Who yah gonna call?
Uh...no, not them. You're not going to call them. In fact, those guys haven't
had a good job in years. Besides, why waste your time with the Ghostbusters when
you can just flip on the Rig yourself and toss the baddies into a meat grinder!
Confused? Allow me to clarify...
Somehow, the often bland 2D platform genre has still managed to quietly creep
along with everything else, thanks to such imaginative games as Earthworm
Jim and the more recent beauty Skullmonkeys.
But let's face it; 2D platform gaming pretty much left the scene once Tomb
Raider and Super Mario came along and busted out the third dimension.
Needing a shot in the arm, the platform genre is now resurrected by Interplay in Wild 9, a game long in the development oven. Well, I'm happy to say that the extra months baking have paid off - this is the game that reminds us why platform gaming can be so much fun.
Much like the Earthworm Jim series, Wild 9 (created by the EWJ
team) is a bit...off color. The plot isn't really fleshed out, but I can say
for sure that you take on the role of Wex Major, leader of a rogue band of freaks
called the Wild 9. The group exists to combat the evil Karn, el diablo grande.
Your current dilemma involves a gang of Shocktroopers blowing up your camp and
kidnapping 8 of your chums. Your only company is B'Angus (with a silent 'B'),
a strange little bat-squirrel-rodent who sort of guides you on your way. Being
the hero-type that you are, it is your duty to rescue the members of your posse
and maybe even kick Karn in the ass along the way. Oh, and watch out for the
freaky green alien slime people.
Whereas most 2D platform games require little more skill than jumping and/or
shooting, Wild 9 adds the new element of torture. In fact, puzzles
are often solved through the cruel and unusual torture of enemies. Yay!
Your primary weapon is the Rig, a mechanical glove-like device strapped to your arm. At the touch of a button, the Rig shoots out a very wily and way cool-looking electro-beam. The beam has a plethora of functions, the most exciting of which involves grabbing various bad guys (ala Ghostbusters) and beating them senseless. The simplest way to waste your foe is to thrash them back and forth on the ground until they explode. Very nice.
However, simplicity is hardly synonymous with tortuous, and the game really
shines when you begin to explore the interesting ways to depose of the enemy.
While that enormous swirling fan on the ground will surely be used to lift you
to another platform, it can also be used to 'Osterize' that sucker you're towing
with the Rig. Go ahead - toss that evil doer onto that pit of spikes. How else
are going to cross it, silly?
Of course, the Rig serves other purposes. You'll need to use it as a rope to swing to safety, or even to carry items around to solve puzzles. You have a replenishing power meter, though you need to keep your eye on it or you'll find yourself dropping things at inopportune moments. In short, the Ghostbusters could learn a thing or two about 'proton accelerators' from this game.
There are other gameplay elements that help Wild 9 stand out from the crowd. Much like in EWJ, different levels require different skills. As you save your friends, you have to use their abilities to finish each level. This could mean using Nitro (the living bomb) to blow open doors, or riding Henry (the aquatic biped) through the evil swamp. Each level has a distinctive feel and keeps the game flowing nicely.
Certain levels offer relief from the platform madness by allowing you to ride a bike or a Beast in a third-person style chase scene. Other levels have you falling towards a planet while trashing enemies before you land. While a nice break, both offer little fun or challenge and seem out of place and awkward.
Graphically, Wild 9 is a feast. Light-trails from the Rig are awesome,
and Wex's motions are smooth and lifelike. Unlike a Skullmonkeys
style platform game, you sort of break the third dimensional barrier by moving
in and out of the backgrounds, though not in a truly 3D sense like Spyro
- you're still stuck on a 2D plane. The backgrounds look great, the level design
is interesting, and there are almost no polygonal errors to be found. This is
one finished looking product.
But even the bells and whistles can't save Wild 9 from this keen reviewer's eye (which I bought at a flea market for only 50 cents). While the Rig is a fun toy and a great addition, Wild 9 still boils down to basic platform gaming. You still have to jump over enemies and onto moving platforms, and you still have to collect little "Mario coins" (gears, in this case) to get 'continues.' Platform games tend to suffer from redundancy, and frankly, even the torture gets repetitive.
Another gripe is with the lack of FMV. This is the PSX and these are CD's
- there is no reason that they couldn't have tossed in some cool little FMV
to flesh out the story and tie in the levels, which are unexplained and disjointed.
There's also a profound lack of interesting voices, aside from the increasingly
irritating "Cool!" and "Wex-ellent!" you get from picking things up. Basically,
more effort in the plot/story department would have added the much needed fluidity
that is the hallmark of good platformers (check out the bitchen FMV in Skullmonkeys).
But hey, I'm not here to piss on everyone's parade. Wild 9 is a lot of fun and definitely deserves a look. It's got enough of an edge to even make a jaded bastard like myself smile. A good effort that was worth the wait.