Monday, March 25, 2013

NES Replay: American Gladiators

Developer: Incredible Technologies
Publisher: GameTek
Released: 1991
Spandex Budget: Off the charts

I was a pretty sheltered kid, so I didn't watch much TV when I was little. I got to watch Family Ties, Growing Pains and the TGIF lineup, which I thought was amazing. Aside from those few shows, my knowledge of TV was extremely limited.

However, even a weird, sheltered kid like me was aware of the syndicated TV show American Gladiators. For a brief, shining moment in the late 80's and early 90's, American Gladiators was pretty popular, especially in my grade school. Kids would talk about who their favorite gladiator was (they almost always picked "Nitro" just because he had a cool name) and play miniature versions of the games on the playground, which usually resulted in someone going to the nurse's and/or principal's office.

It was inevitable that a show that featured people that looked like superheroes in real life and inspired such devotion would get their own licensed videogame for the NES, but the developers could have chosen one of two options with the Gladiators. One, they could have made a game with the Gladiators as superhumans, and make the player just a normal person trying to beat them. Two, they could have made you play as the Gladiators themselves, given them superpowers and just amped everything up.
"You will die you will die you will die."
Instead, the developers of American Gladiators decided to aim for the comedy third option: Just include a few of the games from the show, make some of them incredibly easy while making others impossible, and then fall face-first into a pile of cocaine while singing "I Feel Pretty."

American Gladiators includes five of the games from the show and they're all mostly terrible. Let's look at them!

In The Human Cannonball, a rope swings above your character. You stand on one pedestal and the opposing gladiator stands on another. You jump onto the rope, and then time your jump so that you can hopefully fly feet-first into the gladiator, knocking him off his pedestal. It's so incredibly easy. Once I understood the rules, I could play Human Cannonball in my sleep.

In Joust, you have a padded weapon that you're trying to use to knock your opponent off of a pedestal. Sounds fun, right? Shame on you for thinking that. The computer player is completely aware of where they are in relation to you down to the pixel. Move into their range even slightly, and they'll hit you. You can block their attacks, but their attacks happen so suddenly that you don't have time to block. All you can hope to do is frantically press forward and flail at your opponent in hopes that you'll hit them. There's no strategy whatsoever.

In The Wall, you're trying to climb an enormous wall by alternating the A and B buttons to simulate using either your right or left hands while pressing the direction keys. The wall is practically endless. If you get brushed by one of the pursuing Gladiators, you will fall all the way down and have to start over. If you reach for a handhold and are off by a pixel, you will fall all the way down and have to start over. By the way, I am not exaggerating. You have to play pixel-perfect in order to climb all the way up, and even then you'll get mobbed by pursuing Gladiators and will probably lose.

"Death has a padded fist."
In Assault, you're running from one end of an obstacle course to another while a Gladiator inside of a tank shoots at you. You can grab the equivalent of a rocket launcher along the way, but it's more of a defensive weapon than an offensive one. When you fire the rockets, the Gladiator moves away from you to avoid the rocket, so you just have to fire when you see him coming for you. It's really easy.

In Powerball, you have to grab a ball, avoid one of three Gladiators that are constantly mobbing you and somehow deposit the ball into one of five receptacles. You have to put the ball into all five in order to win. If one of the Gladiators so much as touches you, you lose the ball and have to run the whole length of the field in order to get another one.

If any of these sound like fun, that was purely by accident. Every "game" in this compilation is either incredibly easy or incredibly difficult. The hard ones aren't even the good kind of difficult. It's the bad kind, where every time you fail it's because the computer cheated or provided you with an impossible task, not because you deserved it or made a real, honest mistake.

So, yeah. If you want to feel what it's like to slap on some star-spangled spandex and compete for prizes and glory, there are better places to do it than in this game. Like, say, the DMV. Or the police station. Or maybe the hood of a '73 Ford. Don't waste your time playing American Gladiators, I beg of you.

Final Rating:

Next Week: Anticipation

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