Author: John Legendoffzelda
There’s a distinctive, almost iconic, visual style to the Steven Spielberg-produced 1994 film of The Flintstones. It’s one that Ocean badly fumbled when they translated the movie to the Super Nintendo. While the movie may have been a dumb comedy, it also had a grand production design that gave it a tenacious sense of larger-than-life cartoon theatrics – it was in the fanciful stone-and-wood interpretations of modern-day conveniences, and the boundlessness of movement that let the actors perform exaggerated feats like sliding down a dinosaur’s back.
When The Flintstones game re-creates the famous image of Fred sliding down the tail of that brontosaurus-crane, the moment is as slow and mediocre as all the content that comes after, yet that moment also becomes a microcosm of the game’s specific flaws; the weird tactility of everything from Fred’s face to the bronto’s skin is actively highlighted, and the cartoon theatricality is replaced with logy live-action gravity. That’s the special mistake this game makes. It recreates the movie’s live-action sensibilities and not nearly enough of the animated sensibilities that were its original intention. The logic it uses for adapting the material is way too literal.
Bare-footed everyman Fred Flintstone, the main character in a largely pared-down plot, is handed the sparse objective of “stopping Cliff Vandercave”. The prehistoric yuppie from the movie doesn’t do that much antagonistic stuff here, other than kidnap Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm and chase Barney. Cliff incites Fred to chase him all over Bedrock and what may as well be the rest of Pangaea. What story there is to tell is told through short, badly punctuated cut-scenes that serve more to flimsily set up the level that follows than to provide context. Said levels are too long and too few, and for the most part bear the marks of any third-rate platformer: complicated jumping physics, tricky enemy placement and puzzle-solving thrown in as weak embellishment.
Fred’s pursuit of Cliff takes him through collections of cliff-sides and long stretches of ground, which have a pattern of either sloping continuously upwards or being stacked so high above one another, that the player has to move the camera to see what’s waiting to ambush him. And there undoubtedly is usually something waiting to impede the player; maybe it’s a bottomless pit, or a leaping frog. There are also gorillas to contend with and mop-topped cavemen ready to strike with perhaps a pick-axe or an endless barrage of spinning disks.
The most unpredictable enemies are often those that hide too far out of camera range, like a charging reptile or a caveman ready to push a boulder down a hill that Fred can only dodge with his portly jump. Fred jumps in the air like a minimally active sack of meat, gaining only the bare requisite amount of height or distance to do anything. He’s good at swinging a club and tossing bowling balls and tiny rocks, which is how enemies are dispatched anyway; but the level layouts keep insisting on his utilization of that feeble jump. They do it with their sheer altitude and horizontal reach, forcing Fred to climb a lot of ledges and clear many gaps in the ground to reach the goal. And nuisances like the disks have to be jumped around lest he lose a hit point.
And losing a hit point is bad news in this game, since the only items that can replenish them are the extra-life icons. Taking any damage makes the player forfeit additional lives and the chance to get any farther than the tedious level where he’s stuck. This means the gamer will really have to manage Fred’s lethargic skills if he hopes to finish.
With these problems inherent in the basic platforming, it brings into question the presence of the time limit and score counter. Neither of them mean anything in the context of gameplay, the former because dealing with the muddy jumping and dreary pace is enough of a challenge, and the latter because the point system is unsatisfying. It grants a frustratingly conservative amount of points for eliminating enemies and collecting special items like shiny blue gems (one gem that’s the size of Fred himself is only worth 100), and the fact that The Flintstones treats high scores like the ultimate accomplishment is puzzling.
Two particular levels stand out from the rest of The Flintstone’s content. One is a linear set-piece where Fred surfs on a tidal wave of lava, and the other is something of a mini-game where he drives through downtown Bedrock while bouncing Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm off the canopy roof of his car, and the convoluted mechanics of that second one will definitely make players long for the old running and jumping. Other than that, the entire game is just the running and jumping: a boring gallery of overly large platforms and paths peppered with annoying, same-y enemies. The greater portion of the development effort went into staying steadfastly attached to the Flintstones name, and that misguided attention is what gave this product its bizarre look: it’s a re-creation of a live-action re-creation of a cartoon.
This aesthetic choice does present images that are pretty in their own right; the trees and stone walls and dirt paths are crafted with intricate, microscopic detail, while lava glows with tangible heat and sunlight visibly shines through jungle foliage. The Flintstones has a pleasant naturalism to it, yet it’s off-putting because that photo-realism extends to this world’s cartoon naturalism and ends up messing up things. It affects Fred most notably, as he’s unfairly weighed down by gravity and given a densely pixelated face that makes him into a digitized John Goodman – that just should not be what he looks like.
There’s a “Wanted” poster hidden in the jungle level with the right idea, showing Fred in his classic Hanna-Barbera design; looking at that handsome, clear visage as it stares back, the player can taste its potential. But instead, the developers tried following the movie and distanced themselves from the warm icons that they ought to have trusted more.
Not that they followed the movie that much either, going by the lack of plot and oddly contrasting music. The watered-down tribal percussion and dreamy synth trances may not make any sense sharing a soundtrack with “Flint-stones!/Meet the Flint-stones!”, but even at their best they aren’t worth the rest of this game.
The Flintstones has a nonsense aesthetic and gameplay too unremarkable to be aggravated by, and the truly likable parts to it are better served elsewhere.
Two out of five stars.
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