It's time for another kid's game, by which I mean a game you'd give to your kids if you resented them for ruining your carefree life, the digital equivalent of handing them a birthday card that simply reads "you're adopted." It's Tiertex Design's 2000 Game Boy Color journey into spiritual oblivion Rugrats: Totally Angelica!
Rugrats was a Nickelodeon cartoon - the second original series they ever made, I believe - about a group of babies that could talk to each other and had wacky adventures thanks to them not understanding the adult world. Much like Doug, it's one of those shows I saw a lot as a kid despite not liking it, because watching any cartoon was better than watching no cartoons at all or even, god forbid, going outside or taking up a hobby. I think the main reason I don't like it is that I have a visceral hatred of baby-talk. A weird personal quirk, I know, but hearing a grown person referring to their parents as "mummy and daddy" sets my teeth on edge and while it makes more sense in a show where the characters are literal babies it still annoys me enough that I could never enjoy Rugrats. At least the show kept Mark Mothersbaugh in work while Devo were on hiatus.
The star of Totally Angelica is, unsurprisingly, Angelica herself. She's the slightly older cousin of Rugrats' main character: a spoiled, narcissistic bully who torments the other characters, which makes for an unusual choice of player character. Of course, none of that comes through in the gameplay, and because it stars a girl then this must surely be a (groan) "game for girls." I hope you like fashion and make-up.
The game begins, and Angelica is dumped into a desolate shopping centre with no other humans present and a décor scheme so vile it'll make you wish humans had evolved in pitch-black caves, thus obviating the need to grow eyes. Here's where I say the one nice thing I have to say about RTA: Angelica's sprite isn't bad. She's immediately recognisable as Angelica, and her animations are okay. It's all downhill from this lofty spire of praise, mind you.
I found a shop called Phil's Fashions. I seem to recall Phil is one of the babies from the show. I'm not going to take fashion advice from a baby. I've been dressing like a teenager from 1998 since, well, 1998 and it's served me very well thus far. I suppose I'd better go in, though. It's not like there's anything else to do and the wallpaper out here is causing my optic nerves to form a union so they vote on strike action.
Inside lurks Grandpa's Cookie Catch. Do I want to catch cookies? No, not really. Couldn't you just give me the cookies, Grandpa? Why do you have to make a weird game of it? Too much time on your hands since you retired, that's your problem.
The goal here is to catch the flying cookies as the toasters fire them towards you. Angelica slides left or right and the cookies always land in one of three specific spots in the left, right or middle of the screen, so as long as you move back to the centre after each cookie is thrown you'll have plenty of time to move and catch the rest. You only need six cookies to win, so if you manage to grab the first six you can put your Game Boy down and do something more exciting, like crossing every individual name out of the phone book with a bookie's pen or reading the shipping forecast for this day twenty years ago, until the minigame finishes.
As you can see, it's a minigame that takes the basics of Pong and miraculously manages to remove every iota of fun, but there's another more important issue here: who the hell puts cookies in the toaster? That has to be a fire hazard. Grandpa's going to have a hard time explaining to social services why he was launching scalding-hot biscuits at his granddaughter.
It is very important to keep Grandpa happy. You know the Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life"? It's that kind of situation, except rather than sending you to the cornfield Grandpa will kill you with high-velocity molten snacks.
Here's your reward - some new tights. Hush money from Grandpa, no doubt. Yes, RTA is all about fashion, with the aim of these minigames being to amass a collection of new clothes, jewellery, haircuts and make-up. I can hardly wait to see the finished ensemble.
Upon entering the next shop - Suzy's Shoes - I was presented with the chance to enter Fluffy's Pinball Maze. "Threatened with" might be more accurate, actually. "Punished by," even. Fluffy the cat has the expression of a pet that means to finally gain revenge on its abusive owner, and boy howdy does she have a cruel plan up her furry sleeves.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Rugrats: Totally Angelica is the most visually repellent videogame I have ever played. The equivalent punishment for your ears would be sticking your head into a metal drum filled with howler monkeys that have been trained to sing opera. Everything is a hyper-saturated nightmare of clashing colours and unfathomable patterns cunningly designed by the developers to make you look somewhere, anywhere but at the screen in the hopes you won't notice how bad the gameplay is. Well, sorry, Tiertex, but I've put my eyesight at permanent risk so I can see through to that gameplay and I'm sorry to report the the gameplay is complete shite.
The goal of Fluffy's Pinball Maze is to move the ball of yarn through the maze. You have no direct control over the ball, but at each junction you can press the A button to release a spring that nudges the ball onto the correct path. There is only one correct path, by the way. If you miss with the spring, you simply have to suffer through the agonisingly slow wait as the ball trundles back the way it came, bounces off a wall and then trundles back towards the spring so you can have another go. Not that you will miss, because as well as being so boring that even Satan himself would throw in a few power-ups to spice things up, it's also insultingly easy. Yes, yes, I know "it's for children" but what kind of children? Dormice children? Earthworm children? It must have really backfired on any parent who bought this game to keep their kids entertained, because kids love extremely slow and boring games where they have minimal influence over what's happening on the screen.
Our top scientists should start work immediately on investigating the maze's time-altering powers, because the three minutes or so it takes to clear the stage feels like several days. If you do manage to finish without your brain sliding you into a protective coma, your reward is one new pair of shoes from a small selection offered to you, including some high-heeled boots that are extremely inappropriate for a child.
This shop is called Lil's Lipsticks, and it looks like a cast member from Geordie Shore ran face-first into the window.
Oh come on. Sliding block puzzles? Already? This game is rapidly becoming my own personal nightmare, although something incredible has happened: Fluffy's maze was so soul-drainingly terrible that a sliding block puzzle is actually enjoyable by comparison.
It helps that the game doesn't bother moving many of the tiles around. It even shows you the tiles being shuffled, so it ends up being more of a memory game as you try to perform the moves you just saw in reverse. I can just about live with that. Rugrats: Totally Angelica therefore wins the coveted "VGJunk's Least Hated Sliding Block Puzzle" award. The trophy is a three-foot tall bronze hand extending its middle finger.
From the lipstick shop you receive eye shadow, which is not lipstick but it still just as inappropriate for a four-year-old as the boots were. Angelica herself appears to be preparing to slap someone with the back of her hand. Given what I remember about Rugrats the cartoon, this does not seem wildly out of character.
And now, the reason I've been collecting all these items is revealed: it's time for a fashion show. Let's hope the judges are impressed by yellow eyeshadow and pink boots, because that's really all I've got here.
The judges are Angelica's fellow children plus Reptar, Rugrats's fake Godzilla creature. That's Five Babies and a Kaiju, coming soon to a cinema near you. The judges give you a score that I would like to say is based on your outfit, but there's no guidance given as to what is fashionable and at this point all the judges were giving me scores of one and two. Even Reptar, the heartless bastard. He took one look at this child playing dress-up and said "Jesus, you're a mess, kid." That is brutal.
I suppose that you're just supposed to know what is fashionable, because you're cool and hip enough to be playing a Rugrats game. When preparing for the fashion show you get to choose which of the items you're wearing in each category, but I didn't notice an increase in score if I wore a matching outfit or anything. The only things that seem to increase your score are not wearing your default clothing and wearing items from later in the game. But how do you make progress?
There's an elevator that'll take you to the next floor of the mall, but it's only accessible once you've scored more points than the target displayed at the top of the screen. Until I reach that magic number, I suppose I'd better play more minigames. So I did. I even tried the pinball maze again, against my better judgement, and guess what? It's exactly the same as the first time, with not even the slightest change in layout. RTA has somehow surpassed the tedious grinding of even the most hateful Japanese CRPG, but I got there in the end. I found some new clothes, and I put together an outfit that is sure to wow even the most ennui-filled giant lizard: polka-dot tights, a tutu and a shirt covered in swastikas.
See? Straight from the Third Reich embroidery team! Okay, so on closer inspection you can see that they're clockwise, "non-Nazi" swastikas and they'd be much harder to see on actual GBC hardware but still, you'd think that when making a game for kids based on a Nickelodeon cartoon you'd try to avoid anything that might look like a goddamn Nazi emblem.
That outfit was still not quite enough to meet the points threshold - although I can't imagine why - but it helped me figure something out: you don't have to score all the points in one go. They're cumulative, so you can simply keep entering the same outfit, subjecting Angelica to a withering judgement of her looks by her peers, over and over until you've scraped up enough points to move on to level two. That's what I did. I think Angelica could stand to learn a humbling lesson or two.
A new floor of the mall means new minigames, like Tommy's Match and Snap, with an image of Tommy that looks as though a skateboard was edited out from under his feet mere moments ago.
Match and Snap is, well, it's Snap. Pairs of cards flip over, and if they match then you hit the button to win a point. Get four correct and you win the game, press the button when it's not a matching pair and Tommy gets a point. Good old Snap, surely Tiertex can't mess that up? Oh, bless your naivete. The problem is that the card flips sometimes - almost every time I played it, in fact - seem to get stuck in a loop where the same set of four or so non-matching cards are repeatedly revealed and you just have to sit and wait for this to play out. I honestly thought I might never play a more boring game than Doug's Big Game starring Doug, the human equivalent of unseasoned porridge, but an awful lot of RTA involves waiting for something to happen and then not doing much of anything when it does happen.
I did get a new haircut out of it. I call it The Spaghetti Rat's-Nest Disaster.
Another new game is Chukie's Color-Match Machine, and Chuckie's looking very confident for a character whose main defining trait is cowardice. Maybe he's got insider knowledge that Angelica is colour blind.
This one's a simple Simon-type game: Chuckie's machine flashes a series of colours at you, and you have to remember the sequence and repeat it. Is it fun? No, it absolutely is not. Will Chuckie's grotesque face, the visage of a Troll doll that was melted in a microwave and then had a single human tooth shoved into it, haunt your nightmares for weeks to come? Quite possibly. On the plus side, this is one of the more competent minigames, because it works as expected, it's relatively quick and mercifully brief.
Apparently the judges did not find this outfit sufficiently "fly" and "fresh" enough to grant me access to level three. Did Reptar just fly in from Milan Fashion Week or something? I can't meet his impossible standards. All the other judges, sure, I can ignore them. They're babies. I'm not upset about not being fashionable enough for someone who regularly shits themselves, but Reptar? That stings. I crave validation from the giant reptile monsters of this world.
Oh well, I'll just keep entering the same outfits in the fashion show until I rack up enough points to move on, right?
And so Rugrats: Totally Angelica becomes a Sisyphean punishment for some terrible crime I must have committed against the gods. Now I have to repeatedly play the same terrible minigames with no variation, over and over, until I can move on to the next level where more of the same games await. I know Angelica's a pretty terrible kid but she's still just a kid, she doesn't deserve this.
Here's another minigame: Phil and Lil's Bug Hunt, and as hard as I prayed that it'd turn out to be related to Aliens in some way, it is not. Instead it's the vegetable-picking parts of Harvest Moon's gameplay made slow and awkward. It also makes a mockery of the title Totally Angelica, because Angelica doesn't appear at all. Instead, you use one of the kids to lift up plants, your actions hampered by your sprite's tendency to slide into a different position without your input to prevent you from picking a whole row of plants quickly. Sometimes the plants have an insect underneath, and if they do then control switches to the other baby and you have to grab the insect. At least they're out in the fresh air and getting some healthy exercise?
I'll be honest, I've played far too many "kid's" games but none have made me feel my age like this one, where I'm skeeved out by applying blusher to a child. It's one step removed from the terrifying world of child beauty pageants. I cannot wait for this game to be over.
After a long and arduous struggle (to stay awake) I managed to reach the final floor of the mall, where a special minigame lurks: Fantasy World. The first two times I wrote that name out I typed "Fantasy Zone." Oh, how I wish this was Fantasy Zone... although it's not entirely dissimilar. Fantasy World is almost, almost a side-scrolling shooter, where Angelica flies around on a carousel horse. Her goal is to collect enough ladder parts to reach the tower where her favourite doll has been imprisoned. Why doesn't she just fly up to the tower on her flying horse? Because her flying horse is shit, that's why.
This may be difficult for you to believe, given the quality of the other games, but this one is the worst of the lot. This means that the sliding block puzzle are only the third most terrible experience in RTA, which I'm sure is a portent of the End Times. There are many reasons why Fantasy World is the worst, first and foremost being that that it's the longest. Maybe even The Longest Thing. It certainly felt that way while I was playing it. Another problem is that every aspect of the gameplay is completely awful in every way, which you can see is going to hinder your attempts to get some fun out of it. Simply moving Angelica around the screen is an exercise in pure frustration; the horse can't maintain a steady altitude and it's movements are as smooth as a gravel enema. Then there are the other babies that constantly pelt you with projectiles from off-screen. Get hit by a projectile and Angelica is sent flying, completely out of your control, halfway across the stage. You can collect magic wands for your own projectile attack, but this does nothing to the babies and only serves to turn the winch handle on the various wells - assuming you can line yourself up to hit the handles in the first place, when your horse is thrashing around as though it's just realised it's a wooden fairground ride brought to life through dark magics.
Even placing the ladders is a nightmare: you're supposed to simply fly to the place where the ladder needs to be and it's automatically assembled, but the final ladder space is too high for the horse to reach. So, you have to find an apple in the well, which lets you fly a little higher... but the hitbox for depositing the ladder is tiny and also not at the end of the ladder. It's around that area somewhere, but not where you'd think (i.e. where Angelica is in the screenshot above.) I eventually found it by flapping around the area and making groaning noise like a washing machine filled with talking Eeyore dolls.
I don't think I'm really selling this properly. This minigame is astonishingly bad. How-did-this-get-released, barely-playable, what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this bad. The faecal cherry atop a crap cake with diarrhoea icing. But I did it. I built that goddamn ladder.
I won a tiara. Okay, sure. I'm psyched. Maybe Reptar will give me the time of day now.
I've gone for a sort of Cleopatra-meets-lumberjack look. I think it works. Please tell me it works, I can't take this much longer.
It worked, in the sense that I have exceeded the maximum points required, The "points required" counter has not increased. The elevator won't take me to a new floor of the mall. Nothing else has changed. I think I'm trapped, alone forever in this nightmare world. The only other thing I could think of that might trigger an ending is collecting every single item of clothing / make-up / jewellery, and I will not be doing that. I'd sooner gnaw through my own scrotum and use my testicles as finger-puppets to recreate the "Summer Lovin'" scene from Grease.
This is where my time with Rugrats: Totally Angelica comes to an end, then. Congratulations, Tiertex, you did it. This game has supplanted NSYNC: Get to the Show and Russell Grant's Astrological Bullshit and become the single worst game I have ever played. Everything about it is utterly dreadful, and it's served with a toxic sauce of sheer contempt for any of the children unfortunate enough to play it. That's the Game Boy Color: Where Beloved Cartoons Go To Die.