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Faceball 2000 (SNES) artwork

Faceball 2000 (SNES) review

"The system simply wasn't made to handle three dimensions, and that's all there is to it. Really, Faceball 2000 is quite the impressive technical feat. Even though the floors are featureless, and the walls, and even though the balls look more like misshapen blobs, it's impossible to forget that what you're looking at shouldn't have been possible on Nintendo's gray and purple box of mystery."

It's funny how things can change drastically over a short period of time. You can wake up one morning thinking that a bunch of smiley faces floating around a maze sounds like a great gameplay concept, then go to bed that night thinking something quite the opposite. And so it is for me with Faceball 2000, a Super Nintendo game that might not have been such a bad idea if it weren't so far ahead of its time.

In case you hadn't figured it out by the earlier reference to floating smiley faces or the game's cover image, Faceball 2000 is a thrilling title that puts you in the role of a smiley face. In short, it grabs you by the throat and won't let you go until you're screaming ''Uncle, uncle!'' at the top of your lungs. Or perhaps that was just me.

When I first stuck the game in the cartridge, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had vague memories of a picture I'd seen in Nintendo Power, the magazine that wormed its way into my head all those years ago and refuses to disappear. In that vague memory was a floating face, a wall with a 3D feel to it, and a floor. It was pretty freaky stuff, back in the days when Mario hadn't realized there was a third dimension and the most revolutionary competition on the system came from the likes of Mortal Kombat and Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday.

Well, years later I can confirm that the photo was absolutely accurate. That's the good news. The bad news is that when I finally experienced this gem for myself, I found that the single screenshot I saw pretty much sums up everything that's positive about this game. It does have three dimensions (moreso than something like Super Mario Kart, even), it does have smiley faces, and there are even walls and floors! This may be too much to take in, so exhale slowly and I'll trust you to remember to keep breathing at a normal rate as I describe how all the pieces come together.

See, you start in this arena. There's a wall to your right, a wall to your left, a wall somewhere ahead, and you're in a long, narrow passage. Being the devious little faceball that you are, you'll of course start floating forward. Shockingly, the walls scale around you. The 3D feel isn't just some illusion; you're really going through a hallway. Too cool. Then you notice another smiley face. ''Miscreant!'' you shout loud enough to wake the neighborhood. ''Foul villain!''

So you press a button, and out pops a blob. It's a blue ball, and it floats lazily toward your opponent. He turns, his little dots gleaming. And the shot you just fired misses. Horrified, you start to float out of the way. But there's no need; your opponent hasn't fired a shot of his own. Instead, he appears to be contemplating the works of some ancient philosopher, perhaps Confucious. Stunned at your good fortune, you press the 'fire' button again. Out comes another blue ball, and it moves no faster than the last one you fired. In your haste to correct your aim, you moved too far to the right, though, and a second shot misses. Now you'd be shaking in your boots, if you were wearing any.

The opponent finally decides perhaps some return fire will be appropriate, and so you see a ball heading toward you. Everything is slow-motion, like one of those after-school specials where a kid is walking through the cafeteria, trips, and falls on his face while the contents of his lunch tray go flying. Then, the next thing you know, things snap back into focus as you find you've taken a hit. Your attempt to dodge was a total failure.

If you're thinking right now that Faceball 2000 is a cheap game that suffers because of its spotty 3D hit detection, you're somewhat right. However, it's nowhere near as bad as it could have been. While aiming can take a while, it's not so horrific that you won't be able to adjust if you stick it out. The problem is that these days, there's really no reason to do so. This is because I've just detailed just about everything there is to know. The only things I've left out are the upgrades you sometimes find in capsules around the maze-like arena (they have no major impact on the game) and the area exits.

Ah, the area exits. You'll find these are sealed away when you first enter a stage. To unlock them, you must 'tag' a specific number of opponents. In layman's terms, this means you must blast the crap out of them with your slow-moving, blue balls. The whole time, they'll be trying to tag you. They have superior numbers, but in the early areas they most definitely do not have superior firepower. That changes promptly in the fifth stage, where the developers suddenly decided they'd been babying you for long enough and decided to make the game cheap. At that point, it stops being an even remotely worthwhile use of your time. Ah, well. Five stages isn't so bad.

And there's more! You can even play those stages with a friend. After witnessing the slow-down when playing alone, I felt sure that playing with my darling wife would make things unbearable. Well, it didn't. Miraculously, it slows down no more than it did when I played alone. This just defies logic, and it makes me think that the single-player game should have moved a little more quickly. The end result is that you'll have almost precisely twice the fun playing with a friend that you'll have when going it alone. Always search for that cloud's silver lining, I say.

That leaves only the question of why there's any slow-down in the game at all, and the answer is that Faceball 2000 is a Super Nintendo game, made when 2000 seemed a distant time indeed. The system simply wasn't made to handle three dimensions, and that's all there is to it. Really, Faceball 2000 is quite the impressive technical feat. Even though the floors are featureless, and the walls, and even though the balls look more like misshapen blobs than weapons, it's impossible to forget that what you're looking at shouldn't have been possible on Nintendo's gray and purple box of mystery.

Of course the question at the end of the day is this: is Faceball 2000 really worth playing? And the answer, unfortunately, is that unless you're someone like me who just has to try those oddities, it's not. I'd love to see someone update this, of course. With some impressive, vibrant architecture and the frantic action I'm sure the developers had in mind when they made Faceball 2000, an update could be the sleeper hit of the year. Too bad its current rendition will instead put you to sleep.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (August 06, 2003)

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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