Thursday, January 28, 2010

Adventure's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose (Adventures of Rad Gravity, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Tom Sawyer)

OK, we're maybe sort of back.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a completely forgettable game. I played it a few months ago when I was originally going to make this post. I remember nothing of it except that it had a kind of weird intro in a space ship. So I fired it up again, this time on a little handheld system I have. And it crashes seconds into the first level.

Strangely, with that brief exposure, I am filled with an overwhelming sense that this is for the best, and so I shall not probe this issue further.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, aside from being a horrid mouthful of a title, is an adaptation of the classic and genuinely witty television show The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. What really separates The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show from other children's cartoons is that it had a genuine sense of the absurd and a real wit to its humor.

As a NES game, it is one of the most Kafkaesque experiences of sheer, unmitigated pain I have ever experienced. The controls are crap. Sloppy jumping, bewildering hit detection, laggy controls, and, shortly into the game, an impasse with no obvious way through. In other words, it perfectly captures the absurdist humor of the show!

And finally, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

A fairly standard side-scroller. The concept seems to be that Tom Sawyer is dreaming in class, and having various adventures in his dreams. In his dreams, he displays all the fragility that one would expect from an enduring literary classic, going down in one hit to barrels, pirates, and seagulls. His lone defense is a devastatingly effective rock throw, with which he can vaporize all foes. Puzzlingly, the pirates eventually are armed with handguns, which is just disturbing on several levels.

Unlike Rad Gravity and Rocky and Bullwinkle, this is a wholly average game - the exact sort of mid-quality shlock with which one can probably kill a good day or two of boredom, but no further. Classic? Completely no.

So what to make of adventure, as a concept?

In Mark Twain's loose novelization of the game, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer serves as a sort of foil to the narrative in general - his obsession with adventure plots from various novels is portrayed as an ineffectual engagement with the real world problems that Huck encounters. There is a common line of critique of video games as a mindless children's entertainment that reduces the world to a binary choice of kill or be killed. One can thus read Tom Sawyer, the game, as a clever meta-commentary on the nature of video games and interactivity, a sort of early version of You Have to Burn the Rope.

One can also find the face of Jesus in a piece of toast if one tries. If there's one recurring theme here, it is the sheer worthlessness of most of what passes for leisure in the world. Best move on.