Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: Disney's Tarzan

Every new artistic medium undergoes a process of initiation; a collective hazing undertaken by talking heads trying to misdirect the masses while the truly evil forces behind the curtains carry on unnoticed. Video games are the newest scapegoat, and have arguably shouldered more blame than any other medium due to their interactive nature.  Those talking heads would have us believe that all it takes to turn an otherwise moral person into a deranged psychopath is to kill pretend people in a pretend world on a two-dimensional monitor. Hell, given the training tools used in the military, it's clear that simulation can be used to desensitize predisposed individuals to violence, turning war into a game. When people are reduced to tiny white dots on an infrared display and all it takes to make those dots stop moving is the push of a button, we should acknowledge the similarities, and realize that video games, like any other form of storytelling, affect a small percentage of the population in ways that should make detecting those at-risk individuals a priority. But we know regular folks can kill thousands of virtual people without developing a lust for blood. We're smarter than those empty-headed flap-jaws. We know the REAL danger posed by games; the thing that will take normal people like you and I and fill us with an unfathomable rage, a yearning for chaos, and a disdain for anything that isn't in absolute ruin: licensed games.

Granted, not all licensed games are as bad as E.T. on the 2600. Many aren't half bad, managing to give the player enough things to play with, and a compelling enough reason to play with them. Some are very well-made, respectable games that can easily be played twice (Aliens: Infestation comes to mind). But the ones that linger in our memories like a skunk's spray are the absolute pieces of trash that dare to be called games when they're coming apart at the seams. These disgraces to the medium masquerading as must-play experiences certainly had an easier job back before we could tap into the collective consciousness of our fellow gamers using the very devices on which we play them. We went in blind, braving the concrete jungles in search of digestible digital fruit that would leave us feeling satisfied. Unfortunately, this wasn't always the case. We can only hope poisonous pieces of rot like Disney's Tarzan for the Game Boy Color didn't break the psyches of those children unfortunate enough to receive it back in 1999.

Disney's Tarzan was a great animated film. The Activision-published GBC game of the same name is the Buffalo Bill of video games, hiding under the skin of something beautiful. On the surface, Tarzan is everything a kid could want in a video game. It's got characters from one of their favorite movies depicted with crisp, vibrant visuals, and more than solid gameplay mechanics. But it's not long before the seams in this grotesque mask become apparent. Upon starting the game, we're greeted by a splash screen featuring young Tarzan and the words "Learning the Ropes". The level starts and we're told to collect 45 bananas. Given the title and task, it's only logical to assume this to be a tutorial of some sort. So you scour the level collecting every banana in sight, swinging on ropes, climbing vine-covered walls, avoiding hanging snakes and charging boars. But look out for that alligator lurking in the water! Be wary not to land right on top of it or it'll jump straight out of the water and... go right through you. Sadly, it only gets worse.

After collecting the arbitrary number of bananas for reasons, it's time to find Terk! Tarzan's hairy gorilla friend is hidden somewhere in the exact level you just laboriously combed for bananas. This segment continues play from the exact spot on which the final banana was collected, which in some cases will be directly beside Turk. At other times, he might spawn directly on top of a snake that they decided to suddenly add to the landscape, taking unavoidable damage. In one level I managed to make a snake vanish by moving it off-screen and quickly back on.

After finding Terk, it's time to collect more bananas. Then it's time to find Terk. Then it's more bananas, more hide and seek... What's this? We get to play as Terk? Finally, a change of pace. What are we--oh... more bananas. More seeking. She plays exactly the same as Tarzan. This pattern repeats more times than I dare replay to properly count, set to the same three-second snippet of crackly music looping over and over and over again. It's insanity. Time flies when you're having fun, but the only thing flying here are the insects swarming around this putrid piece of shit. Finally, after time ceases to exist, a true gameplay variation appears. Fleeing from a stampede of elephants, we guide Tarzan along the X axis, avoiding logs, and occasionally jumping to collect BANANAS. This segment is even more bereft of substance than the bananaganza hide-and-seek one-two punch the game's been dishing out up until now, never mind the fact that it's essentially the stampede segment in the Lion King game. 

But not to worry, it's promptly back to the same old routine. It's around this point the mind begins to crack. The fingers become sluggish, and the lives are eventually reduced to zero. Game over. Main Menu. Oh, you didn't notice that "Password" option there before? You probably should have taken a quick look at it before you started the game, because then you would have realized that those four square tiles displayed on one of the level's splash screens that you'd already grown accustomed to button mashing past by that point was a PASSWORD. Even if it were labelled as such, it's only shown for a few seconds before fading to the next banana-laden map.

As far as any reasonable person should be concerned, that's where the game ends. Sure, the passwords are probably all easily found in some online walkthrough, but given the era in which the game was released, it should be held to the standards of someone without access to that information. Maybe later levels feature adult Tarzan with cool moves and no bananas, and maybe they don't. It's simply unfinished. The only way to return to the main menu is to soft reset. The bananas scream placeholder, probably acting as a way for the developers to test each layout before adding the actual gameplay in later. If the game does switch things up in later levels, then it's not so much unfinished as it is artificially expanded. Arbitrary collectathons and backtracking do not a game make.

Believe it or not, there are additional features. Paint'N'Print apparently allows those with a Game Boy Printer to print their own arrangement of characters and props over various backdrops. The Hide'N'Seek game mode is the only slightly redeeming quality to be found. Working within a time limit, one player hides Tarzan in one of the dozens of available spots before passing it off to a friend who then searches for him. Then the roles are reversed, as it is with real hide and seek, which is exponentially more fun than this game, though it might be fun for a car ride.

The developers built a solid foundation, threw up some cardboard walls then proceeded to draw on windows and doorways with their own feces. In the kitchen you'll find a refrigerator, door hanging on a single hinge, overflowing with bananas. Upon closer inspection, they're just dry turds painted yellow. In the bathroom, you'll find a toilet. Aim for the bowl. To your left, you notice a deep pit dug into the floor. Looking in, you notice a copy of Disney's Tarzan on DVD, plastic case shattered to bits. You hear a soft 'clack' behind you and turn to face it. It's a copy of Disney's Tarzan for the Game Boy Color.

It puts the bananas in the basket.

Find Disney's Tarzan on ebay | Amazon

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Released: 1999-06-29
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Digital Eclipse Software


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