Saturday, October 27, 2012

Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday (SNES) Review

Written: October 21st-27th, 2012
Year: 1995 | Developed by: Phoenix Interactive Entertainment | Published by: Sunsoft/Warner Bros. Consumer Products | Distributed by: Acclaim

Warning: There are some spoilers in this review!
As many of you would know from reading some of my previous reviews, I grew with a lot of animated shows when I was younger, and one of the countless shows I grew up watching was none other than Looney Tunes.  The humor from the show is timeless, the characters are charming, and it's just an all around funny show.  Some of my favorite characters from there are Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and of course, Porky Pig, among others.  Years ago, when I was looking up various video games, I stumbled upon Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday for the Super Nintendo console.  I think I first heard of it on Corbie Dillard's excised SUPER-NES website, and I remember being surprised about it.  I knew there were licensed titles based on Bugs Bunny, Taz the Tazmanian Devil, and Daffy Duck, but never one based on Porky Pig.
One of the reasons for that is very simple: this is the only game that stars him as the main protagonist.  Turns out that it was meant to be part of Sunsoft's big line-up of Looney Tunes titles on the SNES (alongside certain notable titles like Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage and Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions), unfortunately due to Sunsoft having faced bankrupty before it came out, they had to hand the release baton to another company.  Because of that, not to mention the fact that it was only released in North America, it saw a low-profile release just in time for Halloween of '95.  Having only read one review on it prior to playing it, I was given a good impression.  So I decided to order a copy from eBay back in 2009, hoping that it would come by Halloween that year; it came a few days later, but no matter.  This game has had a strange effect on me for the past three years, and it's one of the biggest gaming oddities in my collection.  I was planning on reviewing it two years ago, but due to an incident while playing it, the plans fell through.  I wanted to try to review it last year, but for some reason I wasn't motivated to do so.  Now this year, I decided to try again, and this time I'm going to review it for sure.  Is Porky's game good at all, and is it worth getting invested in?  Let's not waste time and find out; after two years in the making (or two years in the planning, rather): this is my review of Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday!  =D  Better late than never, right?
First off, I'd like to point out that I don't know much about the developer of this game, Phoenix Interactive Entertainment, so I don't know what their track record is like nor do I know what other games they were involved in, so I'm just going to judge them by this game alone.  So let's begin!

So Porky Pig's big adventure begins in his home with this short, brief plot synopsis:
That's pretty much the whole plot, basically.  I honestly can't top that, and neither do I have what it takes to explain it in different wording.  Regarding the plot, though: the irony?  Actually, it's a pretty decent plot, as far as platformers go, and much of what happens throughout the game doesn't make sense but it works, both because it's taking place in his subconscious and because it's Looney Tunes.  So by the time you reach the ending, you won't be disappointed and upset to find that the entire game was all a dream...  =)
or was it??  =< [serious face emoticon]
You make the call!

The gameplay's simple and standard, but intuitive and fun all the same.  You guide Porky as he walks, jumps, ducks, climbs ladders, slides on downward slopes, and swings on a chain in each stage.  The main way to attack most enemies is by jumping on top of them, but there are a few times when you'll stumble across an item where you can throw an unlimited array of bouncing rubber balls.  You jump with the B button, you use the weapon (if you have it) with either Y or A buttons, and you take control of the camera with the X button.  Yes, there's a camera button in a 16-bit 2D game.  Not the type where you rotate the scenery, no, but the one where you drag it apart from the main character.  You can drag the camera in any of the eight angles as long as you're holding the respective button, but it never leaves Porky Pig offscreen.  It's a convenient item, as you can see if there's any imminent threat in front of you, behind you, or anywhere around you.  In the game you collect cupcakes and pastries, and from time to time you'll find a heart power-up that will heal your health by one, if you didn't lose any.  Every twenty-five cupcakes will reward you with a heart, and every hundred cupcakes will give you a bonus life.  Each stage is divided into different segments, and once you reach the end you'll face off against a big boss.

One of the first things I noticed about Corbie's review was the screenshots, and one of the first things I noticed about the screenshots was Porky's sprite.  It was huge (at least, on Corbie's screen captures he was), and I thought to myself how was that going to work, and how would he animate.  When I played it for the first time, I was colored surprised.  The visuals faithfully capture the look and feel of the Looney Tunes universe, with some new elements and details in certain areas.  They're not among the best that are seen on Nintendo's great 16-bit power machine, but it comes close.  The foregrounds look just as good as the backgrounds, even though the former is more detailed and at times resemble a cel-shaded look to mirror the classic series, which is nice.  Before I talk about the various areas, I should talk about our hero.

Porky looks really good, he's well-detailed, he's charming, he displays some of the most intricate animation you'll find in an SNES platformer, and he behaves just like he would in the show (well, for the most part).  I love it!  I like the way he animates while walking, even if it bothers me that you only see one arm flail back and forth at that time.  His idle animations when he holds still is cute, his falling animation is funny, and his ducking and sliding animatoins are fluid.  Porky is a fun character to look at in this game, and he even looks mean and serious as he's throwing the ball in such a crisp, solid manner.  Any time you start a stage, Porky will emerge from a puff of smoke, and if Porky dies then he turns into a puff of smoke, only to reappear again from said puff of smoke.  Makes sense, I mean it is his [potential non]dream after all.  This is a minor nitpick of mine, but any time you hold still, he will abruptly and nonchalantly positions himself in the other direction.  I am dead serious!  I don't know what is up with that, and that's always bothered me for years about this game.  Porky faces the proper direction when he's doing all the other actions, even ducking, but Porky will always face the opposite direction when holding still.  So anyime Porky's facing the left, he's truly facing the right.  I mean talk about potentially misleading the gamers.  Oh, and here's another facet of his sprites I should talk about.  His throwing animation is really, really, really good, but if you pause the game at just the right moment, you'll notice that something is way off about one of his frames and quite frankly it looks both weird and awkward.  Are you ready for this?  DUN-DUN-DUUUUN!!!
Holy crap, what happened there?!  A lot of his head is missing, with the back portion being attached to his mid-portion, making it look like his head is detached from his body.  Now, one could argue that it may have been done this way so it would fill in the few seconds of throwing animation you see in the game.  But considering both parts of his head here don't mesh properly, I'm willing to bet that something very wrong occurred when this animation frame was being rendered during the game's development.  Not to mention, it looks rather creepy if you look at it one way.  *Shudders*  But I digress!  Sorry, I do that sometimes.  The enemies look good (though the way they tumble upside down after you jump on them is somewhat funny), and many of the bosses are familiars from the Looney Tunes show, including Yosemite Sam and Mountain Max, looking highly detailed and largely fill up most of the screen when fighting them.  Though as a result, they don't have quite as fluid animation as Porky Pig does, but considering the console's limitations and abilities, I'm okay with that.  The intro and outro sequences with Porky Pig in his bed are well-drawn, and if you look closely during the options and map screen, you'll notice different variations of Porky's head in the background.

The game has a big abundance of atmosphere, and a lot of that is owed to the way the visuals are set up.  Now to talk about the areas themselves.  The beginning forest area looks haunting, and I like how the trees in the backdrop have menacing grimaces, which adds a lot.  There are couple of times in the first stage when Porky is climbing up a tree while remaining in the center of the screen in a similar fashion to the Tower of the Tarolisk in Skyblazer, the third stage towers in Super Ghouls'n Ghosts, and the two tower segments from Mickey's Wild Adventure.  It's a visual treat to look at.  The third stage takes place in Atlantis, and the best parts of this stage take place entirely underwater.  The first part underwater looks great, with a soft color layering wavy effect, the remnants of a sunken ship, and just look at all those bubbles in the background (it doesn't show when in the ship, but outside it looks unbelievable, take my word for it)!  So far it's got naught to do with Atlantis, but once you reach the second part, things change up a little.  You're now in the lost city, with a much bluer color scheme, a feeling of setting foot in a place that hasn't been touched in ages, and the columns and statues look wonderful (in the backdrops you'll even see silhouettes of some of them).  The fourth area pits you in the abandoned mines, a rather barren and desolate place, but more on that later.  The fifth stage brings you to the Alps; well, the first and last portions take place there at least, but throughout the middle you're sent to a dazzling area that doesn't take place in the snow with dice used for platforms and pool balls seen in the sky (albeit in a putrid color choice, in my opinion).

One thing I find fascinating most of all is when Porky Pig is in an interior area in the second and sixth stages.  This is first and foremost a 2D game, with a 2D structure and a view strictly from the sidelines.  But for some reason Phoenix Interactive decided to do something different for the inner areas.  Porky and the enemies are still in 2D, but the rooms and platforms have a somewhat Prince of Persia-esque look and feel to it (which reminds me, I need to play that game again, I enjoyed it a lot), which is weird and amazing at the same time.  I'm used to that perspective type in Prince of Persia, but not as much when it comes to other games.  Each stage has an interlude portion, and there are no enemies at those points, but it does show you a bit of the level and can give an idea of what to expect or what to guess before starting the action.  Case in point, the first stage starts directly in front of Porky's home, but then the action begins immediately in the forest.  The fourth stage begins outside the mines in the middle of the rain, with a bright primary color radiating from the distance.  The fifth stage starts off right next to a big sign with "The Alps" written on it, but then before you know it Mountain Max's foot appears and stomps on the ground, making the earth shake for a second.  I love little details like that.  The map screen inbetween each stage is nicely designed, and I like how it's designed like a pie chart and the different slices have different layouts in them which accurately portray the stages.  For some reason there are a few times when the border on the right side of the screen is bigger than it should be, and during the boss fights a lot of the bottom side is cut off (in case you're wondering why two of my non-cropped screenshots are smaller than the other ones, now you know why).  There is another great aspect in Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday's visual department, but I'll save it for last.

The soundtrack is one of the weakest aspects of the game, and I'm usually almost always positive when it comes to video game music.  At best, it's largely passable fare; at worst, it's largely repetitive fare.  The songs' melodies are very short, with some exceptions.  The songs are not all that memorable, with some exceptions.  And basically it's a soundtrack with a heavily lopsided quality to it.  The choice of instrumentation is interesting to say the least.  I should talk about the songs I like first.  The intro and outro song is charming and likeable, I like how brooding and fitting the initial forest theme song is, the underwater Atlantis themes are soothingly relaxing, the abandoned mines theme gives the respective area some good haunting atmosphere (why the hell it's not in the in-game sound test I'll never know), and the castle theme is perhaps the longest song in the game, and I like how there are points in that song that really build up to make it sound big, ominous, and epic.  The rest of the songs fall flat in terms of melody, or lack thereof.  The second level theme sounds like it comes from a silent movie with a neverending loop, and the initial Alps theme sounds fun but needs some more emphasis and length put to it (which could also be said for the remainder of the songs).  As I said before, it's passable at best, but the worst songs are unbearable due their loud, obnoxious (sometimes heart-attack inducing) quality.  The title and map themes: loud!  The tree portions of the first stage: loud and heart-attack inducing!  The seconds Alps theme: don't even get me started on that song!  It is incredibly loud and obnoxious, with obnoxious instrumentation and loud sound.  This is one of those rare songs that makes me want to yank my ears out if I have listen to it long enough; adding insult to injury, it plays during the credits sequence.  Wonderful.  -_-  The boss themes, while not particularly great, all have different themes, and I like it when platformers have variety in terms of boss themes.  Super Ghouls'n Ghosts did this, Mr. Nutz did this, even Croc: Legend of the Gobbos and Chameleon Twist did not have the same boss theme for most of the experience, which is cool.  Personal preference, though, but I like it.  The point I'm making is that while the soundtrack is not horrible by any means, it is heavily hit and miss.

The sound effects are decent, even if you do not hear much of them; each item has different sound effects, especially the ones for when you collect cupcakes and hearts.  Any time the bosses are defeated, it sounds like a jumbled up Jack in the box or music box.  Porky makes some unintelligible sounds (again, console limitations) while doing his idle animations, though I think any time he dies he says "Dear!"  There is a time when you do hear Porky's voice at the end of the credits when the Looney Tunes theme is heard when he says "Th-Th-That's all folks!"  So at least you hear one memorable soundbyte when playing the game.  So overall the sound aspect is okay.

And now it's time to discuss the game's difficulty.  The game doesn't pose much of a challenge, even on the hardest difficulty setting.  There are six stages, there are power-ups aplenty, and the controls are relatively simple.  Yet oddly enough,  I'm okay with that.  While I do enjoy a game that offers plenty of challenge, I'd be lying if I said I didn't also enjoy a game that's approachable and easy from time to time (it just depends on how it's executed).  The bosses must be defeated by following a certain pattern, but even then they require little effort to be defeated.  There are enough enemies to fill each stage, though sometimes it seems there are more (or less) than are actually needed.  Right, so the easy difficulty starts you off with nine lives and four hearts with not many enemies trying to attack you; in the normal difficulty you've got five lives with a health of four hearts, only this time while the number of enemies is practically the same there are more that will actually try to hurt you; and finally the hard difficulty setting pits Porky against the world with five lives and a health capacity of three with all the enemies trying to attack you.  And yet the game is still easy despite that.  In most stages there are some marked checkpoints which Porky will resume from after he loses a life (unless it's a boss fight in which case you start again there).  I'm not kidding about the overabundance of power-ups, by the way.  For those who find that to be an issue with Kirby's Dream Land 3 (I don't, personally), then I suggest you should check this game out.  From time to time you'll find lots of cupcakes, pastries (for points), lots of hearts to heal you, and there are many lives.  There are a few moments when you have to obtain the blinking cupcakes (in sequential order) for a chance to earn some lives.  The game has to be beaten in one sitting, a trait usually found in many (sometimes) difficult platformers of old, but it's no problem here.  I've beaten it on my first try, and pretty much every time I play it I end up beating it, with two major exceptions: once with that aforementioned glitch earlier in the article, and the other was due to a temporary brownout (don't you just hate those; good thing it's not one of those lengthy games).  I've never once gotten a game over with this game, even during days when I was off, so I have no idea if there are any continues or not.  There isn't really much challenge to be had here, and I dare say that it's so easy that it can be beaten by gamers with less or little experience.  Okay, I take that back: the first time you play, it'll take a little trial and error to navigate a maze in the second underwater portion of Atlantis and find the correct path, and during one of the last parts of the Alps, you have to go through a sequence of doors, for if you choose the wrong door at one time you then you'll have to start it over.  So I'll give Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday that, but once you figure out the proper path with these two, you'll be less likely to have difficulty with them again.  Even though it's supposedly a dream (or not), there is one thing that bothers me about it.  In the castle area, falling in the water pool kills you, but in the surface parts of Atlantis falling on the water hurts you, but underwater you don't sustain any damage at all by the water itself.  Video games are weird.

There is one element in this game that I personally feel makes the game more interesting and is its main saving grace: the random themes.  This cartridge has a random weather generator incorporated into the game, which means any time you start a new game there is always something different about it, visually, and as a result the areas rarely look the same during consecutive playthroughs; the design layouts will be the same, but the themes will not.  For instance, the introductory forest stage might one time take place during the summer, and the next time you play it might take place during the winter.  Sometimes the area (first, third, fifth, sixth) might be emcompassed by fog, sometimes it'll rain (or snow, depending on the stage), and other times the weather will just be clear.  It's not just the weather or seasons that will change, but sometimes the props themselves will be altered, if not the colors.  In the second stage Dry Gulch Town, it might occur during the day at one point as opposed to night during some other points.  In the second underwater Atlantis portion, sometimes there are statues of Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, but the next time they might be replaced by those of Sylvester's and Tweety's.  Inside the abandoned mines, you'll see mine carts with shovels in them during one playthrough, but in the next it might be replaced with either sticks of dynamite or a pile of bones, which depending on the mood can be rather atmospheric and dark.  The ladders in there might get altered, too.  The decor inside the sixth stage castle will look different, color-wise and prop-wise.  The possibilities are endless!  The great thing about the weather generator is that it's random, so you never know what each stage is going to look like, and it's always going to leave you guessing for each time you play.  I say that it's Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday's saving grace mainly because without it the game would be forgettable, and it adds tremendous replay value to the whole experience.  Would I have fun with it if it didn't have the weather generator?  Yeah, maybe, though I probably would not enjoy it as much without it.

So, yeah, Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday, everybody!  So despite all its blemishes, is it fun?  Yes, it totally is!  Is it fantastic?  No, not really!  Is it worth looking into?  Absolutely!  Is it worthy of being hailed as a classic?  Well...  The visuals are spot-on with the source material, the controls are simple yet solid, and Porky Pig makes for a fun main character.  The ending is a cliché, but damn if it isn't an entertaining cliché.  The storyline, though basic, is not bad, and the atmosphere is incredible, greatly boosted by the random weather generator.  It just amazes me what lengths the creators of this game went through to try to augment a sense of atmosphere and wonderment, and try to make an experience that's really memorable.  The way it keeps you guessing is one of the main strengths , and it works on a really high level.  Whoever thought up the idea of using random elements during every playthrough deserves a gold star, because it is just ingenious, and it almost makes me wish more games of its kind had that gimmick.  But, then, that's what makes this game unique in the first place.  The music is largely hit and miss, and some of the worst tracks are just unbearable to sit through; but it all comes down to personal preference, and if you like the central Alps theme for some reason, then good for you, to each their own.  Just don't listen to it in the same room I'm in.  I don't mind so much that it's an easy game (I only wish that the bosses showed any effort when attacking you), as whenever I played it I felt that it was just right.  I felt that, even though I strongly felt that the game was unfinished.  According to the Cutting Room Floor website (which is a great site), a lot of objects and graphics were excised (i.e. a dynamite stick enemy, four character heads that would have possibly been a part of the Alps sign), there were usable bonus items that were cut out from the game (but they can be accessed with a Game Genie code), a couple of unused screens, and data and text that were left in the game's memory; which further confirms my suspicions that Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday feels unfinished.  But finished or not, it's always fun to visit every once in a while, and I like for what it is: a guilty pleasure.  It's just a shame that it's the only Porky Pig game out there.  It's not like he doesn't have much to work with, he does, and I would love to see him star in another game.  I don't care what format it would be made for, or whether it would be good or bad, I would love to see a new game starring Porky Pig.  If you live in America and happen to find a decently priced copy (or if you live in Europe and Japan, you may need to import it), then chances are you'll be having a good time; if you're in the mood for an easy game, then this game will deliver.  What better way to spend an October day!  Happy Halloween!
"Th-Th-That's all Folks!"
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: By the way, does anyone know anything about Charles Lawrence (1965-1993)?  The credits say that Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday was made in his memory, and I've always been curious about who he was.  Was he a friend, was he an acquaintance, was he an associate, did he contribute something to it?  I couldn't find anything on him.

P.S. 2: This game has got an awesome piece of cover art.  I love the way it's set up.  The composition is solid, the art style is great, the shading and lighting is effective, and it evokes a very dark feeling.  Also, it somewhat reminds me of Porky's 1937 cartoon "The Case of the Stuttering Pig".

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