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Whomp 'Em (NES) artwork

Whomp 'Em (NES) review

"Somewhat derivative, somewhat mediocre, somewhat easy to ignore."

Whomp 'Em (NES) image

Whomp 'Em is the typical mediocre NES action title. It's not original, nor does it possess any merits that would cause a person to feel any legitimate urge to recommend it. During my youth, I never played this game, but I've endured its ilk more times than I'd care to count. I would find a game that looked super-cool, beg and beg until my parents caved in and bought it, quickly realize it wasn't remotely as fun as I'd imagined and then have to force myself to regularly play it because I knew it'd be a couple months before any future rounds of begging would have a chance of success.

What relegates an action game to the "mediocre" category? One quick route to that purgatory is a simple lack of ambition. I would imagine Whomp 'Em was initially created because someone played Mega Man, really liked it and decided they could make their own game in that vein. You can pick what order you complete stages and gain items for topping each boss, which can come in handy in future levels. Of course, this game isn't as good as the average NES-era Mega Man game. I'd be most likely to compare it to the first game in that series, but I enjoyed that other game more, even if it could be frustratingly cheap at times.

Let's start at the beginning: this game's origins. In Japan, it was based on Journey to the West, which (according to Wikipedia) was a novel based on Chinese folk hero Sun Wukong, known as the Monkey King. Things were changed a bit when the game was ported to America, with the Journey to the West tie-in being completely removed. It was retitled Whomp 'Em (from Saiyuki World 2) and Sun Wukong was replaced by an American Indian youth on a mystical journey to come of age. I guess it's a better premise than "boy tries to get to Sunday school; everyone wants to kill him", but whatever, it's still pretty dull.

In the assorted Mega Man games, you shot enemies by firing bullets from an arm cannon. Mr. Whomp (or whatever your protagonist is called) comes from a more primitive time, so he's relegated to stabbing foes with a spear. Your short-range attack can be made a bit better by collecting a specific power-up, but you'll still have to get close to enemies to damage them. During the actual levels, this ranges from "not so bad" to "pretty annoying", depending on where you are, but virtually every boss takes advantage of your limited attack range to produce the sort of "Nintendo Hard" situation that gets frustrating in a hurry.

These bosses are fairly large in size, assault you in fairly small chambers and tend to move erratically around the screen. They'll collide with you with regularity and tend to bounce and fly everywhere while you're stuck on the ground, trying to run and jump out of their way while hoping you can issue a counter-attack. They have more health than you and usually inflict more damage than they take. That's not even the worst thing, though. Instead of getting extra lives like you would in most games, you find magic potions scattered throughout the levels, of which you can hold up to three at any time. When all your life is expended, as long as you have a potion, you'll get recharged. Some bosses are capable of stealing your potions to not only deplete your "lives", but also regenerate their health in the process. Having this happen is not cool. Not at all.

I dealt with this issue when facing the third boss I fought in the game. It was a tough battle, but I'd learned to use a particular special weapon and had gotten sort of competent at dodging its attacks. Finally, I was going to win! Until it started stealing my potions and the next thing I knew, I was dead and its health meter had refilled halfway or so. It took a while to mentally get over that setback. And, hell, when I finally won, it was more due to luck than anything else. The boss was nearly dead and I saw the "stealing potion" animation start, so I swung again and killed it before it could absorb the health.

That is one cheap mechanic. It means you can play this game near-perfectly, but one tiny mistake can (and likely will) cripple you and elicit the dreaded "GAME OVER" screen. Back in my youth, when I was at the mercy of my parents when it came to getting new games, I would have gritted my teeth and suffered through this sort of thing for hours in the hopes of finally reaching the end. I mean, if I was able to get through Milon's Secret Castle with only the loss of my sanity, I think I could have soldiered through this. Nowadays, I can think of no reason why I'd want to endure that sort of cheapness.

It's not like the rest of the game was able to rise above that bit of majorly questionable programming, either. The levels are generic and inoffensive, which is a bland way of saying there isn't anything particularly bad about them, but little to compliment. About the most interesting thing about them is that your health is handled in much the same way as in the far, far superior Bionic Commando. You start with a few hearts and gain more by collecting gourds, which are dropped by certain enemies. To be kind, the game generously provides a couple areas where harvesting gourds is very easy, so a patient player can greatly increase their health without much difficulty. There's also some power-ups that improve your offense and defense for a short while and… you know, there's nothing else to say about this game.

Whomp 'Em occasionally shows bursts of competence, but is too derivative to be remotely noteworthy. Bosses can become brutally difficult due to their cheap tactics, an irritant that is worsened when combined with the short attack range. It was a game, it was released on the NES and it fell into obscurity. It's not some obscure masterpiece; it's just a mediocre game in virtually every facet. When roughly 900 games were created for a system over the course of about 10 years, you'll have a few (hundred) of those...


overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (November 20, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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