remains unclear.
For a game where ‘music is the weapon,’ there is a limited scope of music quality. While the soundtrack technically shifts from level to level, it is still the same organ and percussion sounds (this is blues?) throughout. There is a pitiful lack of horn and ringing electric guitar presence–we are far from declaring ourselves a Soul Man, indeed. Of course, the film itself seems to have a strange perception of the genre of music, as can be seen by the overdose of “Buddy” Wayfarer sunglasses. Just as the movie plays loosely on the concept of the Chicago Blues tradition, so the game plays loosely on the movie. Liberties are taken all over, because hey, it’s a free country.
The two dozen levels are divided into two main atmospheres. In the outdoor levels, the Bros. defeat their enemies and perform rather standard platforming in levels which usually take a few tries to pass, but are sometimes completed in as little as 20 seconds. There are limited tools available to vary one level’s experience from another. The occasional mushroom springboard elevates Jawood to higher heights, and a tile of whole cake buffs them up with increased athleticism until they are struck by an enemy. The street-themed levels feature thick chains to climb, timed laser beams to avoid and the occasional brick wall to blast through. The exception to this indoor/outdoor level design is a bonus level in which the Bros. can fly a luck dragon of sorts to stock up on goodies. While Jawood’s world has an endearingly cartoonish presence, there is little variation of landscape among the level types. After your magical tour on Falcor’s cousin, it’s back pounding the pavement and slinging your unsold mini-LPs at snails in the meadow.
The controls are the most troubling aspect of the game. The Bros. move quickly and with reasonable dexterity, but sticking jumps is difficult due to skidding. Navigating the chain ropes in the street levels is a nightmare. Jawood’s mini-LP discs are functional in defeating enemies horizontally, but the single-direction shooting feels elementary. For a platformer that is probably hoping to borrow associative glory by having “Brothers” in the title, the gameplay element is inexcusably sub-par. Thankfully, there is one wrinkle added by a cooperative effort. In the vein of Donkey Kong Country 2 and Donkey Kong Country 3, Jawood can stack themselves and travel together. The result is a hilarious confusion of Stooge-like bumping and bopping as the Brothers never seem to have enough space for them both to progress. One could call this melding of the competitive and cooperative either genius or infuriating; it simply depends on your mood and how you choose to enjoy the game.
As critical as running and jumping are to a whimsical platformer, interactive elements are necessary as well to make the gamer feel one with the digital world before them. The Blues Brothers fails here, too. Finding a mini-jukebox offers temporary invincibility, but it’s not as if there are secret areas to be accessed: it’s a mere temporary convenience. The mushroom launching pad is the only interactive environmental element. And what is a platformer without cool weapons? While the mini-LPs are fun to fire off at first, they quickly lose their novelty. How about being able to upgrade from 45s to 90s? Even Kirby gets to destroy all enemies on the screen by unleashing the air from his cream puff lungs into a microphone, and that was on NES!
The overall package of the Bros.’ digital Jukebox Adventure feels too static for my taste. There are few weapons and power-ups, a negligible musical presence and a complete lack of dramatic tension. Hello, how about a screenshot after every several levels to pace things a bit? Everything about this game feels half-assed. I recommend not giving this game a shot unless you just can’t get enough of any opportunity at whimsical platforming. Other than that, it’s certainly not worth running from the police about.
Two out of Five Stars
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