Friday, October 23, 2009

Mysterious and Spooky (Addams Family games)

(Note: I opted to pull Fester's Quest, which starts with F, forward in the alphabet to go with the other Addams Family games.)

It is difficult to imagine, in 2009, the nearly 20-year-old world in which somebody thought there needed to be three Addams Family video games. This is not just because of the passage of time. Yes, Addams Family was reasonably popular for a few years there as the two movies came out.

No, the problem here is more fundamental - there's no actual reason to make three Addams Family games. It is not as though the Addams Family is a franchise that cries out for a video game. It is not an action based franchise. There are, to my knowledge, no Addams Family episodes, comics, or movies that are primarily about, for instance, fighting your way through a kitchen full of homicidal teacups so that you can kill a dragon living in a giant oven. If there were, people would validly say "Oh, that would make a great video game." But no.

In a somewhat astonishing feat of overblown media franchising, the three Addams Family games all have distinctly different source materials. The first to come out, Fester's Quest, came out in 1989, before the first movie, and is based on the television series. It is an unremarkable overhead-shooter game that a half hour of playing gave me no real sense what the point of was. It's got some fairly extreme difficulty going on - Fester can only take two hits before dying, is slower than all of the enemies chasing him, and has a very persnickity and inaccurate gun. And, erm... yeah, I've got nothing, really.

The titular The Addams Family is a fairly straightforward game based on the movie - you are Gomez. You have to rescue your family. Controls are a bit awkward, and the game doesn't quite come together, but it's not an abomination by any stretch of the imagination.

And then comes Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt, based on the animated series. This one is in some ways the most bewildering of the three conceptually. Pugsley is not even the third most prominant Addams Family character - that would be Thing, or, if we're limiting ourselves to ones that can talk, Wednesday. In fact, I am reasonably confident that Pugsley would come in last in a survey of "favorite Addams Family characters," were it not for the grandmother, who I bet most people forget about entirely. In fact, I'll do such a survey right now.

Survey results have 33% for Wednesday, 33% for Morticia, and 33% for lying around on the floor lazily. Though, to be fair, 1/3 of survey takers were dogs.

So, yes. Pugsley game - weird idea. But despite that, this is by far the most playable of the three, though part of that may be the fact that, for no discernible reason, the game abruptly gave me 99 lives which let me play very carelessly and still make progress. But it was a reasonably pleasant side-scroller.

Here's the thing, though - none of these games matter. None of these games made a significant mark on the world. If they were wiped from existence, their eradication would not significantly lessen the quality of this planet. They are not art.

But they are all significant games in terms of the investment needed to play them. They are not short games, they all require a measure of exploration and light puzzle solving. They're games that it would take a fair chunk of play to master, that it is clear time went into designing, and that nobody, absolutely nobody, cares about.

Every medium, of course, has things like this. Not every song is "Famous Blue Raincoat," and not every movie is "The Fountain." (And as an aside, that is the best song and best movie ever, and if you disagree you are wrong.) But this is something one usually avoids thinking of. Doubly depressing is the fact that, despite their utter insignificance, more people have played the three Addams Family games than will ever read my dissertation, any of my articles, or, for that matter, this blog.

Though it is not popularity that makes something important. Frankly, the world would be no worse off if Sugar Ray's "I Just Wanna Fly" were eradicated, and that was a horrifically popular song. But all the same, there is some sort of line between acts of creation that matter and ones that don't.

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