>> Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Typical "Super Gen-D-0" owner says to typical CD-i owner, "I got Mortal Kombat II for my system! I got Mortal Kombat II! Can you get Mortal Kombat II for your machine?" Typical CD-i owner says "no." Both of them are thus convinced they've got the superior system. In a nutshell, that's the problem faced by Mutant Rampage: BodySlam. CD-i owners are used to games with far more depth and sophistication, and yet the poky action of this lame beat-em-up will do nothing to draw fans of the old ultra-violence away from the latest ass-kicking flavor-of-the-day on other systems. In short, you have to wonder if there's a target audience for this disc.
An animated introduction explains that "Body Slam" is a blood-sport of the future, and the most popular program on the "cyber-net". The world of the future is heavily populated by mutants, genetic combinations of humans and various animals. In the game, you take a team of "naturals", i.e. humans, against ten teams of street fighting mutants.
Oops, I said "street fighting". Don't think that this game is related to "Street Fighter", "Mortal Kombat", or the other one-on-one tournament-style fighting games that now dominate the video-game industry. Instead, it's part of the "Double Dragon" tradition -- games in which you scroll down the street and take on small groups of thugs in hand-to-hand or with weapons. It's not a trivial difference: this kind of game has its roots in platform games, and has largely disappeared from arcades and other systems. Fans of the fighting genres apparently prefer the arena-style game, which generally feature larger characters, faster and bloodier action, and a greater emphasis on moves or "combinations".
So "Mutant Rampage" already starts off with one point against it for being part of an obsolete genre. When you start the game, you can select one of three fighers, and pick a team of mutants to go up against. To defeat the team, you'll need to fight through six levels of mayhem in the ruins of one of Earth's once-great cities. Naturally, the difficulty level keeps going up, and you face a boss monster at the end of the sixth level. Basic moves include simple punching and kicking, along with more powerful super-moves and "devastation moves" activated by button two, two and one together, or other combinations of controls. Since using the special moves reduces your health meter as well as that of your enemy, it's best to use those moves to knock an opponent to the ground, then follow up with simple punching.
Scattered throughout the playfields are the usual items of this kind of game -- swords, daggers, and pipes that can be picked up and used as weapons, food to restore your health, "1-ups" to provide extra lives, etc. A "tag pad" allows you to swap in another member of your team, but their abilities are so similar, it's more frequently used to dump a fighter on the verge of losing a life. Tactics are never very complex in scrolling fighters, and this one only seldom taxes your gray matter. The biggest key to survival is to keep opponents on one side of you. Getting between two fighters is suicide. Since you and the bad guys can only connect when you're horizontally adjacent, i.e. side-by-side, positioning is a matter of facing someone only when you're ready to fight them. The mutants don't seem too clear on this, since most repeat the same basic moves: appear on the screen, pass above or below you, turn, come in for a frontal attack. As long as you're ready for it, you can usually dispense with them easily.
The only exception to this is enemies who can attack you from a distance (with laser-eyes, bionic arms, etc.), or some flying winged-mutants first introduced in Rome. You need to aggressively attack them first, even if you have to squander half your health on a devastating move. There are 60 rounds in all, along with six that are replayed with different enemies (including "clones" of the naturals!) if you elect to enter a "bonus round" after defeating team ten, the New York City Cybermutes. The variety of locales is good, although you fight many of the same bad guys from round to round, which gets repetitive after a while. Fortunately, a save-game feature allows you to come back to your game later.
The game is also extremely customizeable, allowing you to select difficulty, number of lives, sound effects and music levels, etc. Since you have three team members, going up to the maximum seven lives actually gives your team 21 lives to work with -- you will be able to finish the game the first time through if you choose that option. Combine that with a difficulty level of "wimpy" and you'll come out of the game with a net gain of lives.
The graphics here are somewhat better than in Animation Magic's Zelda and "Link" games, but the bar for CD-i animation has been raised higher by Vision Factory's Dimo's Quest and The Apprentice, meaning Mutant Rampage comes off as clunky by comparison. Fighting animation consists of two poses: standing, and fist / leg / weapon extended. In the heat of battle you may not notice, but in a genre where the vivid animation of "Mortal Kombat" is being eclipsed by 3-D polygonal games, this is hopelessly behind the times.
As for the animated interludes between rounds, one has to ask "what's the point?". BodySlam host "L. Wolf Jam" appears in digital video animation, interviewing captains of your opposing teams, or mourning their defeats. The animation's decent, if flat, and is obviously re-used from scene to scene. The lip-sync isn't there and the shots often jump cut when they run out of animation. But even if this were Disney animation, it wouldn't add anything to the game -- players are interested in the fighting, not the atmosphere, and the animation doesn't add anything to the game. These scenes don't hurt the game in any obvious way, until you consider two points: first, you're paying for this, and cel-animation doesn't come cheap. Second, unless the fighting scenes are using the extra memory of the digital-video card, dropping L. Wolf could have opened this title up to the base-case audience.
Mutant Rampage: Body Slam isn't without its obnoxious charms -- in some levels, you can knock a mutant's head off and use it to pound his team-mates. But the ass-kicking market is too competitive for a plodding game like this to impress most players. CD-i Arena fighters can only play this or "Rise of the Robots", and those who might give "Mutant Rampage" a chance will find it doesn't offer anything more than did "Double Dragon" or the other fighting games of five years ago. The only difference is: This is on CD-i!
Credits: Chris Adamson