Author: John Legendoffzelda
The time was right for The Tick to have shown his dumb grinning face when he did. Being a staple of the old Fox Kids lineup next to Animaniacs, another well-regarded piece of accessible 1990s satire, the show gave a needed contrast to the current state of superhero entertainment. The subversive, nihilistic attitude of stuff like Alan Moore’s writing had caught on in a negative way. Dour seriousness had saturated what could be sufficiently called, three or four decades before, stories about people in capes and colored underpants who punch bad guys. The show was able to safely perch itself outside this trend and not only guffaw at its ludicrousness, but also give kids and knowing adults a sense of the more optimistic ludicrousness that superheroes could really provide. Clad in costumes that made them resemble oversize Technicolor bugs, the Tick and his nebbish sidekick Arthur rented an apartment, traveled to prehistoric times, met mole-people, and fought an assortment of villains with goofy designs. And it made for riveting Saturday morning fun.
Fox Interactive and Software Creations decided to turn the Tick’s exploits into a video game, and it turned out as well as anyone would expect of a licensed game. In trying to preserve the action and goofiness of a man in colored underpants punching bad guys, the creators essentially made Earthworm Jim as a beat-em-up. But where that game at least has enough cartoon atmospherics to balance its uneven quality, this one just falls on its face.
As the blue, bulging-chinned Tick, the player’s incentive for roaming around and beating up mooks starts out a bit foggy. The main plot is eventually revealed that the Tick must stop his nemesis Chairface Chippendale, a dapperly-dressed man with a chair in place of his head, from harnessing a giant laser to write his name on the moon’s surface. The only exposition offered about this in the entire game comes from each of the title cards that precede each of the ten chapters, with not a single cutscene or dialogue box to be found. Everything in between is an interchangeable collection of set-pieces full of some of the Super Nintendo’s wateriest gameplay. While the Tick ends some combos by daintily flicking his finger, and shouts his classic “Spoon!” catchphrase after each stage, these features barely do anything to hide the total lack of enjoyment or even innovation; just punching and kicking, that’s all he does in endless stages against a painfully limited set of enemies. It’s nothing but boldly-colored ninjas for the first four stages and metal-masked Idea Men for the other six, and the player will get very tired of looking at them before they know it.
The enemies just keep coming, too. Each beat-em-up section crams maybe twenty or thirty mooks in at a time and doles them out in groups of three, the game’s idea of an interesting challenge that does nothing except draw out the game’s length and bring attention to the Tick’s faults as a fighter. His moves aren’t as limited as mentioned before; he’s capable of tricks like picking up a mook and bashing them in a metronomic motion. But his punches and kicks, which are what most players will manage anyhow, can often not connect and he moves rather choppily around the allotted space. There’s ample opportunity for these mooks to run right past him, where they can hide off-screen or use their weapon on him that he hasn’t yet knocked out of their hands. Disarming these ninjas and Idea Men of their katanas and guns, and calling on Arthur to swoop in and knock out all enemies on-screen, are the only interesting things to do in the middle of combat, and the novelty is thin. Indeed, it becomes an obligation much like everything else.
Certain parts of the game make the Tick stand back-to-back with another character to deliver enhanced combat, even though the same punches and kicks are still used and none of the problems with moving or interacting with the enemies are fixed. The only real purpose they have is to bring in other characters from the show to make the game less lonely. The player will meet Paul the Samurai, Oedipus, and American Maid, who all actually fight, but Die Fledermaus only activates that back-to-back pose and flees when hit. It turns out that this quirk about Fledermaus is true to his character, a joke about how he’s a superhero who doesn’t like to fight; the problem with the way such jokes are presented is that when the gameplay is this deeply monotonous, they aren’t funny. Several of the series’ villains are in the game too, secluded in side-scrolling rooftop stages where if the Tick falls into a pit (likely from being knocked into one by an obnoxious projectile), he must do battle with rogues like the Chainsaw Vigilante or the Red Scare. There’s no progress that can be gained from defeating these bosses apart from increasing the player’s score, so really they’re ineffectual distractions from the rest of this game and they don’t even count as real boss fights.
The real boss fights disrupt the general torpor of the action by having some of the most annoyingly hard bosses this side of an SNK title; they’re creeps who run away from the Tick, launch bullets and grenades that knock him out cold, and take only one hit before resuming their pattern of invincibility. The actual battle with Chairface has an extra, impossible task. There’s always something wrong with a game whose only two modes are “mind-numbing laziness” and “needling difficulty”, and that sentiment definitely applies here.
On the surface of everything, however, this looks and feels like an honest adaptation of the show. It gets the splashy color scheme right, and its roots in animation show through with the characters’ designs. Even if the Tick has a bit more pixelated oomph to him than the other heroes and villains, everyone demonstrates nice, fluid movements all around. The audio has genuine clarity; the Tick’s soundbites are great, and the music is enjoyable throughout, whether it’s the Fox Interactive fanfare or all the digitized variations on the campy neo-swing of the original theme song. The problem is, The Tick is only best on its surface – everything beneath is boring, graceless, and flatly functional, deprived of the verve that made its namesake so beloved. The show smartly parodied the problems of its time, but no one will mistake this adaptation for anything smart.
Two out of five stars.
HAVE AN OPINION?
You can submit reviews for games on the Submissions page.