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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Retro Review Tuesday: American Gladiators Genesis

After last weeks wicked winter sports extravaganza, I was in the mood for something just as EXTREME! So I choose the genesis port of the American Gladiators game. What's more extreme than a bunch of oiled up muscular athletes competing in absolutely ridiculous events that have little/no true sports value?

If you were born in the eighties there was a good chance you wasted a portion of your childhood watching the ridiculous testosterone fest that was American gladiators. The good folks at Gametek figured this would lead to lots of cartridge sales for them. Little Johnny and Suzy surely would love to take on the role of an athletic underdog working to topple the tyrannical oppression of athletes so powerful only one word names like Nitro, Lace and Malibu could truly convey their power!

This is American Gladiators! If you can't tell by the main logo the tiled background is there to really bring the point home.

Controls vary from event to event. They are however similar in that they almost always involve button mashing and they're quite annoying. That being said they're fairly quick to respond in most events, it just that they aren't good, or convenient. The only exception being Atlasphere (you know the one you always wanted to play as a kid because you got to be in what amounted to a giant hamster ball?), because it only uses the Dpad.

Look at that excited crowd  entirely composed of pieces of cut rock candy

Graphically it's lacking. In most places the sprites are too small and when they aren't there's an attempt at detail, but it remains firmly in the realm of attempt rather than a reality. The do however move pretty smoothly in most games. The animations aren't great but most have good frame rates. Additionally while these aren't good graphics especially for the genesis, they aren't so terrible they distract you either. Perhaps the real positive about the graphics is that the limits on detail and color palette keep you from being subject to a digital version of this.

Soundwise...well it's not the most awful thing I've heard. It is however still awful. You get one track for every event and it NEVER STOPS. Seriously, once you hit the start button the music starts up and you're locked into it until you win, lose or hit pause. It doesn't stop when you start an event, or when you win an event, or when you lose an event, or even when you're in that screen between events. It just keeps going and going and going. By the end of the game you're pretty much ready to murder whomever composed it.

 You get two options when you start off, head to head and tournament. In head to head you compete against a friend in one series of events to determine which of you  is the tannest, most muscular hair gel abuser of all time!

 In tournament mode you compete against the computer and/or a friends in a series of matches until the field is whittled down to the greatest, oiliest most muscular competitors! If you win the tournament you may get a special screen or some sort of reward, but no one really knows for sure. I certainly didn't make it that far and nor did anyone else as far as I could find.

So once you determine whether it's best to go after your friends or after the computer or both, you can choose your gender and enter your name. Choosing your gender will determine what you look like and which gladiators you'll go against.  It really doesn't matter much as except for in joust, the sprites aren't very different, in fact in most cases they're exactly the same.

Regardless of which you choose you'll always get the same events in the same order. These may or may not be listed in the correct order here as quite honestly, I'm too lazy to go through the game again to check.

This event should have made a great game but it doesn't work out that well
First up: Assault. This event may as well be called, the tennis ball gun, because that's what we all remember it as. It's actually not a bad interpretation of how it works on the show. You run around trying not get hit while trying to hit whichever gladiator is shooting at you. (The game tells you which gladiators are going after you at the beginning screen for each event, but honestly it doesn't seem to matter because the sprites look and react the same). Here you get your first taste of awkward controls, you have to be right on top of the gun to pick it up. Once you've got it you try to shoot the target above the gladiators head, aiming is done via a small box in the upper right hand corner and is almost impossible to do with any sort of accuracy. Your best bet is to fire the gun blindly, hit the button to put it down and run to the next station. Trying to aim will just get you hit in the face with a tennis ball, which is going to happen anyway so you might as well get some points before then.

They shouldn't call it Joust if they aren't on birds and there's no pterodactyl

Next up: Joust. Unlike in the show the object here is to beat the crap out of the gladiator rather than just knocking them off the pedestal. The controls for this one are better than most but ultimately boil down to a lot of button mashing. If you're the victorious masher your opponent will fall down exhausted on to the top of the pedestal in what can only be described as the world's most ridiculously contrived death pose. If you lose you end up in the same pose, in either case it's pretty absurd looking.

Followed by, The Wall. Your competitor shimmies up the wall with a couple of second head start on the gladiator. If they don't catch you, you reach the top of the wall and win some points. If they catch you you both fall off in a stunning display of poorly rendered graphics and you get nothing. Simple enough  in theory but like the others, annoying controls make it borderline unplayable. You have to button mash and move with the d pad, but you often get hung up on the air for no clear reason. I personally never made it to the top even though I played the event at least 5 times.

Human Marble Madness seems like it would also be an apt title for Atlasphere

On to fan favorite: Atlasphere! Like I said back up in the control section this was the game you wanted to play as a child. What's not to love about rolling around in a big hamster ball? Sure there are other guys trying to hit you , but that's just more fun! Well it's not more fun when you're trying to roll your ball into to the goal to get points(as is the aim of the game) and you keep getting thwarted. But I still think it would be fun in person. This game has the smoothest controls and is the most fun to play, most likely because you only use the Dpad and because, I can not stress this enough, HUMAN HAMSTER BALL! My only complaint about this game is it would have been cooler if it were first person instead of top down.

Next up: Powerball. This is a really stupid concept for a game you alternate from one bin of balls to the other while trying to stuff them into things that look like trash cans and not getting tackled by gladiators. It's harder than it sounds and controls for crap. The controls are reasonable enough in theory, but in reality they're very sluggish and very finicky about where you're standing. It's a losing combination.

Finally: The Eliminator. In a stunning display of your athletic prowess you run a gauntlet style sports course. You start by  running up a treadmill, take a hand bike across a line, carefully walk a balance beam without being hit by punching bags, take zip line to the ground where you sprint towards the finish jumping hurdles and pushing aside the gladiator who may or may not be in your way (depending on door choice).

This portion of the game could basically be ported into a modern Ninja Warrior game and no one would notice

This is probably the simplest to control of all the events. You button mash alternating A and C the entire time. If you're a decent masher and your wrists don't kill you, it's usually a fairly easy victory. Sadly it won't mean much after all those previous losses due to shoddy game controls.

Once you've had a chance to test yourself against all these top athletes in games of pure skill you'll sit back and think to yourself: "Dear god those crappy controls made everything needlessly hard.Why would anyone want to play this game?"

I didn't lose, I'm just stretching with some pre-match yoga

Overall American Gladiators is an OK title for a TV game show port. It bears passing resemblance to what it's based on and is playable. However, I still think it's a disappointment. American Gladiators really could have been a lot of fun of done correctly. The campiness of the gladiators coupled with the silliness of the events themselves really was a recipe for fun. Sadly it didn't come out that way. A combination of poor controls and most of the AI rivals being just about perfect at everything made this game too difficult to really be enjoyable for most people. I never made it to the end of a tournament and if my travels around the internet are any indication, neither did anyone else. If you want to attempt to enjoy the game I suggest you find a friend and play in head to head mode, you can have some surprisingly fun, intense matches if you can keep the gladiators themselves from driving you crazy.


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