Thursday, June 11, 2009

Genesis look: Tiny Toons: Buster's Hidden Treasure

There's not much to say about the Tiny Toons cartoons. At first I wrote it off as Looney Toons for the kiddies but before long I came to enjoy their self-referential humor. My favorite character was always Plucky Duck because well, I'm a huge Daffy Duck fan so it carries over. With every popular franchise comes a videogame and Tiny Toons actually got quite a few of them on consoles ranging from the SNES to even the Game Boy Advance. Right now however I'd like to look at Buster's Hidden Treasure.

While cleaning out some rooms in Acme University Buster stumbles upon a treasure map. Naturally things don't go well and Monterey Max(an un-likeable spoiled jerk) wants it for himself and has hired some professor to capture all of Buster's friends. So in order to rescue his friends and get the treasure Buster has to run & jump through several stages each taking on a popular platforming locale(like forests, caves, lava caves, ice lands, and so on). If you're a fan of platformers you've seen it all before. The game uses a map screen and you can replay stages as many times as you like although you can't exit ones you've already finished unless you complete them again. Some of the stages have multiple exits which lead to new stages and Gogo the Dodo kindly points those out. Touching Gogo at the end of each stage completes it, though at times there are more than one of him in different locations in the stage(thus they'll lead to different stages).

The controls are almost the same as any other platformer. You push left or right to run and if you run for awhile you break out into a Sonic-esque full speed run and can do some impressive jumps. Also when full-speed running you can slide by hitting B, great for nailing lines of guys but other than that it doesn't see nearly enough use. The jump is a bit of an odd bird. You're familiar with platformers where if you hold the jump button as opposed to simply tapping it you can jump higher. Well in this game if you tap the jump button or let go before you reach the full height of your leap you fall very quickly. This is very jarring at first and even late in the game it can still crop up if you're not paying attention. Also like in traditional platformers you kill the bad guys by jumping on them. The final feature is the wall jump. When Buster reaches the full height of his jump while pressing against a wall he'll go into a primer animation(he puts his feet against the wall) and by hitting jump again you can leap in the direction he's facing. This isn't really touched upon at first but in the later stages its usefulness starts to become readily apparent. There's also power-ups you can collect like healing items(you can take three hits, up to five if you collect two bells), carrots(aka coins), and extra lives. You can also grab power-ups that when used(A button) will summon a less popular Tiny Toons character(like that sneezing mouse) to wipe out everything on the screen. These guys are really useless.

The level designs fit the archetypes well. In lava stages you'll have to contend with fire-based enemies that you can't touch as well as lots of platforms sitting in lava. There are a few stages where you have to swim and thus can't attack but they are for the most part not too bad. There is one particular stage is very annoying since there are a lot of huge drops into pools of water and you're likely to land on an enemy as soon as you fall in the water. Every few stages you face off against a boss. Most of the time the Professor has taken control of one of your friends and you have to jump on his head multiple times to rescue them. I know this guy is an actual Tiny Toons character but in the context of the game he may as well be Dr. Robotnik. He's got a tiny ship he flies around in, he captures Buster's friends and uses them against him, when you beat him he always retreats, and like the more recent Sonic games he's only secondary to the real villain(Max). It's like Konami and almost every other Genesis platformer dev. figured since people liked Sonic so much they'd also like games that played as close to that series as possible.

All told this game doesn't exactly play like a Sonic game. Although speed is a factor there are quite a few traps or even just loose objects lying on the ground to keep Buster from rushing through everything. In fact most of the game is just straight-up platforming with everything you'd expect. Tiny platforms that move, fall, or do a combination of both, bad guys to bounce off to reach higher places, and so on. In some stages you'll find an item that sends Buster to Wackyland to collect tons of carrots and maybe a 1up or two. These are very rare but they provide a neat bit of variety to the game. 

The biggest threat in this game is spikes. Spikes will cause instant death if they are touched and are quite prevalent in all the wrong places. For some reason the designers love to put spikes just out of sight of the player. Late in the game I'd find myself falling on a set of spikes just sitting on the floor with no indication that they'd be there, or worse yet a set of them sitting on the ceiling for players to bump their head on after hitting a spring. Usually these spikes are sensibly placed but at times they just feel like they were placed to mess people up and make them start the stage over(there are no checkpoints). Some sort of visual cue would be nice since the game is so apt to show off Buster's speed. I can guarantee you that spikes will be the cause of most if not all of your deaths in this game. The bosses are mostly pathetic and you find so many hearts and bells that health isn't really a problem when dealing with regular foes. 

One aspect in particular that absolutely blows my mind is that you get unlimited first. Later in the game those continues are taken away. Now this isn't a terribly long game but it's idiotic to do something like this. Besides if gamers feel that their lives are running low they can just go all the way back to the first stage and load up on a bunch of easy 1ups. Now granted you can't exit a level even if you die but if it takes you 10 or more lives to complete a level you've got bigger problems. There are passwords in this game for when the continues run out. Again this makes no sense. Why not have the unlimited continues anyway? It's even worse that the passwords in this game are massive. All they should be keeping track of is which stages are completed. It's not like it keeps track of score, number of lives, or any of that other stuff. Your best bet is to just keep a large stock of lives handy at all times. Granted that means going all the way back to the first stage every once in awhile but at least it keeps you in the game and not sitting in front of a password entry screen for several minutes.

I also don't see the point in having a score in this game. About all points are good for is 1ups as there are no scoreboards and the ability to repeat stages renders playing for score rather moot. Better yet why not ditch the useless "kill all enemies" power-ups and just make 50 or even 100 carrots equal a 1up? I really don't understand why Konami would make such wacky design decisions for this game.

However if you can manage to ignore all of the stupidity in the design of the game, the odd jumping mechanic, and all those random spike-beds you'll find that it's actually a pretty decent game. It certainly doesn't hurt that this game is still dirt-cheap, making it a good addition to any platformer fan's library. Of course when playing this game you might want to throw on your favorite CD or have a relative or close friend scream in your ear cause anything is better than the 20 variations of the Tiny Toons theme you'll hear.

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