Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Video Game Review: Action 52

Those of you who are up on your video game lore may have heard of a little game from the NES days called Action 52. For those of you who haven't, or for those of you who have but may not know everything there is to know about it, a little backstory. According to the game's creator, Vince Perri, he was inspired when his son brought home an illegal NES cartridge from Taiwan, which contained bootleg copies of 40 different games. Seeing how popular that cartridge became with the children of his neighborhood Vince decided that he could do the same thing legally and ten times better at that. With his friend, Raul Gomila, he founded Active Enterprises, a development company created for the sole purpose of developing and publishing Action 52, which Vince believed would be the ultimate video game.

Action 52 was nothing if not ambitious. Vince envisioned an ensemble of amazing platformers, action-packed shooting games, and diabolical puzzles. The feature game of the collection would be The Cheetahmen, a game that was half Battletoads and half Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Cheetahmen would become the crowning jewel of Vince's multimedia empire, with plans for comic books, action figures, and even a Saturday morning cartoon show which would be, in Vince's own words, "Disney quality." When all was said and done, Action 52 debuted in stores for $199 USD, an unprecedented price for a video game. Still, if the games on the collection lived up to Vince's vision, 200 dollars would be a bargain, right?

Unfortunately for Action 52, Vince Perri had far more ambition than interest. He put the absolute least amount of effort and resources into the project that he could. Instead of proven game designers he hired on college students, some still in their first year, and paid them next to nothing for their work. Most of the games ended up as carbon copies of other games on the collection, especially the puzzle games, Jigsaw and Bits And Pieces, which went from a jigsaw puzzle game and a Tetris clone, respectively, to generic platformer games before finally being dummied out entirely, crashing the game if the player tried to select them. All of the games ended up riddled with glitches and gameplay problems, both beause of the inexperience of the coders and because Vince Perri refused to allow beta testing, since he wanted the game released as soon as possible.

Just how bad were the glitches? One of the games on the collection was a platformer called Ooze. Intended to be the hardest game ever made, Vince Perri made the challenge that anyone who made it past Ooze's fifth and final level could send in a special code to be entered for a drawing to win $104,000 USD (or 52 x 2000). It turned out Vince was right about the game being impossible to beat, but only because of a glitch that caused the player's NES console to crash at the end of level 2. Every game on the anthology is about the same, or worse. In some games enemies flicker, or even become invisible altogether. In others, the enemy AI will get stuck in areas where you have no choice but to get hit by them and die, or an enemy will spawn and then despawn in less than a second. More than a few of the games are impossible to finish, not that it matters anyway since none of them actually has an ending, instead just sending you back to level 1 when you're done. Even the "star game," The Cheetahmen was this bad, only featuring a handful of the planned levels and crashing your console if you used the game's shortcut system to progress further.

Needless to say, Vince Perri's get rich quick scheme detonated in his face. Word of mouth spread about the shitty quality of A52 and that, combined with the nearly $200 price tag, ensured that the game crashed and burned. Vince got enough money from his investors to create a sequel to Action 52 on the Sega Genesis, and he had plans for another on the Super Nintendo, as well as a sequel to The Cheetahmen which would turn it into a full game, but he ran out of money before either game could be completed.

KR Rating: [0] SHOVEL

While that's the end of the story of Vince Perri, it's actually not the end of the story of Action 52. Someone on the internet just couldn't let Action 52 rest in peace, which leads us to my actual reason for doing this review. There is, on the internet, a fan-based remake in the works, called Action 52 OWNS, or just The Action 52 Remake Project. So far, 23 of the 52 games have been remade, and while working versions of the originals would have been fine, they're even more than that, with each being a completely reimagined and remastered version of the original game.

For the next few weeks I'm going to be playing and reviewing the remade games of Action 52 OWNS, explaining how they differ from the originals, and whether they're any good. I intend to continue this until either I've reviewed them all or I get bored, whichever comes first.

Until then, you can find Action 52 OWNS yourself, here.

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