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Up from (Super) Obscurity

Whilst enjoying a goofy review of a Japan-only beat-em-up game which featured a super hero apparently wearing a hat of top-romen-noodle-ish stuff, I thought to myself, "jeez, I wish this video game made it to the states! It's so wacky, and, I mean, how can you have a BAD beat-em-up?"
Sadly, I'm not going to start reviewing crazy half-baked Japan-only Super Nintendo/Super Fanticom/Super Whatever games...but this week I HAVE discovered one of the ways you can make a bad SNES beat-em-up. To welcome this week's intellectual property, why don't you join me in a rousing cry of...
Some of you may remember The Tick as a weird and goofy cartoon from the "late '90s golden age of cartoon weirdness" -- a term that I just made up, primarily because I have no idea if its justified or not. But I mean, you had Animaniacs, Freakazoid, and The Tick; that's as close as you're going to come to Looney-Toons-style anarchy meets Monty Python-esque randomness before the smug ironic post-web-humor poisoned off-beat animation into the sludge we see on Adult Swim, and mainstream cartoons brought us Loonatics Unleashed, where the marketing executive brain trust who created Itchy and Scratchy's now-deceased alien(?) pal, "Poochie", decided to physically scotch-tape a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dynamic onto the Looney Toons cast, and drape them in Tron-style costumes.
Seriously, Yo, Yogi! (where our favorite pic-a-nic basket stealing bruin was instead reimagined as a teen, skateboarding around a mall wearing bizarrely florescent clothing of a late-80s/early-90s radical nature) had more legs than Loonatics Unleashed.
Holy crap, I'm wayyyy off script...
Let's just say, "this video game has a look that's basically based on the cartoon of The Tick, though the plot is based on the first comic book story of The Tick (the one with ninjas), but this is NOT based on the Live Action Show of The Tick (which starred Putty from Seinfeld* as The Tick)" and move on.
*: though, seriously; I think Seinfeld minor characters should be EXCLUSIVELY cast for any number of half-hour doomed-by-committee live action super hero sit-coms. Who wouldn't make time in their life for "Kenny Banya is...OVALTINE MAN", or Lloyd Braun receiving different powers by chewing various flavors of radioactive gum?
So, uh, The Tick, the Super Nintendo's a beat-em-up, I gather?
Indeed it is, Mr. Title-as-a-Narrative-Device-Asking-a-Fake-Question! In this game, you play as THE TICK, as he wanders around punching enemies.
Some of those enemies are Ninjas. Actually, I think ALL of the enemies are ninjas. And how many ninjas do you have to punch?
I'm pretty sure that's a literal count.
So Many Ninjas
Yes, The Tick has less enemy variety than the SNES's Alien Vs. Predator. How is that possible, you ask?
Well, SNES:AvP features TWO different enemy sprites...and two other "trap"-like one-hit enemies (the facehugger and the chest-burster, to be precise).
The Tick features Ninjas. Palette-swap after palette-swap of NINJAS.
You might think that the different colors -- and thus armaments -- of the ninjas creates some variety. Well, you'd be wrong: the first time you punch a ninja, he loses his distinctive weaponry.
This is good (because their weaponry gives them either a ranged attack or a stronger slightly-longer-reach attack) and bad (because after they've been punched once, ALL NINJAS ATTACK THE SAME).
Fortunately Unfortunately, all the ninjas will still take 3-8 more hits after the initial one before they're finished off. For all but the weakest ninjas on the first level or two, this means that you'll have to hit them until they fall down...wait for them to get back up, then repeat once, twice, or thrice more (again, depending on the level...they get tougher as the game goes on). Then when you finish off these 2-3 ninjas, another set shows up. Often times the screen doesn't even let you scroll; more just show up along the edges of the screen.
For example, the first level, on the roof of the bus, features 22 ninjas. They just keep coming. And coming. And coming. Then, in a shocking twist, some more ninjas show up.
Then...the Platforming...
These ninja-em-up levels are interspersed with "rooftop jumping levels"
You'd think this would be the normal "lose a few lives because beat-em-up characters never jump very responsively" type thing, but there's an odd twist:
No, being pelted with projectiles that drain your health and interrupt you in mid-jump (with the intent of making you fall off the roof) isn't the twist. The twist is, when you fail a jump and fall off the rooftops, you DON'T lose a life.
Instead, you have to fight a mini-boss, or "sub plot", in this game's parlance:
There are several different mini-bosses...which is good, because it injects some variety if you have trouble jumping. All of them follow the beat-em-up boss fight tradition: you better hit-and-move, preferably jump-kicking, because they don't take kindly to the normal series of punches or kicks which you've been using to defeat ninja after ninja!
Of course, the flaw of using failed jumps to introduce mini-bosses is...if you DON'T have trouble jumping on the platformer roof levels, it's back to...
Well then...
I think I've covered the basic repetative nature of the game mechanics pretty well, and have mentioned the quirky "sub plot"/mini-boss mechanic.
You've also probably noticed that there's a lot of funny-lookin' graphics scattered throughout the game -- not just the level intros/mini-boss photos, but the Tick's animations are pretty fun too; your "combo finisher" on a punch attack is often a comical "FLICK":
And your "grab" attacks have plenty of character, too (despite being almost hidden -- you have to walk "towards AND UP" or "toward AND DOWN" at them between punches, rather than just "towards"). Let's see one of them!
And if you're in a charitable mood, you might be thinking, "hey, that seems okay...if I can get past fighting several thousand of the same enemy, it might be kind of fun!"
But there's some odd beat-em-up decisions afoot!
The Tick is a long, dull slog: it has the repetitiveness of fighting the same enemy hundreds of times -- without even regular boss fights (unless you jump badly) -- but it ALSO has some really weird game mechanics which hurt it more. Let's look at them, shall we?
Sidekick = Smartbomb
Alert readers may have noticed the picture of Arthur, the Ticks moth costumed/bunny-earred sidekick, at the top left corner of the screen by your "lives" counter.
No, that Arthur Count isn't for a two-player mode (assuming you don't spend all your time writing about games no one has cared about in 15 years have a friend for the player-2 controller in your Super Nintendo beat-em-ups). Instead it is the number of times you can shout "ARTHUR!" and have him swoop by and somehow "smart bomb" dead all the enemies that are currently on screen.
Of course, you can't use this on mini-boss/boss it's basically just a ninja clean-up service if you get bored. Sadly they give you at most 5 or 6 of these (per life? Per continue? Don't remember!). If they gave you 1000, it might fix the fact there's 333.33333 times too many ninjas!

Jump to your Death!
Most beat-em-ups realize that your in-game lives are very precious: you have your long stamina bar, which is only slightly depleted with each punch you take or ninja-star that gets jabbed into your posterior.
Because your lives are valuable, most games assume that your in-game avatar is wise enough not to leap off a moving bus or stroll off the edge of a roof (in the non-platformer levels, that is). To represent this wisdom, they give you a 10% EXP bonus as a cleric make it so the cliff edges act like they have "invisible guard rails" around them, either preventing you from walking AND jumping off, or at least preventing you from walking off.
However The Tick is not most games! Walk or leap off a bus or non-platform-level roof, and you're one life down!
Because the VERY FIRST LEVEL you start in is the top of the bus, and the bus is quite a bit shorter than the screen is tall, I hope you don't like jump-kicking!
Oh, and did I mention that you break into a run after walking in a straight line for a while? Don't worry, I'm sure you'll figure it out after you go scooting off the front of the bus!
If you started playing this game, lost a life or two this way, then never played again, I wouldn't blame you. But if that was the case, you wouldn't know about how...

Throws Blows!
It's certainly exciting a bit of variety to knock down enemies with your grab-and-fling-em-around "throw" type attacks.
Unfortunately this may be the first game in history where its more powerful to hit your enemies with just the basic combo-punches or kicks!
Because you fight the same ninjas over and over again, you get pretty good at counting how many knock-downs it takes before an individual ninja is out for the count; and it takes longer if you use the grab-pound-throw than the standard punch-punch-Punch-FLICK!
While the throw attacks will knock down enemies nearby, it still just drags the game out to do it this way. It's sad, really...the designers animated such cute grab-pound-throw sequences!

Missed him by THAT much!
Each time you hit with a punch or a kick, the opponent ninja is bumped away slightly.
This means that you'll often end up bumping them out of range for your 3rd or final attack...unless you stop punching and step slightly closer to them occasionally.
I'm not sure why they decided to do it this way; they don't have time to recover from being "stunned" unless you repeatedly miss punch two or three's just another weird decision.

Back-to-Back Buddy Brawlin'!
One of the only power-ups available in this game is the "Fist" icon, which appears on a specific screen every four or so levels. When you pick it up, a character from The Tick canon hops down and the two of you fight back-to-back until you've roughed up enough ninjas so that the "GO" icon appears (as we've mentioned, this is rare; they usually just keep throwing another three ninjas onto the screen you're on).
Fortunately, you don't take damage when your battle-buddy is hit. Unfortunately, enemies can walk right through your sprite, creating a huge area between YOUR fists and THEIR fists where enemies can just kind of wander through and possibly punch you in the back.
Oh, you also can't jump or call in Arthur-strikes when fighting this way -- I hope that's okay!
The worst part is that your partners are BETTER fighters than you...because they DON'T have a "combo finishing" attack:
For example, on the rooftops you have to punch a ninja three times then flick him down...then wait for him to get back up again, punch him three more times, then flick him down for the count. Paul the Samurai, there, can just whack a ninja seven or eight times in a row with his sword-baked-into-a-french-bread (don't ask) and then the ninja falls down dead. ARRRRRRGHGHGH!!

Holy SPOOON, I've written a lot here. I guess its because I'm fascinated with how uneven this game is.
It is undoubtedly tedious: I was trying to beat it last night and ended up playing for about 2 hours of ninja-fighting, thinking I MUST be getting closer to the end, when I got to a non-optional boss battle. I got to fight a SLIGHTLY BIGGER red ninja with NO NINJA MASK and a sword he KEEPS EVEN AFTER BEING PUNCHED ONCE! (shocking!).
But he went down pretty easily, and after I won that, it was just another normal nigh-infinite ninja levels. Each time I beat a set of ninjas I thought, "hey, maybe I'll get to a real boss and the game will end!"...but each time another three ninjas appeared, and eventually I just stopped caring.
But there's so many attempts to do something different, and really to leverage all the characters and goofiness of the series. There's even a pretty easy cheat which lets you skip to whatever level you want: using that I could see I was still a level or two away from the end of NINJA WORLD...and that there were TWO MORE WHOLE WORLDS the same size as ninja-world (though, like Ghosts and Goblins for most sane NES players, level-select is the only way you'll see the later levels).
Because the pre-game opening sequence of this game features a veritable Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage-length list of Tick character cameos, I assume each additional world has its own set of Sub-Plot mini-bosses, back-to-back-buddies, and maybe even its own ONE ENEMY (aliens or clowns or Idea Men?) rather than just more Ninjas...
But in the end, its crammed too full of the same fights over and over again for me to care.
In conclusion...
I think the level three intro picture sums up my feelings about The Tick for the Super Nintendo:
Well-drawn at times, fitfully funny, but at this point you'd have to put a gun to my head to make me play it ever again!
— carlmarksguy, 2012-06-01
Shame! A damn shame! If this had been on the PlayStation or the Sega Shaturn, it would probably have had Patrick Warburton (aka the Big Bad Wolf) lending his voice to it. Instead, we have a game that is more than self-aware, but lacks the sound technology to properly express it.
I think all the stuff above is worse than the sound :( Though (since I don't have a handy way of capturing audio and never talk about sound) I didn't mention that he yells SPOOON! very well at the end of the levels.
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