Monday, April 20, 2009

Mohawk and Headphone Jack- SNES-THQ

I won't lie. I picked this game up entirely due to how ridiculous the name is. Prior to seeing it in my local game store, I had no idea it even existed. And with a name like that, you would think that it was with good reason. Created by D. Scott Williamson and Black Pearl Software, this 1996 game has probably one of the worst names to ever be thought up. There is, however, more to a game than just a name. But does Mohawk have anything going for it, or is it just a game that tries to sell itself by the strangeness of its title?

As always, I'll start with the game's graphical presentation, which just oozes 90s. Mohawk, himself, is almost a laughable caricature of 90's culture. He is huge and masculine, neon yellow, with a green Mohawk that runs down his back, and completely naked except for a pair of RayBan sunglasses and his CD player. He would be an amazing mockery of the 90s if he hadn't existed right in the middle of it all and felt designed as strong mascot platformer.

The levels, on the other hand, are fairly varied, ranging from jungle ruins and caves to some sort of factory and an industrial complex. Unfortunately, they are pretty boring in their design, and predominantly made of very similar colors. The first level, for instance, is just a vast expanse of gray. The walls are gray, the floor is gray, the wire mesh is gray, and even some of the enemies are gray. If Mohawk wasn't bright yellow there'd be stretches of the level without any variety of color. The samey feeling of the first two levels does not do much to endear itself to the player, however, it never actually becomes an issue as distinguishing the floor from the background is as simple as it should be. And a platformer without the ability to determine where the floor was would be very nearly unplayable.

It would also be nearly unplayable if the controls were terrible. Luckily, that is not the case for this game. Mohawk controls easily and responsively, and there will be very few occasions where he does something that the player did not intend for him to do. The actions the player can take are, for the most part simple. By pressing either A or B, Mohawk can jump. By pressing Y, Mohawk will curl into a ball and will remain in that state until either the button is released or enough time passes. X makes Mohawk explode. Thankfully, it doesn't kill him or even damage him, it just hurts all the enemies on screen. The number of times Mohawk can explode is shown by the number and balls in the upper left corner, while Mohawks health and lives are shown in the bottom left.

In the lower left corner are the CDs that Mohawk must collect throughout each level. Once he has enough, a warp gate will open, shown as a red X on the map, which will transport him to the next level. This is where the game begins to break down a little. This is a platformer with a map, and that map is necessary to even begin to comprehend where to go after level one. Because not only are the levels massive, but also there is no set in stone up in this game. Levels spin around Mohawk so that it always looks like he's standing right side up. Becoming disoriented is a common occurrence in this game.

Even more so because the game plays like a combination of Super Mario Galaxy and Sonic Rush. By that, I mean that the game is made up of the standard pathways, bits of floating rock, and ceilings, and each of these has their own gravitational pull that can jerk a jumping Mohawk towards them, which causes the screen to flip. Sometimes, that gravitational pull comes from a good distance away, which is a rather jarring experience, especially as it always seems to happen right when you were finishing a tricky platforming section, interrupting your victory because you jumped a hair too far to the left. However, I can't say the gravity controls aren't fun. Flying through the air, only to orbit a small sphere, be grabbed by another, and be hurled elsewhere has a very visceral thrill.

Like Sonic, Mohawk is very fast. Also like Sonic, he has a strange hair cut that runs down his back and kills enemies by rolling into a ball. Mohawk's speed is the only thing that keeps the experience even semi-sane. As I said before, the levels are sprawling, and distances that look like they'd take forever to traverse, actually only take a few seconds. On the other hand, the player has to be paying constant attention or they will run right into an enemy that appeared a fraction of a second before. This is alleviated slightly by a feature called lookahead, which causes the screen to shift towards whatever direction the player is pressing on the D-pad. The problem is that it creates a really shaky camera, especially in the moments where gravity is flinging Mohawk all over, which only adds to how disorienting the game can be. And on more than one occasion, I found myself feeling slightly nauseous, which is not something one can say for most 2D games

Every two levels, there is a boss. This boss guards the warp that goes to the next area (and by this I mean jumps in setting). Unlike the standard enemies, which are rather boring, such as the random small ball or the large slinky-like worm, the bosses, or at least the one I've seen, exude a goofy charm. The first boss is a smiling yellow ball with mecha legs, and it was actually quite challenging as it had several different attacks, such as missiles, guns, and a flamethrower. Choosing your time to strike wisely and making judicious use of the explode ability are necessities in these confrontations.

The music in the game is interesting. Not in the sense that it is good, though. The music is made up of mostly generic 90s rock tunes. Though they aren't bad by any means, they just have this feeling of already been heard before. Now, what's interesting is that there aren't actually level tunes. There are simply collectible songs, in the from of large CDs, scattered through out the game. Once the player discovers one, the game automatically jumps to the new song, and at any time the game can be paused and a new song selected.


So, the question still remains, is the game good? And the only real answer I can give is that it is awesomely bad. There are flaws to the game in spades. Cheap deaths happen often. The shaky camera is awful, but can thankfully be turned off. And that's not even mentioning the wonkiness of the gravity at times. And yet, the game feels so much like it was ahead of its time that I can't bring myself to truly condemn it. While it looks bland and ridiculous, it feels like it was really striving to accomplish something great. And even though it fell very short of that goal, it still managed to create a very unique experience unlike any I would have played at the time. If you can find it for cheap, and don't mind putting up with some major annoyances, you might walk away with one of those games that inspire some people to curse the heathens that just don't understand.

5 comments:

  1. Yet another wonderful blast from the past. Great work as always.

    I was wondering if you were interested in affiliating. I'm sure my readers would love your work, too.

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  2. I conceived, designed, and coded it and frankly I couldn't agree more.

    D. Scott Williamson

    ReplyDelete
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  4. Ok, you may tink I´m crazy or something, but this is one of my favourite games ever, I even have a huge poster in my room, printed by myself that is actualy a scan of the box cover like 20 times its size! :)

    And It´s not because I´ve played only a couple of games, in fact, i´ve played tons of games and eventually became a video game designer and programmer.

    I understand that the game has many flaws, but the overall experience is somehting i just loved from the first time i played this.

    I´m from Uruguay, in South America, and I´ve recently won the 1st prize in the National Video Game Developing contest held here, so I will be attending GDC this year :)

    Mr Scott up there, if you are the real designer and programmer of this game, you may be happy to know that you have inspired a young player to become a game designer and programmer.

    Thank you very much for creating this game.

    Sincerely,

    Emiliano, from Uruguay.

    ReplyDelete
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