"LarryBoy and the Bad Apple is a game and needed to find some way to challenge players without forcing them into the evils of mindless slaughter. It found the solution to this quandary in the form of a time limit system. You don’t die. Instead, you’re slowed by hazards like errant basketballs (in one early boss encounter that will remind you of Donkey Kong) or vegetables that have given into the Bad Apple’s wicked ways."
The VeggieTales universe is an interesting one. You have a bunch of characters that all look like they belong in a salad, and they’re teaching one another life-affirming lessons in an offbeat sort of way that would make even the most uptight of schoolmarms smile. Judging by the number of CDs, dolls, books and even a movie that are clogging retail outlets, someone is watching them. It was only a matter of time before their first game arrived, and that game is LarryBoy and the Bad Apple.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to the LarryBoy universe than I know. Maybe you have some kids that could fill you in, or maybe you’re so well-versed in the mythos that you can sing “Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” in your sleep. The camp you fall into doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, this is a game and must be judged as such, independent of cute little tomatoes and bespectacled asparagus shoots. The only question you need to ask is this: does the game work? The answer is a rather surprised ‘yes.’ It actually works pretty well.
The gameplay begins in simple form, with Larry at the bottom of a tower. He’s informed by his butler that one of his friends has chosen to play basketball on the roof of a nearby skyscraper. His surprise is understandable, but its presentation humorous. Instead of wondering why the youngster is playing on the roof of a tower, he ponders why someone would choose basketball when it’s football season. This sort of humor is interspersed throughout the levels in a way that will make adult gamers chuckle while the youngsters won’t get the jokes but won’t care. They’re only along for the talking vegetables.
So anyway, Larry is at the bottom of a tower and his goal is to reach the top. The game doesn’t just set you loose. It walks you through each step, in the form of short little levels that force you to grab green lift tickets at their conclusion. Doing so means a little puzzle solving, which is where LarryBoy and the Bad Apple does its job so well. Even as it entertains, it forces the player to think about the best way to attack a situation. As you gain new tools to help you in your adventure, demonstrations give you the clues you need to persevere (if you’re playing through a second time or feel confident that no game about a singing cucumber could challenge you, they can be skipped).
Because everything is presented so intuitively, you’ll almost never wonder what it is that you’re supposed to do next. Perhaps there’s a wide jump you have to make. A quick look around the area shows a grappling hook. Position yourself beneath it and you can swing over to the other side. Or maybe there’s a tomato hanging out near a lever. You need to pull the lever to activate a moving platform, only the minute you turn your back the red little rapscallion turns off the juice. How do you win the day? You turn on the nearby boom box, of course. Your former adversary will start grooving to the music and give you enough time to climb aboard the ledge and onto the next challenge.
Well, it would if the controls weren’t so sluggish. LarryBoy and the Bad Apple at times doesn't feel quite as responsive as it should have. Though the game’s mechanics are surprisingly advanced considering their simple presentation--which often doesn’t include more than a simple backdrop with a lot of crates and gears--they sometimes falter in a frustrating way. Maybe you have to make a leap and you press the button to jump, then fall just short. Or perhaps you try to push a crate and LarryBoy doesn’t respond because he has to first stop and stand still before his animation will let him start with the manual labor.
These annoyances wouldn’t be much to talk about, except LarryBoy and the Bad Apple is a game and needed to find some way to challenge players without forcing them into the evils of mindless slaughter. It found the solution to this quandary in the form of a time limit system. You don’t die. Instead, you’re slowed by hazards like errant basketballs (in one early boss encounter that will remind you of Donkey Kong) or vegetables that have given into the Bad Apple’s wicked ways. There also are timer icons that can either help or aid you in your quest to reach the end of a given zone before your timer ticks down its last second.
Imagine this scenario: you’ve climbed partway up the tower, pumping tunes through a boom box so you could keep the platforms moving a little longer, rolling through a few pipes, maybe grappling over some wide gaps. Then you see the final set of jumps. You rush forward, noting the blocks that will fall away almost the minute you touch them but not caring because you can do this. Then, on that last jump, LarryBoy fumbles. Maybe you don’t press the button quite soon enough or maybe the system just doesn’t register the jump the way you expected. Down you fall to a lower ledge and, though you’re not dead, the effect is the same. Your timer runs empty and you have to retry the stage.
It hardly seems fair, and it isn’t. Still, it’s not like your kids will resort to violence. They’re too busy using their brains to solve puzzles while the written dialogue is telling them about the evils of television and familiar songs are piping through the Game Boy’s speakers in MIDI form. Throw in a few bonus games to break up the monotony (the Breakout clone that has you smash televisions instead of blocks was surprisingly inspired) and you’ve got nice little diversion for your kids on the Sunday morning drive to church. Just make them wear headphones. “The Hairbrush Song” may be a nice little ditty, but it’ll get old long before you stop hearing it from the back seat.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 16, 2006)
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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