|Developer:||Runny-Fun|||||Release Date:||2000|||||Systems:||Game Boy Color|
What's up, docs? I'm guest poster mecha-neko who is a cat. You're tuned into Super Adventures in Gaming, where I'm gonna play Animorphs, an RPG on the Game Boy Color.
Be warned that this post contains flashing animations, and gratuitous images of a cheap cash-in title based on a kids book.
This title screen music is pretty bad. The TV show had a sort of emo rock thing going on, but I can sort of sense the melody in there if I reach really far.
You won't find much about the company 'Runny-Fun' online. That's because it's a trademark of a TV and animation production company called 'RUNANDGUN!' that existed in the nineties. They later started making a few handheld games, a fact I guess they were kind of excited about given the number of madly colour-cycling HOLY CRAP turds on their website. Later, they became 'Cave Barn' and went on to make a couple more licensed games, culminating in their magnum opus Urban Yeti!...
What's this Animorphs all about, then?
A good start! Explains it all. Can't ask for anything more than that, can you?
You bet your top and bottom dollars I am! Morph me up!
Okay, let me introduce you. There's... ah... honestly, I don't know who these guys are. There's five of 'em, and one very conspicuous lilac coloured alien centaur photobomber.
For folks who don't know about Animorphs, it's a book series that later became a TV show about a group of kids who discover the Earth is being invaded by mind controlling alien slugs (totally not like the ones from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Some friendly aliens arrive and, after a certain misadventure, grant a bunch of ordinary kids just like you! the ability to shapeshift into animal form. There's good-guy aliens, bad-guy aliens, 90s CGI morphing effects and a surprising amount of folks getting killed.
Hmm, I think I'll pick...
And so, to a gargling mushy fanfare, begins MISSION 1: SAVE THE ANIMALS!
Right away, the voice in my head says Tobias: Make sure you speak to everyone before leaving the barn.. Will do, friend!
The guy on the right in the orange beret is Jake. He tells me the situation is VERY SERIOUS! The evil Yeerks have stolen a number of advanced processors with untold power! If we don't do something about it right this second, our Animorph team risks being captured. The little blue six-legged kitty agrees!
So... I'll keep my eye out, but unless it involves saving animals I'm not allowed to do it. Or perhaps it's my first day and the rest of the gang are busy doing the important things while I have to deal with the pet peeve.
The guy south of the table is Marco, and he tells me I can't speak to people while morphed. Which is super lame. Talking animals are the best. It's like they've never seen Sabrina The Teenage Witch. Rachel in the bottom left says This morphing power is totally cool! Yeah, well I don't see you morphing right now, Rach. Huh? HUH?
Tobias is the bird, and he can speak to humans while morphed because... he's a psychic bird?
Things are bad at the pet shop. Go talk to the owner. Get some good morphs. Go to the pet shop in the mall and I'll check in later.
There we go. That's what I'm going to do. Get some good morphs? I'm gonna get the best morphs! I'm going to get that big book of dinosaurs off the shelf and become a god damn regular tyrannosaurus! There's no bookshelves in our Animorph clubhouse, just these giant bright blue refridgerators. Speaking of which, maybe that towel will come in handy.
Note from Dad: I just got a call from the pet shop. The animals are out of control! Something is making them act crazy! I have to go check on other animals at my office. See you later, Cassie.
These must be the animals that I have to save. I was expecting a bit more of an environmental message instead of a ruckus at a pet shop, but you never know, we could yet stop the local woodland from being turned into a car park or something.
With the new objective comes a new password! Weird choice for an RPG released in 2000, huh? They must've saved almost an entire pound on manufacturing costs. Oh yeah, it's an RPG! Not only that, it's one of those super rare RPGs that take place during the present day. It starts on a good footing simply because of that.
I just need to talk to our mouse mascot (mousecot?) and I'll begin my epic journey.
A minigame, huh? Here's the plan: I'll build an elaborate contraption with levers, balls, see-saws and buckets and then tempt it over with a bit of cheese. When it's close, down comes the laundry basket. Flawless!
Well there's a turn up! We're going to beat the mouseness out of it with our bare paws!
According to my 'Ani-Manager', I've one morph at my disposal: DOG.
(How Altered Beast is this, by the way!)
My options here are FIGHT or RUN. What kind of magic alien-fighting shapeshifter would flee at the sight of a l'il mouse? Not this DOG, that's for sure! Let's FIGHT.
I've got four verbs, just like Uncle Poke. No clue what any of 'em do. BITE 'em, Cassie!
I've got no problem with it ripping off the Poke's moves. Folks have been wandering around recruiting beasts since the Super Famicom and earlier. What I'll be keeping an eye on is what Animorphs adds onto the Pokémon base. So far it's taken out the PP mechanic where you only have a limited number of uses of each move before you have to refuel your pokémon, and taken out the battle animations and sounds, so battles are conducted entirely in (very fast and very accidentally skippable) text.
That poor mouse. All it wanted to do was scratch around in the corner of the clubhouse and I go and metamorphose into a dog and tear four-fifths of it apart with my teeth.
CASSIE HAS TAMED MOUSE
Hooray! I didn't kill it after all, it's just 'tame'. And tame means that...
Time to go to the pet shop!
If I get a new morph every time I defeat an animal, the pet shop is going to be a bonanza! ... as long as I don't fill up my Ani-Manager with budgies and guinea pigs in the process.
I'm gonna jump to Mario Golf for a sec to show you what other GBC games look like. Mario Golf is a strange one, it's a golf game with ordinary 18 hole and skins modes, but it also has an RPG mode where you wander around the world, talking to people and levelling up your guy. It came out a year earlier than Animorphs.
But enough ranting. It's time for me to engage in brutal combat with the GOAT to the West.
Hoorah, the goat is mine. She only had 40 HP in the field but in my Ani-Manager she has 77 HP. Perhaps the only ever instance of a recruitable monster in an RPG suddenly getting a boost in health from being in your party!
Next up is a dangerous encounter with a RACOON. This can only call for...
The fight ended without incident and my Ani-Manager is now stacked up with a whole farm's worth of critters.
It's time to...
CAUGHT BY ALIEN! PREPARE FOR BATTLE
I didn't expect the screen to suddenly turn black without warning and blast the damn panic music down my headphones!
This is it: Cassie versus the Hork-Bajir. Winner takes the planet. Loser gets eaten alive outside a farmhouse in suburban nowhere. We've even broken out a unique battle theme for the occassion.
Screw it! RUN, GOAT! Run run run run run...
That was close. I was down to single digit hit points before I managed to get free.
I'll see if I've got the energy or mana or whatever to turn back. Otherwise, I'm in goat trouble.
One thing I can tell you is that I can't talk to animals! I can't sense how nervous they are, or anything like that. Rubbish!
Start takes me directly to the Ani-Manager, letting me change forms at any time. Phew. And I can skip the CASSIE MORPHS DOG screen too! (In case you're curious, the characters in the book can also make or unmake clothes during a morph. Otherwise it woulda just been weird.)
Whenever I stray outside the farm, the alien snags me instantly. I've got to master this battle system or else...
Let's go into town!
The big question mark crate is a signpost telling me that the big red locked building is 'The Sharing'. (Whether or not it is also caring is left undisclosed.)
Man: I'm going to the sharing tonight! Are you a member yet?
I don't trust people who speak in murky green all capitals, or people who have exactly the same dialogue as every other NPC. If everybody in a town tells you that some club or other is the best thing ever and you really must join right away... I think you know where that's going. As alien mind-controls invasions go, it's not very subtle but it is pretty damn eerie.
The only other building in the town that I can enter is the Mall. There's no shops, which I guess is because there's no money. There's no money because there's no items. This world and this game are both ridiculously abstract to the point of being little creepy. There's no random encounters as far as I can tell, just animals wandering the streets spoiling for a fight. The aliens haunt specific tiles to prevent you from progressing, as well as freak me out with their black screens, staring faces and unsettling capital letters.
Hey, right there is an everyday rambling snake for me to snatch into my DNA collection. And done! The battles fly by if you hammer the button, thanks to the text appearing instantly instead of character by character. That's something most RPGs, especially Pokémon, could do with allowing.
As I approach the worried shopper and his pet blue gorilla, I'm told that I must CATCH THIS SNAKE. And I'm rewarded with a password!
Oh, that was the MONKEY! And it's mine now.
Isn't that a little conspicuous? Transforming into a goat in the middle of a crowded mall to take on a monkey in mortal combat. Even without the morphing part, it's going to turn a few heads.
I've got an Ani-Manager full of forms now but I can't check the stats of any of them. Hell, I'm not convinced that they even have stats. Or experience points. There's no menu. I can't even check what moves my forms have until I'm in a battle. I'm fairly sure there's no elemental affinities unless I come across a phoenix or an electric eel during my travels. BITE might be a different style of attack than CLAW but there's no way to know.
Let's be polite to the game and just pretend that there are doors on these cages. It'd be cruel to beat up cornered animals for personal gain, so I'll do that in a moment.
Teach! I've got a question!
If I MUST BE IN MORPH TO FIGHT!, then why do I have a health bar as myself? Is that just to give me a sense of scale for the numbers?
I tamed that snake good and proper. Now what? Nothing changed. I didn't even get his form (possibly because I can already become a snake?). I suppose I should return to the shopkeeper and give him the good news.
On the way back, I might as well demonstrate my dominance against SKUNK, DOG, CHIMPANZEE and RAT.
For example, I think I'll skip picking up this RAT since the best move he can muster against me is... SWIM. On land.
Thanks for calming my snake says the shopkeeper. Tee hee. He says HE came from the gardens, so that'll hold the key to why the animals are scared. And I get a password!
Tobias is once again on the case, tapping out the objectives in morse code on my skull. Jake in the top left says that I need snake form for the next stage of the game. Perhaps I'm slithering in through the crack in the wall, or maybe Tobias is going to drop me? I used to possess SNAKE, but I kinda overwrote it when I raided the pet shop.
I can't fight the same wandering animal twice to acquire it, so it's time to hunt down a whole new SNAKE!
No matter how hard I try, or how cute I become, I can't get the NPCs to talk to me and tell me I'm a good dog. I can't even bark! What's the point of it all, if you can become a dog and you can't bark! I barely feel doglike at all. No immersion!
I'm getting a little on edge now. I was confused as to why the game looks so basic. Together with the eerie Amstrad-sounding music full of bubbling synths, I've got an odd feeling of mystique and powerlessness. It's a combination future games try to hark back to, the sensation where literally anything could happen because you're six years old and video games have just been invented.
I thought the woods would be teeming with wildlife. I was looking forward to becoming a squirrel again, but it's almost as if the Yeerks have fumigated the place, scouring the planet of all its fauna to deny the Animorphs their abilities.
|Taxxon: Inside cover of Animorphs Book 43: The Test.||Hork-Bajir: Inside cover of Animorphs Book 34: The Prophecy.|
I thought you folks might be curious what the Taxxon and Hork-Bajirs I've been fighting so far are supposed to look like.
The Taxxon are huge centipede-like creatures driven by a insatiable hunger for flesh, and they're allies of the Yeerks. The Hork-Bajir are a peaceful race of barely-intelligent reptilians, swept up in the Yeerk-Andalite conflict and forced to fight against their will by mind control slugs. There's all kinds of fun information and backstory about the different alien races in the Animorphs books, because that's what they're all about. The game, on the other hand, doesn't give you jack. There's a universe full of crazy technology, special powers, alien races with tragic, desperate histories, and all this game can offer you is thirty-two by thirty-two monochrome static images and an entire town full of characters who all say nothing but Man: Hi Cassie. It's a beautiful day.
It's time to morph raccoon! Considering I don't get anything useful from defeating aliens, I decide to play to the raccoon's strengths and get the hell outta there.
Phew, I barely escape with my life. Time to...
I don't know what my moves do! I don't know what they're supposed to do, anyway! I can tell you what they're actually doing! NOTHING!
Argh, cornflakes. Raccoon is down.
Every time I find a new island, there's a whole bunch of predefined alien ambush tiles lying in wait. They don't threaten you or warn you. One minute you're staring at a tiny screen being a dog, the next minute the world is gone and your soul slips into the nothingness. Without DOG or RACOON to save me, I'm useless. I'm reluctant to unleash the CHIMPANZEE, I'm saving him for a boss.
And so I scampered back to town in mouse form, looking for a replacement snake. There might be another snake hanging around the clubhouse in the Northwest. Failing that, I'll just use the password and reset all the animals back to a fightable state.
Hey, there's a dog. If I can get this, I'm back in the game. C'mere, dog! Give me your DNA!
The dog smooshed the mouse, which wasn't much of a surprise.
He even resisted the SKUNK's mighty, inexplicable VENOM attack. The damn CHIMPANZEE was useless too, it kept missing. With the Ani-Manager exhausted, it's all over. Cassie doesn't want to even try taking on the dog herself. (And with good reason! That thing just took down a chimpanzee and a skunk, it's a mental case!)
That got incredibly difficult incredibly fast. I need to start taking this more seriously, huh?
I'm starting again from the very start. First, I'm going to figure out where all of the game mechanics have gotten to. I refuse to believe there's no items, no menu and no experience points in this game.
I've figured out that you can change morphs during a fight. You've got to press Right so that the A changes colour. The marker on the other options will still point to FIGHT though which is ridiculous. The FOOD dropped by aliens restores health to the morph that defeated it. If you play it safe and swap out when you're low on health, you'll be wasting the healing on a form probably doesn't need it. Tense!
It's nice that the wild animals don't run away from battles like real animals would. Getting most of the way through a fight only for the wounded beast to flee without giving me its DNA would be controller-snappingly awful.
All of the forms I've gotten up to this point suck except DOG and that's because of his BITE move. Everything else is useless. DOG's other moves, CLAW, SCREAM and KICK do varying amounts of damage but all they seem to hit less and do less than BITE.
It's about time this game started using its head. Just think of all the new areas that SNAKE can open up to me! ...like this single cracked wall I have to go to and nowhere else in the entire level.
And *bam* another alien, damn it. My strategy for dealing with aliens is to BITE on every turn with any form that's capable of it. Anything else is a waste of a turn. No evasion, no defence.
That delicious giant bronze apple over to the right is some healing for whichever form takes it. Unlike real life, where the stems, leaves and seeds of apples are toxic to dogs, cats and horses and can send them into shock. Important knowledge.
There's a little castle down here in the gardens... oh! 'The Gardens' is the name of the zoo! And I've GOT KEY! Now I can unlock the door (even in SNAKE form!) and venture forth.
Tobias: I saw the Controller
use the pole to disconnect the transmitters!
Wait. Is that 'I saw the Controller use the pole' so I need to reconnect them and undo his handiwork? Or is that 'I saw the Controller!' so I need to use the pole myself to disconnect them? Either way, I guess I'm looking around for a pole.
It's time to gather up some seriously furry firepower. Aw yeah, who doesn't want to be a freakin' LION?
It'd be cruel to say that this game doesn't look finished. It'd also be inaccurate. This game doesn't look started.
There was a gradual escalation in battle difficulty here, forcing me to choose my foes wisely. I figured that the least cool animals would be the weakest, so I killed them first. My battle strategy had to evolve too: for the weaker animals, I would BITE with abandon, but for the more powerful beasts I would have to BITE then BITE and continue to cautiously BITE until they were dead. Now I have a LION, which is very good at that kind of thing.
Each of the enclosures was guarded by a Hork-Bajir which was no match for the MONKEY, all of whom dropped delicious SUPER FOOD which kept him going until he'd outlived his usefulness. In a surprise show of foresight, if you happen to lose the SNAKE morph while you're in the zoo, the entrance becomes unblocked, letting you enter and leave freely!
Yeah, there's separate monkeys, baboons and chimpanzees, but only the one generic DOG. Also, the ELEPHANT's signature fight move is PUNCH, and the LION looks like toast.
If you try to access the Ani-Manager when there are humans on screen, Tobias warns you not to morph. If you go ahead and change, you instantly lose. So don't do that. It's also a little difficult to not change, because you have to press A twice to dismiss the messages, then B to cancel the Ani-Manager. They could've disabled morphing, but kudos to them for letting you try it. And then negative a million kudos for not having a special Game Over message for getting busted. A special Game Over that's not even special? What a waste.
You can get into vicious fights in front of people, morphing all over the place and having elephant-versus-bat fist fights, because morphing in self-defence is A-OK. And nobody in the town minds if a cuddly lion or kangaroo bounds comes up to them, sniffing in their pockets for apples. And animals don't care either way.
In the WOLF enclosure, I find the pole. And now I have to disable the machines like the one in the top right of this shot. Only human Cassie can do it, but that's alright. I like flicking between menus and screens and stuff. Makes me feel like I'm doing something. Once that's done, Tobias tells me about a 'call for help', which could only mean I need to trek back across the endless green of the zoo to talk to this guy again.
Trapped man: The animals are unusually aggressive. I think I know where the madness comes from. It must be from
THIS SECRET LAB IN THE PARK!
Well I didn't expect that. A secret lab in the zoo! What will they think of next? Tobias says I need bat form to go on since they can see in the dark. On it! Bats are almost as good as cats: they're just one less.
Those blue guys on the left are the aliens I've been fighting throughout the game: another bunch of slightly more powerful Hork-Bajirs. I have to fight four of them in a row to free the poor creatures. They've all been dropping FOOD so far, so all I really need to do is be able to kill one and I'm safe.
It's all-or-nothing in this game! I hammered the button for a couple of minutes straight before one of us finally hit the other.
We're done here. Now I need to go to the 'bat cave', says Tobias.
Side-scrolling bat flying game time!
Bat game music is right out of Sonic Chaos. It pushes the sound chip to its limits, throwing intricate echo and slide effects everywhere so the end result sounds like a bouncy jumble of ass.
It's also really, really hard because the bat, the nasty wires and the robot monsters are all huge! You only get three lives and then it's game over. You can't shoot the robots. Thankfully you get a password immediately before.
His accomplice on the right is a TAXXON with tons of health. So I... yeah, it's just like every other alien battle. Nothing to do except throw all my animals at him one at a time until the battle is over.
I'm dead. My moves simply didn't hit.
The moment you defeat the four Hork-Bajirs in the previous room and get the new password, there's no going back to the zoo. I'm stuck with what I've got: a weary foursome of ELEPHANT, LION, WOLF and BAT. And yes, it's entirely possible to get BAT killed in the lab and be stuck in a locked room and have to restore from a previous password.
Next time, after repeating the tedious bat game it goes a lot better. My crew knock him down effortlessly, he vanishes, and I'm left with the scientist just wandering around aimlessly refusing to speak. I'll never know whether he was working with or controlled by the Yeerks, or he was just being an asshole for the sake of it. The joystick-looking is one of the four processors that my pals were desperate to retrieve way back when I was in the clubhouse. When I touch it, Tobias says 'well done' and *ping* we're back in the clubhouse.
And that's the end of Chapter 1! Next chapter: Jake and DOG. Your go, I think!
THE END BIT.
There's the start of a very good game here. You've got the walking around and talking to people engine working. The music system is firing on all cylinders. The battles don't crash and scrolling works. That stuff isn't easy. It just isn't a game yet.
It's too weird to call it 'difficult'. There's a logic to it somewhere but I just can't figure it out, which is pretty fascinating to tell the truth. Most of the regular rules of RPG combat are gone, except hurling your guy at their guy until one of them dies. There's no items, no inventory, no money, no status effects (nope, VENOM doesn't poison enemies), no way to manage, compare, name or improve your animals. You go into every fight blind, throwing moves in the vain hope that some of them will be stick and perhaps be the right un-named type to inflict damage. And then you have to remember it all for the next fight. If you're supremely lucky, two similar foes will be weak to the same move. The game told me a move was SUPER EFFECTIVE on only two occassions: DOG's BITE against the first MOUSE, and LION's BITE against the Hork-Bajir in the lab. Everything else, who knows?
The manual refers to experience points but there doesn't seem to be any such thing in the game. The only mention of them is in a heading titled 'Experience Points and Health Bar', as if the manual writer simply couldn't believe that they wouldn't be implemented. And speaking of which... let's take a trip into the past!
|Click for bigness. Images from Gamespot on the left, final game on the right.|
Kudos to Pop Arena for making me aware of the images.
If all of these aren't mock-ups, then the alternative is the idea that they made a rough game and then ran out of time before they could properly implement experience points, which is pretty hilarious.
If you knew where everything was and which forms were the most powerful (hint, it's DOG), you could complete Chapter 1 in quarter of an hour. You wouldn't be missing anything, because there's nothing to miss. I've shown you all the animals and all the dialogue. The other chapters might be longer, but I can't tell whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. I do wonder how the other characters are going to gather morphs, now that we've done both the 'zoo' and the 'secret animal testing lab' areas in the first chapter. That circus is going to come in handy, I suppose. There's also a two-hour time limit on staying in a single morph (another Animorphs gimmick), and the thought of being trapped in a water maze dungeon as a dolphin for all of time sends shivers down my spine.
Like the theme song says, the Animorphs are completely alone with no place to hide, no one to trust, no one to help them when they're lost, which means there's no fun dialogue to be had. It's not a wacky hiking trip like Pokémon, it's an alien invasion; you're the resistance. It's not going to be a barrel of laughs, but there's no reason why it should be as spartan as this.
This is a tragedy. And I know that because games are made by people, and people have ideas. Nobody sets out to write a game about a bunch of shapeshifters fighting aliens without thinking of all the cool stuff that could happen. Perhaps the publisher decided to release it the moment it was vaguely game-shaped, or maybe they had a very basic, very definite design in mind and refused to let the game become anything beyond that outline.
Hell, it's a game about animals for kids. They could have ripped off Pokémon's Pokédex and had you collect illustrations of the animals you acquire, complete with little descriptions and habitats and things. They'd be making it educational and cool at the same time. Kids love collecting animal stickers! They couldn't lose.
If you want to play that other game, that one that's forming in your head as you imagine a during-apocalyptic RPG set in the present day with desperate characters, fierce monsters and complex combat, you're thinking of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor on the DS. Go get it.
If you have Animorphs, I'm sorry. If you were one of the people who had to make Animorphs, I'm sorry too.
Coming up next on Super Adventures: another game, I'd expect. Hopefully something good.
Thanks for reading, leave a comment etc!