Wolfchild (SNES) review
"Child of a lesser God"
I worried that I've been playing too many bad games lately. I looked at the scores for the games I've reviewed this year so far, and they've been overwhelmingly below average. And so, with that information tucked away, I decided to play Wolfchild, a game so dull, and literally and figuratively colourless, that the most remarkable thing about it is the mind-bending fact it managed to see release on as many platforms as it did (from the Amiga original, to this Super NES version and every Sega console of that era).
As it happens, the evil Chimera organization is running amok, unleashing monsters upon the world, and only Saul (that's you), who has managed to turn himself into a wolf-human hybrid, is capable of putting the bad guys responsible and their experimental spawn in the dirt. I remember some of the videogame media of the day bashing Wolfchild for having sleep-inducing gameplay -- and they were right -- but they also suggested that it looked and sounded great. And they were wrong.
Wolfchild is a blandly realized game in every sense. Colours looked washed out, enemies are lame and uninspired. To be clear, I'm not comparing the game's aesthetic to games of today. I know what awesome looked and sounded like back in '92-93--I was around! Guess what else was? Actraiser 2. And I chose Actraiser 2 because it wasn't particularly celebrated in its day -- it was considered a disappointment compared to the original, and it was thought to be too slow and clunky and hard. But man did it look and sound good.
And I'm a sucker for this simple formula! The five-level, side-scrolling adventure, with cool power ups (what's cooler than turning into a wolf!), and a bad ass hero. Saul has grey He-Man hair and rocks what looks to be a vest with no shirt on underneath (bad ass!). He pumps his fist to the heavens when he's beaten a level. Those levels start off a bit boring and short (outside of a futuristic facility, some odd jungle area), but with time, they become slightly more boring, and much longer. Level three features a confluence of grey-beige blocks, everywhere. The foreground and the background--everywhere. Truly, this is where grey and beige blocks come to hang out. The level offers multiple paths and just seems to go on forever, before mercifully ending with that infamous old school boss type: where regular bad guys come in streams for a predetermined period of time.
Stage four is one of the better looking areas--you're inside a facility taking on abominations with Predator-heads. There is even a part where you ride up a huge elevator which recalls much better sequences in the Shinobi series, and which made me want to stop playing this game in order to revisit Shadow Dancer, but for some reason, the self-flagellation had to continue. I had to see this through. Just so you know, the boss of this level is a lobster who rises slowly out of a green Super Mario Bros style pipe, while you dodge his shots below in what could best be described as a skateboarding style half pipe. Were the developers really into pipes? Were they trolling us? Were they hitting the pipe? Who can know.
Finally, stage five introduces us to bronze blocks this time, spike floors and walls to walk through, moving platforms, and rhinoceros-head cyborgs. The end is in sight and it couldn't have come sooner. And again, it's not because Wolfchild is objectively bad, or broken. It just does the bare minimum, and without any flair, save Saul's personal style. There is no evidence of an investment into being singular, or of effort to be remembered. Sadly, the weakest bits aren't even bad enough to qualify as memorably bad kitsch; the whole thing provides a hungry gamer all the satisfaction of lukewarm tap water. If you're looking to dive into the Super NES catalog of side-scrolling action adventures, you'd do well to look literally anywhere else.
Staff review by Marc Golding (April 26, 2020)
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