Wednesday, August 1, 2012
#0061: Taz in Escape from Mars
Back in my youth, I played a lot of video games. Shit, I still do, I just don’t brag about it in the schoolyard so much anymore (a court order tends to put a halt to such fun).
Because we were borderline rich, spoilt kids who shunned the outside world, my sister and I each had a television in our bedrooms, a little treat that I will selfishly not be paying forward to my own offspring. My parents did it out of love, but to this day, it has instilled within me this instinctive urge to retreat back to my room as some sort of lair, and frankly, I’m not enough of a virgin to get away with doing that anymore.
Coupled with those televisions was a console: for my sister, the Super Nintendo, and for me, the Sega Genesis. That’s right, folks, we had the early 90s console war waged right between children’s bedrooms. Maybe it’s part of the reason I have always had a soft spot for Sega. Sonic was my boy, my man, my confidant, he chilled with me, he went on adventures with me, and he’d run faster than fuck and leave me behind. Because he’s kind of a dick like that.
The Sega Genesis lives today in a state of retirement: it did not age nearly as well as the SNES, unfortunately. The cartridges are more temperamental and the god forsaken ancient DIN connector only plugs into one television; a television that I am forced to keep for the sole purpose of playing Sega. To its credit though, the controllers have fared much better than their Nintendo counterpart. We’re up to our fifth SNES pad, whereas we’re still operating with the original two we had for the Sega. Also, the six button controller is boss as fuck, even though I don’t recall ever playing a game that necessitated the extra three buttons.
It was only a matter of time before I opened up that little VHS/game cupboard, and plucked a Sega game from the snug comfort of darkness like a babe in the night, and today, wedged between Virtual Pinball and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, was Taz in Escape From Mars.
In the gaming sense, the Tasmanian Devil was the Looney Tunes’ golden boy. Whereas Bugs and Daffy didn’t have a definitive skill set other than cross-dressing and getting shot in the fucking face, respectively, we all knew what Taz did. We all loved what Taz did.
He span in circles, and he ate fucking everything. He was Chris Farley in cartoon form, and he was ready for action.
Never mind the fact that he neither looked nor operated much like an actual Tasmanian devil, and when he mutters out speech, it’s entirely devoid of any sort of Australian accent, he’s still one of the nation’s most recognizable celebrities. Because of his penchant for spinning rapidly, he is also one of our most enduring incorrect stereotypes. So let’s clear some things up… no, Tasmanian devils do not turn into miniature tornadoes. No, we do not ride kangaroos and throw boomerangs at our enemies. Yes, we all wrestle crocodiles. In fact, I’m wrestling one right now. Crikey!
The Taz renaissance kicked into gear during the 1990s (Wikipedia told me so), and it coincided comfortably with the rapid progression of gaming technology. After the NES had evolved our heroes into clear, defined sprites as opposed to ‘green blob’ and ‘ambiguously naked yellow man’, the SNES and Genesis ushered in a colour palette so robust, developers could really flex their muscles, and make the happy little trees they’d always yearned for.
Our game opens with Marvin the Martian taking a stroll through his Mars zoo. He makes the executive decision that his collection would really benefit from a Tasmanian devil, and proceeds to abduct our boy Taz. Taz seeks revenge as he busts up Marvin’s zoo, wrecks shit all the way to Mexico, and then invades Marvin’s house and blows his brains out like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. (SPOILER ALERT. LOL)
So you start in a cage in the zoo. To your right is a cracked wall, the kind that Link would love to plant a bomb up against, but Taz prefers to simply spin… at… and make his escape. So really, Marvin’s downfall lied in lackluster construction, and that’s just too damned bad. Me personally, I liked to actually just jump up and down and play in the enclosure for a solid five minutes, because I’m pretty sure it was my only gaming opportunity to be a zoo animal. What fun.
The game is a lot of spinning about, bouncing off of walls, and making blind leaps of faith that could lead to your destination, or a speedy death, accompanied by a hilarious Taz ‘grah!’ and a mildly horrifying musical track that sounds like an instrument farting. There are a whole slew of maze-like environments to navigate about, and of course, famous Looney Tunes characters to throw down with. I distinctly recall frequently getting lost, because I was a mere six year old with only a passing knowledge of the layout of Mars, and I responded by eating everything I saw.
Because most excellently, the game features a lot of eating. Taz can eat almost anything, whether it’s a box of rocks, a birthday cake, or a bomb that then blows up in Taz’s stomach. So you’ll want to avoid the bomb for safety purposes, though I don’t know how healthy it is to eat some rocks or random baked goods, either.
Finally, I escaped from Mars, as the title so specifically requested, and ended up in Moleworld. …Oh god, Moleworld…
In the second level of Moleworld, you’re being pursued by an enormous, terrifying digging machine, and you have to press onward to the end as quickly as possible (an exit sign that Taz also decides to eat), or else you’ll be brutally murdered. Yep, there’s no two ways about it, this kooky little cartoon character will be ripped to pieces by the cruel mole people. It’s simply horrifying, and to be honest, I never did pass that stage. I never got to see Planet X or the haunted mansion, and just like Thelma and Louise, I never made it to Mexico. That’s all, folks! I’m fucking dead.
If that’s too heavy for you, at least you can watch the little Taz icon in the bottom left corner. It’s the entirely superfluous indicator of how many lives you have left, and it is simply marvelous. It grins, it peers, it throws little tantrums, I wish it was in every game!
Overall, the game is your standard fare for platformers of its day, but it has enough little extras to keep it fresh. Hopefully, someone will see it next time they stop by Gametraders, and this eighteen-year-old relic will liven up their day. …Assuming they have a North American Sega Genesis, which may be wishful thinking.