Format reviewed: NES/Famicom
Publisher: Jaleco Ltd.
Developer: Jaleco Ltd.
Submitted by: Lee Tatlock
Being a platform game back in the good old 8-bit era must have been a tough old gig. With so much competition it must have been easy to get lost in the crowd, unless of course you where one of the Marios or Sonics with your place in the upper echelons of every top ten list from here to Guatemala already guaranteed. Nowadays platform games are mostly looked upon with distain, and unless they’re heavy on the action and feature a guy with muscles bigger than your little brother they are usually relegated to the ‘kiddie fare’ corner and ignored (Mario Galaxy 2 is the exception of the moment). However Wii’s roster of Virtual Console platformers belies the modern trends of the genre and that leads me to one conclusion: the fans are still out there and they still want some good old run and jump action. So with VC doing its bit and collectors still collecting I am doing my part to aid the cause by reviewing a lesser known examples of the genus, namely, Jaleco’s Whomp ‘Em.
This may seem like a bit of a side note, and I suppose it is but this is my review so there, but I always associate the name ‘Jaleco’ with the word ‘crap’ and having a look at the games they’ve had a hand in this probably totally unfair, but about the time I started associating certain companies with signs of a games quality I remember playing Rival Turf…bad times, man *shudder*. I’ll never forget the fervour with which the game spouted the name ‘Jaleco!’ in it’s rough digitised manner before plunging me head first into a filthy latrine of jerky action and some of the fruitiest enemies this side of fruity the fruit bat’s big fruity fightfest. Anyhoo, let’s move on from that dark childhood trauma and focus on Whomp ‘Em.
Assuming the role of a little Native American warrior you must traverse six worlds of danger and strangely Japanesque looking enemies in a bid to look for sacred totems. Yup it’s as loose as a story can get and the real interest lies in the actual production of the title rather than its “story”. As I’ve already mentioned there seems to be some sort of cultural mix up as far as enemy and protagonist are concerned, but back in the day it was commonplace for games from the east to get a rehashing for western gamers in an attempt to appease their intended audience's total idiocy (as it was perceived by the developer). Games where a simpler affair back when and as such their creators also assumed that the people who played them where on much the same remedial level, nowadays we’re treated to deep and interesting storylines and characters with believability and development but in the early 90’s it was assumed we where bog headed cavemen and should be treated as such. So in this fashion Whomp ‘Em is a corruption of the gaming interpretation of Wu Cheng'en’s Journey to the West; Saiyuuki World 2: Tenjoukai No Majin. So wiping the vision of Monkey away and replacing him with a brave and it’s job done, apparently.
Brandishing a spear and fighting various spirits and demons you will run jump and stab your way to glory across highly imaginative worlds such as Fire Test, Ice Ritual and Water Test….so that’s a burny level a slippery level and a swimmy level then. Yeah so it’s not the most inventive title of them all but the levels are pulled off with some real graphical panache and are a joy to traverse. The controls are more than adequate. Soaring Eagle, our hero, is a nimble little chap and has a decent range of attack and is also able to point his spear downwards as he dive-bombs an enemy from above. Collectables come in the form of headdresses that make you invincible for a short while, spear heads that make you more powerful, potions that replenish your health when you’ve depleted your reserves and hearts that fill up your dwindling health. Again it’s all familiar territory and this is really one of the games main downfalls, it’s pretty, it’s lovely to control, it’s full of character (as mixed up as it may be) but it’s also short, very short and easier than it has right to be – combine this with its derivative nature and unfortunately you’re looking at a game that could have been so much more. Enemies, even little bouncing mushrooms, can take a good couple of hits and bosses can snatch away your precious potions but it’s just not enough to stop you blitzing the entire game in less than a couple of hours.
So in conclusion if you can get past fighting Oni and passing by the Pillars of Heaven that have somehow been transported from eastern myth to the American wilderness you will find a really pleasing platform romp. Unfortunately though it’s just far too derivative and ludicrously short to warrant anything more than a brief encounter which is a real shame because it’s solid foundations could have held up a decent future franchise.