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Up from (Super) Obscurity

It's 8:13pm Thursday night, and you know what THAT means, don't you? Well, at Chez CarlMarksGuy, it means one thing: time to start typin' away on my latest GameWTFs article filler, theoretically due in less than 4 hours! But what, WHAT could I talk about? Ah, I know: another following-week follow-up on a game I've spent the last week playing suffering through! That means it's time for another visit from:
Yes, once again I'm going to dedicate some digital ink to Dennis the Menace: The Super Nintendo game. Based on the 1990s movie1. Because if I don't write about it, WHO WILL?!2
1: featuring Walter Matthau!
2: probably not Walter Matthau.
As you may remember from last week...
Basically everything you need to know about this game could be summed up in pictures:
Oops, that's not the picture I wanted. Well, it DOES kind of let you know that you're in for a movie-"related" platformer, but there's so much more.
Well, actually "so much more" probably OVER-sells it. Let's just split the difference and say, "this is a crummy movie/platformer cash grab that's also creepy as all-git-out," and to summarize THAT, let's get some more pictures:
There. Now that we're caught up...
What else might I have to say about this game, you ask? Well, I sunk 3-4 hours into it last weekend, and am excited have to report some more things about it:
Dennis is a Genre-Tease: Sad but true, basically everything you learn about this game in Mr. Wilson's House (the first level) is misleading. Let's break it down:
How many levels before you get to new "world"/setting?(as in, different backgrounds, enemies, etc)
The "Mr. Wilson's House" background and enemies last only 1 level.
The subsequent settings consist of 3 levels each; for example...
there's The Park and its 1, 2, and 3 levels;
the Boiler parts 1, 2, and 3; and so on.
(I got to The Sewer levels, too, but that's where it all goes to crap (so to speak), so I couldn't be bothered to get screen captures).
Is there a Boss to fight at the end of each setting?
No. You just have to avoid Mr. Matthau long enough to get catapulted by the jack-in-the-box. Or else.
Yes, each different setting has a boss fight after the third level. For example, the park ends with a life-or-death struggle against THIS hideous...thing:
The horror.
How do you complete a level?
Collect 4 Big Coins, then collect the 5th and Final Big Coin With Orbiting Little Coins.
Well, okay...you basically have the same scavenger-hunt Big Coin/Final Orbitted Big Coin approach
(well, except in Park 2, which we'll get to in a minute).
What kind of things do you DO in Mr. Wilson's House?
You're gathering Big Coins AND the two powered-up weapons from several distinct "regions" in Mr. Wilson's House:
two floors of "normal house",
then a basement (accessible at all times) and an attic (accessible only if you flip the switch guarded by Mr. Wilson).
And though your powered-up weapons can kill most living enemies, over half of the things that will hurt you are strangely animate sporting equipment or kitchenware, and thus invulnerable and must be dodged instead of shot.
So basically you could say Mr. Wilson's House is a platformer with item-gathering, weapon-gathering and puzzle aspects.
(well, there's one puzzle; that counts, right?).
But what about the Park, Boiler, Sewer, etc levels?
Well, the Park 1 level starts off KIND of similar, in that you're still jumping around, dodging enemies, collecting coins...but here, almost ALL your enemies are vulnerable to repeated slingshotting or pea-shooter-ing.
You guys are going down.
However, in our first taste of things to come, jumping becomes much more important. No longer does a missed jump mean you have to go over to the nearby end table, leap to a cabinet, and try again to get up onto that high shelf. Now you can fall through a dissolving floor or be bumped in mid-leap and fall an entire screen-height down, or worse, down a bottomless pit.
Also in an odd move, there's no ladders and none of the jack-in-the-box catapults we saw in Mr. Wilson's; instead you warp up or down a tree using the odd tree-doors,
and the rest of the tricky stuff involve pressing buttons which usually extend bridges (though in one case, it briefly turns on a sprinkler, which catapults you like the jack-in-the-box did):
Oh yeah...then in Park 2, unlike the whole rest of the game, the screen auto-scrolls, there are no Big Coins to collect (except the end-of-level orbited one) and you have to follow a brown dog dragging a wagon:
While you CAN ride on top of the wagon, you can't stay there too long or you'll get bumped/shot/low-bridge-ed off.
But you also can't stay too far away from the dog, partially because of the screen's auto-scroll, but also because you need to use the wagon as a stepping-stone to get on the higher-than-usual logs that come by every now and then.
Actually, it looks like you could probably walk UNDER that log, too. Huh, I never tried that.
Anyway, when you finally get to the end of the level, there's just the Big Coin with Orbiting Small Coins. Grab it and you win.
Of course, in a further effort to banish continuity and expectations, Park 3 is back to the Park 1 style of platformer/tree-door/button-bridge. It's all very confusing.
Ok, that's odd...now what's all this about a "Boiler"?
Yeah, up above I kind of limited it to "slimy platforms and steam-spewing background objects" pictures, but the Boiler levels is where this game goes to hell.
Literally.
This level's most prominent feature is the boilers pictured above: their dials are anthropomorphized to look like eyes, fire churns inside their jagged-toothed maws.
While the park enemies had a slightly less "mischievous pre-teen hijinks" vibe than the stuff in Mr. Wilson's house, there's nothing moppet-like about the roaring fire, boiling water and spurting steam that you face in the Boiler levels.
Unsurprisingly the focus of the platforming elements are changed up again: now you spend some of your time waiting for boilers to pop their platform-like tops,
One express elevator to hell, going UP!
and sometimes you have to push boulders up to them so you can get that extra high to leap onto their lids:
Sisyphus the Menace.
They even pretend that there was a point to putting the squirt gun in at all by having it stun or deflect a fire-enemy or two in this level, but it's really too little, too late.
But now more than before, the real challenge is FINDING all the Big Coins you need to exit the level. In the house you just had to explore every nook and cranny of a big square space loaded with platforms; in the Park level you had to get to every different elevation of the trees, but here you're jumping and running along dozens of tiny spindly pipes that are placed at odd angles:
the timer becomes your biggest enemy, as you run the whole circuit of the level's pipes, platforms and boiler-elevator-lids and still can't find that last Big Coin.
Eventually (if you're lucky), you realize you have to HALF-MISS one of the big jumps, landing on the pipe JUST BELOW the one you hit if you made it, and run around on the middle-level pipes somewhere. In a further act of sadism, the pipe that the Big Coin rests on is far enough above or below the normal routes you'll run that you WON'T catch a glimpse of it UNLESS you're on the right track: these levels are pretty damn big, and rather vertical.
Truly, Dennis is in a place of eternal torment.
...and I don't even have the time heart to talk about how the Sewer levels work (hint: by about Sewer 2, the emphasis is "jumping over bottomless pits of sewer water, where enemies are placed to pop out of nowhere and bump you to your death." They could teach Ninja Gaiden's eagles a thing or two).
But this all gives rise to one very important question:
WHAT DOES ANY OF THAT HAVE TO DO WITH DENNIS THE FREAKIN MENACE?
My theory is that, after Mr. Wilson's level, the rest of the game was something lying around a dusty harddrive in Ocean's corporate offices. When they were told, "Hey, make a game about Dennis the Menace" they spent most of their time designing a movie-appropriate first level then pasted the rest of the game on, like a Frankenstein's Monster with the head of a blond moppet and the body of an Addam's Family hop-n-bop game or something.
Actually, that deserves an illustration:
This still isn't as scary as Digitized Walter Matthau.
This is a show of amazing economy on Ocean's part: they assumed* that no player would venture beyond the confines of the first level. So if you ask me, that's why the first level's "Explore and Get Weapons" formula goes out the window as the game proceeds to dish up several different flavors of platforming.
*: probably correctly
But all this DOES give me something to ramble on about for two weeks in a row, so for that, I applaud them.
Wait, I just had a terrible thought --
What would happen if you HADN'T gotten the slingshot and/or pea-shooter in Mr. Wilson's House? Would you be doomed to play the whole game with only the squirt gun -- the "stun" weapon which only effects about 3 enemies in the whole game (the first level's mouse, plus the boiler level's fire-guy and the boiler's fireballs)? And what would happen during the boss fights?!
I can only assume that you can find these weapons again in later levels if you missed them. For example, there's a lot of 1-UP's lying around; maybe specific ones would be the weapons you might have missed in Mr. Wilson's house.
Well, until I can be bothered to see what happens if I don't get them, I'll leave you with one last conundrum to ponder:
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?
— carlmarksguy, 2013-09-06
1
I think the only reason to fight that thing is to put it out of its misery. It also has a Simpsons-esque vibe to it.
2
Yup, it's definitely Simpsons-y; on tumblr I suggested it was Fry from Futurama in drag. I think what bugs me more is that the Girl on the Swing boss and the Dog With The Wagon look NOTHING like the annoying girl and the dog in the Dennis the Menace comic. I guess I could give them the benefit of the doubt and guess they look like their movie equivalents, but...Bah. BAH, I say!
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