Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oddities: A Bug's Life (Genesis)

Videogame hardware lifecycles can often be dated based on the licensed games by whose presence each platform was graced -- or, generally, disgraced.  The Atari 2600 had a Krull game, the NES got Hudson Hawk.  Pixar's second animated feature, A Bug's Life, arrived in movie theatres in 1998, and the videogame adaptation was released on the Nintendo GameBoy Color and the Sony Playstation.

It wasn't supposed to appear on the Genesis at all -- Sega's 16-bit system was well past its commercial prime by the late 1990's, even on the hand-me-down/bedroom system basis that tends to keep a trickle of kids' titles coming late in a console's life.  And it never did in any legal form.  But enterprising Asian game pirates saw an opportunity to cash in on Sega and Disney in one go, and thus this wholly unlicensed conversion of the GameBoy Color version of A Bug's Life appeared on the Genesis:

The game's ancestry is clear -- the sprites have a distinctly GameBoy look, lacking the color depth of even the earliest Genesis titles.  The graphics have been changed a bit -- Flik sports a new shade of blue instead of his customary purple -- but the only real enhancement is a second layer of wallpaper-style background graphics, added to take advantage of the Genesis' parallax scrolling hardware.

The original gameplay has also been preserved -- only two buttons are used, one to fling grapes at enemies in a parabola that seems to go out of its way to miss the intended target, and one to jump.  The jumping animation is horrendously awkward, likely driven by a technical need to keep Flik within an established bounding box -- instead of leaping naturally with his legs, he appears to bend halfway over and, erm, propel himself upward from the rear.  The animators at Pixar would not be happy.  And the sound is awful -- beyond the generic music, random vocal exclamations are heard.  They appear to be coming from Flik, but they sound nothing like Dave Foley's voice work from the movie, nor do they fit the character's personality.  Hearing Flik yell "Nice one!" and "Ohhh YEAH!" ad infinitum doesn't exactly evoke the original character's nebbishy charm.

Fortunately, the game is unforgivingly difficult as well, and it doesn't take more than a few hits to put Flik out of our misery.

This misbegotten conversion is no good at all, but I have to give begrudging credit to the pirate organization that actually invested in software development, even if the entire design was lifted wholesale from someone else's hard work.  And due thanks to the gaming underground that has made this travesty of gameplay available for our ironic and arguably guilt-free entertainment. 

After all, it doesn't seem appropriate for a pirate game publisher to complain about piracy, now does it?

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