Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Pagemaster (SNES) Review

Received: March 24th, 2012 / Written: October 6th-9th, 2015 /
Published: October 10th, 2015
Year: 1994 | Developed by: Probe Software
Published by: Fox Interactive
Hello, my name is StarBoy91, passionate about video games, big retrophile, fan of all things 16-bit, and has a propensity to make video games that are irrelevant relevant again.  For the most part when I was little I preferred to watch animation than live action when it came to shows and movies; that's not to say that I didn't watch anything in live action at the time, I did, but I found that as a child that animation was much more interesting and entertaining to me.  But over the course of time I've began to appreciate live action more over the years and find them to be just as nice to watch (if not more than) as animation.  =)  Luckily during the '80s and '90s there were movies which transcended the realms of both live action and animation (regardless of their overall quality): among them Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Rock-A-Doodle, Cool World, and for a more topical example, The Pagemaster.
Image from Wikipedia
In November 1994 this partly live action directed by Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji, Captain America: The First Avenger)/mostly animated family film directed by The Black Cauldron animator Maurice Hunt, which took three years to make, arrived in theatres as an attempt to make books as fun as video games... as commendable as the effort was many people didn't feel that The Pagemaster really lived up to that promise, and it bombed both critically and financially as a result.  =(  This was also the penultimate Macaulay Culkin film to be released (before Richie Rich), after a series of movies that were either critical and/or box office bombs, before the child star briefly retired from acting for several years before coming back in the early '00s.
I never saw The Pagemaster in theatres (I was three and a half at the time), but I was introduced to it in the mid-'90s via pan-and-scan VHS, and as a child I enjoyed it very much; while I acknowledge that as a young adult I recognize that it's not as good as I remembered and it's got a lot of issues, I will always have a soft spot for The Pagemaster as I still like it in a guilty pleasure sort of way.  =)  If I recall correctly it (or Emile Ardolino's The Nutcracker, I can't remember which) was also my first introduction to Macaulay Culkin (I wasn't acquainted with his Home Alone movies until I visited relatives one time as a child).  And as dated as the multi-colored painted CG dragon is on a visual standpoint as it chased live action Richard Tyler, it did genuinely scare me as a child (James Horner's score also helped, may he rest in peace).  =(
One thing I found very curious over the years was that a lot of the talent was involved in Star Trek in one form or another; Horner provided the music for the second and third Star Trek films, Christopher Lloyd (Mr. Dewey/Pagemaster) was the villain in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Leonard Nimoy (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) was a Star Trek veteran as the Vulcan Spock (may he live long and prosper), Patrick Stewart (Adventure) and Whoopi Goldberg (Fantasy) were Star Trek: The Next Generation stars; et al.  What is this: a covert Star Trek gathering?  XD
There is also another reason I bring up my fondness for The Pagemaster: before the movie played on the VHS there was a small promo for the video game tie-in (one of the first simultaneous movie-game releases) available on the SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy.  As a child I never played any of the three versions, but the promo did intrigue and make me want to play the licensed game a lot.  =(
Since I started ordering SNES games on eBay in 2009 I had considered at one point getting The Pagemaster but because I'm an indecisive collector and there are many titles to choose from it did not play out that way.  Flash forward to March 24th, 2012, I decided to head to 3D Games to buy a copy of Drakkhen on the SNES as I recalled them having it in stock, but they didn't have it that day; what they did have that caught my attention, which was even better, was not just the SNES version of The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie but even The Pagemaster (SNES version), the game I've been curious about since childhood.  =D  This was so exciting and a dream come true, so I happily bought both games that day.  And as far as fun value was concerned, I was not disappointed.  =)
Originally The Pagemaster was to be about a boy named Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) who hates reading at the start but eventually learns to love it in the end (according to David Casci's script); but during the middle of the animation phase the script was revised and jettisoned that arc entirely.  Who knows if the original idea would've made the movie better or worse, but that premise does sound fascinating.
Instead due to the revised script by Ernie Contreras and David Kirschner we were treated to a different plot in the form of the final movie: a pessimistic young Richard Tyler fears pretty much everything and lives his life based on statistics; his parents have tried desperately to help their son become courageous, but have not been successful.  While out doing an errand Richard narrowly escapes a storm that tries to kill him and takes refuge inside a library.  There he meets the overly eccentric librarian Mr. Dewey (Chistopher Lloyd), who upon seeing Richard gives him a library card despite him not wanting a book.
Up, high into the beanstalk
While looking for a phone he slips on water and becomes unconscious.  After regaining his senses Richard notices that the paint from the rotunda is melting and winds up washing away everything in the library, including him, rendering all the paint touched into illustrations.  Soon he meets the titular Pagemaster (Lloyd), Guardian of the Written World, who tells him that the only way to revert back to normal is to find the exit sign, thus he sends Richard to the fiction section where he meets his anthropomorphic book companions Adventure (Patrick Stewart), Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg), and Horror (Frank Welker), who will all partake in the adventure to help Richard transition from cowardice to bravery.
Richard will have to go through the worlds of Horror, Adventure, and Fantasy to find what he's looking for.

What magnificently woven see-through curtains
If you didn't watch the movie before playing the game you would not know the specifics as to how Richard Tyler got into the situation or what the goal is as the game makes zero mention of the plot whatsoever (not even the ending), and it all transpires in the animated realm; though some might argue that it's probably for the best.  Since I currently have only played the SNES version of The Pagemaster and not the Genesis or Game Boy adaptation, I will exclusively focus on this version only.  =)

The Pagemaster on the Nintendo 16-bit is an open-ended 2D action platformer in the vein of Cool Spot, The Jungle Book, and The Lion King, in that the areas are large, open-ended in nature, and are cleverly designed in a sometimes maze-like fashion until you reach your destination (in here, it's the big red book that takes you out of the area).  You take control of Richard Tyler, whose normal controls comprise of moving around, ducking, climbing ropes, climbing forward via rope (I don't know the proper term for that), pick up and throw items (press down next to an item and then Y to throw it), hang onto hooks, jumping (B), and using weapons depending on the world you're at (Y); in the Horror segments your projectile comprises of an unlimited arsenal of bouncy eyeballs, in Adventure you use a scimitar which involves close range, and finally in Fantasy you get to throw magic dust towards your foes from a far distance (however the aim is straight and not diagonal, so be mindful of your trajectory).

Magical books really help (or hinder)
In each area you will find a multitude of keys (Horror), coins (Adventure), and eggs (Fantasy) scattered throughout, and should you collect a hundred of them you'll garner another life.  When you start the game you are already at your most vulnerable with nothing on you, unless you pick up the following: the shoes which will augment your jumping height and allow you to kick-jump off of walls, the weapon, and/or the slime that enables you to stick and move forward on ceiling-like surfaces.  Should you sustain damage for any reason you'll be deprived of one of the items, and the only one you can retrieve before it reaches a dead end and gets lost forever is the shoes.  Sometimes you'll find these items in the open, sometimes they have wings, and they appear and sprout legs after pouncing certain enemies; should you not have any of these items the next time you get hit you will lose a life.  In most stages you will find a checkpoint or two in the form of the hat that belongs to the Pagemaster, who will revive you at that spot should you die.

Throughout the game you will also find certain rare items that will help you.  One of them is an item that will render you invincible for a few seconds; if you look really hard in certain inconspicuous spots a small book will become visible, and once Richard dives into it he'll be brought to a small bonus segment (that involves gathering things with no time limit); and if you spot a watch icon you'll be brought to a timed bonus event where you must either collect every item or reach the exit book before time runs out.  When you reach the Exit sign in the Horror and Adventure hub, or when you find an anthropomorphic book icon, you'll be brought to a flying book segment where you fly alongside Fantasy on a complete Mode 7 field where the controls echo those of Super Thunder Blade, where left and right is left and right but up is down and down is up (only here it's far more polished and responsive).  In a handful of stages Fantasy will appear and help fly you to a higher part of the area, but only tenderly press the B button to fly higher; if you hit the ceiling you'll fall down and Fantasy will revert back to the spot you found her in.

Hanging onto a hook
The movie's soundtrack was composed by the late great James Horner, and for me it's one of the movie's highlights, as it was wonderful to listen to; but as was the case with the SNES adaptation of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West none of his cues were used, which I did find sad, but then maybe the game composers felt that they could not top his score or were afraid they could not recapture the glory (that or they didn't have the rights to Horner's music), so in that regard I guess that's understandable.  That said though, the music that was specifically made for The Pagemaster on the SNES is quite good, for its got quaint instrumentation, the melodies are immersive and add so much to the atmosphere, and many of the songs are likable.  =)

Let's spray some magic dust onto that newborn
green dragon so he can fly!  ...oh  <={
The title theme is so magical and inviting that it does a good job preparing you for the adventure you're about to embark.  One of the Horror themes is appropriately foreboding and brooding in tone, and another one is dark and sinister which is neat.  The pirate ship theme in Adventure is a fun little sea shanty, and the part where you're outside with the ominous clouds is pretty and eerie to listen to.  The theme for the dragon's insides areas in Fantasy spell caution and ill omen, and the beanstalk and yellow brick road themes are whimsical and delightful in their composition.  =)  The Mode 7 flight and bonus themes are decent, and each respective hub world has got a quaint theme which for some reason has two versions--one in normal speed and the other one being sped up.  The sound effects are fun to listen to (in particular when items are gathered), and once in awhile there will be a Richard Tyler digitized soundbyte depending on the circumstances ("Wow!", "Uh oh!", "Hey!").

The Pagemaster is an absolutely gorgeous game to look at, with so many vibrant colors and distinguished detail in each area.  =D  It has one of the best-looking non-prerendered visuals you'll find on the Nintendo 16-bit, in my opinion; alongside Wagyan Paradise, Seiken Densetsu 3, Mr. Nutz, ActRaiser 2, and Equinox to name a few.  =)  Probe Software have done a really good job at capturing the look and feel of the animated bulk of the movie, and more.  Atmospherically where I feel the game excels are in the appropriately dark areas where it effectively creates a good sense of tone; largely in the Horror hub where some areas have a nice sense of detail with transparent foreground imagery, the in-depth parallax scrolling in the cemetery stage (with the Exit sign looming at the top), dithering effects on some occasions (think Jerry Boy), color-layering mist and fog effects, and a few occasions when the lighting is quite dim (but thankfully not to the point where you can't tell what's what).  The dragon's insides in Fantasy and the very cloudy rock stages in Adventure with a large silhouetted pirate ship looming behind the clouds make for effective atmosphere, and visually they're a marvel to behold.

What a lovely view  =D
That's not to say that the not-so dark-looking areas aren't great to look at as well, they are, it's just that they're not as strikingly atmospheric as the aforementioned areas in my opinion.  The pirate ship areas are serviceably adequate, and what's cool is how you can explore inside it in some instances and I liked how sometimes the weather would be clear and other times not.  The beanstalk areas are light in color, have got a great view of the castle in the sky, and have got neatly detailed leaves, vines, and beanstalks; and while the yellow brick road stages are few and far between, they present a bright burst of colors with a good sense of depth.  I liked that the three hub worlds had Richard traveling on the literal pages of a book, as it fits in theme with the movie/game.  =)
Flying on a magical tome ride
Richard Tyler's myriad of animations are very fluid; idle, running, climbing, jumping, tipping, hanging, falling, you name it--they are all impeccably framed and detailed.  =)  Richard himself looks really good with his colored outlines, though I did notice that his hair is the same color as his skin in-game, but I didn't let that bother me.  The enemies you face look and animate fluidly as well, among them sentient books, Mr. Hyde, bats, specters and ghouls, Long John Silver and his pirate lackeys, Captain Ahab, knights, the Big Bad Wolf who blows pigs from inside his mouth your way (I'm not kidding), and baby dragons who hatch from inside their eggs.  The Mode 7 flying sequences are neat to watch in motion, and I like how during the bonus versions there are scaling columns which you must avoid colliding with (in a similar fashion to Space Harrier).
We interrupt this game to bring you Disney's Aladdin
... err, the Virgin version
In The Pagemaster the goal is to reach the big book exit that takes you out of the area and back to the respective hub, however along the way there are enemies which you must contend with.  Most can be jumped on, but some can only be taken out for sure if you have a weapon at your stead (such as the bouncing up and down books and the knights).  Only a handful of areas are linear, but for the most part thorough exploration is key if you want to reach an exit; one of the stages has two alternate exits, and luckily if you felt you didn't search that area enough you could replay it to your heart's desire.  =)
The various areas are well-designed, and while some books are out to end you, there are a few acting as platforms that will either glide you to the edge of one solid platform or the end of a gap; if not, then they'll drop down the instant that you jump on them, so jump off them with no hesitation when you do.  The controls take a bit to accustom to, but once you do they become second nature and good to a point; that point being the jumping itself, which is a bit loose if you're proceeding too fast, but they can be worked around.  Unless you're really familiar with the area, you'll only really succeed if you go at a steady pace and follow the enemy patterns; just rushing won't do it, as there's the risk that you'll fall offscreen in certain areas if you're not careful.  =(  So remember, slow and steady wins the race.
The eyes have it
The Pagemaster has only got one difficulty setting, but it does provide a password for you should you not feel that you'll be able to beat it on one sitting--the catch is that the password is only given when you access the Exit sign in either the Horror and Adventure hub worlds, but luckily the password is brief and to the point at just six characters.  The areas are fun to explore, fighting enemies with the right stuff and tactics is cool, and discovering secret areas (either by accident or by searching thoroughly) is exciting; not to mention that the timed and not-timed bonus segments give you a chance at getting an extra life or just more keys/coins/eggs.  =)  It's a good thing it's fun, because all those elements I feel make up for the fact that the video game adaptation of The Pagemaster sorely lacks in terms of true difficulty.  =(
What a beautiful horizon
While the areas might initially seem difficult due to their complex design and scope, once you get used to their design and diverse enemy patterns the sense of challenge is further alleviated.  I think the magic shoes which increase your jumping height, its loose jumping controls which can be managed, and the fact that the shoes are the only major object you can retrieve when you're hit by an enemy or spike lest they get lost also help contribute to the relatively manageable difficulty.  The enemies aren't that difficult to dodge for the most part and they can easily be dispatched with your special weapon; plus, depending on how you play The Pagemaster takes roughly an hour and a half to two hours to beat, maybe less if you're really confident.  Even though it's only got one difficulty the areas are large enough to explore and because of that there's enough replay value that make up for its shortcomings with the challenge.
Also there to augment replay value are the secretly hidden library cards scattered in the Horror, Adventure, and Fantasy worlds.  There are eight in total, and a few are so well-hidden that keeping a careful eye out for them is the only way to pick them up.  It's not entirely mandatory to search for them, for it doesn't overtly affect the ending, but it's always a nice sidequest to undertake and gathering them all will give you the "good" congratulatory message in the end (but only if you beat it in one sitting).  =)
Running and dodging fire
One thing that'll become very apparent by the time you get to the end of The Pagemaster is that not once do you battle a boss.  Sure, you have to dispatch of enemies along your way, but the lack of a true boss is very fascinating in a platformer such as this.  You cannot help admire when an action-oriented game in the genre has zero bosses to speak of; same thing with fellow SNES games Cool Spot, Astérix, and if you want to include action/puzzlers, Super Morph (even though it has no enemies in it whatsoever).  With all these games it's almost as if the developers are trying to say that the area itself and the obstacles inhabiting it act as a boss fight, and that might be enough.  I don't know if that is 100% accurate, but regardless, it's hard for me to not be fascinated by an action game that has no boss fight (though I can see how some might feel cheated by that notion).
(That bouncing book will never find me here)
When I played The Pagemaster for the first time back in 2012 I was really enthralled by its atmospheric environments, and as flawed as the gameplay could be at times it at least could be worked around to work in your favor as the areas were great to explore; believe it or not, I actually first beat it the night I got it (albeit with the "bad" ending).  I admit the first time it seems challenging, but I found that the more I played it the less harder it became, especially as I familiarized myself with the area designs and enemy patterns.  Regardless, I do think that The Pagemaster is a decently fun little game while it lasts for in my opinion it's got all right controls, atmospheric music, large areas to explore, neat bonus opportunities, and it provides lots of eye candy (particularly during the Horror stages).  =)  I find that those qualities make up for its lack of challenge, and while the absence of the story in-game is weird it doesn't detract from the fun.
I also appreciated how each stage had their own title given to them--some are basic, but most of them were puns, and while many of them are not bad I would be remiss if I didn't feel that some of them were so groan-inducing to the point where I was like, "Really?  That's what they went with?"  =|  These ones that I've shown are the ones that I'm alluding to.
Captain Ahab: experienced seaman, determined
whale hunter, would-be child murderer...  <=O
By all accounts, I think Probe Software did a decent job adapting the movie to video game format, and some people argue that it's better than the movie.  I can see why people would feel that way, and I do not blame that for that at all; but for me, personally, the movie's as much of a guilty pleasure to me as this game is (though, quality-wise, the game does have the edge).  When I saw the promos for the game on the VHS as a child I remember being mindblown by it and being curious as to what the game was actually like.  I can proudly say that, after fifteen-plus years of curiosity, The Pagemaster interactive video game was worth the wait.  Is it a fantastically great game or a crowning masterpiece?  No, not in the slightest.  I did not expect perfection upon playing it three and a half years ago, but I did expect to find a bit of fun in the package; and luckily for me that's what I got in the end, and I couldn't be happier.  =)
Stick around
So, with all that said, do I recommend The Pagemaster on the SNES?  That actually depends on some factors, like whether you saw the movie and how you felt about it; if you haven't seen it you might get some appreciation for it, but you might get even more if you have.  But the biggest factor is if you're looking for some enjoyment, challenge, and replay value.  There is plenty of replay value in the package, it is fun to play especially when you've got the controls and areas down pat, but as far as challenge is concerned do not expect there to be a tremendous amount otherwise you'll find it to be disappointing.  If you're looking for a decent fun time and maybe lower your expectations you'll like this game just fine, but by the same token I can understand why one would feel the opposite way towards it.  But if you haven't played it and are not convinced, think of it this way: as far as games based on Macaulay Culkin fare go, you can't do worse than the Home Alone games.  Probe Software's The Pagemaster is a fun, flawed game, and it's got enough elements in it that make the adventure worth embarking.  =)
 "Now enjoy your nightmare fuel!"
My Personal Score: 6.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Since my old laptop is on the verge of not working anymore, and my new laptop cannot read my videos like my old one did (despite recognizing their sound), I've decided that I'll just take these screenshots as is with the normal camera setting (and really, it just saves all the hassle between going back and forward between laptops); which is why it's not square-ratioed like in previous reviews.  The width of the screenshots that you see?  That's how wide my widescreen TV is.
P.S. 2 The Pagemaster is one of those games where even if you get more than nine lives, it'll still be recognized as nine lives; like in The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie, Mickey & Donald: Magical Adventure 3, and Maui Mallard.  That's why in all my screenshots Richard Tyler appears to always have nine lives.
P.S. 3 How come any time Richard Tyler falls straight down on the ground (even if only a few inches) a booming thunder sound is played as he gets back on his feet?  Is there a heavyweight hidden in that thin mass of his?  o~O
R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) and James Horner (1953-2015)  =(
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  I hope you have a great day, take care!
Rhymes that keep their secrets, will unfold behind the clouds / And there upon the rainbow is the answer to a never ending stooooooryyyyyyy!  Aaaahh!  Never ending stooooooryyyyyy!  Aa----♪
Crap, wrong movie! >_<

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