Friday, December 4, 2015

Home Alone (SNES) Review

Received: October 27th, 2015 / Written: November 30th-December 3nd, 2015
Published: December 4th, 2015
Year: 1991 | Developed by: Imagineering
Published by: THQ

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  During the 1980's there was a man who made incredible contributions to comedy movies everywhere, and that man's name was John Hughes.  =)  Famous for producing and screenwriting for successful movies such as Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and the National Lampoon Vacation films, and having directed such noteworthy classics such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Hughes was known for his quality writing and honestly relatable and down to Earth portrayal of his characters (starting with teens and later on adults) as well as jumpstarting the careers of several actors (like Michael Keaton, Molly Ringwald, and Anthony Michael Hall to name a few).  Sadly in 2009 he passed away at the age of 59, but while he may be missed what Hughes left behind was such a great legacy via his '80s comedies that he will always be remembered.  <=)

But then in 1990, a phenomenon happened (and a huge change in gear for John Hughes), for he singlehandedly wrote and produced the Christmas family comedy Home Alone, directed by Gremlins scribe Chris Columbus, which starred the Uncle Buck child star Macaulay Culkin; and when it came out that November it had garnered mixed to positive reviews from most audiences and critics alike.  But the biggest surprise was how much of a hit it was in theatres box office-wise (considering some of the cast involved in the movie had no confidence in it before release), which benefited greatly for the movie's distributor 20th Century Fox; and at the time it was the highest grossing live action comedy of all time, before Todd Phillips' 2011 middle chapter of his trilogy The Hangover snagged that record away.

Roaming the seemingly lonely McCallister halls
What made Home Alone so different from previous John Hughes fare was that in this movie the lead (and character we like and end up sympathizing with) wasn't a teenager or an adult, but a little boy; which was a bit refreshing... at first.  Regardless of how you feel about the movie, it helped launch the movie career of Macaulay Culkin who hit it big for a brief moment before experiencing his own downfall leading to taking a break from acting from 1995 to 2003.  Personally, I like the movie (even if it is five months older than I am); it's not spectacular or anything, but I do think it's quaintly endearing and thoughtful entertainment in its own right.  =)

Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy
The premise of Home Alone is a simple one, really: the night before the McCallister family's flight to Paris for their Christmas vacation, eight-year old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) gets into trouble with his family, and because he feels so neglected by everyone around him he wishes that he was by himself.  But, through a strange series of circumstances, Kevin's family and relatives rush to the airport thinking that they packed everything for their trip.  Except that not everyone was accounted for (which the family doesn't realize until their flight there), for young Kevin has been rendered, living up to the movie title, home alone (thereby granting his wish).  It's here that he initially enjoys his solitude, but over time he realizes that it's too much responsibility to take care of and provide for himself at such a young age; but he'll have to do it until his family comes back--
even as he must defend his home against the thieving Wet Bandits Harry Lime (Joe Pesci) and Marvin "Marv" Merchants (Daniel Stern).
Oh, and these guys made solely for the game, too
Will Kevin be able to save his family's Christmas before it's too late?

That's lazy shelving right there; what's the point of
adding them if you're not going to place anything on
top of them?
After becoming a hit, and given the slapstick-induced nature of the inevitable home invasion sequence during the last third, this gave enough incentive for there to be video game adaptations of Home Alone.  Among them were an NES adaptation by newcomer Bethesda Softworks (in North America only) in 1991, an Amiga and DOS adaptation published by Capstone and developed by Manley & Associates (of SNES A-RPG King Arthur and the Knights of Justice fame) in 1991, and adaptations on the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis and Game Gear and Master System developed by the Brian A. Rice company (no, really, that's the developing company's name) in 1992.  On the Game Boy and SFC/SNES were also adaptations made by the company Imagineering and published by THQ in the US (but by Altron in Europe and Japan) in 1991, but for the sake of this review I'll only focus on the Nintendo 16-bit version... if only because it's the sole interactive version of Home Alone that I played.

Ummm... interesting hiding spots for toys and food  =\
In Home Alone you take control of Kevin McCallister as you roam around the halls and rooms of two floors (and eventually the basement) in each stage.  With the A button you jump while the weapon you use via the B button... yyyyeah, controls are pretty backwards for a Nintendo 16-bit game (and no, there's no options screen where they can be customized either) but after awhile they become second nature.  At first you start with an unlimited array of your water pistol, but throughout the course of the game you'll find better weapons you can use against the Wet Bandits via the slingshot, throwball, and BB gun (all three of which must be used sparingly), which you can toggle between with the Y button.  You can also duck down and use the up button to enter doors or find valuable items hidden in inconspicuous spots.

You're safe now!
The goal of each stage is to get the requisite amount of items you need (jewelry, toys, electronics, and animals) under the safe icon in the HUB and throw them down the chute so that way when you enter the basement you can securely place them inside the safe yourself.  There is a catch, though: you cannot take them all with you at once, for if the numbers blink on and off that means you cannot carry any more and need to dispose them through the chute in order to make room.  In the first stage your backpack can carry up to six items, in the second stage it can carry up to eight, and from the third stage onward the maximum amount you can carry is ten... why you couldn't carry the same amount throughout the whole game just baffles me.  =|  But okay, after the safe icon's numbers reach zero and start blinking then a key will appear near a brown door that will enable you to enter the basement.

Attack of the killer spider block
But just entering the basement is not enough, for you must go through its obstacle course; and while Kevin's weapon(s) can be used on the first and second floors, they cannot be used in the basement.  What that means is that you must coordinate and jump yourself over the deadly basement critters such as spiders, ghosts, and rats.  Failure to do so will result in lost health, and since you only have three careful observation and enemy pattern following is key, and you cannot replenish it once (via cookies) when you're in the basement.  Oh, but that's not all, for near the end of said basement during the second stage onward is a boss fight, and the only way to do them in is by jumping on a constantly
respawning block thereby making it fall while the bosses are underneath it five times.  The stage is over when you've successfully made it to the safe and sealed all the items you've recouped shut inside it.

Nice stereo
Some of the items you have to find will be out in the open, but many of them will be found if you hold down the up button in front of objects like drawers, baskets, lamps, or even frames to name a few (you never know where you might find what you're looking for).  It's also in these places where you'll find vital items that will aid you in your journey; like alternate weapons, pizza slices (getting all eight of them in the same stage will earn you a life), a cookie to replenish your health, a whole pizza which will give you a free life, and a small bottle that will render you invincible against the Wet Bandits for a very short period of time.  Luckily you, there is no time limit.  Should you lose all your lives the first time you will be given a chance to continue your progress, but if it happens again afterwards then there'll be no more continues (not that you have to worry about that happening to you, and I'll explain why soon).

Cute idea; I mean the stage number shirt nailed to
the wall, of course
The visuals are sufficiently adequate for a Generation One Nintendo 16-bit title, and while they're nothing to write home about Imagineering's Home Alone does have a solid color scheme going for it.  I like how even though you go through separate rooms that both the wall and floor d├ęcor always have different patterns so as to not feel the same (sometimes there are wooden patterns and sometimes there's bright wallpaper).  I like how there are different furniture and items that are hanging in the wall (like clocks, laundry baskets, packages, frames, beds, and bats to name a few); I also thought the way a shirt hanging on the wall in the beginning of each stage with a number representing its respective stage number was ingenious--it doesn't automatically make the game good or anything but it's a welcome detail.

Huh, I don't remember the McCallister family having
a baby in the movie... or pets for that matter
The basement section is grainy and appropriately dark (sometimes with a gray hue and other times with a maroon one), and during the last basement section there is a window that shows a night blue sky.  Kevin is designed all right (even if the white sweater and blue jeans are mismatched from what he wears in the movie), but his running animation is so choppy; you know you're in trouble when the members of the Wet Bandits, the primary enemies of Home Alone (who are also designed all right), have more solid animation by comparison.  I liked how the house in the title logo turned itself on the moment it's brought to the top of the screen, but inbetween stages and after losing a life and the ending have digitized stills of the movie in obviously mismatched backgrounds; and while I can imagine they might have looked impressive at the time (this was long before Travellers' Tales impressively rendered the movie stills on their video game adaptation of Toy Story) it looks absolutely murky and brown.  I'm sparing you by not showing them to you.

"Oh no!  Ghosts with crappy dithering effects that
are translucent!"  =O
The movie's score was composed by none other than John Williams (and people say he only does music for Spielberg and Lucas), and while it's sad that none of the major cues from the movie were converted to Nintendo 16-bit format (including the emotionally resonant  "Somewhere in my Memory"), at least Imagineering managed to incorporate their own take on the theme that plays fittingly enough during the title sequence.  As for the game-exclusive songs, they are jamming with a hint of rock thrown in once in a while, while the song that plays in the basement is truly menacing... and in certain rooms you get to hear different cues of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite" (which is not given credit in the credits, while Williams' title music is) even though that was not in the movie.  But eh, okay, Christmas-themed music, I can see why Imagineering went with that... a little.

The sound effects are decently chosen, like the boing sound after Kevin bounces off a bed, the bump sound if Kevin hits his head in the ceiling, and the slide sound for when Kevin throws vital items down the chute, especially the heavy sounds of the safe being cranked closed.  I did get a kick at how the enemies make an "oof" sound for when you launch your weapon at them and how they went like "bleah" when you disposed of them, it's hilarious!  XD  There are also two digitized soundbytes lifted straight from the movie (and are more clearer than the digitized stills): the sound for when Kevin loses a life is when he's screaming in the restroom, and the sound for when Kevin successfully clears a stage  ("YES!") is the one he makes after Harry burnt his hand by touching the scorching hot doorknob.

Paint bucket trap is to be set in motion
The gameplay structure in Imagineering's take on Home Alone is a sound one, there's no doubt about that, and on paper it seems like it would have really worked well; plus some of the spirit of the movie is in evidence here and there (like the traps that are set for the Wet Bandits).  The main underlying problem with it, however?  There is zero difficulty in it, and one of the reasons behind it is the dumb enemy AI.  This is one of those games where the enemy tries to chase you in the direction that you are going, and if you're on a platform on top of them and they're below you and you stop then they stop, up until you start moving in any direction with them following (and it won't stop until you dispose of them in one way or another).  It just ends up cheapening the game as a result.

Oh no, it's the Willard mouse!  RUN!!!  8O
Another thing that winds up cheapening the Nintendo 16-bit Home Alone is that there isn't much (if any) replay value going in it, for the items that you're looking for are all in the same place no matter how many times you play it; not to mention if you memorize every enemy pattern the game throws at you then the difficulty will be pretty non-existent.  =(  This is also true during the basement segments where enemy pattern observation is key and rushing through will not cut it, and the boss fights end up feeling rather anemic because aside from going faster the more they get hit it's easy to avoid sustaining damage from them once you know what to do.

You're right, game: I should watch We Bare Bears!  At
least that show is entertaining
And if that's not all, then the game is very short as it can be beaten in roughly thirty minutes or slightly more if you know exactly what to accomplish.  On one hand that is a tad understandable as the actual home invasion sequence lasted roughly fourteen and a half minutes in the movie, but the game brevity would not have been such a bad thing had there been plenty of substance to make up for the lack of difficulty--unfortunately though that is not the case.  I actually first played this video game adaptation of Home Alone when I was a kid over at my relatives' place, and the farthest I remember getting at the time was the second stage because my gaming skills were not quite as good as they are now.  A few years ago I decided to borrow my cousins' copy of the game and see if I could get far; and not only did I get far but I was surprised at how short and lacking in difficulty it was.  I got my own copy of it recently, and the more I played it to prepare for this review the easier it kept getting for me.  It's like Imagineering was afraid to provide challenge or something like that.  =|

Well, that's one way to reach the TV
Imagineering's Home Alone is more a mediocre affair than it is a bad one, and while the aesthetics are serviceable and the gameplay is actually okay all things considered, it sadly is rendered harmless but bland overall due the lack of replay value, glaring absence of challenge, and dumb AI.  Had there been at least a sufficient amount of challenge going for it then its shortcomings would have easily been forgiven, but as it stands it wasn't meant to be.  And while it's nice to get a chance to take control as Kevin McCallister, I only wish the execution was, for lack of a better word, better handled.

"All right, this is it, don't be scared now!"
Whether or not you've seen the movie or if you liked it or not, if you were the least bit curious as to how Imagineering's take on Home Alone was like, then as I said before it's harmless fare at best but very bland at worst.  It is neither the best nor the worst licensed game out there for the Nintendo 16-bit, but at least it's playable to a point.  But if you're not really interested, then I'd say just stick with the movie; you won't be missing out much if you decide not to play Imagineering's video game take on the beloved Christmas family classic.

Hello, obvious cardboard cutouts of Harry and Marv juxtaposed in mismatched background
My Personal Score: 5.0/10
<( -_-)>TO EACH THEIR OWN<(-_- )>
P.S. Screengrabs of Home Alone and Uncle Buck (with subtitles added by me) captured my Region 1 DVD of each respective film, the former property of 20th Century Fox and the latter property of Universal Studios.
P.S. 2 At one point I was going to make a facetious comment saying that "Europe and Japan were clearly in good hands" because Imagineering's Home Alone was released there by Pocky & Rocky with Becky developer Altron, but I went against it; I didn't want to be bitter about that handheld game anymore.  Bitterness is very unbecoming.  =(
Fun fact: this little interrogation scene from Uncle Buck is what inspired John Hughes to come up with what would become the premise for Home Alone.  So basically if it hadn't been for Uncle Buck, then there would be no Home Alone, and had it not been for John Hughes then neither of these movies would exist.  This is why '80s John Hughes was the best John Hughes.  =)  Rest in peace, man, and thank you for having created these classics.
Thank you for reading my review, my reader, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a Merry Christmas, and take care!
Image of Home Alone theatrical poster from Wikipedia

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