November 30, 2009
Captain Novolin was a notorious SNES title about a diabetic superhero who fought off sugary snacks. If Seanbaby’s review of the game is to be believed, that’s about all there was to this (probably) well-meaning game that only wanted to educate children about certain health problems but has nonetheless gone down in video game history as a silly joke.
On that note, I present Starbright’s Quest for the Code, a star-studded video game assembled to teach kids about asthma. Actually, the game isn’t geared towards kids in general but rather is targeted specifically towards kids suffering from asthma. I have no idea if this game was ever marketed or intended to turn any kind of profit. The still shrink-wrapped copy I procured for a dollar in a spent shop stipulated that it was not to be sold but should be freely given to an asthmatic child.
Here’s the story: Diane Sawyer — lending her newscasting talent to this charitable cause — breaks a story about a giant machine that has just landed in town and is threatening to release all manner of asthma triggers. The machine is run by one Mucus Airgon, someone who apparently really has it in for asthmatics and has a gang of 7 henchvillains creatively named “The Evil Seven”. So you know that 7 levels are going to be involved somehow. I should clarify at this point that the main thrust of the game is to educate asthmatic children how to live with asthma and that it does not have to be debilitating. It seems that Airgon’s grand plan is simply to demoralize asthmatic children. The gap between that and the “Profit!!” step remains a smidge hazy but I’m certain I have seen stranger premises in other games during this Gaming Pathology project.
The title of the game refers to the acquisition of 7 pieces of a code which will be used to destroy Airgon’s asthma-triggering machine. Or some such.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays the guide, Cyrus and shows up, Matrix-style (as in, he mysteriously contacts you through your computer). He leads you first through a lung simulator to teach you how the human respiratory system operates and how asthma and its triggers act upon the system. I had a sinking feeling about the game play aspect of the proceedings as soon as I saw the first activity — cleaning up snot in the nose.
Now, I’ve put up with a lot of outlandishly silly game play concepts for this blog (measuring and cutting drapes continues to stand out in my mind). But how creatively bankrupt does your premise need to be before cleaning up snot becomes a viable game play mechanic?
I hate to dwell too much on this point since this is most likely a kind-hearted charity effort. The game has 3 main types of game play, at least during the levels that I played, and not counting the cursory snot cleanup. The first type involves the player dragging different types of asthma triggers over areas of a room where that type of trigger can occur. The game then challenges the player about a good course of action for mitigating that trigger. This is seen above. The second type of game play, encountered after the player has finished auditing a room, is a simple point and click pixel hunt to determine the location of a member of the Evil Seven. After locating the dreaded villain, there is a trivia round where the player must answer a number of asthma-related trivia questions correctly in order to clear the level.
There is at least one other type of game play on offer– after clearing the first 2 levels, the player gets to shoot mucus in an Asteroids clone. There is likely to be another minigame after the next 4 villains, based on the way the villains are grouped in the stage select screen.
As mentioned, a lot of famous people lent their voice talent to their game. Here’s the full list:
- Cuba Gooding, Jr. as your guide, Cyrus
- Diane Sawyer as “The Newscaster”
- Kelsey Grammer as Mucus Airgon, leader of the Evil Seven
- General H. Norman Schwarzkoff as Robo-Roach
- Whoopi Goldberg as Moldy
- Funkmaster Flex as Mold Mob game announcer
- Jeff Goldblum as Alex Dander
- Shaquille O’Neal as The Fuminator
- Glenn Close as Chalktisha
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Perfuma
- Minnie Driver as Smokita
I would enjoy learning more about how this game was produced. The credits are quite extensive and a lot of work and talent went into it. Maybe one day I’ll put together a highlight reel of some of the villains from this largely Smacker-based game.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Childrens Games,Trivia Games,Windows Games | Comments (1)
October 18, 2009
So far, all of the food-related advergames I have seen on this blog have been for items that are not held in high regard by nutritionists. So here is Dole’s 5-A-Day Adventures which promises to teach us all about proper nutrition and exercise in the most cloying ways imaginable.
So this is pretty straightforward. There are 8 areas, as seen in the above screenshot. Each one provides the player with a lecture about some aspect of nutrition or exercise, usually delivered by anthropomorphic produce (“Hey kids! Remember to eat lots of me and my friends!”). Here’s the phyto chemical parade. I’m trying to figure out if there is a demographic that would be old enough to comprehend words like “phyto chemical” yet still young enough to withstand the inanity of this game.
Afterwards — and the UI is a bit confusing in this respect — the player can choose to either take the Challenge or the Ultimate Challenge for a given area. The respective challenges are a bit misnamed. The unadorned “Challenge” is actually significantly tougher and revolves around trivia that is sometimes multiple choice (as seen in the next screenshot) and sometimes interactive (like having to build a food pyramid). Players earn tokens for correctly answering these questions.
The “Ultimate Challenge” is an insidious misnomer. These present a series of yes/no questions where correct answers are awarded a gold star each. After a little playing, you will no doubt notice a distinct pattern: all the answers are a resounding “Yes”. And they all seem to be somewhat behaviorally-oriented:
Other questions were along the lines of “I sang one of the 5-A-Day songs to my family”; “I sang a 5-A-Day song with my friends.” It was around this time that I decided this was a little messed up. Let’s face it– the only way that kids are going to be exposed to this is in a compulsory context in a classroom environment. And here is this automated mechanism dispassionately supplying repeated negative feedback if a child dares to answer that he or she did not sing a 5-A-Day song.
With any luck, some budding computer hackers exposed to this at a precious young age were able to reverse engineer the data file format, which the game was nice enough to store in a folder on the desktop. Let’s have a look:
Then launch the game again, select the hacked file:
Then call the teacher over to show off the fact that I successfully completed all the objectives in the game, and may I please go outside and play?
After feeling like I emerged triumphant in that skirmish, I checked my pantry only to discover a shelf of Dole brand canned products. So it seems Dole has won the larger battle here.
The CD-ROM I have is marked “2000 edition” and I found references on the internet dated as early as 1998. I also found a portfolio page from a company named IDD which claims credit for this game. IDD is not mentioned in the credits for my version, nor is their screenshot similar to anything in my edition. I was able to contact someone involved in the creation of this edition at eMotion Studios and my contact confirmed that there were just these 2 versions of the game.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Childrens Games,Licensed Schlock,Trivia Games,Windows Games | Comments (4)
February 27, 2009
“Yes, that’s right: I’m a grown man and I wish to purchase the Kids’ Meal toys. No, I don’t want 4 Kids’ Meals; I just want the 4 different toys that come with the meals, which are usually available for purchase separately for a dollar each.” You wouldn’t believe how creeped out the nice, young Taco Bell order taker was. When she asked me “for here or to go” when I ordered some supplemental food items along with the games, I just know she was pleading in her mind, “To go, pleeeeease, to go!”
So Taco Bell has another series of games distributed as a tie-in with their Kids’ Meals. This is at least the fifth such video game promotion that I know of. Since I thoroughly covered the last 2, you better know that I am not going to miss this one.
This is a slightly different deal, though. This is a series of Eco-Rangers games and they are straight DVD-video games. Not Windows or Mac games, but games meant to be played in a DVD player (well, you can play them on a Mac or PC with the appropriate playback software, as I did, and that’s also how I captured the screenshots). MobyGames has no current provisions for DVD-video games. That means my mission here is to scan the sleeves and the media for each game, just in case MobyGames adds listings for DVD-video games. Then, I play just one for curiosity.
Each of the games (Ocean / Rainforest / Woodland / Arctic Adventure) features a different member of the Eco-Rangers team. The objective is to save the environment. The preferred method for carrying out that task in these games is to answer a series of earth science trivia questions correctly. There are 9 gems spread about 3 missions; each correct answer to a trivia question yields a new gem.
I chose the Ocean Adventure because I like water. This is the first DVD-video game I have ever played. I can’t really recommend them. Honestly, they are full motion video games in the purest sense because that’s really all the technology allows for. A DVD remote pretty much allows up / down / left / right cursor navigation and a select button on top of that.
The game shows you some fish footage and then asks you a trivia question about marine life. It’s purely a trivia game, not a teaching game; you either know the questions or you don’t. However, I’m pretty sure the game only has 9 trivia questions at its disposal, so if you get one wrong, it will come up again pretty soon, and you will already be equipped with the correct answer. The first question I received was, purely coincidentally, something I had read on Wikipedia just 2 days prior regarding the fascinating symbiotic relationship between sea anemones and clownfish.
So I got that right. If you get too many questions wrong, your (presumably carbon-neutral) vehicle runs out of whatever kind of environmentally-friendly fuel it’s leveraging and you have to return to base and start over.
This game serves as a promotional platform for an Eco-Rangers DVD game called Animal Adventures. That’s technically a different title than Animal Kingdom, which was written up in USA Today more than 3 years ago. In fact, the Eco-Rangers site, believe it or not, plays host to a massively multiplayer online game, or will in Summer, 2009.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under DVD Games,Trivia Games | Comments (0)
October 16, 2008
Tonight’s title is extremely confusing. I was trying to keep with the theme of commercial tie-ins. I remembered picking up a Campbell’s Soup CD-ROM. The confusion alluded to in the title derives from these facts:
- There are 4 software titles on the CD-ROM and on the sleeve
- The titles imply that all 4 will be available on the CD-ROM (3 educational games and a calendar creation app)
- The CD-ROM displays a volume label of TMUNCHER; the closest any of the listed titles come to this title is Knowledge Munchers Deluxe
- There is clearly only 1 game on the CD-ROM — not 4 — and it has something to do with munching
So out of the 3 games that could have been on this disc, I fortuitously came to own the disc with the one game that presently has no entry in MobyGames — Knowledge Munchers Deluxe, which the title screen explicitly notes used to be known as Trivia Munchers Deluxe. So I guess when I get around to adding this game, I will have to list it as that latter title with the former title as an alias. And I will have to add this cover art set as a 1999 Campbell’s Soup re-release.
I am glad that my curiosity is finally satisfied pertaining to the ultimate payoff when saving Campbell’s Soup labels for education, something that many of us did as children (oh, please don’t tell me I was alone in this).
It occurred to me to search for ‘muncher’ titles. Turns out that there is a whole series revolving around a protagonist named Muncher. Muncher is literally hungry for knowledge. It is your job to guide him to the correct answers so that the little green glutton can gleefully gorge on them.
And that’s really all there is to the game. Our hero has 2 weaknesses– wrong answers (apparently poison) and adversaries, collectively known as Troggles, such as the overgrown slug pictured. The creators were obviously quite pleased with the various Troggles as they meticulously named and animated each one.
The trivia on offer is incredibly configurable and features levels 1-4 and ultimate. Within each category of trivia, the player can select sub-categories of trivia to be asked (or not).
One more interesting detail: this game has an original copyright date of 1996. What month was it released? Maybe this computer chip, embedded in the game over screen, serves as an Easter egg for video game historians?
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Educational Games,Licensed Schlock,Trivia Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
December 23, 2007
Let’s begin with an 8-bit representation of the inimitable Vanna White, if only to needlessly gain a bunch of unrelated Google image search traffic:
There were 4 different NES games based on the Wheel of Fortune game show license and 4 more based on the Jeopardy! license. At the time of this writing, MobyGames has 3 of the Jeopardy! games (Jeopardy!, Jeopardy! Junior Edition, Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition) and only 1 of the Wheel of Fortune games. So I made it a goal to slog through the remaining games for the sake of completeness.
So what’s up with all the different versions of these games? There were 4 different WoF games: the standard one, Junior Edition, Family Edition, and the version featuring Vanna White. Perhaps a table is in order:
||Vanna White Edition
As an elitist gamer — or even a passive, casual gamer — you might be snorting at the fact that there were so many of these games. Frankly, those release dates tell me something — that this license moved cartridges. My first impression upon playing through the series was that the first 3 were developed concurrently and published at the same time (after all, the only changes were the specific puzzles as well as the palette of Vanna’s dress). But, no — the games’ releases were spaced out quite a bit.
The first 3 games are more or less clones of each other. Here’s a representative screenshot:
The player basically gets to look at that same game screen the entire time, broken only by the wheel animation. The games can be played against human players or against computer opponents, and at three different difficulty levels. I selected the ‘hard’ level, which I’m pretty sure is the “No Mercy” level– if the computer gets a turn, it doesn’t lose.
What’s special about the Vanna White edition? Well, it’s the first edition that specifically mentions her by name. Presumably, the earlier 3 games didn’t actually use her likeness (can you tell?). Further, the V.W. edition offers actual player graphics. Stupid player graphics, but player graphics, nonetheless.
The tradeoff here is that the wheel animation is not as interesting as in the previous games.
As mentioned, Jeopardy! has a much better representation in the database thus far. Only Super Jeopardy! is missing. The progression of the Jeopardy titles seems to parallel that of the WoF titles. The Super title was the final one. There can be up to four players participating (unlike standard Jeopardy! where there are but 3 players). All 4 of the games have player avatars, but the ones featured in this game were a departure from the previous ones seen in the series, but bore an eerie similarity to another game I played today:
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Licensed Schlock,NES Games,Trivia Games | Comments (0)
September 15, 2007
Brainstorm shows up on my master spreadsheet close to yesterday’s game, and probably came in the same batch, which is why it caught my eye today. That, and it sounds like a rather simple documentation romp for a Saturday afternoon, possibly leaving room for some other simple games.
Brainstorm: The Game Show works to capture the spirit of a nominal game show with its cartoon characters and its comically flippant host. In single player mode, where I race to answer as many questions as possible in 3 minutes, I remember that I am not especially adept at trivia. It does not help that I know next to nothing about literature, the category that was randomly selected for me. My score resembles a sine wave, bouncing in increments of 1000 points from -3000…3000, but mostly staying around 0. Eventually, I hit my stride with — of all topics — geography:
The game boasts over 6500 questions, so it could be awhile before you see the same one again. It also features configurable taunts. I guess some people would just find those too frustrating.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Trivia Games,Windows Games | Comments (2)