"To call it a lapse of good judgment on my part would be a sickening understatement, because believe it or not, I actually had high hopes for Normy's Beach Babe-O-Rama (Electronic Arts, 1994). When a friend shows you such an off-the-wall game, there is an innate obligation to play it and see what it's like just to appease your friend's desires. This is what happened to me as I sat helplessly behind a barrage of praise including phrases like ''This game is hilarious'', ''You'll love this game that..."
To call it a lapse of good judgment on my part would be a sickening understatement, because believe it or not, I actually had high hopes for Normy's Beach Babe-O-Rama (Electronic Arts, 1994). When a friend shows you such an off-the-wall game, there is an innate obligation to play it and see what it's like just to appease your friend's desires. This is what happened to me as I sat helplessly behind a barrage of praise including phrases like ''This game is hilarious'', ''You'll love this game that [name withheld for mercy's sake] showed me'', and ''There's pizza in the oven that'll be ready when you're done playing'', all of which turned out to be blatant lies. This game that Normy stars in treats you first to a screen with wavy text that blabbers endlessly about several things, including the blistering revelation that just weeks before, the same company that made it released a funktastic sequel starring their cult classic heroes Toejam & Earl. This is a thought that manages to linger in your brain for the entirety of the game, and though you may not specifically wish that you were playing Toejam & Earl instead, you will definitely wish you had not wasted your time doing something so .... so .... anti-constructive, I suppose is what I'm looking for.
A game that does all its sprite and object drawings with a black outline around them, thus making it appear as if they were ripped straight off the pages of a bored fifth-grader's doodling paper, is already in trouble to begin with, but the most alarming thing about it, from the very first screen of the intro movie, is that you immediately feel an unwelcome shock, as if you have played this game before. You watch the cinematic setup to the game's events, which depicts Normy, a typical beach bum in white shorts, sandals, and a Hi-war-yin flowerdy shirt (as Ray Stevens would say), witnessing several bikini-clad goddesses get sucked up into a flying saucer.
Those of us familiar with the English language have probably used the word ''goddess'' to figuratively describe a curvaceous woman's notable beauty. However, these lovely ladies, who have congregated in close proximity of one another for the necessity of story advancement, really are goddesses! Just like there are Catholic patron saints for everything under the sun, these lovely ladies preside over all aspects of beach bum life. One is the goddess of the waves, another rules over surf music, and one is even the goddess of snow cones, which all wave jockeys know no trip to the beach is complete without. Deciding that it is even better to have an opportunity to save the goddesses of the beach than any other given set of women, Normy engages in hot pursuit and ends up in a time portal sending him back to the year 65,000,047 B.C., the year one of the goddesses, Moon-Unit, apparently invented the surfboard. Thus begins Normy's incredibly idiotic and historically inaccurate quest through the annals of time.
So maybe the story doesn't ring any bells or raise any red flags. Once you get into the actual gameplay, it just might. You start out with no weapons on your back or any line of defense. You can't jump on people - that attempt usually leads to frustration and confusion for the old-school among us. Instead, you collect a mallet that, when used, ejects a punching glove outward. This is quite possibly the worst weapon I have ever seen in any game, because enemies have the ability to plow through it and deplete your life force so rapidly you are left staring at the screen holding a Genesis controller that you are irrationally placing all the fault upon. The mallet, as you trudge through history, contains other things as well, including a rubber/real chicken (who's to say?) and a squirrel that blows air. You also pick up projectile weapons that, while enabling you to reach enemies from farther away, also hurt less and allow for the same trampling you receive from all types of foe, from a rat to a gorilla playing a guitar.
It is also filled to the core with ambiance that it thinks is funny but is in fact quite the opposite. Normy spouts out weary surfer jargon like ''Rad!'' and ''Bummer!'' but also has a propensity for stating the painfully obvious, as when he tells you to jump to a ledge three pixels away (harder than you think) and alerts you to the presence of impending danger by helpfully crying ''Uh-oh!'' Ironically, he never seems to be able to utter a single sound when being crushed by primitive jungle beings who poke each other in the eyes and have repulsive chili bowl haircuts a la Moe Howard (of The Three Stooges). Normy has a number of ways of dying. He can fall down pits that aren't really there, he can get smashed under the feet of a million Neanderthals and lie unconscious and dizzy, he can jump to what appears to be a ledge but is really yet another plummet to his well-deserved death - he can do anything!
So all these things start happening and flowing together. Protagonist loses that which he holds nearest and dearest to him (in this case, babes). Stars in game with annoying graphics that make him bounce like India rubber off of any given surface. There's a layer of objects above the foreground containing enemies that destroy you in the shadows. The protagonist is also extremely fragile, which you find out early in the game. Employs an inadequate form of self-defense against the zombie-like forces ahead of him. When all of this comes together in your mind, they combine into a single question whose answer eludes even the top researchers in the field of determining why Normy's Beach Babe-O-Rama sucks so hard (why-Normy's-Beach-Babe-O-Rama-sucks-so-hard-ology):
''If they were going to rip off a game, why did it have to be Bubsy, of all things?''
Because that is exactly what this game plays like - Bubsy. Over a year ago I gave said game a score of 3, because while being extraordinarily hard beyond all logical reasoning, it employed a strange brand of parallax graphics that caused your movement to become, for lack of a better word, wonky. The same goes for Normy, who has the same problems with midair control and sliding to a halt instead of stopping immediately that the bobcat in the exclamation point shirt had. Jumping along a series of seven or eight small platforms is far more taxing than it should be. It is as if a magical wind that you cannot hear is raging and pushing you forward, and when you try to jump to a surface that is very small and requires a three-point landing, you fall into a pit and die. Even though I am a graduate of the Donkey Kong Country School of Platformer Exploration (accreditation pending) that somehow makes you think that you should fall into every single pit you encounter lest there be a secret tucked away underneath, I can assure you that most of the time when I fell into a pit, it was not because I was looking for a bonus stage.
And oh, the many pits that Normy must leap over on his way back to the beach! He traverses tar pits, moats, trap doors that make you fall into abysses you can't even see, bottomless chasms that preview only the canopy of the jungle primeval, and drops into infinite space that make you wonder out loud why the vacuum of antimatter doesn't cause Normy's empty head to burst into smithereens. You also wonder audibly, ''Snow Dragon, what gave you an undying urge to see this waste of silicon through to the end?'' I will tell you what gave me such an urge, and that was a burning desire to see Normy suffer grotesquely at the hands of yet another unimaginative boss that zips around the screen breaking land speed records in addition to his face, thus causing his untimely death. (It couldn't be soon enough, if you ask me.) What a dismally unfunny irony it was to find that the last world turns out to be a trip to that most timeless land of punishment and agony itself: the devil's hell.
In this final world, more irony is revealed. The game attains a salvation of sorts when thrust into the eternal grip of hell's grim tyrant - enough for me to bump my score up a point from what I had originally planned to give it. Normy and Co. finally achieve the coy chuckles they hoped all along to arouse with their background funnies. Doors leading to new areas are marked by smiley faces with appropriately demonic furrowed brows and evil grins. Dante's fictional nine circles of hell are fully realized here, with separate tiers of the catacombs being reserved for different occupational groups. You'll be able to guess at the predictable presence of lawyers and politicians before you even come to them, but you may get an unanticipated kick out of some of them (snowmen) while wondering in other instances why EA felt the need to return to the stupidity prevalent in the rest of the game (rampaging pickles?). Unfortunately, Normy only begins to gain momentum as his adventure starts to wrap up with its utterly nonsensical denouement, and as the final credits roll, you wish that you could have seen the sense of loose fun and quirky humor displayed everywhere else, not just in the last level of the game.
NBBOR fails miserably at all of the fundamentals, but first and foremost in the arena of control. Mastery of Normy's dash move is required as early on as the middle of the first world, which includes your aptitude for making running jumps without bouncing off walls and into black tar pits of doom. As mentioned earlier, the multiple background layers cause technical difficulties that make simple leaps and climbs more of a chore than they should be. At some points, you must find a precise method for getting past a barrier of creatures that is otherwise impossible to fend off with the alarmingly weak arsenal the game offers up. Because launching yourself off into the wild blue yonder often ends in your loss of a life after meeting with the great beyond below, it gives you a migraine to find ways of getting past the rough spots. Just like in the bobcat-centric game that it ripped off, the control makes the game hard and unentertaining for all the wrong reasons, to the point where anyone who experiences this game may hide it from themselves in the vegetable crisper based on this factor alone.
Normy has got to be the ugliest beach bum on the face of the planet, but the sloppy black outline around him - and every other sprite in the game - doesn't help matters at all. EA should know by now that copying drawings from video games to a Magna Doodle doesn't work the other way around. On top of all the bad graphics, there is an inordinate amount of flicker to deal with when too many enemies (read: two) inhabit the screen and when Normy crosses from one sector of a level to the other. The only real bouts of slowdown occur during boss battles due to the speed of both Normy and the boss involved in the fight (many bosses require a deft dash or two if you don't want to get hit), but any slowdown is annoying, especially that which is the deciding factor between slinging the final spoonful of ice cream at a tricky goddess guardian and taking seven consecutive hits that lead to another aggravating death. Too many generic character and level designs infest this game: the beach goddesses, from Moon-Unit on down to Bambi, Goddess of Snow Cones, are all easily recognizable palette swaps of each other, and the enemies give off no feelings of inspiration. The levels are dull to look at, the exception again being hell with the dark blues and blacks contrasting the deep reds at every turn. There is definitely a vibe all throughout your quest that homely losers like Normy are the reason that that guy at Eidos programmed Lara Croft from the third-person perspective.
And it will suffice to say that I should be counting my blessings that my TV remote has a working mute button.
Normy's Beach Babe-O-Rama could have chosen any platformer to rip off, but it had to choose Bubsy, one of the worst possible models for any other platform game to go off of. From the movement scheme to the graphics that suffer from too many technical flaws to the collecting of the standard trinkets which doesn't even amount to anything in this game. They don't even keep a running tally of how many you've picked up! Where secrets are concerned, the routes to their location are bombarded by the worst of enemies, and their low value scarcely makes them worth rooting out. Everything about NBBOR is an absolute mess, and you'll do all the beach bums and babes of the world a favor by opting for a day spent basking in the natural light and warm sands of a real beach as opposed to this fluorescent time-traveling nightmare.
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)
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