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Taz in Escape from Mars (Genesis) artwork

Taz in Escape from Mars (Genesis) review

"Out of all the classic cartoon characters, The Tasmanian Devil is arguably one of the more forgettable. The fact that you could never understand what the lil' bugger was saying meant that he didn't convey quite as much character as old favourites like Bugs or Daffy. That isn't to say that people haven't heard of, or wouldn't recognise, Taz, just that as a cartoon character, he's slightly more pants than many others. Still, as I'm sure most games developers have written on their wall as a mantra ..."

Out of all the classic cartoon characters, The Tasmanian Devil is arguably one of the more forgettable. The fact that you could never understand what the lil' bugger was saying meant that he didn't convey quite as much character as old favourites like Bugs or Daffy. That isn't to say that people haven't heard of, or wouldn't recognise, Taz, just that as a cartoon character, he's slightly more pants than many others. Still, as I'm sure most games developers have written on their wall as a mantra to be repeated daily, ' a license is a license is a license.' And so, going boldly where pretty much every other animated television star has gone many times before, Taz crashes headfirst into his second platform outing for the Sega Mega Drive. Crivens!

The plot appears to have been lifted straight out of one of the cartoons - Marvin The Martian is up to his usual skulduggery, and has kidnapped Taz, placing him in his zoo on Mars. The absolute bounder! Still, he made a schoolboy error, and placed Taz in a cell with a loose wall, the muppet. Wasting no time, Taz breaks out of his cage and, you guessed it, proceeds to quite literally escape from Mars.

The plot is pretty standard platform game fare really - the fact that Taz is on the run, hitching rides to other planets in packing crates in an attempt to get home, is basically just an excuse to send the whirling dervish to many varied locales. Starting off in the delightfully wacky zoo, Taz proceeds to visit Mole World, and to the weird wonders of Planet X. However, as the game goes on the developers' inspiration seemed to fade somewhat, and they start to offer up the more predictable settings, such as Mexico (right in time for a showdown or two with Yosemite Sam, and to do a bit of sightseeing - perhaps taking in a bull fight for example) and of course the platform game staple - the haunted house, amongst others. As far as the story side of the game goes, there really is little here to capture your attention or your imagination - indeed you are shown literally all the plot you'll need in the game in an opening movie sequence lasting all of thirty seconds.

Still, in games of this ilk the plot plays second fiddle to the platforming action, which, in this case, is an absolute treat. The level design in Escape From Mars is actually very impressive, with stages often becoming very labyrinthine and complex, with many secret areas to discover, and pleasantly large. Each location Taz visits is split into a number of separate stages, one of which will be a boss fight. The sort of challenge on display in the stages is quite varied, too. One early example of a stage that breaks with the platform action is the second Mole World level, which sees Taz being chased through a mine by a huge piece of mining machinery - one wrong move and Taz will be sliced and, most likely, diced, so it becomes a frantic pursuit, with pixel perfect timing and a good memory of what lies ahead being the order of the day if you are to survive. The boss fights are pretty varied, too - ranging from weird and wonderful (if a little too carnivorous for my taste) space creatures to characters that you may recognise from the cartoon universe, they manage to successfully avoid falling into the trap of being just a bigger version of the sort of enemy you face during the rest of the level.

Taz has several moves available to aid him in his quest, from the standard what-you-would-expect spin moves to the more outlandish actions. The spin is the main special move that Taz has to play with here - you can not only use it to dispatch enemies, but also to break walls, ricochet between walls to ascend to higher areas of the level, and even, with enough momentum, speed up vertical walls, carrying on to spin across the ceiling. Not only that, but the spin can also be used to burrow through soft soil to underground areas. But then, this is a Taz game, so it would be generally accepted that these moves would feature. Where the imagination of the developers really kicked in was in the way various pickups could affect Taz. In the cartoons the big furball had a rather healthy appetite, guzzling everything in his path like Dawn French at an all you can eat buffet, and things are much the same here. If Taz eats a box of rocks, he can spit the contents out like bullets. If he chows downs of a can of petrol he can breathe fire for a time, if he ingests potions (or travels through special points in the level) he can become Mini-Taz - a character pretty much useless in terms of jumping and attacking, but able to squeeze through small gaps, or Jumbo-Taz, who can walk straight through loose walls and trample enemies underfoot like King Kong with a hangover, but who is less than limber when it comes to navigating the twists and turns of the stages. In addition to these status-changing treats, there are other goodies scattered throughout the levels, although these are more what you'd expect. There are the usual cakes, fruit, chickens and other such foodstuffs dotted about to replenish your health, and extra lives and extra continues are planted around rather too liberally for my liking - in terms of powerups, this game does it's best to ensure that you'll finish the game within a few days of picking it up at best. Not all items are good, though, many can actually hurt Taz. For instance, on occasion Taz may happen across a cake decorated not by candles, but by a lit stick of dynamite. If, in his Cartman-like hunger, he scoffs it down regardless, the dynamite will explode, leaving Taz a blackened husk. Gutted! It's little moments like this that really help the cartoon-y atmosphere of the game, and raise this game just a little bit above the standard platform fare.

Presentation wise this game really does push the boat out in attempting to make the game feel as if you're playing a cartoon. While the 16-bit Mega Drive obviously can't compare with the television show, the game still has an authentic Taz and co. feel. The colours are bright and vibrant, the backgrounds pretty lavishly detailed, and the sprites chunky and satisfying. Taz in particular is a fantastically well animated sprite - his movements, and the way he is hunched over as he walks, are so reminiscent of the cartoon shows that it borders on being spooky. The way he jumps back in shock when electrocuted looks rather awkward, but other than that the developers really have got his image spot on. The different settings all look quite distinct, too, giving the game quite a polished appearance. It's not just the backgrounds that separate the worlds, though - real effort has been put in to making sure each new locale has it's own unique looking brand of enemy - as such while there is a veritable menagerie of brightly-coloured alien beasties waiting to trample Taz into space paste in the Zoo levels, the Molemen of Mole World (your next port of call) are presented in a slightly faded-out colour scheme that not only suits the design for their planet, which is presented as a desert world that has been decimated by mining procedures, but also creates a clear distinction from the previous assortment of enemies.

The sound is not quite as well-presented, though. While on a whole the music is very apt for the various settings, with the occasional tune still being memorable today, there are a few instances when the music is just, well, wrong. Taking the first boss fight as an example - Taz is ushered down a corridor before being sealed in a vast chamber. A powerful ominous riff starts up as a huge mutant elephant-type creature appears out of the shadows, and then... well, then starts a tune that is more reminiscent of Krusty the Klown than any classic boss battles - to say that the developers hit a bit wide of the mark with the circus-style tune here is an understatement. It saps whatever tension may have been building up as the boss enters right away, and makes the situation more comical than you imagine they intended. Still, on the whole the tunes are worthy, and the sound effects are above average, so this isn't a complete aural assault.

Overall, this game is more than you'd expect from a cartoon-licensed platform game. Genuine care seems to have gone in to making sure that it really feels like you are controlling Taz as opposed to just any old cartoon character, both in the moves on display (which despite their relative complexity can be pulled off with no real effort on the Mega Drive controller) and in the graphical presentation of the game. Unfortunately the developers appeared to run out of steam about halfway through the game, as the levels became more your standard fare and started to display less of the imagination on offer at the start. Consequently, despite the pretty easy standard of the title, finishing the game can become difficult as some of the levels start to feel like a chore. Still, the last few stages offer some redemption, and the brilliance of the early levels carries it through, but the game will have to live with being merely an above average platformer, rather than the great platformer that it initially promised to be.

tomclark's avatar
Community review by tomclark (March 07, 2004)

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