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Monday, June 3, 2013

NES Replay: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Great graphics can cover for lackluster gameplay, but only for so long.

This happens with a lot of games. Once the "wow" factor is over, players are left actually having to, you know, play the game. If you've spent more time on your graphics than the gameplay, you're going to be in trouble.

Case in point: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a B-movie parody that spawned a mildly successful movie franchise and a cartoon series. The game is apparently based on the cartoon series, although I have little experience with either.

There's a ton of detail in this game. For example, when your character walks underneath a street lamp, his sprite changes color slightly to make it look like it's lit up. The titular tomatoes look menacing and their animation is fantastic. The sewers look appropriately grimy.

It's obvious that a ton of care was placed into the graphics. The gameplay didn't receive as much love.

The first level really looks cool. You're in a city, and there are angry tomatoes everywhere. It's almost enough to trick you into thinking that you're playing a really cool game, until you realize, "All I'm doing is walking left-to-right." There are no obstacles except for the tomatoes everywhere. The flashy background doesn't mean anything and has no bearing on the game whatsoever.

That's when the wheels start coming off. The jumping physics feel a little off. You have to kill the tomatoes and other enemies by jumping on them, and there are many times where you swear that you hit a tomato on its head. Instead, the game registers that you got hit by the tomato and took damage. This is especially a problem with the smallest tomatoes, which will pursue you constantly. Fortunately, once they hit you they splatter and die, but there are still a lot of them.

Another thing: I hate mazes in games. I hate them with every fiber of my being. They're a cheap and lazy way to make your game longer, and developers used them a lot during this era as a crutch.

Well, the sewer level is a giant maze. There's no map or indicator of where you are in that maze. You can end up wandering around for ages not sure if you're heading in the right direction or even what you're doing there. There's no propulsion or level flow to indicate that you're going the right way. There are also a lot of cul-de-sacs and dead ends, so you'll go through an especially treacherous section of the level and at the end all you have to show for it is a health pickup.

It's a painful second level after an interesting first level. Since I was so turned around, I never got to the third level. Maybe things pick up from there, I don't know. I doubt it, since the first two levels are so unoriginal.

The graveyard of gaming is littered with games that had fantastic graphics and substandard gameplay. If your only goal as a developer is to make a game that looks pretty and sells a few copies, fine. If you want to make something really lasting that people will remember for years, don't waste all your time on graphics. Maybe spend some time cleaning up the gameplay. Future reviewers will thank you.

Final Rating:


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