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Up from (Super) Obscurity

This week we're going to talk about a very disturbing video game, where a small but determined individual breaks into the houses of the elderly, gathers up all the cash, and kills any small animals that get in his way.
Yes, tremble in fear, tremble I say! before the unstoppable onslaught of...
Well, that was dark. Anyway, it's another quickie movie-to-platformer from the good folks at Ocean.
I'm sure it will surprise the hell out of you to learn that this is not a very good game, but there's a few interesting things that can be said about it (most of which are horrifying), so, off we go:
The Graphics, aka, "What a long strange house it's been"
The first level is a good example of most of what's weird about this game, so we'll be focusing mainly on that*
*: also I've only gotten to the second level.
And where does this game begin? Well, suffice to say that these Diablo-like letters welcome us to the first level of hell.
And it's a scary, violent place, totally unsuitable for an demonic adorable blond moppet like Dennis. Why, it's full of:
Playful purple cats and victrollas that eject endless streams of records,
Wait, that's kind of confusing -- it's only the victrollas that shoot records at you, NOT the purple cats.
plus a vermin-infested basement and a cobwebby attic! Can't forget about them!
But...but who would live in such a death-trap? Who could SURVIVE when they're outnumbered by a factor of 10 to 1 by all the things that leap, crawl, skitter and roll in this house?
Oh yeah -- I forgot to mention: in this place, cups, bowling balls, footballs and boxing gloves all move of their own accord. (I don't remember the sub-plot in the comic where Mr. Wilson's house was built on an ancient Indian burial ground, but then again, maybe the movie took some creative license on that front)
Who would live in such a death-trap, you ask? Well, I'd prefer you didn't ask; but since you did -- it leaves me with no choice but to reveal the most terrifying video game image that has ever blighted my television screen:
DIGITIZED WALTER MATTHAU IN A BATHROBE!
What in the Sam Hill were you thinking, Ocean? Let me count the ways that you have unsettled me:
  1. You've inserted something that obviously started off as a DIGITIZED PHOTOGRAPH of a recognizable and generally well-respected actor (this movie not withstanding) into a world that's otherwise hand-drawn cartoons
  2. A middle-aged man in a bathrobe is chasing a small boy, whilst staring straight out of the screen at the player in thinly-veiled disgust.
  3. If he catches you, he carries you away and you lose a life:
  4. His hands might actually be Eraserhead chickens*
*: if you don't get that reference, do yourself a favor and DON'T FIND OUT.
Fortunately he is only allowed free reign over a tiny upstairs room of his sprawling and platform-heavy house. If you can out-pace him to the bed that marks the edge of his domain, Digital Walter Matthau will stalk away (undoubtedly muttering to himself under his breath and trying to make the player's head explode, Scanners-style).
But there's so much more!
Indeed, Dennis the Menace: The Game of The Mid-'90s Movie has a few other quirks that deserve derisive laughter examination. So let's move along and address...
Finally, a game for children where the Options mode lets you make it EASY enough for children!
I can't count the number of old NES and SNES games that seemed to be aimed at young children (or at least STARRED young characters), but were hard enough to make grown men, women, and fuzzy things from Alpha Centauri weep. I think the best example of an age-appropriate difficulty was the entertaining cake-walk that is Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers, but more often than not we got things like this:
Milon's Secret Castle
— More like "THIS GAME WILL TEAR YOU A NEW SECRET ENTRANCE"
Kid Kool — Royal dis!
Little Nemo: The Dream Master
— hell yes, this place is too dangerous. Your main weapon has a crappy tiny arc, it briefly stuns enemies, and virtually all enemies are too big to be jumped over when stunned. On top of that, half your power-up creatures DON'T HAVE AN ATTACK AT ALL (though I think they got that idea by watching Nemo).
But that's not the case with THIS game; you can go from the default settings:
Oh, haayll no.
...to this!
In both modes you have 9 "Courage"-hearts (the equivalent of hitpoints, without directly implying that the enemies are physically injuring the richly-deserving but young Dennis). In "Easy" mode, each of those hearts takes TWO hits to lose, while "Hard" mode is the more traditional "1 hit = -1 heart". Given that there's a lot of full-health-restoring Candy in the first level, let's just say that on Easy mode, you'll probably only lose because of Mr. Wilson or The Timer (and even then you have 3 continues).
But though you can get somewhere between 9 and 18 hits for each of your 9 lives, that's not to say that the game is EASY. You're greatly handicapped by...
Your Menace-Free Armaments!
For some reason they start you off with only a squirt-gun, which is the most useless weapon since the cane in the NES's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which literally has no effect on 95% of the enemies):
Left: cat not being effected by cane.   Right: cat not being effected by squirt gun.
(Actually, I thought the squirtgun was useless on EVERYTHING in Dennis the Menace, but then while taking screenshots for this article I accidentally squirted a mouse and found that it was briefly stunned. But as far as I can tell, ONLY MICE are vulnerable to this).
But if you jump up on one of the platforms right above where you start you can snag the slingshot. Actually, you'll probably get it by accident -- its placed right in front of a fishbowl, and the slingshot's "LOOK AT ME!" star is virtually the same color as the goldfish that are usually seen there:
It's a good thing they put candy right next to it, or its debatable how many people would actually FIND the useful weapon you'll be using for most of this level:
The slingshot has the same downward arc that the squirtgun's water has, but it will take out mice and bats with one shot, and even slay the purple cats after 4 bullets.
Of course, shooting the leaping purple cats which have taken over Mr. Wilson's home is not without its own moral quandry: when they're defeated (presumably killed), they release a distressing "Myyyowl!" sound, which makes you feel like a terrible human being.
Also, EVERY INANIMATE ENEMY (bowling balls, footballs, bouncing cups, etc) are completely invulnerable to ALL attacks, thus must be dodged. It's enough to make you wonder if its really worth killing dozens of cute domestic housecats just so there's 20% less obstacles that you have to dodge (and when I say "dodge", I of course mean "bump in to then run through during your period of invulnerability").
You know what? I was going to write about the third and final weapon (the pea-shooter, hidden in the basement and pictured below),
...but suffice to say, aside from its straight-line fire arc, the pea-shooter is just as weak and limited as the slingshot. So let's move along because that "bumping into enemies" is a good segue into the next point:
Dennis is a Kamakazi Rocket-Jumping Menace
I don't know why, but the platforming here seems to be designed to get your goat. All the ledges are drawn so it LOOKS like you should be able to jump up to them, but you can't. When Dennis jumps up, his sprite is 90% of the way onto a ledge, but that's not high enough and you have to find a smaller platform near by to use as a stepping stone.
OR you can take advantage of a) your tremendous reserves of health, and 2) the fact that when you get hit, you rocket straight upwards about an inch. Combine those two and if you're like me, you'll spend a lot of your time NOT doing the two or three long jumps while dodging bats like the designers intended. Instead you'll be leaping above enemies, taking an intentional hit, and being bumped onto the power-up's ledges. For example:
Also, where's interactive backgrounds when you need 'em?
Speaking of getting an extra bounce, you'd imagine the programmers would allow mischievous Dennis to do some crazy kangaroo-style bouncing on poor Mr. Wilson's numerous couches, easy-chairs and beds, right?
Well, no such luck: these soft furnishings have no more spring in them than a table, dresser or the floor. But in an odd twist, the corners of couches and chairs WILL block your bullets, even though you can walk by them!
But there's GOTTA be SOME jump-booster, right?
Technically, yes: if you stand on a jack-in-the-box, eventually it will open and fling you skywards. In fact, it's the only way to get by Mr. Wilson, and reach the switch that drops the ladder to the attic. However, it also involves...
...clowns AND Digitized Walter Matthau in the SAME SCREEN!
...the horror. The horror.
Well, I WAS going to talk about the game's (somewhat hidden) goal: collect all four "Big Coins" per level, then you can get the fifth and final "Big Coin Orbitted by Small Coins." Upon achieving this mission, Dennis does the "Aayyyyye!" gesture like he's friggin' Fonz,
...then he's free to bring his own brand of bland jumping and small animal mutilation to The Park* in a much more straight-forwards "jump, warp-door, run over dissolving platforms, repeat" level.
*: actually I think it more closely resembles an Ewok Village, but what do I know
...but this article is gettin' too damn long, so I think I'll call it a day.
Any closing remarks, anyone?
Yikes.
And somehow, there's more
— carlmarksguy, 2013-08-31
1
It looks like Ocean may have been trying to recreate the wackiness of their Addams Family platform games, but it just doesn't work with Dennis the Menace. And there is no way for that Digitized Walter Matthau to not give off a pedophile vibe.
2
While I would have appreciated some kind of armaments in "Pugsly's Scavenger Hunt", the bizarre and violent world of household objects works better in Addam's Mansion than Mr. Wilson's house. Ocean & THQ should know how creepy sticking digitized heads onto cartoon bodies is, here and in Wayne's World :P
3
& holy snikeys, I just played this game for about 3 hours; Mr. Wilson's house is a total abnormality, the rest of the game is made up of 3-part levels (Park 1, 2, 3; Boiler Room(?!) 1, 2, 3; Sewers 1, 2, 3), & each of them ends with a friggin BOSS FIGHT. Though the bosses are tweaked to be slightly Dennis-y (Park Boss = girl on a swing, Boiler Boss = gym teacher?), the mood of the rest of the game is creepy+weird. If this isn't a slap-dash conversion of some Addam's Family or other creepy game Ocean had half-done, I'll eat my hat!
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