in Profiles | 01 JAN 98
Featured in
Issue 38

Parappa The Rapper, Sony Computer Entertainment; Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, Oddworld Inhabitants / GT

Someone was paying attention when it was noted that video games have a revenue potential exceeding that of feature films...

in Profiles | 01 JAN 98

Someone was paying attention when it was noted that video games have a revenue potential exceeding that of feature films, but with much lower overheads. Of course Nintendo has known this since its creation of the first Famicom. Like the Walt Disney Company, Nintendo has positioned itself as a provider of family entertainment. When video games were first and foremost children's Christmas gifts this was a wise and profitable strategy. But as we kids of Atari, Odyssey, Intellivision and Colecovision grew up we didn't abandon our thumb twitching tendencies. The average age of video game consumers has been rising steadily and has now surpassed the minimum age for the draft (although the average gamer still can't legally drink in most US states). Sony has wisely stepped into this market with the aggressively sexy PlayStation, which doubles as an audio CD player, while Nintendo stubbornly sticks to a more graphically advanced yet expensive cartridge-based system. The PlayStation has a faithful cadre of geeks who discuss game strategies in a myriad of chat rooms across the worldwide snore. While many of these games are typically macho and aggressive - featuring steroid chomping Rambos carrying enough artillery to fight a one-man Desert Storm with similarly over-inflated kill rates - game designers have begun to tweak this concept. This serves both the greater cause of getting chicks to spend scratch on games and breaks the monotony of repetition. Of course, boys being boys, the first popular character to emerge from this enlightened mode of thought was Tomb Raider's Lara Croft, the millionairess adventuress with a lot more T than A (when are more black people going to design games?). Enlightenment will have to wait.

There is joy in repetition, but unfortunately the video game nation has taken this maxim beyond the limit. There are perhaps only six genres of games: the puzzle game (Tetris, etc.), shooters (Doom, etc.), fighting games (Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, etc.), simulators (anything with Sim in the title), adventure games (D&D, etc.) and the omnipresent run-around-a-maze-jumping-and-throwing-things games (Mario, etc.). Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, the first in a planned 'Quintology' of games, is undoubtedly a stunning variation of the last genre. Yet, lo and behold, dress it up in a purple sequinned tuxedo and it is still a running-jumping game. That its designers, Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna, are former film producers shows in the incredibly lush background details and character animation. The narrative simply proves the producers to be from California. As Abe you become a slave in a world run by a giant food processing chain that has exhausted most of the food supply on your planet and is now looking to market and package their next tasty dish: your people. You escape and save your fellow Mudokons by running, jumping, chatting and chanting (yes, I said chanting!). The New Age element is true to form in that as long as you chant and free your people you're still spiritually pure enough to kill everything else that moves. As long as you save at least 50% of the Mudokons you get to be rescued and be witness to thousands of others like you (to whom a Marxist uprising never seemed to have occurred). Save under 50% and you're (ewww) sausage. Oddworld must be a thinly veiled metaphor for California.

Japanese game designers have slightly different concerns from most Euro and American designers. Their maxim seems to be 'above all make it cute'. And cute it is. Sony's Parappa The Rapper is a game without a genre, combining elements of puzzle, sim and adventure. You play a hip hop pooch, Parappa (replete with baggy pants, fresh sneaks, two googly eyes and a microphone), rapping your heart away to win the eye of your amour, Sunny Funny, a sunflower who's got it going on. After rapping your way through various scenarios and mishaps, you eventually get to get freaky with Sunny. With an innovative look that makes all the characters resemble walking, talking cut-outs, and a unique control system whereby you must mimic the raps of varied characters to earn the title of King Rapper, this game is miles beyond any previous attempts at freshness. It was never a big hit Stateside and this is absolutely due to the fact that in order to rap along, one must precisely match the beats of whatever characters are rapping. Euro and Asian pop music is built on bouncy melodies which never stray from the rhythm. American music, since Billie Holiday, is always more syncopated and about stepping behind the rhythm. At least that's the excuse I'm sticking with. Anyway,

I'm sure Mel B, a.k.a. Scary Spice, learned all of her rhyming skillz from Parappa. Perhaps it will be proved in the sequel.