Monday, February 4, 2013

Oops We Forgot About : Gex

[in an Austin Powers-ish accent] Judo chop,baby,yeah! 

   I know you. You're the girl who's played Banjo Kazooie front to back at least 3 times since it came out when you were 8. You are the dude who remembers opening up his PlayStation on Christmas day to find Spyro nearby. 

    Games those days were phrased as 3D platformers or 3D adventure games. It was such an exciting time in gaming. We now had fully rendered worlds running on our home consoles and exciting characters to romp around with. 

     As if that wasn't exciting enough, some of these friendly and cute animals would talk. A newly fledging company made up of industry champs called Crystal Dynamics decided to make a game where this gecko named Gex plays around in his own 2D platformer. They gave him a voice. That's not even their worst mistake. It was first released for the ill-fated 3DO. 

    First off, if you really want your console to fail, make sure that multi-player gaming requires plugging the other controller into the first player controller. There resides a literal controller port on each controller. Genius. For the next trick, they decided to set the console price at a deliciously outlandish deal of oh, say, $700. And that's how you quickly destroy your new video game console company in the year 1993. 3DO later went the Sega route and developed games during 1996 until their ultimate demise in 2003 when people stopped giving a shit about their flagship Army Men franchise.

   I digress on the 3DO, in all honesty it was too ambitious at the time when CD technology was just starting to catch on. Sega CD faced similar issues gaining buyers. Thankfully the system brought us new Ip's such as Need For Speed and Gex. 
   I'm not going to speak much on Gex. It was later ported to PS1 after Crystal Dynamics noticed the 3DO ship sinking. It's a great platformer but I want to focus largely on the next two games in the franchise because they are fully 3D while Gex is a 2D platformer. A tight one at that and it truly has the same elements as the next two with the themed levels and pop-culture voice over references. 

   Now onto Gex: Enter The Gecko. In the worlds of Banjo Kazooie and Spyro the Dragon there is an atmosphere that fits each games franchise. The atmosphere inside a Gex game is truly something special. Instead of the archaic snow and water levels, there are movie spoofs and genre cliches.

   There is a cartoon level where Gex wears a bunny suit and has to outrun random falling objects. Everything is reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon.  All the while there are enemies who look and sound just enough like Elmer Fudd to get the point across without a lawsuit. 

[in an Austin Powers-ish accent] Judo chop,baby,yeah!

   Levels that seem to be based on movies exist as well. The stereotypical space level is directly aimed at lampooning the Star Wars franchise.  

[in an Austin Powers-ish accent] Judo chop,baby,yeah!
    Arguably the best part of playing any Gex game is hearing the wonderful voice of Dana Gould. Who is Dana Gould? A comedian who worked in stand-up and was aired mostly on HBO. Is he a great comedian? I'm not really sure. Are the jokes he makes in Gex funny? Not really. In all honesty, there are a lot of voice clips for Gex for each level but they start to become repeated especially if you stay in a level for a while for 100% completion. 

   While this doesn't mar the game too much, it certainly does break the atmosphere when your older and more experienced with the game. As a child it doesn't seem to be a huge issue. Just something to chuckle at because most of these jokes are aimed at young adults and sadly, the biggest issue which is not the games fault is that the jokes heavily rely on pop culture. If you weren't born in the late 80's or early 90's, there's a good chance you won't get why it's slightly humorous that Gex spouts "All this technology and Shatner still can't get a good hairpiece... ". 

   Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko is essentially a lampoon on the spy genre for the hub world while having the levels feature the same random themes. As a child, these levels looked way more interesting than and exciting. It really made me want to design a game of my own one day. There's a certain way a game can disguise itself as deep when your less familiar with how games work. Today these games have a very simple feel and oh boy do they ever lack polish! Banjo Kazooie and Mario feature the exact same objective based game play but they certainly can justify why you didn't make that jump. 

   Given what the game sets out to do, it's successful. Overall, the series might have been able to continue with a fourth iteration as pop culture is always fun to poke at. Crystal Dynamics is still around and now owned by Square Enix. I believe most of the studios focus has been on Tomb Raider though so a sequel isn't likely. It would have been a good time to release a Gex installment back in 2001 when Banjo Threeie was canceled and Rare was out of the adventure genre for a bit. 

[in an Austin Powers-ish accent] Judo chop,baby,yeah!

   Regardless, Gex taught me something about games. They aren't about killing and shooting, they can be about lampooning. We have college humor and we have funny youtube game parodies that all try to poke at the basics, Mario, Pac Man, yawn. There are very few games we classify as "funny" and while we can name Secret of Monkey Island and Psychonauts, there's a very good reason why funny games don't often work. 

   One needs to only look at Gex to see that a repeated voice-line can make the game instantly feel dated and then the joke is ruined. Another issue is that a game usually has repeated segments of gameplay. Everyone plays games differently and you have an issue where the joke wasn't well received because the player wasn't in the right direction. 

   The most recent game of this ilk I can remember is Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. I can remember this game being hyped up as featuring Master Cheif and Mario as parodies. They were only featured in 3 minute cut-scenes each. I thought this would be a funny game and it failed miserably.

   Humor is not a safe option for developers to build their game around and Gex was simply lucky enough to be developed in a slighty-more accepting time. 

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