Today at VGJunk: the adventures of two idiots even more immature than I am, and I regularly name my RPG characters things like Dongus or Buttwizard. It's Torus Games's 1998 Game Boy version of Beavis and Butt-head!
I think Beavis and Butt-head is still well-enough remembered that a brief recap will but sufficient, so here it is. Created by Mike Judge and airing on MTV in the mid-Nineties, Beavis and Butt-head chronicled the adventures of the two eponymous teenagers, a pair of moronic, disgusting losers who wanted nothing more than to score with babes and talk shit about music videos. They are violent and crude, sniggering at any word that sounds even vaguely like a body part. They're basically half the people I went to high school with. Am I including myself in that group? Maybe a little. I was never particularly violent, at least. Beavis and Butt-head's occasionally controversial antics were very popular, and as with all popular things from the Nineties, they received a videogame based upon their misadventures. Several videogames, in fact, on formats including the SNES, Megadrive and PS1. I'm playing the Game Boy iteration, because apparently deep-down I hate myself so much that playing a bad videogame isn't enough, I have to play a bad videogame in monochrome.
If you're not familiar with them, that's Beavis on the left and Butt-head on the right. They are not usually just wearing their underwear, mercifully. The state of Beavis and Butt-head's boxer shorts is something that is too grotesque to comprehend, the laundry equivalent of a Lovecraftian horror.
The game begins with a familiar Beavis and Butt-head set-up: Butt-head berating Beavis for doing something stupid. In this case, Beavis has earned himself a detention for firing spitballs in class, and now he's going to be late for his shift at Burger World unless he can somehow sneak out of the school. This seems like a very Beavis situation to be in, and Butt-head has already called him a "buttmunch" thanks to his scholastic transgressions, so maybe Torus Games are going to make an effort to capture some of the character of the original cartoon. That'd be nice, especially after Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Quest for Oz was such a Buffy-free zone.
Along with the Game Boy Camera and the Game Boy Printer, one of the Game Boy's lesser-know peripherals was the Game Boy Photocopier, which is clearly how they got these graphics into the game.
Now we're into the game itself, controlling Beavis as he tries to escape from school. It's a good job I already know that's supposed to be Beavis. I suspect if you showed his sprite to someone and said "guess who this is" their answers would range from "deformed mushroom person" to "one of those bollard for tying ships to." The portraits in the status bar are no more accurate but significantly more amusing, especially Beavis' on the right because he looks as though he has a fish draped atop his head.
I walked past Young Peter Griffin and he told me to leave him alone, so I did. I walked around the classroom a couple of times until I happened to walk near him again, and upon doing so he tells Beavis he can have his note that excuses him from school if Beavis leaves him alone for realsies. The very first thing to do in the game, and it involved repeatedly harassing the same person until they gave a different response, with no suggestion from the game that doing so would result in a different outcome. That does not bode well.
Okay, now we're into the action proper, as Beavis searches these open lockers for the note while avoiding the students, teachers and what I think is supposed to be a veritable army of janitors. Touching other people will hurt you, VGJunk says as he jots that sentence down into his book of potential lyrics for his goth band, so don't walk into them. Other than that, Torus Games have made it very easy for me to describe Beavis and Butt-head's gameplay by not including any. You can walk around using the d-pad and... that's it. For the moment, all Beavis can do is walk around the hazards and stick his head into the open lockers.
Pretty sure that's you, Beavis.
Once you've found the note, you can explore the rest of the school - a vast, maze-like edifice designed by a mad architect who was deathly afraid of corridors, with rooms joined together seemingly at random to create a path that manages to look confusing while still being surprisingly linear. Everyone in the school wants Beavis dead, which frankly is fair enough, although some are a lot more proactive about making that a reality than others. Most enemies simply bumble around in whatever location you find them, getting in the way and annoyingly standing in doorways like old people in shopping centres, but some will make more of a concerted effort to charge towards Beavis.
Beavis and Butt-head's hippy teacher Mr. van Driessen won't let Beavis past, and thus the game's first vague approximation of a puzzle sluggishly slumps into view. Surprise surprise, it involves wandering around for a while. Eventually - assuming the student population hasn't kicked Beavis into a coma - you'll find a TV remote, and then a TV. Hold on, I'm either having an idea or the game's hatefully bad music, tuneless noodling atop drum lines that sound like a clog-wearing ant tap-dancing on an empty coffee can, is causing parts of my brain to shrivel up and die.
Use the remote on the TV and bam, Mr. van Driessen is so captivated by that tiny image, which I think is supposed to be a dog's head, that you can sneak past him. Makes sense, everyone love puppies.
On my way through the gym, the coach grabbed Beavis and made him play dodgeball. I think you could just about call this a minigame, if you were feeling generous. It's definitely mini, it's the "game" part I'm not so sure about. Anyway, coach throws balls at Beavis and you have to avoid them by moving up or down the screen. The thing is, the coach pauses when he's about to throw a ball, so if you walk up to the very top, wait for the coach to catch up and then start walking down while he gets ready to throw he'll never be able to hit you, making him a pretty shitty dodgeball coach.
I walked around some more, because what else was there to do? I found the school's principal, who made me walk all the way back to where Mr. van Driessen was so I could collect some files for him, a sequence of events which sums roughly eighty percent of Beavis and Butt-head's gameplay. Walk to a place, find out you need something you don't have, go and get the thing, walk back. There is no gameplay that revolves around mocking soft-rock music videos or setting things on fire and getting real excited about it, no gameplay that lets you guide Beavis and Butt-head into an extremely stupid course of action which will lead to severe personal injury as they attempt to gets chicks. It's (almost) all walking around while trying your hardest not to have any contact with other humans, and I've already played that game - it's called My Life, Starring Me. Aesthetically, there's a thin veneer of Beavis and Butthead sloppily applied to the game, but replace that with the trappings of any other franchise and it'd work just the same. If you swapped the sprites from this with the Doug game, they'd be almost indistinguishable. The problem is that, as characters, Beavis and Butthead are difficult to game-ify because they have no special powers or talents. They're just horrible idiot kids, and that's not a lot to work with mechanics-wise.
The second stage sees Beavis trying to escape from the school's car park, his efforts hampered by the gate being locked. His solution is to find a crowbar, use it to open a manhole and then sneak out through the sewers. You might be thinking "why doesn't he smash the gate's lock with the crowbar" but this is one of the few ways that the game's setting works to its advantage. All the usual videogame quibbles about why a character isn't doing the most logical thing - smashing the locked door down with the fire axe in their inventory, refusing to climb over ankle-high walls, that kind of thing - are negated by Beavis and Butt-head's sheer stupidity. They wouldn't think to do those things, because they are so deeply thick.
Of course, there are obstacles along the way. Beavis can't get past the tennis courts until he's collected ten stray tennis balls. Beavis does not so much as titter upon hearing the word "balls," which might be the very definition of a missed opportunity. Now, there's a gameplay mechanic that could play to Beavis and Butt-head's strengths: you listen to a speech, and you score points by interjecting whenever said speech uses a word that could be interpreted in even the most loosely scatological manner.
Also, note that Beavis' shirt says DEATH ROCK on it, changed from the Metallica shirt he wears in the cartoon for licensing reasons. The developers apparently forgot that earlier on they showed Beavis wearing a shirt that read "DEATH RULEZ."
He can't possibly have changed his shirt. I don't think Beavis has changed his shirt, like, ever. DEATH RULEZ feels more appropriate after playing this game, though. I'm not saying that Beavis and Butt-head is a bad enough game that playing it made me wish for death, just that when the inevitable end does come I'll be more accepting of it as it removes me from a universe where this game exists.
The crowbar is guarded by this old man. How can I get him to move? By trampling all over his precious flowers. Now that feels like it was designed by someone with a deep insight into Beavis' character, or possibly someone who suffers from terrible hayfever.
I think that's the crowbar talking.
It's all change for stage three, and suddenly the game has become a side-scrolling platformer as Beavis makes his way through the sewers. This change does not increase the fun factor any. Beavis' jumps are fairly responsive, if a little floaty, but that is all the credit I am willing to an extend to a stage that otherwise lurches between frustratingly tedious and tediously frustrating. There are two types of enemy roaming the sewers, rats and spiders. You can jump on the rats to kill them but not the spiders, despite it being much easier to stomp a spider to death than a rat in the real world. I mean, erm, I assume that's true, I've never tested it out myself.
Not only are the spiders invincible they're also nigh-impossible to avoid a lot of time - I suspect the developers realised this after they'd finished making the stage, and that's why there are more health-restoring soda cans dotted around than usual. So, merrily you trot through the bland sewer with its complete lack of interesting enemy design and buckets of unavoidable damage, until you travel through a doorway and end up somewhere that you've been before, your stomach clenching as you realise that this entire stage is a big maze. The sewers are so bereft of visual interest that using landmarks to negotiate is a no-go, and thus you're reduced to drifting aimlessly through the sewers like the ghost of a turd with unfinished business. It's a terrible segment in a pretty abysmal game, and its only saving grace is that there's only one stage of it before you get back into the marginally less aggravating wandering around.
Now I'm playing as Butt-head. Butt-head's major differences from Beavis are that his head looks like a cartoon skull face drawn on a spoon and that the hyphen in his name is annoying me because I keep pressing the wrong key and typing it as "Butt=head" and that just reads like the instructions for building the worst Frankenstein ever.
This stage is all about walking through a park infested with dogs that want to bite Butt-head and squirrels that harbour the same hostility. Maybe I'm trapped in the midst of a rabies outbreak or something. I know that sounds like it'd be bad times, but I'm so grateful that the sewer stage is behind me that this walk in the park is as refreshing as a walk in a park where animals aren't trying to eat me. And it's all nice and linear, too, with no pointless mazes to spoil my mood!
God damn it.
Okay, so this maze isn't really that bad, mostly because it's not very big and you can at least tell if you're heading in the right direction, but I'll admit that seeing that "MAZE" sign did chill my blood for a moment.
Now things are starting to open up, and Butt-head strolls through the streets and back gardens of a suburban neighbourhood. Presumably it's Butt-head's neighbourhood, because everyone here still wants to see him dead. You might think the tyres in the screenshot above are something you can interact with, bounce on 'em like trampolines maybe, but no. They're just there to block your path, like the trees and the bushes and everything else in the game that isn't an enemy. It's more noticeable than ever, because the stages are getting larger and more complicated, with even crossing one back yard becoming a punishing marathon in which a ten-yard distance is somehow stretched out into a twisting, turning path ten times that length. I don't think I've ever played a videogame where so often have I happily taken some damage by running into enemies just because it was a far superior alternative to waiting for them to move out of my god damn way. Fortunately by this point I had amassed a decent supply of nachos, which you can use from your inventory to restore a big chunk of health, even though I found some of the nachos on the floor of the school toilets. I'm less surprised at their health-restoring properties than I am that they managed to retain their triangular shape after laying on the ground, soaking in the results of the unpredictable aim of dozens of teenage boys.
Speaking of nachos, here's another one nestling safely between two dumpsters. I'll take that one over the urinal nacho any day.
Butt-head is in the big city now, a metropolis that's sprawling enough for you to get lost in but not quite big enough for it to be worth your time making a map. That said, if you're happy to waste your time playing Beavis and Butt-head then you might as well waste some more by drawing a map. You could add little "Here Be Dragons" embellishments to it, maybe soak it in tea for that authentic aged look, maybe even tear it into strips and use them to plug up your ears before the game's music drives you to kill and kill again in a variety of increasingly brutal ways.
I feel like I haven't adequately conveyed how little gameplay there is in Beavis and Butt-head, so just to reiterate - apart from that platforming stage, all you do it walk around and avoid enemies. Sometimes you walk near an item that you pick up and take somewhere else. There really isn't anything else to it. It feels like a scientifically-calibrated test to measure a person's stubbornness: you make them start the game and time how long it takes for them to admit that they shouldn't be bothering, the results then allowing you to calculate their Stubbornness Quotient. An SQ of less than fifty means you always let others decide what restaurant to eat at, two hundred and above puts you in the "seven-year-old who absolutely will not eat their broccoli" category.
Now that we're in the city, though, there are a couple of slightly different bits of gameplay to try out, and in a game this bland I will cling to "slightly different" like a drowning man clings to a piece of flotsam. First, it's time for Butt-head to meet up with Beavis at Burger World.
It turns out that Burger World is just a front for a secret organisation of assassins.
No, to my genuine sadness that is not true. It's the same old fast food place as in the show, and the manager just wants Beavis and Butt-head to kill some cockroaches.
To do this, you walk around but don't avoid the other sprites, killing the cockroaches by stepping on them. Hey, I'll take what I can get at this point. You might be wondering why Beavis can kill cockroaches by stepping on them but he couldn't do the same to the spiders in the sewers, but in his defence these are normal cockroaches and the sewer-spiders were about four feet long.
You can also visit a hardware store, and if you've found some coins lying around you can use them on an arcade cabinet to play a little version of Breakout / Arkanoid. In possibly the most damning indictment of the Game Boy version of Beavis and Butt-head, this underdeveloped clone of a decades-old game concept is the most enjoyable part of the whole miserable affair. One small touch I did like is that Beavis is the paddle, and he reacts differently depending on where the ball hits him. If it's near his feet he kicks it back, if it's near his head he headbutts it back and if it's in the middle he slaps it back with his arse. That's some fun attention to detail, something this game could have done with a lot more of. There is one other thing that falls into this category, and I suspect fans of the show will have been hoping for it to pop up...
Yes, Beavis' psychotic alter-ego - although whether it's more or less psychotic than his usual state is debatable - the Great Cornholio does make an appearance in the game, the transformation triggered by having Beavis drink one of the cups of coffee you can find scattered around the city.
Becoming Cornholio makes Beavis invincible for a short while, and although it's not quite the same when you can't hear him babbling about his bunghole and Lake Titicaca I'm still very pleased to see him.
After a brief detour delivering burgers to a karate dojo, Beavis and Butt-head run into Todd. Todd is their idol, a local delinquent who they want to impress so they can join his "gang" despite him hating Beavis and Butt-head and kicking the crap out of them on the regular. Todd wants our heroes to fetch him some oil from the hardware store, and suddenly Beavis and Butt-head turns into a grind.
Specifically, you have to search all the identical dead-end alleys that make up this part of the city for loose change, until you've collected the two bucks necessary to buy the oil. An appropriately grimy activity for a game based on something as scuzzy as Beavis and Butt-head, but it's hardly shooting space-pirates with your arm cannon or summoning the king of the Norse gods to cleave your enemies in twain, is it? If I wanted to marry the twin thrills of scrounging up cash and pointless busy work, I'd have spent my afternoon depositing all my accumulated copper coins at the bank, sheepishly avoiding eye contact with the cashier as I drop a whiskey bottle filled with two-pence pieces on the counter.
Giving Todd the oil lets him do burnouts with his car, and in the world of Beavis and Butt-head that's a crime so severe that it will see you landed in jail immediately. Figuring that he'll have to let them into his gang if they bust Todd out of prison, Beavis and Butt-head set out to do just that by walking straight into the police station. This is what I mean about the stupidity of our heroes being enough to hand-wave away their actions, because marching into a police station and setting someone free because they think he's cool sounds like something they would do in the show. However, this doesn't explain why the police let them do it. There are plenty of cops around, but none of them seem especially interested in what's going on around them. They might lunge towards Butt-head if he passes too close by them, but mostly they're content to walk around in circles, forever patrolling their tiny patch of the police station as though they've been assigned the world's smallest beat. My only explanation is that all the police officers in town are already familiar with Beavis and Butt-head - they have to be, given the antics of these two weirdoes - and no-one wants to have to deal with them.
The last stretch of the game is in the crumbling, derelict prison behind the police stations, where inmates and guards alike roam the halls like shambling revenants and game design is a completely alien concept. None of the previous areas are what you could call meticulously crafted, but this final stage is just one long hallway, with no side-paths or items to collects or even any of the game's (and I use this term so loosely that if it were an article of clothing it would be a muumuu) "challenges." Okay, so you do have to find the key for Todd's cell but in one of the most fantastically half-hearted examples of needless padding I've ever encountered in a videogame, it's located three or four screens beyond Todd's cell. Pick up the key, endure the, ooh, twenty seconds it takes to walk back to Todd's cell and congratulations, Beavis and Butt-head is over.
Todd is not pleased about being sprung from the slammer. He's trying to act all tough about it by threatening to kick Beavis and Butt-head's collective ass for getting him locked up in the first place, but I think what's really going on is that deep down Todd knows he's a terrible person and that he deserves to be inside, he was going to use this as an opportunity to get clean and better himself but now Beavis and Butt-head have ruined it for him.
And so, the game ends with Beavis and Butt-head back at home, having had the crap kicked out of them. It's no more than they deserve, both for being deeply unpleasant little shitgremlins and for starring in this pile of digital garbage. Beavis and Butt-head can prompt a great many emotions in the player, but they're all dismal, third-rate emotions like "disappointment" and "a nagging sense that the entire thing is somehow a trick being played on you," with no part of it being interesting enough to engender a proper feeling. It's bloody awful, make no mistake, but you can't really get angry about it. That's probably because there's nothing to get angry about. It's an empty husk of a game with a popular license artlessly crammed into it like the onion chunks in a low-budget supermarket beefburger. Even the most ardent Beavis and Butt-head fan should avoid this one as assiduously as you'd avoid contracting public lice. Uh-huh-huh, I said "ass."