Thursday, 19 May 2016

Punky Skunk (PSX)

Punky Skunk title screen
Developer:Ukiyotei|Release Date:1998 (96 in Japan)|Systems:PlayStation

This week on Super Adventures, I'm playing another mascot platformer! Because they take less time than trying to figure out a strategy game or get anywhere in an RPG and I'm trying to keep these posts coming out weekly.

Punky Skunk's been on my 'to play' list for a long while now, so long that I can't even remember if I ever knew what it is. I do know that the internet hates it though, as poor Punky's turned up on Game Informer's 'Worst Character Names' list, EGM's worst mascot list and IGN's 'Great Games With Silly Names' article... as an example of a game that really does suck as badly as its title suggests.

To be fair you know you've hit the bottom of the mascot barrel when you've reached 'skunk'. No one wants to play as a skunk, punky or otherwise (that's why Pepé Le Pew never got a game). Also the title screen isn't exactly giving the best first impression. All the dithering and scruffy lines makes it look like they scanned it in but didn't have time to clean it up afterwards. It's basically the same as the box art though so I suppose Punky's face is meant to look like it's been scribbled in a notebook.

Okay I'm going to keep playing until I've beaten the first boss, or died trying, or gnawed my own hands off, whichever happens first.



Punky Skunk Chill Out! loading screen
Oh, Punky's a girl skunk! Fair enough.

It's funny how much better this art is than the title screen. It's less funny that I have to sit looking at it while the game loads the options menu. Come on, I just want to make sure the controls are sane (and maybe bump up the lives counter).

WAIT, that's not a speech bubble is it? That's a special message coming straight from the bottom of her stink glands. No wonder the creatures in the background are running in terror.

Wow, this is far more cutesy and twee than I was expecting. Forget Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong, we're barely reaching Mickey Mouse levels of attitude here. And the music is... I don't even know how to describe it (because I'm bad at describing music). It's very well produced and upbeat, but it's the exact opposite of punk, and after five minutes of it I think I'd rather be listening to the Punky Skunk Rap. Here, have a YouTube link to the soundtrack so you can listen to it along with me. We can suffer together.

Alright, the plot is that Badler and his BB Brigade are destroying the island, so Punky and his friends are going to stop him! There's no voices, but they call him a 'he' so I guess Punky's actually a guy.

Nash on the right is the mad inventor type, and he's invented a new gadget for Punky to use on his quest, called a 'paraglider'. A parachute for gliding? It's so crazy that it might just work!

Wow, a big guy like Punky with those huge stomping boots and he can't even crush a mouse? On the plus side he's got hit points so I survived my mistake. You know what he doesn't have though? A paraglider! Nash has really let me down here.

On the plus side, I'm playing a platformer that doesn't start on a forest level!

It took a bit of editing to make this GIF by the way, as the invulnerability flashes and HP globes flickered too fast, so it's not exactly what came out of the game. The way Punky moves is pretty much what you get though, he's the slow and floaty kind of anthropomorphic mascot hero.

Holy shit game, do you think you've got enough rainbows there?

Man, look at Punky's jaunty walk and grinning face, he really is the most earnest and cheerful of heroes. Sure he's smacking enemies around with his tail but... oh hang on, that's not dust, that's stink gas. It's so horrific that they'd rather leap to their death than suffer a moment longer. They come back though, they always come back.

Hmm, I'm starting to get the feeling that I'm meant to come back for this later.

This was made at a time where developers generally knew what they were doing with platformers, and it's slick, responsive and well animated. Whenever Punky leaves the ground I know exactly where he's going to end up. Unfortunately I also know he's going to yell "YAH!" every single bloody time, and that's starting to take the joy out of it.

Aha, I need to catch the updraft and glide over to the star!

Turns out that bastard Nash decided he'd hide my paraglider powerup halfway through the level, over a pit of spikes, just to be awkward. But I'm all powered up now.

Damn, I'm glad that worked. I actually hit the first guy by accident, as it didn't even occur to me that green paragliding boots are more deadly than the standard type. Unfortunately the paragliding harness covers the stink holes so I can't spray them any more.

Wow, short level.

Nice of the BB Brigade to rig their flags up to some kind of quick release contraption borrowed from a circus, really makes reclaiming their territory simple for me. Damn, I should've really had 'exit flag' or whatever as an article tag.

It's like a cross between the Super Mario Bros. level flag and Donkey Kong Country's exit target, but there's no bonuses here for the way I hit it. Happily I didn't have to find all the stars to activate it either, so the game's not pulling that collect 'em up bullshit on me.

Why don't I play Captain Flag? Because I'm busy saving the island, obv... WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? And why does it need glasses?

So when he wasn't reinventing the parachute, Nash spent his free time constructing some kind of robot, for the sole purpose of raising and lowering flags and nothing else?

The game provides instructions for how to play the minigame, and you can bet I held the button down to make the text appear in the message box faster (because the skip cutscene button isn't working).

But then it pulls this trick on me! My options are "repeat" or "start" (in lower case), and repeat's selected by default. Because if there's one thing someone impatiently tapping the button wants, it's to see the instructions again! 

Nash, why have you got me stuck in here doing this unskippable semaphore minigame?

There's got to be something up with the air on this island, everyone's constantly blinking. Even the robot. Oh, I've just figured out that it's meant to be a giant mechanical duplicate of Nash's face, and those are his pulsating dreadlocks! And those are his feet sticking out of his chin. And those are flags sticking out of his ears.

Well I successfully followed all the incredibly basic instructions (to my surprise and relief) and the machine spat out some 1 ups for me! Then Nash turned up to give me his newest invention: a pogo stick! Except he's not really giving it to me, I have to go find it.

Hey Nash, how about giving me that giant mech with the claws you've got hanging up on the left instead?

The game's got a map screen! Awesome, I love map screens, especially when they let me save. Could've done without the painfully long wait between message boxes though.

Alright I've got two choices: a mushroom forest and some cliffs that look a whole lot like the place I just left. It may well be the previous level, but there's no hint that I've beaten it before. The game doesn't have a timer or a score so there's no previous stats to beat and if there's anything secret I've yet to collect there's no hint of it here.

I think I'll be heading left then. After it's done saving.


LEVEL 2: MUSHROOM ROMP.


Yep it was the exact same level. So after beating it a second time around (I'm sure I could skip back out but I wanted the lives), I decided to go visit the mushroom kingdom. Wikipedia mentions something about the game seeming unfinished and I think it might have been referring to this background. It's a little bit 'MS Paint'.

I'm too distracted by what's in front of it right now though, like little caterpillar guys that I can only land on when their spikes are retracted. Why am I attacking caterpillars now? Because they're mice in disguise, duh!

This pogo stick power I've picked up seems to exchange jump height for range, so it's become a lot easier to fall short of the next mushroom. I'm not falling into instant death pits as much as you’d expect though, it's happy just to watch me climb all the way back up again. Fortunately there's no mystery to where I'm supposed to be going.

Hey, he has a different victory animation depending on his power! There's a lot of nice touches in this game for something so universally hated.

I just noticed that I got a quarter hit-point slot from Captain Flag earlier. Seems I've got a damn good reason to see the minigames through.

Man I'd really like to quit this minigame right about now.

This time I have to get each of these meters above the blue line by tapping the button like crazy. The thing is, they start ticking back down again once I move away, so I have to keep moving back and filling them up again. It's a button mashing nightmare!


34 SECONDS OF SUSTAINED BUTTON HAMMERING LATER.


I... really... wish... I... had... autofire... right... about... now...

That was so much harder than raising flags. Even Punky looks stressed out at the end of it and I'm pretty much destroyed. By some miracle I actually finished the thing with seconds on the clock, but I never want to do that again. No more button mashing for me, ever!

Nash came up to me afterwards and asked if I had fun, and I wasn't even given an option to go over and spray stink juice into his eyes! No Nash, no I didn't have fun, you asshole.

Funny thing is, even if you just sit there and do nothing you get the hit point fragment anyway (but not the 1 up). Maybe it's to make sure players at least get one extra hit point before leaving the starting island.


LEVEL 3: COOL RUNNIN'.


The next stage introduces the skysurfer (a snowboard) that gives me invulnerability at top speed to everything but bottomless chasms. Shame I didn't see that jump coming!

Hah, 'paws menu' is definitely becoming a article tag.

At least I've learned that losing a life puts me back to the start of the stage (they're a little too short for mid-level checkpoints). I've also learned that Punky says "Oh no." like a depressed lemming whenever he dies. He's cheered up now though.

This place looks a lot nicer than the last stage. I like the snowman flying by in their cloud cars. Plus all the mouse warning signs around pretty much confirms these are mice I'm fighting.

There's another smug win pose for you.

Next minigame is a slot machine. Well, not quite, as I stop each reel individually with the ridiculously giant buttons underneath. I slowed them down a bit so you can see them turning.

The idea's to get four Punky's in a row, which becomes increasingly more challenging with each reel. But I'm worried that if I don't, the machine's going to thump me.

UNDEFEATED MINIGAME CHAMPION!

You'll find minigames like this in other games (like Super Mario Bros. 3 for instance) but this is actually easier than most because the face under the line is what you get. The reel just stops, without having to drift to a halt.


LEVEL 4: DESERT DERBY.


Man, don't you hate it when mice keep throwing spears at you from the background when you're trying to rollerblade? Did they not see the no-ostrich signs?

It's not like I even need their help to fall off the back of the screen on this autoscrolling level, I managed it just fine on my own earlier because I wasn't paying attention. It keeps scrolling for a bit afterwards so I figured I was still in the game, but nope Punky was killed by the encroaching absence of reality.

Wait, look closely at the mouse riding the ostrich at the start. He's not throwing a spear, he's throwing the ostrich's head.

And the fourth minigame is a match the picture game. Not a memory game, I just have to pick the image that matches the one in the box on the right. Over and over again.

But at least I got my fourth hit point piece out of it and earned myself a full bonus health sphere! Very Zelda.


LEVEL 5: PATHGRINDER.


Well I finally got the claws I wanted! Nash made me a tiny version of them so that I wouldn't have to pilot that giant mech around. So considerate.

The claws basically turn the game into Dig Dug, giving me the power to dig through soil and drop boulders on enemies! Thing is, hitting anything with falling rocks is a pain in the ass, so it's far easier to just stand next to enemies and fire my claws out at them.

Alright, that level's done, next minigame please.

Damn, this isn't good. The BB Brigade found Nash while he was, uh, tinkering and figured that he was the one making Punky's gear. Then Commander Chew ordered his rodents to assault and kidnap my tech guy! I bet Kelly Rabbit ratted him out to the mice because she was genre savvy enough to know she'd be the one kidnapped otherwise. Either that or it was Punky himself, to get revenge for that unskippable pedal mashing minigame.

"Chu" is the Japanese word for the noise a mouse makes by the way, so he's basically Commander Squeak.

Whoa, I've got a world map for my world maps! It's only letting me go to the next island along though, so I can't pull a Mega Man and attack them in any order.

It would've been nice to go straight to the place with the best gadgets and make the rest of the game easier, but I don't get to keep the things anyway. 9 times out of 9 there's only one toy on each level and the only choice I get is whether I want to use it or not.

Wait, Punky's island is called 'Wood Lands'? I didn't start on a forest level, I started on forest island!

Now I've reached Kahuna Bay, home of Commander Chew's Dictator Theme Park!

I like how the levels are actually drawn onto the map by the way. It's just a shame that the maps are so small I can barely see them. Plus they haven't put any of those dots on the map so that I know which parts are level and which parts are scenery.


LEVEL 6: FOUNTAIN FOLLIES.


So does everyone who comes to Kahuna Bay have to go through the gauntlet of royal frog faucets and self-turning mine taps, or is this a shortcut? I wouldn't say the game's getting tricky yet, but I have to be careful not to let the current flush me down the holes, because that's an instant kill.

I'm genuinely surprised these taps don't turn into mice when I destroy them, as pretty much everything else does. Even the swimmers are secretly mice in disguise.

I wanted to get an animation of one of them exploding into her true rodent form, but the level's so narrow that it always happens behind the HUD bar. The game's not fond of huge sprawling levels.

That cheeky bloody platform! It's only happy when it's dropping skunks into the void without warning.

Oh no, the mice left Nash's door open and now my old nemesis Captain Flag is running loose! I didn't even need to beat the level to find him, I was just investigating a mysterious candle.

I beat his minigame (again) and as a reward I was kicked back to the start of the level! Remind me why I'm trying to rescue Nash again.


LEVEL 7: PATHGRINDER II.


I guess I've discovered all the power ups now as they're cycling back around.

This time I'm back to digging through dirt, except now I have to drop rocks to make platforms. But I keep forgetting to switch the claws off so that I can jump again, so I'm always walking into the spikes like an idiot.

Damn, I knew this would be coming around next. Against all sense and reason I gave it a fair shot, but after 45 seconds I had to give up because I'm just too tired. Plus I'm trying to go easy on my poor controller and half-assing it isn't the way to get four lightbulbs.

Sorry Punky, but if it's a choice between extending your life or my controller's, I'm picking the controller every time. I have to wait out the entire 60 seconds either way though.


LEVEL 8: DRILL SERGEANT.


I've reached the first boss at last and to be honest it's not a massive challenge. Pedalling four bikes is harder than this.

Kelly turned up to tell me that the trick is to only attack the drill controlled by Commander Squeak. I've no idea what happens if I skunk spray an open flame but I guess it isn't pretty. Hang on, Kelly was here too. That means she must have done all the same platforming I did! And yet the game doesn't have a co-op mode.

Punky Skunk Island Clear screen
I beat Chew taking zero damage (because he was really really easy), and I got this amazing ISLAND CLEAR screen as a reward! I've reached the best screenshot, I can't do better than this, so I might as well quit while I'm ahead.


CONCLUSION

Everything I heard about Punky Skunk made it sound like a janky, obnoxious, unfinished mess of a game that tries to be cool with its extreme sports gimmick, and misses the mark so much it's funny. But it's really just a typical half-decent SNES platformer aimed at younger players... that came out in 1998 on the PlayStation.

It originally was meant to be a SNES game, but the console was reaching the end of its time so Punky did a 1080° snowboard flip over to the PS1 instead. There were still a few 2D platformers trickling out onto consoles in '96, but by the time this made it to the US it was up against Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot 3, and 2D games were considered to be archaic. In fact I'm surprised it made it over to America at all considering that SCEA apparently thought their machine would get cooties if a 2D game touched it.

I think the game's actually aged quite well compared to its contemporaries though, thanks to a fast frame rate, pretty pixel art visuals and fluid animation. It's saturated with cute and the backgrounds look ropey at times, but it's also got a lot of charm to it. Though the enemies are less charming when they start ripping off ostrich heads to lob at you. Also the music sounds like it belongs as an ironic counterpoint to violent Looney Tunes antics in Toonstruck or something. It's well produced for sure, but man it was wearing on me, its sugary sweetness eating away at my spirit.

Gameplaywise it's about what you'd expect from a game from the end of its era: competent, slick and fairly generic. It's got the basics nailed down, the controls are responsive, it doesn't waste your time by making you hunt for items, and there's no need to rush. But it doesn't go the extra mile needed to ascend to Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country's tier. It's a pretty chilled out platformer for kids and folks who don't want much of a challenge. Though shit starts getting real when the skates are on and I definitely learned to appreciate how enemies sometimes drop health when they die. Plus it apparently suffers from Bastard Hard Ending Disorder, where the first hour or so is a cruel trick to get your hopes up so it can crush them in the last few stages.

Seems there's around 30ish tiny levels here with basic design and no scope for exploration, so it really wouldn't take a skilled (and persistent) player long to play through. It's cool that they let you revisit any level on the map, but there's no scores or time to beat, and apparently nothing to unlock or discover, so there's little reason to replay a stage once it's done. Except to stock up on lives when the last levels kick your ass.

Worst thing about it so far, from what I've played, is those bloody minigames. Also the saving takes forever, and there's only one save slot so you need a separate memory card for each player. Not that it's a huge problem in 2016, it just annoys me!

I don't know if I'd recommend the game, but I'd play more of it, so it gets a shiny star:


If you want to share some opinions on Punky Skunk or Super Adventures, then please file them neatly into the box provided. Plus you could have a go at guessing the name of next week's mystery game. Winners get an imaginary sack full of absolutely nothing!

6 comments:

  1. Never heard of this game before, looks like a mix between Sonic (that snow stage), Skunny, and some generic 90s platformers.

    Hey, how about playing Simon the Sorcerer, or the Legend of Kyrandia trilogy (I checked this time, you don't have articles for them =D)

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    1. I don't like to make promises about what's coming up (because what I plan to do and what actually happens isn't always that similar), but I may already have Simon the Sorcerer scheduled to appear next month.

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  2. Saints Row?

    This doesn't look too bad; it reminds me of the sort of generic platformer you'd get on the Amiga. The sort of thing you'd get free in one of those "mega game" packs when you convince your dad to buy you an A1200 for "homework".

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    1. That reminds me, I need to get around to Brian the Lion AGA sometime.

      Also yeah, it's Saints Row.

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  3. Now I understand why sega named chu chu rocket. I love the thought of it being called squeak squeak rocket.

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  4. Pepé didn't get a game, but he's a playable character in at least one of the Looney Tunes kart racers!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYm6KM-oOhs
    http://www.models-resource.com/playstation_2/looneytunesspacerace/model/9730/

    ReplyDelete

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