One of the few good things about this past year is that Animaniacs got a reboot. And because this past year was 2020 us Brits didn't get it. Nevertheless I got my totally insaney fix by revisiting the surprising decent collection of console games based on the original 90s show.
The one I played as a child was Konami's Super Nintendo classic. It was my eagerly anticipated Christmas present in 1994 and it was a damned good puzzle platformer. Unlike what you might expect at the time, the action takes place on multiple planes offering a pseudo 3D style of play. It even has some collectables to hunt for akin to Mario 64.
You see, the plot has pages of Warner Bros.' newest screenplay disappearing thanks to the machinations of a certain pair of megalomaniac mice. Thy've been scattered around the various soundstages themed around a particular genre and our animated siblings have to visit them all and find them. Naturally, each are filled with in-jokes and parodies. The Sci-Fi film stage has alien face huggers jumping out of gloopy eggs. The Fantasy film stage has a flying creature that suspiciously looks like Falkor the luck dragon of The NeverEnding Story. The Adventure film stage mimics Indiana Jones at every turn. And these are just three moments in the four varied levels. You'll find yourself battling the mechanical hands of King Kong, dodging the jaws of Jaws or chasing a white rabbit on a broomstick.
Hidden on each stage are the script pages. There are 24 in total and the number you've collected will determine one of three endings. I could never find them all. Their locations are incredibly obtuse and the ones I did find were out of pure luck. In the sci-fi stage for example, you can dash past a legally distinct C3PO causing his head to spin off in surprise. Do this a few times and a page will pop out. All I just wanted to torture a droid, who knew I'd get more out of it. Be warned - don't look to the manual for clues. On page 12 of the US manual (13 of the UK one), one screenshot of the opening level taking place at the Studio HQ shows a page on top of a bookcase. I spent hours as a kid trying to figure out how to get it, only for the advent of the internet to tell me it doesn't exist. I swear, the designers were trolling us.
You can play as Yakko, Wakko and Dot though they all play the same. All three appear on screen at once and are helpful when forming a human ladder (or should that be dog-like thing ladder) to reach higher areas. They can also collect coins if they just so happen to be in the right place, but there's no real AI guiding them beyond a follow-the-leader mentality. If the one you control gets hit or falls, they'll be captured by Ralph the security guard and taken back to their prison at the water tower. It may reduce your party by one but fear not, you can go and save them. Exit the stage (press Pause, then Select) and scale the structure to the very top, avoiding vultures along the way. If you baulk at the thought of potentially losing progress, the game hands out a generous amount of continues thanks to the slot machine triggered by collecting coins. It could also offer aid as you play, such as invincibility or even bring back your siblings.
In my nostalgic opinion, this is the best game of the collection. That is not the general consensus though, as many believe the Mega Drive version to be better. Sure, Konami's completely different take for the competition is still way above average in tems of a licensed title, but in comparison, it fell a little short for me.
Defeat Dracula by blowing kisses in his eyes (right).
The action here is a little less inventive, with only a single plane to navigate like a traditional platformer and more opportunities to hit enemies. It still has some decent puzzles, this time linked to the abilities of each animaniac that reminds me a little of The Lost Vikings. Yakko is strong and is able to push and pull blocks. He also has a stringed paddleball which offers the best attack. Wakko has a hammer, which isn't so much for attacking but lighting fuses, destroying blocks and switching switches. Dot flirts, removing characters blocking your way. Beyond this, the levels - of which the first four of six can be selected from the off - are more straightforward.
My biggest gripe about this game is the characterisation of the Warners themselves. They seem a little off; their cheeky nature replaced by an unnecessary mean streak. Yakko dismisses his siblings like a bully, saying in the intro to level 3 "Hey Dottie, whenever you talk to me, shut up!". Nice. I may rate SEGA's Animaniacs lower than the SNES game but it's still a very good playthrough.
The level select map screen, missing some stages on the GameBoy (right)
A few months after Animaniacs added to the console wars, in July of 1995, the SEGA version game got a paired down port to the Nintendo GameBoy, passive aggressive siblings and all. The number of stages has been reduced to 4, and some of the more complex elements have been altered to suit the lower specs of the handheld, but it still plays well enough. There is some noticeable slowdown when compared the Genesis original, but it's not a deal breaker for a game that isn't particularly interested in twitch gameplay. It's a little obsolete if you can play the 16-bit original, but on its own merits, it's would be a decent addition to anyone's GameBoy library.
If you're a PlayStation owner, then the Animaniacs are poorly represented. There's only one game for the system and it's bowling. Ten Pin Alley is the worst kind of shovelware; a broken mess of a game with a slapped on licence to help it sell. You choose your character, of which the first on the list is naturally Dr. Scratchansniff. You play by pressing the X button to stop the bars at the best place and hopefully get a strike. None of it is presented well, and the whole package is so amateurish I just don't want to talk about it anymore.
Getting a strike is pretty damn easy, and your reward is a short CGI animation (right)
Thankfully, this is the only true dud in the collection, though the remaining games can still be considered as budget games. Warthog Games (of StarLancer, Harry Potter and Mace Griffon: Bounty Hunter fame) took over the licence, with their first attempt focussing on Pinky and the Brain. This is an entertaining platformer for the GameBoy Advance that doesn't really do anything new, but it does it well.
You play as both Pinky and The Brain, each of whom play a little differently. Pinky can jump higher, but The Brain has a double jump to compensate for it. Each of them will also react differently when they eat some genetically modified cheese. Pinky will become strong for a short while, giving him the ability to smash blocks while Brain's brain will swell like a balloon, floating him up to otherwise unreachable platforms.
Some stages are nice-looking but slow-moving shoot-'em-ups (right)
Beyond this, you can find pop gun or speed boost power ups which add some variety to the gameplay. There's even some shoot-'em-up stages to shake things up too. It's still a pretty simple game and judging by the difficulty, it's obviously aimed at the younger market so don't expect it to test your skills. Nevertheless, the licence does elevate it to something more entertaining than it might have been otherwise.
Come 2005, Warthog was preparing a deluge of Animaniacs on the game market. Not only did they have a 3D platform for the major consoles at the time, but a completely different game for the handhelds. The Great Edgar Hunt could be described as a hidden gem for the sixth generation, releasing on the GameCube, XBox and PlayStation 2. I own it on Sony's system and had a surprisingly good time with it.
Find a stage door with a star on it to select a different Animaniac (right)
A maniacal director named C.C. Deville has stolen all of the awards from the Warner Bros. lot. Named Edgars for legally distinct reasons, these golden statuettes have been scattered across all of the sets currently in production. These are basically excuses to have themed levels with no attempt to cleverly introduce behind-the-scenes areas like lighting rigs or crew members like the previous games did. Still, these levels are large, varied and inventive with ample opportunities to test your gaming skills.
You start off playing only as Yakko who is the best all-round character as he traverses the Western level. It won't be long until you rescue Dot from a train track of a silent film and Wakko from Frankenstein's lab. Later on, they will each gain a new ability. Yakko can throw bombs which can destroy areas blocking your way, Wakko can dig holes to find hidden treasures and Dot can do the limbo, enabling her to squeeze under gaps and entertain some Native Americans.
Your main attack is a spin attack, but you will quickly learn that you shouldn't mindlessly twist into everything that moves. If you do this, you might wonder why you keep getting dizzy and can't kill anything. Each enemy has an opening that makes them staggered signalled by some cartoon stars spinning around their head leaving them vulnerable. Every encounter becomes a little dangerous as a result, but not always unfair. You have to pay attention to enemy patterns, risking chunks of your life (represented by apples in the top right corner) in the process.
Ride a ghost train and get a high score in the Horror stage (right)
On each level, you can find Pinky and the Brain hanging out in their cage. Talking to them will trigger a mini game. These are simple affairs but are not always simple to complete. The Western level has you zapping horseshoes off galloping steeds with the help of a magnet and a very generous time limit. The Horror stage has a maze reminiscent of Boulder Dash which spans more screens than you might expect. They do reward you with a shiny Edgar upon completion which is worth it, but the quality does vary wildly.
Overall, I was rather impressed by the amount of thought put into The Great Edgar Hunt. It is by no means perfect, with the camera being the biggest clue to its lower budget origins, but anyone clamouring for some interactive Animaniacs could do a lot worse.
Lights! Camera! Action! isn't a lot worse, but it is still worse nevertheless. While still technically a platformer, the large isometric levels are filled with puzzles to solve. There are 15 levels in total spread over three themes: a pirate theme, a sci-fi setting and your classic horror. Each them is their own movie in which a director will bark orders disguised as hints from time to time.
Each character has their own abilities. Brain cannot jump, but he can work machinery (right)
To begin with, I was enjoying the game quite a bit. Being a handheld game, the isometric viewpoint was perfect on the GameBoy Advance's small screen which still looks decent when blown up on a TV. If you go for the DS port, you'll get zero extras beyond a pause button on the lower screen and a slightly better internal resolution, so if you've played one, you've played the other.
The compact and convoluted maze-like levels require some thought to get through, making use of multiple different characters including Pinky and the Brain as well as the Warner siblings. Each have the pros and cons too, but the levels are designed in such a fashion that there is only one rigid way to get through them.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the way you switch characters is more than a little annoying. Each stage has a stage door where you can play a rhythm mini-game called Polka Dottie to change characters. This door is placed at the furthest point from anything resulting in an insane amount of backtracking in levels that are already pretty dang large. As such, tedium sets in pretty quickly which is a shame.
Pinky is the fastest, with a small jump too (left).Wakko has the only built-in attack - a burp.
Otherwise, find the tomato crate at the beginning of each stage (right).
You can tell most of Warthog's resources went to the console release. Lights! Camera! Action! has some neat ideas implemented without much thought of the entertainment value. A simple button to switch characters would have gone a long way in solving the issue. Hell, if it was held off until you had successfully completing the Polka Dottie, it would give purpose to the otherwise wasteful mini-game. As it is, it teeters on the edge of OK.
During the release of these last few games, Warthog was bought by Tiger Telematics and became Gizmondo Studios. Not long after they went bust - a casualty of the insane release of the Gizmondo handheld (which is a story in and of itself). Eventually, the original British arm would be saved by TellTale Games, which I feel was a better fit for their talented designers anyway. Warthog may not have released a bonafide classic, but their mid-budget output was overall solid fare. More than anyone expected for a company dealing almost exclusively in licenced games.
Bar that one little 32-bit blip, the same can be said for the Animaniacs license as a whole. The games are surprisingly thoughtful, with just as much emphasis on puzzle solving as platforming which is very welcome. I always remember the SNES original - and the Christmas on which I was given it - very fondly, and in my eyes it has held up incredibly well.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses PCSX2 to emulate the PlayStation 2 and Retroarch with the Genesis Plus GX, SNES9X, TGB Dual, Mednafen Beetle PSX, VBA Next and DesMuME cores to emulate the remaining console and handheld games. X-input controllers supported for most games. Manuals for most games included. Tested on Windows 10.
19.12.2020 - Version 2 - Fixed installer. Now uses Inno Setup as its install program.
ANIMANIACS - SUPER NINTENDO
ANIMANIACS - GENESIS/MEGA DRIVE
ANIMANIACS - GAMEBOY
TEN PIN ALLEY - PLAYSTATION
PINKY & THE BRAIN: THE MASTERPLAN - GAMEBOY ADVANCE
THE GREAT EDGAR HUNT - PLAYSTATION 2
LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! - GAMEBOY ADVANCE
LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! - NINTENDO DS
Animaniacs (the show) is © Warner Bros
Animaniacs (for SNES, Genesis & GameBoy) are © Konami
Animaniacs: Ten Pin Alley is © ASC Games
Pinky and the Brain: The Masterplan, Animaniacs: The Great Edgar Hunt & Lights! Camera! Action! are © Warthog Games
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me