"1992-1993 is my personal Golden Age of gaming. Sure, those who can legally buy their own booze and tobacco may pine for the days of shooting rocks floating out in space from the tenuous safety of a triangular space cruiser while those who are just now celebrating the growth of hair in certain areas might rue the passing of that long-gone dynasty where Cloud Strife and Co. ruled the GameFAQs Top 10 and their PlayStations with an iron fist. For me, though, 1992 and 1993 were a duo blessed by the H..."
1992-1993 is my personal Golden Age of gaming. Sure, those who can legally buy their own booze and tobacco may pine for the days of shooting rocks floating out in space from the tenuous safety of a triangular space cruiser while those who are just now celebrating the growth of hair in certain areas might rue the passing of that long-gone dynasty where Cloud Strife and Co. ruled the GameFAQs Top 10 and their PlayStations with an iron fist. For me, though, 1992 and 1993 were a duo blessed by the Hand of God Himself™. They were the years when nearly all of my favorite 16-bit games were released - not the least of which were Secret of Mana, Contra III: The Alien Wars, and Sonic 2. These along with others from those eventful years hogged the majority of the time spent in that cozy top-loading compartment of the consoles I loved so dearly. And now, just now, as I reach the summer marking the passing of a decade since that illustrious era, the imaginary stone pillars holding up my world of nostalgia tremble, quake, and crash, leaving in their wake a feeling of disorientation and destruction as far as my mind's eye can see. It is so awful and yet so amazing that one totally coincidental event caused this entire mess.
What is this horrible occurrence that I speak of? I will tell you: less than a week ago, I learned that a game based on the movie Beethoven's 2nd had been made, and that it was released in the United States in the year 1993. Disturbing? Yes. Illegal? Unfortunately, no. It goes without saying that the tears I shed are indicative of the consensus response as well, but being the sick sadomasochist I am, I forced myself to probe into this manmade phenomenon farther than most mentally healthy people would dare to delve. It is a truism of video gaming that when your primal instincts tell you that something is not just going to suck, but suck hard, then for the love of God you ought to get your hands on some of that fun yellow tape with all the words in imposing block letters on it that police officers have and blockade yourself from all physical contact with it. But, of course, I am stupid and feel an inexplicable need to learn all things the hard way.
I should know better - the ingredients for a bargain bin bomb are set in stone. First of all, your protagonist is a St. Bernard. As expected, he handles like a St. Bernard. He has all the traction of a station wagon with no wheels and appears both heavily drugged and strangely unwilling to perform the task at hand. You quickly learn what this task is after only a few screens containing the worst chicken-scratch handwriting you've ever seen on a 16-bit console and a quaint but majorly compressed photo of the pensive canine family. After that happy little family portrait a similar one appears, albeit with dotted lines around each baby in the litter. Pray tell, where have they run off to, those disobedient little scamps? As soporifically predictable platformer law dictates, each puppy has lost itself in its own unique locality and distanced itself quite many screens from its paternal unit. And since the game just wouldn't feel right without a crapload of haphazardly assigned obstacles crammed in between Beethoven and his offspring, the developers have thrown in every conceivable enemy that makes no sense whatsoever: cats capable of generating their own tornadic activity, squirrels that throw their nuts at you (ahem) in the most annoyingly perfect arc, and grossly obese caricatures of animal control officers who fire tranquilizer darts out of muskets, to name a few. I'm sure PETA had a bone to pick with them over that last one.
So we have Beethoven - a dog who in real life was trained to create all sorts of madcap mischief so that the entire movie would not consist of him burying, exhuming, and summarily dining on his own feces - starting out in World 1, known simply as Suburbia, looking to save your poor puppy Chubby. Really, it would be more fitting to label the four worlds you will eventually traverse as ''areas,'' but I suppose every place is like a whole new world to a dog. However, I digress. With no intervention from Charles Grodin or the rest of the family, you are out to find your child named Chubby. Since no one is accosting you at the beginning of the level, it's a good time to test out the controller and see what Beethoven is capable of. A quick test of all buttons determines that he can do four things:
1. He can jump (well, it's less like jumping and more like being heaved into the air by a very random wind).
2. He can shake himself off. If he happens to get water on him, this will relieve him of it, though since Beethoven apparently swallowed a blow-dryer whole, he can magically dry off with the passing of only a few seconds. One would think water would weigh him down and impair his movement, but the programmers already beat the water to that.
3. He can bend down and pick up things. This includes the all-important powerups of bones, drumsticks, and some very rare meat from the looks of it. He'll also use this bending down maneuver to scoop up his puppies and chauffeur them around (you'll see).
4. And, like any self-respecting canine, he can bark.
When you are not trying futilely to avoid being hit by acorn projectiles and being trampled by growling poodles and hapless skateboarders, you'll be barking your enemies into oblivion. When Beethoven barks, he emits a sound wave that will either travel a short distance or go the length of the screen (and farther) depending on whether you choose to charge up the bark or not. If the sound wave hits an enemy, that enemy will be paralyzed for an amount of time equal to roughly 5/8 of a second. Since your foes tend to barrel ahead and continue thrashing you despite a single threatening bark, you must bark at them over and over again, paralyzing them with an odd mixture of fear and surprise until they vanish in a cloud of smoke. It is a tedious process that has to be repeated throughout the entire game, because it's your only form of defense.
This strikes me as rather odd. Granted, Beethoven is a dog, and it would be unreasonable to expect the developers to give him the ability to stand up on his hind legs and wield a weapon such as, say, a yo-yo. But Beethoven never really struck me as a vicious animal. The only time he comes out of his look of extreme sedation is when he barks, and then he takes on this uncharacteristic mean quality. Maybe there was some point in the movie when a ridiculous villain threatened the family's safety and Beethoven was forced to jump into loyal protector mode, but I haven't seen either movie, and so it's kind of awkward to see this dog, who remains calm and collected in every picture I've seen and every excerpt of the movie I've seen where he causes everything to fall off the dining room table, act like such a menace. However, since it's what gets you through the game, there's hardly a spare moment to dwell on it.
Eventually you will reach the end of the first level, after which time you will have inevitably discovered that Beethoven is quite a weak dog. If you are anything like me, you will be hurt by the top of the fence as you attempt to hurdle it, hit repeatedly by the same apples falling out of the same trees, and be injured by a lamp on top of a brick wall that you mistake for an item. But, with perseverance, you will finally reach the end of that first part of Suburbia and find your puppy. Scoop him up in your nurturing mouth to end the level. Wow, that was easy, right?
It only gets better. Now you must make your way through what is almost the exact same level with a few minor switches of enemies and obstacles here and there, except now you have Chubby in tow and you must deliver him to Mrs. Beethoven at the end of the level. Mrs. Beethoven isn't exactly a sight for sore eyes; she looks like Mr. Beethoven and is equally doped up to the extent of not being able to open her eyes, but to distinguish her from her husband, she is dolled up in a pink collar and ribbon. If you can make it all the way to the other end of the level without dying from various unnatural causes and set the puppy you're carrying down in front of your loving wife, you'll have completed one entire world. You only have to do this three more times, but trust me, the monotony has already set in by the end of the first scene of Suburbia. It doesn't get any better once Chubby is back home safely.
Beethoven will make his way through other worlds as well in an attempt to save his other dogs, Mo, Tchaikovsky, and Dolly. He will journey through a park where he must leap over barbecue pits that have been left unattended and flaming. He will make his way through a kennel that contains one of the only rational enemies in the game (Rottweilers off their chains). And since the family hasn't made an attempt to come out and find him yet, it seems perfectly okay to run off into the wilderness for the game's final sequences where mountain lions and animal control officers gussied up to look like park rangers roam. When you finally drop off that last puppy in Mother's waiting paws, there is a weird feeling of wondering what comes next - I mean, you just saved all four puppies, right? Surely there's some stirring conclusion!
But there's not. What follows after crossing the final log bridge of the game and delivering Dolly to Beethoven Dressed Up Like a Girl is an ending so anticlimactic that no one will care if I spoil it in its entirety right here. You get a picture that is not unlike the title screen, what with the six dogs in a nice little group. The dotted lines are all gone because you have saved all the puppies. Of course, you can easily gather that from the single sentence the game utters upon your momentous conquering of it: YOU SAVED THE PUPPIES.
That's it. Not even so much as a ''congratulations'' or a ''good job.'' The game matter-of-factly tells you something you already knew and freezes in time upon going to the next screen, which just has a tiny badly colored scribble and says ''Developed by RSP.'' In a way, it's sort of a bummer that the game does not force you to sit through a credits sequence. By keeping the names of those involved with its production in sweet, blissful anonymity, you can't point out specific people to laugh at and track down so you can pelt them with handfuls of cold canned Alpo in the streets! From the first level to the last, Beethoven's 2nd is hands down one of the worst games I have ever willingly subjected myself to, down at the bottom with all-stars like Taggin' Dragon, Normy's Beach Babe-O-Rama, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure. Even the concept of making it is so outlandish that one might as well have tried to make a game out of the band Aerosmith.
Wait a minute ..... someone did that too? Ay caramba. Another horseman of the apocalypse arrives on the scene of my childhood.
Beethoven's 2nd's graphics are better executed in its levels than in its still shots. Beethoven himself still looks like little more than a slab of meat with four legs and a glossy fur coat though, and his enemies fare no better. Their design is quite sloppy and random, as evidenced by the first enemy you encounter: a cat that hops out of a trash can and comes at you in a tornado of fur, claws, and kitty rage. You bark it out of existence and move on, although not without looking around, your eyes saying ''Whoa, that was stupid'' in the absence of your mouth's input. The animal control men, you find, are worthy of little more than the sad rotation of your head back and forth, regretting their presence in this abomination unto mankind. The level designs degenerate from acceptable at the outset to outrageous to frustrating as you find yourself being hurt by things that look like background flair. However dimwitted it may be though, the game is certainly educational. From this experience, I now know that kennels have bottomless pits and that dogs' paws are so sensitive that they cannot withstand having them on top of a picket fence for longer than one second.
Beethoven handles like a Volvo stuck in a mud pit with a day bed strapped to the top of it. Jumping is a chore also, especially when having to clear harmful obstacles. If you run just so, you can make a long jump and spare yourself the grief and pain of landing on top of a gas grill, but one missed button press will take one of those pawprint energy bars away - more if what is most likely to happen does and you repeat the same exercises in self-injuring misery over and over again until Beethoven bites the doggy bullet. Enemies also have a frustrating way of hanging around your body if they manage to break through your barrage of stiffening barks, and the only way to escape them is to run recklessly forward, most likely into the line of yet more danger. It's a vicious cycle that's not worth repeating, and will make you want to find a comfortable pillow, circle it, pad it with your feet, and lie down to let the sweet silence of sleep take you away from this canine nightmare.
The music is equally bad, because you won't even hear it over the natural sounds of Beethoven. To his credit, though, he reacts like a real dog would to many situations. When he ducks to avoid the menacing dart of the animal control specialist, he whimpers and cowers in fear as it carries out its trajectory directly overhead. He yips whenever something meant to harm him comes into contact with him. The dog noises make up the better part of this idiotic piece of trash's soundtrack, with one song being the wrong kind of exception: the four-note dirge that plays when you rescue or return one of the puppies that sprung from your hero's very loins. Instead of an upbeat victory rally song when your quest to hand a puppy over to its rightful mother ends auspiciously, there is almost a feeling of sadness that is microscopic without the song to accompany it but is intensified by five million powers when you are able to hear it. Again, as with the graphics and control, inappropriate elements easily permeate the tone this game should have set from the beginning, and thanks to their uninvited presence the game becomes even more of a muddled mess.
If nothing I said has repelled you from touching this relic that has been cursed by Anubis himself, then you will get what is coming to you and you will get it good. There are many movies that I would consider it impossible to base an entire video game around, and up until a week ago this game would have been in that long list. With every new day though, something happens that would surprise a less jaded person but makes me re-evaluate why I thought it to be impossible in the first place. Beethoven's 2nd is one of the worst punishments you can exact upon on any gamer - young, adolescent, or old. I would rather be forced to eat a wading pool full of dry Puppy Chow than have to repeat the depressing experience of trudging through this miserable game over again. Take it away, please, and bury it deep under the earth's mantle in that stream of lava that flows without human interruption under the crust we walk on. Despite the cost of the state-of-the-art military drill needed to do so, you'll be doing all the world a favor far more valuable than to the degree with which money or popularity can cover it.
One more thing: you might wonder why, after all my ranting and raving and hemming and hawing, I have still decided to award this game a 7. It's quite simple, actually.
The score is in dog points.
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)
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