"Few games invite self-parody from first impressions as readily as Wally Bear and the NO Gang. You may have bad or frustrating games, such as Hydlide or Action 52, didactic efforts with a legitimate streak of imagination such as Bible Adventures, or funny ones aware they're a bit simple. But a bear on his skateboard, out to convince other animals with lower self-esteem(their words) that drugs and gangs are a bad idea seems naive. Or perhaps it's just trying to market itself to naive types. In oth..."
Few games invite self-parody from first impressions as readily as Wally Bear and the NO Gang. You may have bad or frustrating games, such as Hydlide or Action 52, didactic efforts with a legitimate streak of imagination such as Bible Adventures, or funny ones aware they're a bit simple. But a bear on his skateboard, out to convince other animals with lower self-esteem(their words) that drugs and gangs are a bad idea seems naive. Or perhaps it's just trying to market itself to naive types. In other words, folks you could sucker into believing NES's are evil and they should just sit down and play Parcheesi or read Enid Blyton instead. Plus, the No gang? What the heck symbol do they flash anyway? And why does Wally look like a bulldog and have his stupid NO cap tilted to the side?
We don't ever find out, given that the game's really just about Wally skateboarding across several frequently looping screens, to track down his friends who want to join a bad gang or--no joke--disappeared after meeting a stranger in a car who offered them candy. There's another scene where Wally goes to rescue a stolen radio. You can figure this out from the painful dialogue, because the white houses and picket fences above-ground and the subways below all loop regularly. ''It's okay to be yourself,'' Wally encourages a drug-tempted friend amidst this bland conformism. That's easy for you to say, Wally. You're about the only one in this whole mess without a moronically alliterative name. Then the next platforming scene begins. The trick is to go painfully slowly, so birds don't charge in from the right and dive-bomb you, although if you're on the ground you can just cringe and the birds pass harmlessly through. For weapons you can collect up to two pizzas at once that you can chuck at piggish bulldogs that shield themselves with inadvertent physical humor by fire hydrants you must jump over and rats that lob bombs which obey the law of gravity only grudgingly.
Wally Bear really does wind up insultingly easy for the first few levels. The biggest confusion may be which window-sills, fences, or roof gutters you can jump on and which you fall through. The graphics won't be much help. When you finally move to the sewers, though, what you don't know turns from annoying to dangerous. There you have narrow ledges, and Wally's skateboard controls maddeningly in mid-air. Maybe the whole deal has been thought out beyond just saying ''No'' by presenting how easy it is to say no when you're a prepubescent who doesn't know any druggies, but when drugs come in your life they're hard to resist, but more likely the game just found a different way to suck when they changed the enemies and terrain. The increase in difficulty once you need to start jumping over lethal water is capped only by the anonymous exits, nested among many identical fakes, in a parking garage or a castle. You have to go running around searching for the right door out. Of course, for the first bit, there's a bright flashing arrow pointing to the only way to leave the level.
It's not too hard to figure what to do, but dammit, if a game gives simple advice and starts out stupid, at some point I just don't WANT a challenge like that. It makes me feel like an addled junkie searching around in the trash, too fuddled to recognize when what he wants turns up. On the last level, the cheesy heads shooting out missiles as you jump among posts in the water seem to be in the wrong stupid alternate universe. I wanted a confrontation with memorably bad dialogue. Instead, I got a lousy action movie trying to pretend it's profound with an indeterminate ending when the writers just didn't know how to tie things up. Sans action.
Of course in a game like Wally Bear the bad guys frequently turn out more interesting than the good guys. We can't fully test that theory, because the anti-drug crowd consists of a bunch of insecure preteens, but the ghetto has all manner of broken windows and different levelled high-rises where rats randomly appear at windows and drop small radioactive packets. The sewers have a psychedelic color scheme of the sort my art teacher berated me for in second grade, and at least they don't shake like the subway cars early on, where lights in the background seemed to be obstacles because there wasn't much else to avoid. And the recurring background song would be an appropriate lullaby for a music box with a diorama hanging from it. It could enthrall three month olds into wishing they could stunt their growth and stay that way, I'm sure.
Overall, Wally Bear reflects most excellently the tao of its anti-drug message. ''Just Say No'' embodies the game's oversimplicity brilliantly, and it's as effective. Yet I frequently found myself on the verge of following that advice. I just couldn't cut out the leading ''Oh'' as I plowed through. Still Wally Bear proves in its own special way that some seemingly harmless and fun illegal activities have diminishing returns. Yes, after you download your favorite ROMs, there's that superhuman feeling of solving games you couldn't beat on your NES. Then as you come back down to earth, you swear you'll get back to work and stuff, but you come back, the next time picking away at less satisfying games, trying out bad ones ironically--or so you think--until you start scraping the bottom. Eventually you'll be slumming with games like Wally Bear. Trust me. I speak from experience.
Community review by aschultz (June 15, 2004)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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