Earlier today, I was informed that there are these things called "video games". From what I understand, these so-called video games are a form of digital entertainment that certain people, who are often referred to "losers", play for fun. Well, I had never heard of video games before, but the concept intrigued me so I immediately set out to learn everything I could about video games. This is a review of the first game I was able to get my hands on: Jaleco's legendary Whomp 'Em. What followed was the most mindblowing experience of my life. If there are any other video games out there that are even half as good as Whomp 'Em, then this will be my last article because I will be too busy playing Nintendo to write anything new.
Sarcasm aside, this really is a review of the 1991 NES game Whomp 'Em... but what the fuck *is* Whomp 'Em? There are several answers to this question. The easiest answer is that it's the story of a plucky little Indian named Soaring Eagle who must prove himself to the tribe elders by completing seven and a half trials, each with a varying level of a deadliness. It's also an absolutely delightful pun on wampum, the small beads that were used by some Native American tribes as jewelry and currency. But more importantly, Whomp 'Em was a somewhat silly attempt by a Japanese gaming company to Americanize one of their games for U.S. distribution. The game in question, Saiyuuki World 2, was based on a Chinese literary classic called Journey To The West. If you've never heard of Journey To The West, all you really need to know is that it was published towards the end of 16th century and one of the main characters was a monkey god named Son Goku. Son Goku would later become the inspiration for Goku from Dragon Ball as well as the Capcom game SonSon. There was also a live-action Japanese TV show called Saiyûki based on it that ran from 1978-1980. Although Journey To The West is a very popular legend in China and Japan but it is not well-known in North America and it was even less well-known in the 80s and early 90s before anime became trendy and shows like Sailor Moon, Pokémon, and Dragon Ball Z started invading American airwaves. Consequently, video games based on the legend didn't fare too well stateside. Capcom's SonSon failed to generate much interest in US arcades and Dragon Power, Bandai's Dragon Ball-based NES game, went largely unnoticed. These failures were probably at least partially responsible for Jaleco's decision not to release 1988's Saiyuuki World in the US. By December of 1990, Saiyuuki World 2 had been released in Japan. Since the first game didn't make it out of Japan, logic dictates that the sequel wouldn't get a US release either. But that's not what went down. For whatever reason, Jaleco decided that Saiyuuki World 2 deserved a US release. So they slapped some war paint on SonGoku, changed his magic pole into a spear, and made a few other minor aesthetic changes. By March of 1991, Whomp 'Em made its debut.
Whomp 'Em is actually a rather fun game done in style that can only be described as blatant Mega Man rip-off. But that's OK, because it's pretty good. After a brief bossless level appropriately called Beginning Test, Soaring Eagle can beat the next six levels in any order he chooses at which point he unlocks the seventh level, Final Test. And if that doesn't remind you of Mega Man, then how about this: for each level that he successfully completes, Soaring Eagle is rewarded with a new ability to help him smite his foes. Oh, and Dr. Wily is the end boss. Just kidding. Soaring Eagle has also misappropriated Link's upward and downward thrusts from Zelda 2. The upward thrust is almost entirely useless in this game, but the downward one is pretty handy. Before we get too far into gameplay, let's take a look at the items that the red man has available to him.
Surviving in the vast wilderness of pre-Columbus America can be a real bitch. Fortunately for you, The Great Bear Spirit or some other equally gay deus ex machina has left all sorts of useful shit lying around for Soaring Eagle to help our savage little friend. Let's look at some of these items now.
Small Heart. Small hearts restores one heart on Soaring Eagle's lifebar. Conveniently enough, small hearts are also the same size the hearts in Soaring Eagle's lifebar. But unless you're incredibly retarded, I bet you could have guessed what the small heart did just from the picture.
Large Heart. Large hearts replenish Soaring Eagle's lifebar entirely. Again, this is fairly intuitive.
Gourd. In case you didn't know, gourds are a type of irregularly-shaped fruit that have hard rinds and they are related to pumpkins and squash. Gourds are fairly useless in real life, but you will want to grab as many as possible in Whomp 'Em. You see, Soaring Eagle starts with only four hearts in his lifebar; he earns the remaining eight by collect gourds. The number of gourds required for each additional heart is as follows:
Magic Potion. When Soaring Eagle's lifebar runs out, it's game over and you'll have to continue from the beginning of the level. That is, unless you have a magic potion. Magic potions act like bottled faeries from A Link To The Past; when your life runs out, the magic bottle automatically uses itself to refill your life. Of course, since this game came out before the third installment of The Legend of Zelda, maybe it should get the credit for that particular innovation. Or maybe there's some other game that I've never heard of that did before both of them. The Whomp 'Em instruction manual says that Soaring Eagle can carry up to four energy bottles, but that is wrong. The brave little brave can actually only carry THREE. Any magic potion that he picks up after that will refill his lifebar, much like a large heart. Unlike the energy containers in Mega Man, magic bottles are very easy to obtain. Enemies drop them surprisingly frequently and since those bastards respawn when you backtrack, it only takes a few minutes to obtain one. Stocking up on potions seems like a great way to ensure victory against level bosses but be forewarned: some bosses will steal the bottles and use them one themselves if you're not careful.
Flint Spear Head. Flint spear heads increase your attack power. Unfortunately, they only last for four hits. Since most non-boss enemies only take one hit, this item is totally fucking useless. Good job, Jaleco.
Buffalo Headdress. The "buffalo headdress" increases Soaring Eagle's defensive power. It also looks a lot more like a samurai helmet than a buffalo headdress, but whatever. This item will break once you get hit four times.
Deerskin Shirt. Donning a deerskin shirt will make Soaring Eagle invincible for five seconds. Big fucking deal, right? Although the shirt, headdress, and flint all have very short durations, you'll pick them up faster than Thai hookers. In fact, it is not unusual for Soaring Eagle to pick up two deerskin shirts in rapid succession.
Spear. If you manage to snag a spear, it will extend the length of Soaring Eagle's spear for the rest of the level. Aside from the magic potion, this is the most useful of all the basic power-ups.
As you progress through Whomp 'Em, you will obtain new attacks that Soaring Eagle can use instead of his basic spear. These attacks are obtaining by defeating bosses and taking their totems, much like how Mega Man obtains a new attack every time he beats a Robot Master. There is, however, one crucial difference: Soaring Eagle has unlimited use of special attacks. Sweet, right? Well actually, not really. Unfortunately, most of Soaring Eagle's special abilities aren't that good and some of them are outright useless. To make matters worse, none of them are particularly effect against bosses. But since you get them anyway, I might as well tell you what they do.
Spear Whirlwind. Ah yes, Spear Whirlwind. This totem lets Soaring Eagle twirl his spear in front of him like he's a friggin' majorette or something. It can break away some blocks and open up new paths for our Injun protagonist. Unfortunately, this can only be done in one or two places in the entire fucking game, so it's not that useful. You can also use the Spear Whirlwind as a weapon, but its range is pretty terrible. So don't.
Dart. The Dart totem lets Soaring Eagle throw projectile spears. Not only do the projectiles travel the entire length of the screen, they also stick to walls thus allowing him to climb upwards. Your darts do less damage than your standard attack, but that is a small price to pay for a range weapon.
Cloud. The Cloud totem allows you to summon a cloud that you can ride around on, but there are three big problems with it. First of all, the cloud is a pain in the ass to get aboard the cloud once you summon it. Secondly, it lasts for an extraordinarily short amount of time. Finally, there is no point in the game where you truly need it. There are a couple of places where you could feasibly use it to ascend, but it's easier to use Dart to do that. Don't even attempt to use this totem or you'll be horribly disappointed.
Fire Wand. Amazingly enough, this totem lets you shoot fire from the tip of your spear. The fire extends the reach of your basic spear and it can melt some barriers. It's not terrible, but it's not quite good enough that you'd use it frequently.
Web. The Web totem is even more useless than Cloud. This totem allows you to catch weaker enemies in webbing and them throw them at other enemies. This strategy is a lot slower and less effective than just stabbing baddies with your spear. There is absolutely no reason to use this item unless you are a masochist.
Ice Crystal. If you thought that maybe Ice Crystal would be a useful totem, you were wrong. This totem allows you to freeze most non-boss monsters, thus allowing you to kill or evade them. Of course, you can kill or evade most monsters just as easily WITHOUT freezing them, thus making this totem useless.
Death Branch. Aside from Dart, this is the only truly useful totem in the game. Death Branch allows Soaring Eagle to shoot out a powerful projectile that will kill most enemies outright. Unfortunately, you must pay one full heart from your lifebar to do this. You won't use this item too much, but the final boss cannot be defeated without it.
Now comes the part of the review where I run through the levels. There's no real advantage to completing the levels in any order, so I'm going to go through them in an order that makes sense to me. If you don't like it, too fucking bad.
One of the things that I absolutely fucking hate about new console games is that they often start off with a tutorial level that teaches you how to play the damn game. I grew up in an era where we would beat games without ever looking at the instruction manual, so it pisses me off when a game forces me to take fucking baby steps instead of letting me dive right in and start kicking ass. While Whomp 'Em doesn't have a part where you have to Press A three times to demonstrate that you know how to jump, it does force you to play through a test level before you can access the seven REAL levels. The Beginning Test is short and stupid, but it gives you time to figure out that oh-so-tricky four button interface on your NES controller: A jumps, B attacks, Start pauses, and Select would change your active weapon, if only you had more than one at this point. Do you really need a whole level to figure this shit out? Fuck no! But unfortunately for us, Jaleco thinks we're total fucking morons. As further evidence, I offer the following instructions appear in the game's booklet:
1. Place the Whomp 'Em cartridge into your NES and turn on the unit.
2. The title screen appears. When you're ready to begin playing, press START.
3. You will enter the first world of Whomp 'Em.
What in the fuck is that? Somehow I seriously doubt that people interested in playing a game by a third-tier game publisher like Jaleco needed any help figuring out how to turn on an NES on. Unless you already had most of the good Nintendo, Capcom and Konami games, you had no reason to own a Jaleco game. Jaleco games were simply there to pad out your collection. Other companies were also guilty of publishing "NES Instructions for the Criminally Retarded" in their booklets, but it especially pisses me off when unremarkable games talk down to me. The Contra instruction booklet could tell me that I suck at life and deserve to die and I would heartily thank Konami for their insults because Contra is that fucking good. But not you, Whomp 'Em. You don't get to fucking mouth off to me like that. In addition to mocking the collective abilities of gamers everywhere, Beginning Test also gives us a taste of the weird shit which we will have to endure for the rest of the game. Soaring Eagle will not hunt buffalo, fight abrasive Western settlers, take peyote, or do anything even REMOTELY Native American. Instead, he will spend the duration of the game stabbing flying eyeballs, jumping mushrooms, floating hands, purple demons, and other equally ridiculous crap. If Jaleco was hoping to make the game seem less Japanese simply by changing the lead character into a spearchucking Indian, they failed pretty horribly. I have nothing good to say about Beginning Test; you can't collect gourds in it and there's not even a fucking boss. So how about this? Why don't you take a five minute break and then we'll move on to the Sacred Woods level?
While it really doesn't matter what order you do the six selectable levels in, you should probably do Sacred Woods first because it is definitely the easiest out of all of them. Sacred Woods is a typical forest level filled with snakes, potato bugs, grizzly bears and evil mushrooms. There is also a part where Soaring Eagle must dodge deadly bamboo shoots that fall from the sky for no apparent reason. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked to learn that bamboo is so commonplace in North America that it RAINS FROM THE GODDAM SKY. I must be uninformed, because I sincerely doubt that Jaleco could *possibly* have been that careless. And yet, while Jaleco didn't feel like taking the time effort to remove bamboo shoots from the game, they decided it was totally worth their while to replace the three pandas that appear in the game. Good job, guys. If you have even a passing interest in beating Whomp 'Em, you would do well to spend as much time as you can in Sacred Woods because snakes, mushrooms, and potato bugs all drop gourds. And not only do they drop gourds, they also respawn when you walk to the other side of the screen and back. If you don't leave this level with at least 10 hearts in your lifebar, you're wasting your time.
At the end of the Sacred Woods, you meet the Forest Guardian, a lameass leaf monster who drops bamboo shoots on you. The corny bastard also stole Woodman's leaf attack from Mega Man 2. He ought to be ashamed of himself, but he probably isn't. However, he is very very easy to beat. This boss requires no strategy whatsoever. Just hack and slash the fuck out of him and you'll be rewarded with the Spear Whirlwind totem.
Next up is Secret Cliff. I have no idea why the hell it's called Secret Cliff when it's clearly marked on Soaring Eagle's map. It probably should have been called Slippery Slope because a) Soaring Eagle's moccasins don't get a whole lot of traction on some of the surfaces in this level and b) once you commit to playing a second level, you're starting to invest actual time and effort in the game. This level is pretty boring. Aside from a few brass automatons and flying dinosaur heads, you will not face many enemies in this level. Instead, you will waste your time dodging TNT and praticing your platform jumping. Maybe some people enjoy platform jumping, but I don't; it is lame. And speaking of lame...
Meet the Secret Guardian. He's some sort of stone golem or monster or whatnot that turns into a black ball and bounces around like a motherfucker. Perhaps it's just me, but I seem to recall fighting a boss almost exactly like this in the African Mines in Capcom's Duck Tales. This guy is tedious to fight, but he's not hard. Just be patient, dodge well, and hit him when he stops. If you can do those three things, you can beat the Secret Guardian without much trouble. And if you suck ass at dodging, you can always stock up on magic potions. Once you beat this joker, you'll get Dart. Congratulations, you now have the most useful totem in the game.
END OF SIDE ONE. PLEASE TURN TAPE OVER.
Will Soaring Eagle complete his vague and pointless quest?
Will the end boss be cool?
Will I edit this later to include better rhetorical questions?
To find out the answers to completely different questions, continue on to part 2!