Everyone's got that game they used to love but nobody else seems to remember it. This site it dedicated to those games. Check in each week for a fresh look at another hidden gem and weigh in on whether it should be remembered as a classic or not.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Year: 1994
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platforms: SNES, Genesis
Metacritic score: Not available
VGChartz sales to date: Unknown

Licensed games tend to get a bit of a bad rap, but there are plenty of great games that tie-in to existing film or television properties.  Capcom had a string of great NES games all based on Disney franchises and even the critically acclaimed Telltale Games' The Walking Dead is a licensed property.  Animaniacs makes for a particularly great tie-in game because the cartoon antics are a natural fit for video games and the show's subversive humor (subtle enough to sneak past censors) gave it appeal to a broad audience.  At its core the show was a parody of Hollywood production itself, frequently lampooning behind the scenes life at Warner Bros. studio and famous pop culture references (many at the expense of Executive Producer Steven Spielberg).  The show was heavily inspired by acts like The Marx Brothers and Looney Tunes and is therefore filled with the kind of zany humor and wacky violence that translates easily to video games.  Because the show is based around multiple animated shorts with their own characters, there is a large cast and variety of settings available to draw from.  That might explain why Konami decided to make this game twice.

You see, Konami released two entirely different versions of this game on both the SNES and the Sega Genesis.  It was fairly common to find differences between versions of the same game which could potentially be a disappointing surprise in the days before the internet.  Sometimes it was the result of censorship such as the edits made to the SNES version of Mortal Kombat and other times it was meant to take advantage of system-specific design architecture such as Mode 7 or Sega Virtua Processor.  Rarely would a game developer make the decision to produce two versions that were entirely unrelated in both design and story, but Animaniacs is proof that it did occasionally happen.  On the SNES the plot revolves around Pinky and the Brain stealing the script to Warner Bros. next great film in their latest attempt to try and take over the world.  You play as the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister) Yakko, Wakko and Dot through a series of platformer stages as you try to collect pages from the missing script.  You only play as one character at a time but the other two will follow your movements and you can switch between them at any time.  Unlike most platformers, the goal is to evade most enemies rather then defeat them so your move set is limited to jumping and dashing or using the other characters to form a ladder over obstacles.  Collecting film canisters plays the slot machine at the bottom of the screen which can randomly reward you with power ups, continues or character revives.  This is a must because a single hit from any enemy will kill you, meaning you've got a total of three hits before you need to burn a continue.  Between stages is an overworld where you can pick which stage to play next or try a bonus mission such as rescuing a fallen sibling from the water tower.  Each stage is broken into multiple different segments with varied gameplay throughout that mixes in elements like evading an enemy, on-rails chase scenes and boss fights.

Ralph will frequently chase you around and will lock you up in the water tower if he catches you, and your only options are to either dash out of his way or jump off his head to momentarily stun him (SNES)
The Sega version is noticeably different as soon as you fire it up and you're greeted with a cutscene showing the Warner Brothers (and Warner Sister) welcoming you to their game before breaking the fourth wall to argue with each other about the semantics of being an animated character.  This game's plot revolves around the Warner Brothers (and Warner Sister) deciding to open up a "hip pop-culture shop" that they appearantly have been always talking about (I must have missed those episodes).  To achieve this you'll need to explore the various sound stages around the studio lot to find four iconic props from famous films.  Like the SNES version, each stage is based around a different film genre such as sci-fi, horror or westerns and you switch between controlling each of the three Warner siblings.  In the Sega version, however, each sibling has a different special move needed to progress through different areas of the game.  Yakko uses a paddle ball to attack enemies, Wakko uses an oversized mallet to activate switches and Dot blows kisses which trigger certain characters to perform special actions.  You also have a health meter that is shared across all three characters so you can take multiple hits but when any one character dies they all dutifully follow their sibling into the abyss.  On the SNES this would send you to the continue screen, but the Sega version gives you both continues and extra lives which can be earned by collecting 100 star tokens.  The next most obvious difference is that you are restricted to a single horizontal plane like a true 2D side-scrolling platformer whereas the SNES game has depth allowing you to move closer or further in addition to left or right.  The only other notable difference is that the levels are timed, but the timer is pretty lenient so you will probably never really feel as if you're racing the clock.

Don't ask where he keeps that thing when he isn't using it
Two different games means two separate sets of problems.  Konami was able to ship two very stable, mostly bug-free games almost simultaneously which is quite impressive in itself, but it was harder to fine tune balance between two very different gameplay designs.  Playing each game is a very different experience and isn't easily comparable across the two platforms.  Each version was, in different ways, both better and worse then the other depending on which way you looked at it.  For instance, the SNES version had far better graphics but was also significantly more difficult.  This exemplifies the problem with tailoring different versions for different platforms: no matter what you're going to leave everyone at least partially dissatisfied.  In those days it was far less common for gamers to own multiple consoles and during the 16-bit wars there was no middle ground, you were either in the Sega camp or one of the Nintendo faithful.  The end result was heated playground battles over which version was superior.  In most of the fights, there was no clear winner and having two versions of a game to compare directly only served to highlight the shortcomings found in each one.  

The other danger to splitting your market is that sometimes the critics decide there is a clear winner, discouraging the supporters of that system from giving the game a try.  In the case of Animaniacs, most felt that the Sega Genesis version was superior largely because of how easy it was to die in the SNES version.  The platforming was challenging enough, but with a single hit proving fatal it made for a razer thin margin of error.  Eventually you would earn enough slot plays to rack up a sizeable number of continues or character revives, but early on it was pretty easy to see a game over screen before you even finished the first level.  In any event, the reviewers gave higher scores to the Genesis version but even those seem a bit low given how enjoyable the game is.  Once you stop worrying about whether the version you're playing is the best you realize just how fun this game is even if for those who weren't of a certain age when this show was still on the air.  

Helloooo Nurse!  Don't look at me that way Dot, that's just her name.    

Extremely doubtful.  The problem with reissuing a licensed game is that the developer and publisher never own the rights to the property.  That doesn't necessarily make it impossible, but it also means the project might be given to a totally new team.  Konami has already experienced this first hand when one of their classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games was given an HD remake by a different studio, in the end that title had to be pulled from PSN and XBLA when that reissued license expired.  There have been a handful of other Animaniacs games made including a truly terrible Game Boy port of about 60% of the Sega version, the rest getting lopped off so it could fit on the cartridge.  For a property like Animaniacs, which has been off the air since 1999 and occasionally in syndicated reruns, it's pretty unlikely there's remotely enough demand to justify any further releases or remakes.  

Without a convenient double-feature HD remake, anyone looking to try this game is in the same position gamers faced in 1994 and must choose between the Sega or SNES version.  This is a tough call, both games have plenty to like about them and the passage of time hasn't made one shine any more then the other.  Personally I'm partial to the SNES version because of its brighter graphics and more numerous references to the show.  More of the cast make appearances in the SNES version and their character models are larger and more closely resemble the animation from the show, and even the writing does a better job of mimicking the shows unique subversive yet lightheartedly wacky sense of humor.  I'll admit to being biased on this because I had played the game on SNES first, but upon replaying both my preference still stands.  I feel the increased difficulty that earned the SNES version lower reviews actually gives it greater longevity and provides a challenging platformer that looks surprisingly well for its age.  That lasting appeal is an especially good trait to have in this case because it looks like it's game over for the Animaniacs.

I sure hope so,  but they better get comfy in there cause it might be a long wait
Have you played this game?  Is there a game you remember being great but no one else has heard of it?  Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter!             

No comments:

Post a Comment