Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Closer Look at Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool

A Closer Look at Chester Cheetah: Too Cool To Fool

I like Cheetos. I want to start this essay with that caveat perfectly clear. I like Cheetos, I like the puffy kind, and I like the Flaming Hot crunchy kind. So please, as you read, remember I like Cheetos.

Chester Cheetah: Too Cool To Fool for the Super Nintendo, I am not as sure about. As a matter of fact I can tell you right now, this thing comes in a gray plastic cartridge, it fits into the cartridge slot of a Super Nintendo video game console, when you turn the machine on images and sound emanate from your television screen as a result of the cartridge being inserted into the console, but outside of that, CC: TCTF barely resembles anything you might consider to be a video game.

Ok, so maybe some of the above is hyperbolic. That’s ok, what is to follow might just convince you otherwise.

In the tradition of other video games based on product tie-ins, for example the very fun SPOT game for the NES based on the 1990’s 7up mascot or the variety of bizarre Kool-Aid man games for the home consoles of the 1980’s, Chester Cheetah: Too Cool To Fool is a video game based on the exploits of a then popular, I suppose, marketing icon. The game is a simple platformer in which you must guide Chester through five (although the manual says six at one point, more on the manual in a bit) levels of trials and tribulations as he attempts to escape the Four Corners Zoo and regain his “radicool”* motorcycle, so he can, I don’t know, be more cool or something; the plot is pretty weak. The five levels of Four Corners Zoo feature all of your standard platforming elements with no real innovation or deviation. There is a water-type level in which you must cross a lake filled with alligators then navigate the lake in a boat. There is an air level where you ride a bird through the skies, a cave level where everything is dark except for your immediate area, you get the idea. If it has been done better in another platforming game it is probably here. The levels are incredibly short and lack depth or imagination.

*Sorry kids, it is in the manual like that…

The game is well themed. Apart from Chester running about, there are several other references to the product this game endorses. Part of your goal is collect paw print shaped Cheetos (remember those?) to regain your health. In the bonus stages, there are old school (then contemporary) Cheetos bags in the background. There is even a coupon for a bag of Cheetos in the back of the manual (but it expired Dec. 31, 1993, sorry). So if the true object of the game is to coerce me into the store to purchase a bag of puffed corn covered in orange “cheese” flavored powder, then the game has a good chance of success. After all, eating a bag of Cheetos is far superior to suffering through this sorry excuse for a video game. Heck an empty Cheetos bag is more fun than this game…but I digress.

The main problem with this game, however, is that it just plain isn’t fun. Oh sure, you can play it, but saying this game is fun just because you can play it is like saying Brussels sprouts are food just because you can eat them. Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool is the Brussels sprouts of Super Nintendo games. The levels are short and simple and lack much of interest outside the main goal of obtaining the motorcycle part and moving on to the next level. The controls are simple and the game is pretty much pick-up-and-play, although going up the pipes in level one is almost accidental rather that intentional. Swinging and climbing on the vines in level two is also a grind-it-until-you-find-it endeavor, but all in all you can work your way through the levels with fundamental gaming skills. There are items to collect, but they are generally irrelevant.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Closer Look at Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn

A Closer Look at Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn

So I am at my local second hand (a marvelous little spot called MUST HAVE Music and More, big shout out for those guys, they rock) and I’m browsing the Gamecube, PS2, and Wii games when I spot the impossible. Yes, the impossible. Amidst the used copies of Kingdom Hearts and God of War, I see a game with a price tag that is too cheap to be real. There, on the shelf is a PS2 game with the low, low price of $5. Yes, $5. So I have to know, right. What kind of game is so bad that it only fetches $5 on the second hand market? How bad can it really be? $5?

The cover of the game case clearly shows a dwarf brandishing a magic wand and riding a unicorn fighting some kind of slightly armored skeletons. Not an instant indicator of loserdom, although the assemblage is rather unexpected. The game is called Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn. No real help there, had it been called “Super Dwarf and the Pegasus Coalition,” we might have cause to worry, scorn even, but Pryzm isn’t a terrible title. Are you sure this game is only $5? So I ask my guy, “why is this game $5? Can it really be that bad? Do you know anything about it?” Promptly, because my guy at MUST HAVE is very cool, he jumps on a certain website to check user reviews. While none of them are dismal, most 3 out of 5 stars or something, none of them are glowing either. Yet one stands out. According to this particular reviewer the game is a bit tedious, but fun and the reviewer only picked the game up in the first place because he was a fan of unicorns! You read that right; he was a fan of unicorns. Well, could any game that appeals to a unicorn fan be too good for yours truly?

Not for five dollars.

So I bought Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn and brought it home. Now I’m no big fan of unicorns like our friend the reviewer, but I’m willing to at least give the game a try for five dollars. I mean, it’s a PS2 game, for…five…dollars. At the very least the cuts scenes are going to be worth five dollars, right? Well, not exactly.

Pryzm is a game about a troubled land which has fallen victim to a deadly plague that has transformed the four realms of the trolls, gnomes, elves and nymphs into dark, twisted mirror images of themselves. The plague is spread through viral plague flowers that have cropped up in the realms and spewed poison across the land. Only the peaceful unicorn realm of Tu-lum has been spared. (I know, but hang in there) It is there that hope for the realms lies in the form of a young unicorn named Pryzm. Pryzm is the unicorn of prophecy said to be the only one capable of cleansing the land of the plague. The unicorn council has entrusted this dangerous quest to the ambitious Pryzm and her uneasy ally, Karrock the troll arch-mage. (You’ve made it this far, you’re in this thing now, keep reading)

The main purpose of the game is to work your way through each of the four realms, comprised of four regions and a final showdown with a plague boss. In each region you must seek out six plague flowers and heal them with your magic. Both Pryzm and Karrock possess healing magic that can restore the flowers to their true glory. The inhabitants of each region have been horribly mutated by the plague, thus you must cure them as well. Some inhabitants are linked to the plague flower itself and must be healed before you can have any effect on the flower. Once a flower is restored, the surrounding area will be renewed and your health and magic levels will be restored so long as you remain in that area. Cure all six flowers and the entire region will be restored and you will move on to the next region.

You may explore the realms in any order any and may leave one realm for another at any time via the map screen. You may also return to the unicorn realm if you are sadistic enough to want an extra dose of bad voice acting and N64 level graphics (more on that in a minute). Once an entire realm is healed you will be automatically returned to the unicorn realm and be subjected to the aforementioned bad voice acting anyway.

As you play the game, the truth behind the plague will be revealed as well as the one responsible for inflicting it upon the land. (I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with Ze Hark Punicorn). These cut scenes might be some of the creepiest, scariest things I have ever been witness to in my years of video gaming (and that includes countless jolts from playing Haunted House when I was eight). While I won’t spoil the surprise, in case you decide to give this game a try, I will tell you not to
play this game late at night with no lights on, if you like being able to go to sleep later.

Honestly, the game isn’t all that bad. The world is pretty cool if lacking in depth. The level designs are reminiscent of Gauntlet: Legends for the N64 (partially due to the graphics), wherein you have a large area to explore, but really only a single goal in mind. You are free to look around all you like, and while there are some neat set dressings here and there, you’ll not find much depth to the world you are playing in. The unicorn castle is particularly well rendered, but ultimately a little unfulfilling. Overall, the visual quality of the game is on par with the very best N64 games. Blocky, but well drawn, everything save the scant few FMVs looks about as good as Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Which means it could be a whole lot worse, but probably a lot better for the PS2. Those FMVs that do exist are up to par for the system and they are used for some of the more important parts of the story, particularly those horrific scenes I described above, but they are not enough to carry the game.

In terms of game play, Pryzm offers a very straightforward play. While it isn’t quite pick-up-and-play, it should only take a few levels to get the hang of the controls and how to meet your objectives. I was still making discoveries four and five levels deep. The levels are fun and not overly difficult, although there are a few parts of the game that seem impossible. They are not; I have beaten the game. There is a level of frustration that sometimes rears its ugly head and maybe makes you want to go play something else for a while, but chances are pretty good you’ll come back and give that particular level another try after you have cooled off. That is one of the game’s strong points, the levels are non-linear and if one area is giving you the fits, you can always try a different one. The boss fights are not terribly difficult, but each one is unique and you’ll have to develop different strategies to defeat them. Controlling Pryzm is intuitive and simple and you’ll rarely be asked to execute a maneuver that is beyond your abilities.

Thankfully, there are no tedious jumping puzzles here. The main deficit in the game play is the lack of development. While this fundamentally speaks to the classic gamer in me who likes the idea that everything you need to know about the game is given to you from the start, I somehow expect a little more from a PS2 game of this caliber. Pryzm could desperately use at least a few power-ups, level-ups, items, NPC characters to talk to, something more than what is there on the surface. With just a little extra depth this game could be vastly improved.

Possibly one of the most lacking, and sometimes irritating, parts of the game is the sound. First of all, the voice acting is atrocious. I mean we are talking bad dinner theatre atrocious. Were I the people responsible for producing this rubbish, I would continue my career under a nom de plume and deny all knowledge of this project. Imagine the worst children’s cartoon, say Herculoids, and then triple the absence of quality in the voice acting and you have something that is only slightly better than the voice of the unicorn leader. While the above diatribe wasted more of your time than you probably would have liked, it does not really do the voice acting in this game justice. The only cool voice belongs to the terrifying evil creature responsible for the plague. You’ll know him when you encounter him. Not only is the voice acting devoid of quality, you get to hear a lot of it on your quest because Pryzm and Karrock are constantly talking to each other. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, excepting that they are only programmed to say two phrases at a given time. This means you’ll be sick of whatever they have to say before you have completed your first level. The only bright spot lies in the fact that the two phrases change as you complete more of your quest; and once you beat the game if you replay a level, they never talk at all. So, while it is tedious, it isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Playing Pryzm is overall a pretty fun ride, but the lack of depth mentioned above, the sub-par graphics, and horrendous voice acting all combine to keep it from being the upper tier game it could have been. There is enough here to make this game worth playing and chances are pretty good I’ll play through it again someday just for the fun of it. As for whether it is classic or crap, I cannot relegate this game to the crap pile along with LJN’s X-men for the NES and Sonic Shuffle for the Dreamcast (someday I will tell you that story). Pryzm isn’t quite a true classic, but it is far closer to classic than crap. One thing I can say for absolute certain is that Pryzm, Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn is definitely worth the whopping $5 I paid for it. If you come across this game in a similar, albeit unlikely, situation I say buy with confidence and enjoy!

The Final Look:

If you see this game somewhere and it’s cheap enough, it is worth a look, but don’t go out of your way to add it to your collection. It is ten, maybe fifteen, dollars worth of fun at the most. And with that we bid a fond farewell to the land of dwarves who ride unicorns. As a side note, I also picked up a copy of Britney’s Dance Beat at the same time, also for five dollars, maybe someday I’ll tell you about that one….

Pryzmatic Stan

Join me next time when I’ll take a Closer Look and tell you if Chester Cheetah really is Too Cool to Fool on the SNES. Yeah, I know…

Guide follows after the jump!