Thursday, January 26, 2012

 Muppets game review: Chaos at the Carnival (NES)

Oh, it's chaos alright! Miss Piggy has been captured in 8-bit hell by the evil Dr. Grump and his Grumpasaurus. After hearing the news the other Muppets inmediately decide to work together and try to rescue Piggy. The story is as standard as you can get and not very Muppet-like. The programmers could at least try  to relate the game to the show. It's not that hard. I'll prove it: 

"The mysterious Dr Grump holds a contest. Whoever can score the most points at his newly opened carnival wins $ 1.000.000. The Muppets, looking at their theatre decide they could really use the money to renovate the Muppet Theatre and head to the carnival." 

See? I only spend two minutes thinking of a storyline and it's already more Muppet-like. The gameplay could remain the same but it already feels more like a Muppet product.
However, especially with older games, it's the gameplay that counts and CATC takes an interesting approach here. Unlike many licensed games of its time CATC was not a simple case of sticking the characters into a standard platform game. Instead, they stuck the characters in 5 horrible minigames, most of them starring a different Muppet.
The games featured are:
  • Crash Car Course, a bumper ride like game starring Animal
  • Raging River ride, a wild ride in a tube starring Kermit
  • Lost in Space, a shooter starring Gonzo
  • Amazing Ice Cream Maze. a maze starring Fozzie
Completing these four games results in the final level, the Grumpasaurus cave, in which the player once again assumes control of Kermit and faces the Grumpasaurus and Dr. Grump.
It certainly looks like enough variety and with four (or five if you count the final level) minigames at least one of them is at least bound to please Muppet fans...right?

Having the extremely dubious honour of being first on the list of minigames is Kermit's River Ride in which you have to steer Kermit through a river, avoiding rocks, logs and whirlpools. It isn't that bad compared to the other games but the game sometimes causes cheap deaths since you can't go upwards. That means that when you're stuck between land and a rock you're doomed and have to wait untill you lose a life. Also pray that you won't respawn at the same spot since the game likes to do this.  The best thing that can be said about this minigame is that it gives you the chance to replenish your stock of extra lives. You'll need them later on.

Fozzie's Amazing Ice Cream Maze is second and it certainly isn't amazing. Actually, it isn't much of a maze either. Instead of having to find your way through a large labyrinth this minigame consists of a single screen 'maze' in which Fozzie has to find a bowtie, a present and a second bow tie because you know, you always could use a spare bow tie. Fozzie's efforts are however constantly twarted by a small enemy which may be Rizzo although the graphics aren't good enough to tell. Whoever he is, he seemingly walks randomly through the maze looking as bored as the player controlling Fozzie and only heads your way when you're close to him.
When you find all three items you get transported to another maze. I hope you like mazes since you have to clear about 30 to pass this minigame. The game tries to make the levels harder by increasing the enemy count in later levels  with some even featuring two Rizzo's and a deadly candy cane. The game's biggest challenge however is the extreme boringness of each level which all look a like safe for a palette swap. Not helping the game is the fact that the game doesn't always detect when you pick up an item.
Aiding you in this challenge are items like a dog bone and a group of hearts you can pick up. The bone distracts a Pluto-like dog enemy you encounter in the later levels, effectively making it useless for 80% of this minigame. The hearts don't replenish your hearts but temporarily freeze an enemy if you hit them with it because picking up hearts to restore your hearts would be, you know, logical.

Animal and bumper cars seem like a winning combination so I tried the Crash Car Course next. The objective here is to collect flags and avoid the bombs. Simple enough, especially since there is no time liimit and you can adjust your position whenever you want. Stopping and turning before every set of bombs is the way to go but like the maze before it this game is pretty tedious. You can't speed through the minigame since driving at high speeds makes it nearly impossible to dodge the bombs.

Gonzo's Lost in Space game is fourth and the space setting really fits Gonzo, perheps even more so since Muppets in Space. Your job is to steer Gonzo's space pod and shoot at incoming meteors and aliens. Shockingly enough, this minigame feels like an actual game and not like a boring chore. You can rotate the ship 360 degrees and steer it in any direction though your better off just rotating and shooting anything that comes near. The minigame plays well enough but gets incredibly hard later on with caves you have to enter making it the most frustrating of the four. A nice detail is the cameo by Camilla, which makes me wonder why they didn't feature more Muppets in the other minigames. Oh well, at least this minigame finishes with a boss fight which is the first one in the game and we're already at 80%.

After completing all the minigames it's to time to go after Dr Grump and his Grumpasaurus in the final stage. Since the object of the goal is to rescue Piggy it should come as no surprise that you'll have to control Kermit in this final level. What is a surprise though is the way he walks. I don't know who thought it was a great idea to have Kermit in a constant crouching position but it looks really awkward. Awkward as in looking like Kermit has to take a dump every second you stand still. Ignoring the animation, the final level is a boring platform game where you have to avoid bats, rocks and other generic objects and animals as you make your way to the Grumpasaurus. Aside from the horrible controls (Kermit's jumps are extremely floaty), the level isn't too hard  and soon you'll face the Grumpasaurus.

I love dinosaurs and judging by the name, the Grumpasaurus looks to be an angry dinosaur, which makes him that much more awesome. Well, today's game is brought to you by the letter D. D as in disappointment. The Grumpasaurus looks like a pink ape with a tube on his head. He's also beaten in 5 seconds.

The stage is set for the big finale. Kermit and his friends have travelled all along the carnival barely surviving the doctor's lethal games. Dr Grump, an evil genious, capable of creating life, putting everything on the line to finally end Kermit's career. He dares the green hero to step closer as he prepares his deadly bombs. 
Kermit steps closer and all the evil Dr. Grump does is walk from left to right, dropping bombs. 

This has to be one of the most disappointing boss fights I've ever encountered. You simply avoid the bombs and shoot hearts (yeah hearts) upwards. I do have to give the game credit for using hearts (love?) to defeat the final boss. There aren't many games where you have to shoot hearts to defeat an enemy, let alone the final boss. There also aren't that many games with such a lame final boss. After beating the Grumpmeister, Piggy floats down and complains 
about how long it took you to beat the game. Piggy is not the type of person who says "Oh thank you! Oh Thank you". No one says "O Thank you" twice in succession unless they're a robot.

The game was only released in the US so I've had to import the game. I was very curious how the game would play out since the NES is home to a lot of great games which are still fun to play today. This game isn't one of them. It's a typical licensed cash-in with horrible controls and it bears no relation to the source material, except for the characters used in the extremely generic levels. Notice how I didn't mention the sound? That's because the music sounds like it was composed by a blindfolded monkey with rabies. The sound effects are even more annoying.

I just spend about eight hours trying to to beat Muppets: Chaos at the Carnival, a 20 year old game that cost me about $40. I hate my life.

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