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Whomp 'Em (NES) artwork

Whomp 'Em (NES) review

"Another potential issue is that Whomp ‘Em plays a lot like an old Mega Man title, except that the pacing for the stages doesn’t feel quite as refined as it did in Capcom’s famous series. You can clear the six main stages (after a brief introductory stage) in any order you like, usually after spending only a few minutes in each of them. You’ll even gain special weapons when you emerge victorious."

Whomp ‘Em always looked like a great game. I never saw anyone actually play it and none of the local rental stores ever had it in stock, mind you, but the pages that an early issue of Nintendo Power magazine devoted to the title showed maps of the various stages and they all seemed awesome. As a kid, I envisioned an agile young warrior leaping around gorgeous stages, capably dispatching of a variety of foes like Mario would have if he weren’t so preoccupied with the Mushroom Kingdom and angry gorillas.

Two decades later, I’m happy to report that Whomp ‘Em plays almost as well as I always imagined it would. Visually, the stages are more than competent by NES standards, with some fairly impressive background artwork that places the title a cut above many of its peers. In one instance, you wander through a magical forest and the glowing flower pods in the background are almost hypnotic. Then at the end of that same stage, you battle a stone spider. It’s a surprisingly intense fight given the 8-bit era’s technical limitations, and you’ll find others that are similarly exhilarating.

Yet Whomp ‘Em isn’t perfect, even as a representative of its era. The game’s most egregious offense is a touchy control setup. The brave warrior you control has a tendency to move in short spurts, long dashes, or not at all. Taking small steps forward is difficult, and jumps can be difficult to judge properly until you’ve grown accustomed to things. Your enemies, meanwhile, are quite capable. They charge the hero from a distance or they drop and swoop down from above. Between those tenacious foes and the treacherous areas they patrol that you must carefully navigate, you’ll likely find yourself making return trips to the stage select screen with alarming frequency.

The good news is that the seemingly cheap deaths start coming less frequently once you acclimate yourself to the controls and to the game’s general flow. That’s true in large part because when enemies in Whomp ‘Em are defeated, they always drop loot. Hearts restore life you may have lost and a jacket grants temporary invincibility, plus you can grab other items that gradually extend your life meter. By jumping around in the right places, you can also find hidden energy refills and sometimes special items that function like energy tanks do in the Mega Man games, providing you with an automatic life refill when you might otherwise expire. Play for long and you’ll also discover that you can farm weak enemies that spawn in some areas to extend your life meter quite early in the game. With a longer meter, you can start playing more comfortably without having to worry about restarting stages so often thanks to a missed jump or other issue.

Of course, there’s really no good reason that a game should have been designed in a manner that encourages such cheap tactics. With a little more tweaking, the controls could have felt more fluid and the game really would have been more enjoyable on its own terms. Besides, a longer life meter can’t prevent the frustration that comes from some of the more irritating platform sequences. There are areas where you’ll negotiate a series of tricky jumps, only to get bumped by an enemy and drop toward the base of a structure that you had spent the last minute or two carefully scaling.

Another potential issue is that Whomp ‘Em plays a lot like an old Mega Man title, except that the pacing for the stages doesn’t feel quite as refined as it did in Capcom’s famous series. You can clear the six main stages (after a brief introductory stage) in any order you like, usually after spending only a few minutes in each of them. You’ll even gain special weapons when you emerge victorious.

Mega Man titles made that general process captivating because they boasted memorable routes that could be cleared in a variety of cool ways. There was also a password save feature, in case you wanted to take your time or experiment with different level combinations. Whomp ‘Em doesn’t even need such an option because it’s extremely short, and because you’ll be speeding through it so quickly. The best strategy when tackling a challenge is often to simply keep moving until you reach an area just ahead of the stage boss chamber (you can even fly over many obstacles once you gain the ice cloud ability), then fill up on hearts before attempting a battle. If you fail to win that fight, you’ll return to the stage select screen. There’s not much to see and there are no upgrades to miss, so there’s no particular motivation to take your time.

A related issue is that you don’t stand much of a chance against most of the bosses unless you brought along the right equipment. This is clearly meant to add to the challenge, but the reality is that it just feels cheap. Some of the guardians you must vanquish move so quickly and hit so hard that you can’t possibly stay alive for long even when you know their patterns, meaning you need to take them out quickly or wind up losing a battle of endurance. If you didn’t bring along the right gear, you’ll be overmatched to the extent that victory is nearly impossible even when you have a lengthy life meter and reserve energy. Until you figure out what items work best on what guardian ahead of time, you’re in for some frustrating trial-and-error. The Mega Man games were challenging, but at least it felt like you could win against any boss with just your arm cannon. Players routinely did that very thing, but I don’t picture them cheerfully pulling similar stunts with Whomp ‘Em.

In spite of all the things that I’ve just complained about, though, I enjoyed the time I spent with Whomp ‘Em. It may not rank among the very best NES platformers and its lack of lasting content may be a sticking point for some, but otherwise it’s a competent and occasionally exceptional title that offers vibrant visuals, solid action and an unconventional hero. You might not enjoy all of it, but there’s plenty of great stuff here to at least warrant a look.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 28, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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If you enjoyed this Whomp 'Em review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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EmP posted June 28, 2012:

Look at you -- all retro reviewy. Good stuff, certainly, but what brought this change of pace on?
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honestgamer posted June 28, 2012:

I posted about it on my blog, but basically, I have a ton of retro games I've been wanting to play and review for years now, so I bought a retro system that lets me more conveniently do so and now I'm hoping to cover such stuff more frequently.

Despite occasional detractors (who shall remain nameless), our retro coverage is one of the things casual visitors most like about the site. I'm happy to play to our strengths, especially since I like retro gaming so much in the first place. It's reasonably easy to find people who will happily cover new games for the site in a freelance capacity (meaning we don't have to give up on that important element of our coverage), so that will maybe leave me more time to cover older stuff that still interests me.

Honestly, I'd be happy to see a bit of a retro revival here. Why should Joe have all the fun?
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EmP posted June 28, 2012:

I've tried posting bits and pieces on my blog now and then to see if anyone really notices. They don't. Further proof: this. Perhaps its time to bring back either (or both) the search all blog button of the forum tag stuff. yes, both have the downside of spam, but both have the upsides of perhaps dragging something out of obscurity.

I'm happy to see more retro stuff, anyway. Keep it up -- or else!

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