"If the first few stages are frantic, the ones that follow are downright overwhelming. Soon you’ll find yourself weaving down a raging river as hippo heads and rocks threaten to knock you into the soup. Soon you’ll find yourself careening wildly through a desert, dodging scorpion venom and snakes and rocks that all conspire to knock you into pits. And those are just the easy parts."
It’s best not to think about the plot elements in Thrilla’s Surfari, the unlikely follow-up to T & C Surf Designs. Contemplate the storyboard for long at all and you’ll find yourself asking yourself how a hairy ape can be dating a bodacious babe, why a demon even cares that she exists, and why he sends a witch doctor to bring her to him as a sacrifice. Like I said, it’s not good to think on such matters. All you really need to know is that Thrilla’s quest to retrieve his girl of choice is one of the oddest little treats the NES ever saw.
Wazula and Thrilla have come a long way from the day they came together to compete with two other individuals in the first (more ordinary) game in the franchise. Thrilla can now surf somewhat competently, for example. And he can also ride sharks, though not in the same stages. When he must, he can even throw coconuts at robotic scorpions. Still, you shouldn’t mistake these new moves for a huge jump in the way the games work. At the end of the day, you’re still roadkill if you hit the wrong object.
There are plenty of those objects to hit, too. The first stages are filled with small logs strewn across the jungle path. As you weave between them and jump over bottomless pits, then hit ramps that launch you into the air and an uncertain future, it will be all you can do to reach the end of the stage in one piece. Oversized insects, scorpions, natives and more can make the going difficult, too. They chip away at your life meter if you collide with them, but a greater threat is the possibility that as you reel from a blow, you’ll glide right into a nearby pit and lose an actual life.
Fortunately, at least early on, lives are rather plentiful. Each stage plays host to an assortment of coconut shells, usually placed dangerously close to the edge of a pit, a log, or a barrier that will cause you to take damage on the rebound. When you reach the end of a particular stage, each shell you have gathered is one more chance at the classic ‘shell game.’ Each time you guess properly, you gain an extra chance at saving your main squeeze.
You’ll need those lives as the game wears on. If the first few stages are frantic, the ones that follow are downright overwhelming. Soon you’ll find yourself weaving down a raging river as hippo heads and rocks threaten to knock you into the soup. Soon you’ll find yourself careening wildly through a desert, dodging scorpion venom and snakes and rocks that all conspire to knock you into pits. And those are just the easy parts.
More challenging areas certainly lie ahead, provided you can get past the occasional boss encounter. You’ll know you’re in the middle of these because the stages have clever names before them. I already mentioned the giant scorpion, but he’s nothing compared to a massive shark that takes you on at the ocean’s depths. As toilets and appliances blast past you, it will be all you can do to hold onto your own shark fin and return shots at your razor-toothed nemesis.
Of course, the worst of those encounters happens more than halfway through the game. And when it’s over, all you have to worry about is surviving a back-breaking trip through more of the fearsome jungle that opens up the game.
Unfortunately, the game is pretty short. There are around seven actual stages, and you can warp through a portion of them if you know what you’re doing. The end result is that you’re playing through a lot of the same areas repeatedly as you move closer to completing the game. It doesn’t matter that you get a bit further most every time you play. Instead, you’ll likely be thinking that the game would be better if it were just the tiniest bit simpler. Even the atmospheric visuals and bouncy jungle music aren’t enough to keep you interested the fifth time you fall into the same stupid pit and realize you have to play through fifteen of the same old levels for another chance to die yet again.
With that said, it’s not really possible to hate Thrilla’s Surfari for any of it. The game is just unique enough that you’ll be glad for the opportunity to experience it. It’s just challenging enough that those with time will generally be happy to make one more attempt to rescue Barbi Bikini. And just how did she get that provocative last name? Beat the game and find out!
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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 26, 2005)
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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