Gex: Enter the Gecko
This was a PS1 platformer where you played as a gecko jumping around haunted houses, prehistoric deserts, computer chips, and other movie themed levels. Voiced by Dana Gould, the gecko periodically spouted 90s references only a media savvy grownup would understand, punctuated by “It’s tail time!” when you’d attack a bouncy jack o’ lantern with your tail. In the haunted house levels, for example, he would say, “Reminds me of Halloween at Rip Taylor’s!” and I’d think, ‘Who’s Rip Taylor? I’m 11.” In the dinosaur stages, he would say, “Marshall, Will, and Holly on a routine expedition,” and I’d be like, “What? Who are those people? What is he talking about? I’m 11.” These statements had the cadence of jokes, so, nevertheless, a vague sense of joviality pervaded the gameplay experience.
I remember this game was difficult, perhaps because I was eleven and cognitively stunted and also bad at videogames. Also lonely.
Small Soldiers: The Game
Adapting Small Soldiers into a videogame seems pretty straightforward: just have tiny gorgonites battling tiny soldiers in bathtubs, living rooms, and backyards, like the Army Men games except without the existential despair. Instead, they made a sci-fi fantasy game from the world of Small Soldiers. Like if during the movie Small Soldiers, some kid had been playing a Small Soldiers videogame, that would be this game, kind of like how that Buzz Lightyear cartoon show seemed to be from the world of Toy Story. That is to say, meta as all hell. Michael Giacchino — Lost, Star Trek, Up, Ratatouille –composed the soundtrack, so running around a swamp or a generic temple felt outrageously epic. The music invoked the sense this wasn’t just a game but a glorious crusade to wipe out all American soldiers like the climax of Avatar.
For the most part, I played Small Soldiers on two-player with my older, smarter cousins, so I could win via camping, hoarding, and prior knowledge of special item locations. Certain talismans allowed me to send giant bats and eyeball monsters to hunt down and murder my cousins, and I would collect these over and over until they threw down the controller and left. In this way, I would marginally raise my self-esteem while alienating those who agreed to play. Eventually, my high school placed me into the mentor program to prevent further depression/instability/blogging, but now we’re getting off track.
I think this game satirized consumerism, the military industrial complex, and videogame mascots, but maybe I’m giving it too much credit. Like Gex, Tiny Tank punctuated every action with a quip — whether jumping, shooting, or collecting turret upgrades. While shooting at other robots, he’d say, “Brownie point,” or “Downsized!” or “Bingo!” While jumping, he’d say something like, “Get out of my way or die!” For some reason, this constant stream of wisecracks didn’t annoy me as a child, but I suspect it’s because I’d been trained by 90s media to expect mindless repetition and excessive catchphrases.
During the game, Tiny Tank’s nemesis Mutank would host a call-in talk show in which he’d interview and inspire his robot followers, thus humanizing all these random enemies you’d been dispatching so casually. This was my favorite part; I would stop the game and listen raptly as the little comedy sketch unfolded. It should be noted my childhood was intellectually engaging and not at all empty of meaning or hope.
The Grinch: The Game
Based on the live action Jim Carrey movie, this was a platformer where you, the titular Grinch, ran (cavorted hideously) around Whoville, ruining Christmas with stinky breath, rotten egg launchers, and other nonviolent apparatuses. Despite presumably being a game for children, the puzzles confused the hell out of me. I remember a level where I had to search for a coat or something for hours before finding it behind a random who’s (whose/whovillain’s/whovian’s?) front door, and I had a momentary vision of my life: its transience, its ephemerality, how I had spent so much of my precious time as a living human searching for an imaginary computer generated coat — oh dear God, YOLO.
Sometimes while smashing gifts and destroying Christmas trees, little kids would run up and try to hug you because they believed they might warm your cold cold soul if only for a moment. This was an actual enemy type — small children who tried to hug your legs, and you had to shake them off like overly affectionate dogs. Did a shiver of empathy run through me during these moments? Rejection of human warmth in favor of a lifetime of hateful reclusion? No way, I have tons of internet friends.
Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi
This game crossed Mortal Kombat with Star Wars. You know, like you always wished for? You could play as main characters like Luke and Darth Vader along with: Hoar the Tusken Raider, pig guy who guards Jabba’s palace, Luke’s girlfriend/wife from the books, and some kind of magic assassin lady with a metal arm.
Although in the movies, lightsabers could chop through arms and legs like butter, in this game, it was like whacking people with a glowing baseball bat or a cattle prod—woefully inaccurate. The Tusken Raider could impale an opponent with his spear and flip him/her like a pancake without a drop of blood. Then again, I know they couldn’t make a game where Luke decapitates Leia and holds up her severed head in triumph; that would be unreasonable. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of those teenage boys who needed to see gore to quell the rising torrent of antipathy, no sir.