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Cheetahmen II (NES) artwork

Cheetahmen II (NES) review


"Somewhere in the U.S. in 1992, a team worked on this game. They got together and brain stormed to come up with a story and some gameplay elements, and then they programmed it. They were working for money to feed themselves, their families, and to pay rents and mortgages, like any other American. Many things are forgivable when they are humanized, especially things that don’t ultimately decide your fate, like a videogame for example. One can imagine the time constraints, the difficult editing..."



Somewhere in the U.S. in 1992, a team worked on this game. They got together and brain stormed to come up with a story and some gameplay elements, and then they programmed it. They were working for money to feed themselves, their families, and to pay rents and mortgages, like any other American. Many things are forgivable when they are humanized, especially things that don’t ultimately decide your fate, like a videogame for example. One can imagine the time constraints, the difficult editing decisions, the technical difficulty of sorting out bugs, as well as the long hours that go into the whole process. However, I am having difficulty forgiving the development team that worked on this game. The only consolation is that it never had a normal release or an ad-campaign to trick kids into getting their parents to buy this pitiless mistake.

Cheetahmen II obviously had a tiny development period. Someone probably just told the development team to make a random game, while the publishing company execs tied up loose ends and salvaged pennies from their dying company before disappearing from the U.S., shafting the development team, the venture capitalists who had invested in "the next ninja turtles," and the IRS in the process. Somehow 1,500 copies of the game were printed and shipped to a warehouse, where they sat for the next five years. Some guy eventually found them and gave the game an impromptu release. I feel sick imagining the finder smiling at some poor collector, while he handed him syphilis in cartridge form in exchange for his hard-earned money.

In case you didn’t decipher it by now, Cheetahmen II is a broken and incomplete game. You can’t pass the second level without cheating. There are two good things about this game: the music and the fact that its awfulness leads one to imagine ridiculous, but entertaining contexts under which the game was developed.

Unfortunately for it, games are rated by the entertainment they directly provide, rather than the entertainment they indirectly cause. I had been meaning to check the game out for a while based on people’s occasional quips about its infamously poor quality. Thanks to the game becoming a meme on a Japanese video streaming site sometime during the past week, I was reminded of its existence.

Cheetahmen II has a pretty standard NES start screen, but the concentrated failure starts pouring in during the intro, which is about ten sentences long but still manages to contain several simple spelling and grammatical errors. The story is your typical cartoon action hero fare--an evil doctor has created a super ape to kill the Cheetahmen. I’m not sure why. They seem like nice enough guys, but the doctor and his ape really hate them. Usually the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I’m not here to pass judgment on either party, but I’m guessing that the build up is all in Cheetahmen I. Fans of the first title in the series will probably get the most enjoyment out of the story, as it is clearly geared towards them. Yeah, that’s the ticket. While that in itself would be a bit of a nuisance in games nowadays, the gameplay prevents me from giving a second thought to the tacked on story.

The first stage takes place in some kind of death park. I think. There’s some greenery, a stone walkway, some wood poles, as well as some skulls, evil small animals, and invisible ninjas. Taking all that into account, my best guess is that it’s a death park, though it's just as possible that it's some kind of School of the Americas for woodland creatures. The latter gives credence to the fact that the enemies are professionally trained killers. Really, they must be experienced to be believed-- they attack by running into you and that kills them too, so they clearly just don’t give a damn about life. Those are the worst kinds of enemies to face in the heat of battle. In stage one, you must face an onslaught of parrots, cute dogs, snakes, bugs, and the outline of what looks like a ninja. Now, you would think the nearly invisible ninja would be the most dangerous, but you would be wrong--he just twitches back and forth in place while you confidently fire upon him. He may even be an innocent bystander. It’s the animals that are ruthless. They are as brilliant as they are deadly--they’ll attack you in formations that you give you about a 1% chance of escaping without getting hit. That 1% is if the game glitches and they pass right through you. Gravity is also a formidable enemy--if you jump back to the main floor from certain airborne blocks, you can fall far enough to die. I’m talking about a regular jump off of blocks that are extremely low to the ground for a NES platformer.

So I passed stage one miraculously. Suddenly, at the beginning of my third run though the same strip of obstacles and enemies, the screen said “stage 2” and before I knew it, I was in the festering hellhole known as “stage 2.” I guess it’s just deeper into the death park. Two new foes are introduced in this level--the happy lizard (the invisible ninja’s competent replacement) and the mini-tornado. These guys, along with smarter and faster bugs, cute dogs, parrots, and snakes, will take your remaining lives swiftly and without remorse. There is no way you’ll survive 30 seconds of solid progression in this level without cheating. What was once a fairly hectic onslaught of foes is now an army of organized, passionate kamikazes who just want to kill the Cheetahman. At this point in the game, it became clear to me that the Cheetahmen screwed up enough to piss off these not-so-disagreeable enemies in a major way. It also occurred to me that woodland creatures were fighting so hard for the doctor and the super ape that maybe they weren’t the bad guys after all. (And why would I trust a narrator who can’t even spell the title of the game correctly anyway?) The Cheetahmen have the burden of proof in this story and as far as I'm concerned, they’re just using my controller skills to execute their unknown will. I refuse to contribute to their plot any longer.

It's not the fact that I might be controlling the true bad guy that bothered me though. It's the fact that the controls are not responsive in the least and the gameplay fails to do anything correctly, despite consisting of only the most rudimentary gameplay elements a NES game can have: walking and shooting. The main problems are that you can't duck and you can't aim. There are a few consequences for this. First, flying enemies can't be shot or ducked, only avoided if they happen to fly overhead or if there's a notch in the ground to drop in. Sometimes you don't have the option to escape a hit. Next, barring the occasional tall enemy, ground enemies can only be jumped over and not shot. Often times, they pop out of thin air and give you about a split second to react. This also results in some cheap hits on you. Finally, ground enemies and flying enemies often attack in pairs, so that's a default hit on you no matter what--since you can't hit, duck, or jump over either one. The cheetahman can only take about five shots before death, so the gameplay collapses in on itself quickly. If you're lucky enough to pass stage one, stage two will have no problem finishing the job.

A few notes about the production values of the game: the Cheetahman you control has four frames of animation. Two for walking, two for shooting his cheetah crossbow. Sometimes the shooting animation doesn’t happen and the little black arrows just shoot from his chest. The graphics are notably horrible for a NES game made in 1992 and slowdown occurs frequently. There are glitches all over the place. Also, stage one has only one channel for sound. There are two actual sound effects in the stage, and the music stops completely to play them. One is the dull, quiet “bizshhh” that happens when you hit an enemy or get hit. Another one is a toneless “bling.” It happens when you hit a certain block. An item pops out of this block but disappears after literally one second. I tried several times to get it--you can't because the block is too high up to jump on. Stage two introduces the muddled “ting” sound. It happens every time you jump and doesn’t interrupt the music. That's about all there is to say about Cheetahmen II's production values. All in all, this would have to be, without a doubt, the weakest effort I've seen in a game considered for commercial release. It's a close call, but I think ET on the 2600 might be more playable.

Finally, I leave you with my one real compliment for the game. The background music is awesome. It’s playing in my head as I type and has been playing in my head ever since I put the game down about two hours ago. Yes, everything about the game completely sucks, but the music programmer did his job. He did it the first day. He then went home, opened a cold beer to congratulate himself, and smiled knowing he could trust that the rest of the team would uphold their end of the bargain. They didn’t. And that makes him look bad. I guess the moral is that if you decide to play this game, say a prayer for the poor music programmer whose talent had to be buried deeply in this shred of completely unforgivable programming code.

Rating: 1/10

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Community review by apossum (November 04, 2007)

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