As comebacks go, this seemed as likely as Babylon Zoo filling the Albert Hall in 2007. And yet, here it is. Biker Mice from Mars, one of the least imaginative Ninja Turtles knock-offs to soil TV screens back in the early 90s, has been revived and is now - if the PR speak is to be believed - the top-rated show on Children's ITV. What next? A blockbuster Samurai Pizza Cats movie?
This newfound lease of life provides vital context when reviewing the inevitable videogame spin-off. Had this just been some cheap license dusted off by a fledgling developer in the hopes of establishing a foothold in the market, then it would still be a grievous example of shoddy game design, but at least the collateral damage would be minimal, kind of like those old £1.99 Huckleberry Hound games that cluttered up the ZX Spectrum shelves as the 8-bit era wheezed to a halt. Yes, they were crap - but nobody bought them, so nobody cared.
However, if Biker Mice from Mars does have a new audience of eager young fans, then there's a good chance that some Christmas mornings are going to be (or already have been) soiled by what is, quite honestly, the worst game I've played in recent memory. And I speak as someone who reviewed both Family Guy and The Sopranos in the last few months.
Dude, where's my gameplay?
There are three Biker Mice, each with their own generic personality, clearly dreamed up by some middle-aged entertainment executive with a slender and outdated grasp as to what constitutes "cool". They battle against a race of evil space cats (presumably from Venus) as well as a frankly baffling Hispanic gangster, who turns parks into office blocks by shooting them with a special ray gun. It's this ray gun that drives the anorexic plot. Everyone wants it, you see. Because it will help them win. Against, you know, everyone else. And, er, stuff.
Winning, in this instance, simply means taking part in a seemingly endless parade of bike races, blasting bad guys and picking up giant bouncing coins as you go. These coins can then be used to upgrade the bikes, improving the guns, the speed and the boost capability - though you'd be hard pushed to notice any change. The shoulder buttons fire weapons, from missiles to mines, while collecting blue lightning icons allows you to transform into a "mega-bike" for a pitifully short time. This looks like a tank, and makes your guns marginally more powerful, but is otherwise no different to your standard bike. You transform back a few seconds later, so it's hardly worth worrying about.
So it's uninspired. Big surprise, right? No, what makes Biker Mice from Mars so utterly deserving of the collective sour vinegary scorn of the gaming community is the fact that from visuals to gameplay, absolutely nothing works. There's not an ounce of amusement to be had. Visually, it could be a PSOne game. Hell, there was a Biker Mice game on the SNES that both looked and played better. Now, I've always been a stalwart cheerleader for the joys of simplified gaming, but there's a world of difference between the back-to-basics appeal of, say, Geometry Wars and the dumbed-down ramshackle mess on display here.
The handling is awful. Stiff, unresponsive and hemmed in by some grievous level design. Each level is littered with pick-ups and enemies, to the extent that the way ahead becomes a meaningless sprawl of primary colours that you roll towards at a speed that can best be described as "casual". If you miss a collectible, it's tough luck - any attempt to turn the bike around and go back results in you being crudely shoved back in the right direction by invisible hands. As there are secrets to find in each section, this means that the developers actually want you to play each level multiple times. This is clearly insane.
Combat is, if anything, even worse. Your crosshair hovers in front of you, and enemies are highlighted with enormous red reticules - even when you're not targeting them. There' so much empty noise and colour flying around that it's often hard to see if you're even shooting - let alone shooting in the right direction. The unresponsive buttons need to be pressed down quite fiercely to get any sort of reaction and, coupled with the constant forward momentum, this means that you'll trundle past most bad guys unclear as to whether you hit them at all, never mind killed them.
Of course, if lousy combat racing were all the game had to offer then it would be a very poor show - so they've graciously included some woeful beat-em-up sections as well. You get two attacks, and the game cheekily suggests you "experiment with combos". Wow, look, I just did a punch, punch, hard punch! Sluggish and with a decidedly novel approach to collision detection, these plodding punching sections make Yie Ar Kung Fu look like Tekken.
I hate meeses to pieces
The moment when I simply sank to my knees and begged for our Dark Lord Lucifer to spare me from another second of this execrable experience was during one such fighting section. Tasked with protecting some stupid machine or other from cardboard goons, I was left sobbing at the fact that this simply objective is nigh impossible to achieve, thanks to the treacle-filled controls. Time after time, I slowly punched the approaching bad guys, only for one of them to slowly saunter past me and smash the thing to bits before I could even move to intercept. The final straw? If you want to try again, you have to restart from the beginning of the preceding bike section. Unforgivable.
It's terrible. Shockingly, depressingly terrible. The lengthy and dull cutscenes seem to have had every second frame removed, resulting in gruesomely jerky animation and flat textures. The autosave after each level takes upwards of 20 seconds to complete. Hell, pretty much every feature in the game feels unfinished and unloved, a fourth-rate product shovelled onto the shelves to capitalise on a market opportunity. Ugly. Cynical. Sickening.
Granted, I wasn't expecting a game based on an animated toy commercial from 1993 to supplant the likes of Viva Pinata in my affections. Yet, even with expectations duly lowered to allow for the usual make-do approach taken to most licensed kids games, the sheer hideousness of this title still crept up and sucker-punched me right in the soul. There's not a single element of this game that is fun, even in the most tangential use of the term. If you're a young boy and you get this for Christmas, call ChildLine at once. It's for your own good.