KNOCK-OFF AHOY! June 29 2002

In this article, we'll explore the world of games obviously based on the engines of others. I'll tell you about them once I have satisfied my need to serve you some background info. Cause I... GOTTA!

Altering the graphics of an already-existing game is not the smutty business you might think it is. Even the acclaimed Half-Life has borrowed its engine from Unreal, and the Star Wars game Galactic Battlegrounds is nothing more than an Age of Empires conversion. I'm not really sure about the Half-Life deal, but I don't really care.

SWAMP THING

Some games are a disgrace to their origin. The Wolfenstein 3D rip Super 3D Noah's Ark is a good example. Others are just brought further down into the mire by their engine. Swamp Thing is one of these. Developed by Imagineering Inc. for T*HQ, this game never saw the light of day. But thanks to some unfaithful servant, a beta version found its way to the black market, and someone took the time to extract the ROM and upload it to the Internet.

In case you aren't familiar with Swamp Thing, let me elaborate. This game is based on a DC character created by Len Wein. In the mid-eighties, he gave the character to Alan Moore, who set a new standard for what comic books should be like, and paved the way for graphic novels such as The Sandman and Hellblazer. Swamp Thing himself is a plant elemental, or rather the plant elemental, practically a god. Creating a game around a virtually immortal character is not a good idea.

I'm not sure how close to completion Swamp Thing was when it was discontinued, but since selected magazines were sent a copy for evaluation, I will assume the cartridge was pretty much ready to hit the shelves. Which means Imagineering were lousy when it came to covering their tracks: this game is obviously The Simpsons: Bart VS the Space Mutants.

How do I know? Well, first of all, he moves and jumps the same way. Same tempo, same way to change speed mid-air. Also, the enemies move in the same patterns. But I must say the biggest give-away was the fact that seventy-five percent of the sound effects were left in. You might remember the annoying boioioing sound Bart made when he jumped? It felt out of place in The Simpsons, and it sure as hell feels out of place in Swamp Thing. I've never heard an earth god jump, but I'm pretty sure they don't go boioioing.

The sound effects aren't the only echoes from Simpsons, some of the sprites are also left behind, for example the creative 1-up graphic. At least I'm pretty sure that one was in the original. Bart VS the Space Mutants was so frustrating I've pretty much blocked it from my memory. Now that I think back, I think the 1-up was a white rectangle. Ah, what do I care?

Swamp Thing is boring, difficult, frustrating, and only loosely related to the comic book. Sure, there were a lot of weird stuff going in in the original stories, but I refuse to believe there were undead pygmees and jumping tombstones in Lousinana. On the other hand, the guys from Pogo once dropped by, so you never know.

Hey, Alec, I would like to ask you some...
I'm... not Alec Holland... Not anymore... I was never Alec Holland... Holland is... dead...
Uh... yeah, sorry about that. Hey, did you know your game is a game called The Simpsons with some new graphics chucked in?
Is that the show... with the yellow people..?
Oh, you've seen it? It's the -
I thought... my set was busted... the first time I saw it... "Hey, Abby," I said... "What's with the colors...?" He got me for sure... that Groening... What a kidder...
Yeah, and there's a game -
I can be funny too... you know... Eat my shorts... That cracks up the Green... every time...
Uhm... OK -
It's not... originally from Simpsons... you know... Emilio Estevez said it... in The Breakfast Club...
What?
"Eat my shorts"... Or it might have been... Judd Nelson... I forget... Things like this matter to me... no more... I am no longer... of that world...
OK. Thanks. You know, what I really wanted to ask you, was what kind of sound a plant elemental makes when he jumps?
I've got another one... If a plant elemental... falls in the swamp... and noone's around... does he make a sound..?
Dunno. Does he?
Yeah... I've checked... Well, I was around... of course...
Say what, I'll let you get back to whatever you were doing. Thanks for your time.
Not a problem... I was just watching... The Odd Couple...

SUPER 3D NOAH'S ARK

I've written about Super 3D Noah's Ark before, but I can't get through this article without bringing it up. This is but one in a long and painful list of religious games created by Wisdom Tree, a company I really need to write about one day. I would ask them to give an interview, but they'd probably want to see my site first, and we can't have that. Like the old Norwegian saying goes, you don't take a big sloppy dump on someone's doorstep and ask them for toilet paper afterwards. Yeah, yeah, take a look at your own country's proverbs. Especially if you're from India.

I mentioned earlier that this is a Wolfenstein 3D conversion, and word on the street has it id Software gave the engine away to get back at Nintendo for the treatment their own game was given. Truth is, Wisdom Tree bought the engine for a shitload of money. Yes, there is money in religious gaming. Big money. Enough money to buy a life-sized animatronic golden calf that runs on emeralds and makes you waffles every morning. And those don't come cheap

In Super 3D Noah's Ark, you have to stop an animal revolution by stuffing them with grapes until they pass out. All weapons in every Wisdom Tree game are fruit. Sometimes, you throw them at animals to knock their living daylights out, other times you throw them at people to convert them, passing on the proud traditions of the colonial missionaries.

Unlike most conversions that have all new levels, this one has only changed the graphics to look a little less nazi. All swasticas are pulled out to give way from cute ducks, Hans Große is replaced with Carl the Camel, and the mastermind behind it all is no longer Adolf Hitler, but a monkey.

On a sidenote, I'd like to mention this is only one in three Noah-themed games out there. While the old geezer still has a long way to go if he wants to gain the lead over Mario, he's breathing down Rayman's neck. See, senior citizens can be a valuable asset to society.

THE KRION CONQUEST

Now this is a pretty weird little critter from Takai. According to the prologue, the Krion Empire demanded the unconditional surrended of Earth in 1999, and sent out a battalion of robots to force the planet into submission. Next, we see a girl running along the streets of what I suppose is Tokyo when she suddenly is attacked by two robots. She is about to use her wand to defend herself when a witch jumps out of it. Yes, a witch. The girl is pretty surprised to see a Wiccan jump out of her stick, but the witch explains everything by stating her name is Francesca.

This is the only one of these games I bothered to beat, so I'll drag you through the mess in its entirety. First, the main concept. You run and jump through four levels and beat their respective bosses. You can shoot different kinds of bullets from your magic wand, and you can ride your broom to get past chasms and spikes.

Now look to the right. Unless you were spending the eighties and the bulk of the nineties chasing dinosaurs in Papa New Guinea, you'll know this is Mega Man, Capcom's mascot through close to twenty games in drag. If you also were able to point out that the enemies in the image are from Metal Man's level, you should e-mail me and join me in my search for a life.

Krion Conquest differs from Mega Man on some levels, though. First of all, you can shoot upwards and duck, functions sorely missed in the original. Second, all your weapons are present to begin with. Which isn't really a good thing, since, let's face it, all that kept us interested in Mega Man games was the weapons we aquired as we went on. Unless it was some kind of shield. Shields were usless except against one single enemy you'd meet once. And seriously, did they think we wouldn't notice the Skull Shield was just Wood Man's shield with altered graphics? And why are little skulls and leaves considered good shield material? And what kind of robot name is Wood Man anyway? I guess this is one of the situations where you really shouldn't try to relive the joys of childhood.

Following is a presentation of the bosses. They're all preceded by a warning like the one below, and they're all variations of the Mega Man ones.

Thunder Knight could seem like a complete Elec Man rip, but he's actually far better programmed, and most of the time, he's a giant semi-erect penis. And if there's anything we all can agree on, it's there aren't enough phallic bosses to go round. If the ghost of Sigmund Freud was looking over my shoulder right now, he'd point out that Francesca suffers from phallofobia, a psychological state related to penis envy. Or something, I'm more of a Jung person. But I'm pretty sure there are heavy metaphors at work here. The owls are not what they seem, my friend.


Yukimaru is Japanese for 'Ice Man.' If you know any Japanese people that tell you otherwise, they're just covering up the awful truth. I tried pulling an old trick and use my fire weapon against him, but I turned into a phoenix and hurt myself and it didn't work for shit. Ah, don't you miss the old Mega Man bosses? Everything was simple back then. Elec Man beat Ice Man because he's solid water. Ice Man beat Fire Man because Fire Man hates water, solid or no. Then everything flipped, and you had to figure out whether Napalm Man's bane would be the weapon aquired from Gravity Man, Plant Man, Pharao Man or even freaking Tomahawk Man. Alright, I just checked, and practically none of those were in the same game, but I daresay my point stands. Yukimaru's speciality is the Chibimaru attack, which means he turns into many small mushrooms or sad snowflakes or something inbetween.


Aqua Knight has the ability to transform into a submarine, but sadly I never got around to snap a picture of this. I never really planned to arrange the images the way I've done, but I couldn't deprive you of Thunder Knight's phallus mode. Every minor boss in this game has the ability to transform, a concept Capcom would have been wise to employ in their Mega Man series. Everyone knows robots + transformation = pure gold. Guts Man would probably suffer from such an arrangement, but then again he got gypped in the first place and hasn't got much to lose. Being the bulkiest robot in the world doesn't help much when your name makes you a grade school outcast and you can't even handle a couple of scissors.


Sky Hawk hasn't got any transformation powers, but he's the size of a planet, so he doesn't need any. He doesn't really look like a hawk, he looks more like Guts Man's severed giant head with that thing from Gummi Bears on it. You know, that thing you put on your head and said "Kira!" or "Zummi!" and you turned into someone else. I always wanted that. Imagine the possibilities, you could show it to a friend and demonstrate how you could turn into a copy of him. And the next day, you could walk by him and say "You never told me your girlfriend is multi-orgasmic," and he'd spend the rest of the day beating himself up trying to figure out whether you were pulling his leg or not. I'd be a lousy superhero, but at least I'd have a better party trick than being able to put the rim of a tumbler into my mouth.


The last three bosses are unnamed, and they're all part of the same battle, so I'll chuck them all into the same bag. First up is a female samurai robot that's really hard making fun of. Then, a blue Francesca shows up. This also happened the first Mega Man as well as a couple of Zelda games, and I supect it's one of those things that make total sense in Japan. I can understand the philosophy of it, yourself being your own enemy and the plain weirdness in fighting youself and all, but I can't really say I know why it's so central in Japanese pop culture. Same goes for their movies. It might seem obvious to the Japanese why two monsters have to fall from the sky and fight with Godzilla when you were expecting the credits, but I can't make sense of it. Then again, I come from a country where the traditional Christmas dinner is old raw cod degenerated into jelly, served with peas and the vilest form of hard alcohol known to man, so I'm not going to preach about cultural curiosities. I would however like to stress that I never touch the evil substance. The final boss is the thing on the right. It's really big and not very interesting. So, now that all is over, I expect a fantastic ending explaining who's sending Francesca motivating messages before each boss and who the girl in the intro were. And above all, why the hell Francesca is a witch fighting robots from outer space.

Oh well. At least they got the spelling right. I guess the conclusion is that some game conversions aren't all that bad, but they're seldom better than the original. Let's face it, if you can't figure out how to write an engine on your own, you're not going to be the next Shigeru Myimoto Shiguiyeru Myomoto Shayuigeri Mayma that guy who made Mario. Especially when you're making games for an eight-bit system with cartridges limited to 256 kilobytes. It's not like you're creating a fully interactive holographic environment. Oh well, I hope you've learned something from my little presentation. It may not be the kind of knowledge that helps you earn a million dollars or discover the secret to colonizing Mars, and it most certainly will not get you a girlfriend, but at least you'll kick ass the next video game trivia duel.

P.S. I was joking about the video game trivia duel. You shouldn't invite your friends to one. You should take them out and drink beer with them. Not duel. Beer.