Tuesday, 9 December 2014

V.I.P. (GBA)

V.I.P Game Boy Advance title screen
Huh... my keen video gamer instincts are telling me that this game is based on something, isn't it?

Today on Super Adventures I'm learning that 'V.I.P.' was a TV series starring Pamela Anderson that somehow ran for four years a decade or so ago without me ever learning of its existence. This isn't even the only licensed V.I.P video game, as there's at least three of the things available on systems like the PlayStation 2, Game Boy Colour, and Game Boy Advance, and I can't imagine that this is in any way a good thing for the humans who have to share the planet with them. That's not a knock on V.I.P. by the way, I've never seen the series, I just know that games based on any TV series (even the good ones) aren't typically regarded as things that have any business existing. Though I will of course give this one a fair chance to win me over.

The game begins with the team having been hired by Dan Walsh, the creative genius behind Ultralabs. One of his researchers - Sonny Geller - has been kidnapped. Their job is to deliver the ransom and get Geller back safe and sound. So now you know.

One thing I'm still not clear on through, is what exactly am I even looking at? A stack of laminated 'kidnapping' cards? Issues of Kidnapping magazine? Emergency kidnapping kits? Microwavable Kidnapping meals?

Whoa, the team have crazy sci-fi video communicators! They're all monochrome and analogue, and covered in scanlines and static. Plus they're purple too; that shouldn't be overlooked.

I haven't seen the series so I could be way off here, but I get the impression that while this character is saying one thing, she's secretly sending her real message in morse code with her right eyebrow. That must be why it's so important that they use their video communicators for every phone call.


LEVEL 1.


I'm playing as Swimsuit Barbie! She can leap fences like she's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and take a knife to the gut like... a platformer character with 7 hit points. Well, 5 now. That was really rude of him by the way.

Kato-chan & Ken-chan (PC Engine)
The hero sprite is very much a caricature, but that's not all that weird for game based on a TV show. I played Kato-chan & Ken-chan a few months back, which is based on a Japanese comedy show, and the character art in that is incredibly stylised. Those guys are top heavy in a whole other way mind you, but considering that the V.I.P. character was played by Pamela Anderson, I'm sure the sprite's not straying too far from the source material.

I'm definitely starting to see a pattern emerging on this level. I jump up a couple of ledges, grab the sunglasses, jump down, take a few steps forward, jump up a couple of ledges...

Fortunately the sunglasses don't seem mandatory and my gun has infinite ammo, so I'll likely do fine by ignoring them and sticking to the streets.

In fact, why even bother with walking? She's just as fast on her hands and knees, and this way the goons can't even shoot back! Well they try, but it hasn't worked out for them so far.

You know, I'm going to have to look up this character's name, because the game hasn't bothered to introduce her, and I can't keep calling her 'she' or 'Barbie'.

It turns out that her name is Vallery Irons, and she's just come up to a dead end. My keen video gamer instincts are convinced that there's something up with the box next to the door, so I'll give that a shot.

It trigged a mid-level cutscene!

Vallery calls in to explain to her team that the ransom delivery was a trap, but she's sure that the leader of the mercenaries is still hanging out somewhere in the building. Apparently she's talking about the exact building she's standing outside of, but I've no idea where's she's getting all this from. I don't know, maybe she peeked inside a window and saw his secret anti-ransom command center or something.

She'll need a scanner unlock the door and get inside, but fortunately this other guy is on the case.

Hey I'm playing as her friend now, whoever he is. He's basically plays the same as Vallery, except he carries a 3-way shotgun instead of her pistol. I'm not really seeing any downside to this.

IMDb tells me that he's called Quick Williams, plus I also found out that the series's title comes from Vallery Irons Protection, which is the agency they all work for. This is one of the problems with video games based on TV series: they assume that everyone playing must have seen a few episodes, because why else would they be playing it? The trouble with this is that it means that no effort is spent on introducing any of the characters, setting up the premise, or even dropping enough hints to let a player pick things up as they go.

I mean would you have guessed from these screenshots that they're bodyguards? Yeah yeah I know it probably mentions it in the manual, but this isn't some 80kb NES game, it's from 2002!

Man, there's got to be a point where a man plain owns too many sunglasses, but we ain't quite there yet. Also we're apparently collecting calendars too now. Wake me up when we start hoarding floating floppy disks and old-school joysticks.

Huh, this leads to a dead end? Oh, I have to go through that door on the top right I guess. I'm getting bored now so I need to hurry up and get inside before I start noticing things. Like the way that the support beams cast a shadow but the ladders don't.

Another dead end huh? Seems that I only came in here to collect that scanner item. It would appear that the game is not so straightforward as it first seemed. Though it is still really obvious where I need to be headed next, and in this case I'm headed back outside the way I came in.

By the way, I have to point out that the animator went to the trouble of creating an entirely different crawl animation for this guy. I also have to point out that his shotgun has a scope on it.


LATER, BACK OUTSIDE.


Also I guess the background artist must be a cat person.

Hey, there's a door just like the one Vallery is stuck at! Must be time to switch characters...

...or maybe not. Vallery's going to search the building without me, so I'm going to the roof with Quick instead.

Hey it's a purple orb, just like the one that's been following me around on the bottom left of the HUD all this time! Maybe now I'll finally learn what that's about.

Nope. Though I have learned that I can reach that floor up there if I jump from the top of the boxes.

I can't shoot through the damn things though.

Funny how the wooden walkways outside were viewed from an oblique perspective, while these floors are all shown side on. There isn't even a shadow underneath this time to give the floor some depth, it just looks like some metal strips bolted to the wall. I only realised I could get up there and stand on it when I saw the enemies running back and forth.

Aww shit, there's a boss up here, and he's got forearms as big as my torso. It's like he wandered into the game from Metal Slug or something by mistake. He wandered in and utterly wiped the floor with me.

The thing about Metal Slug though, is that it's easy to jump around and dodge enemies in it, and in this it really kinda isn't. I did try leaping out of the way of his attacks at the beginning, but it wasn't working out so I eventually just gave up on that. Annoyingly when I restarted the level I found myself conveniently relocated on the other side of the room, so I haven't got a good enough excuse to rage quit in frustration yet.

Well Plan A didn't work, but this time around I've got a new scheme, I call it 'Plan B'. It involves running right up to the boss and doing the exact same thing that I did last time, except I'll be starting off with more health in the tank. Unfortunately he's got all his health back too.

Well Plan B didn't work, but I accidentally stumbled across Plan C instead and so far the results are very encouraging. It's actually a lot like plans A and B, except it involves me crouching on these boxes where he can't hit me, then tapping the fire button until I win.

It's not a very good boss fight.

Still, I got a dance out of it in the end! That's not me tapping left and right by the way, he really does dance a victory jig at the end.

That's level 1 finally finished with, and I even got a password for my trouble.


LEVEL 2.


Level 2 introduces a new character, tasked with finding a sniper who has Vallery pinned down. Sorry, I mean 'level 2 changes my character sprite so I look like I'm playing as someone else I don't know, but the gameplay is identical'.

I'm crawling to the right and pressing the gun button whenever the bad people appear on the right. Fortunately every innocent civilian in the city decided to sleep in today, so it's loveable killable mercenaries all the way.

Another mid-level character swap! See, you thought I was joking when I talked about the eyebrow morse code earlier. Actually I think he's one of those puppets, with one string for making his mouth flap open, and the other one for wiggling his right eyebrow.

All cutscenes are skippable by the way. They made the effort to put that feature in, so I'm making the effort to give it some credit. Games without skippable cutscenes, you have all just been SHAMED by a V.I.P. platformer.

I give the new guy +10 points for that amazing flip onto the rail, but -10,000 for not being able to make the next jump because of his showing off. There's no climbing back up after that, he's just plain dead.

But at least now I've learned that the game has falling damage. Shame I never learned the guy's name. I just call him 'rubbish knife guy', because he fights with throwing knives instead of a pistol, and they're rubbish.

Actually I'm starting to think they may be darts. Either way it's plainly obvious that the guns that everyone else is carrying are all far better weapons that get the job done in half the time. This must be why you never see a cowboy bring throwing knives to a quick draw in Westerns.

But hey, I've finally found a sniper! I'm sure if I keep throwing these he'll fall over eventually. Failing that if I walk up close enough my guy should switch to his melee attack, which may plausibly do more damage. I'm not actually sure, as I don't typically walk right up to enemies before hitting attack when my ranged weapon has enough range to hit them anywhere on screen.

The two teammates successfully took down each of their snipers, but it turned out that wasn't the end of them, so I was switched back to Vallery to walk out onto the roof and gun down the last three in a row. Now it's finally safe for us go meet up at the office!

Actually there's one last thing standing between me and level 3, and that's another grenade tossing tosser of a boss cowering behind his fortress of crates. But just like the previous boss, he can't actually hurt me if I stay out of his range, so all I have to do is pop up and take a shot each time a bullet whizzes over my head.

It's likely gonna take a while.


MUCH LATER.


Fuck yeah, it's time for my dance of victory! You ain't the boss of me, mate.

I gave the next level a quick try, but it was more of the same so I decided that I'd seen enough and turned it off. The end.


CONCLUSION

V.I.P. on the GBA is a surprisingly nice looking game with some... semi-competent run and gun platforming. I didn't find it all that fun, but it was never all that annoying either. It just kind of exists, in defiance of all logic and sense.

I think part of the issue is the movement. The characters have some mid-air control, but they don't quite move like you'd want them to once they're airborne, and they have an irritating pause after landing before they can run or jump again. I soon found that whenever I needed to dodge incoming fire I'd instinctively duck instead, and on the stages I played through being crouched makes you a god. The goons will get you eventually, the gameplay's not that broken, but it's pretty much a game about being faster on the trigger, and the extra edge that crouching gave me took any challenge out of killing regular goons. Though to be honest there wasn't much joy in killing them at the best of times, and that seems to be all there is to do in the game besides collect sunglasses and find ways to cheat at boss fights.

Though on the other hand, there have been NO irritating escort missions whatsoever so far, which clearly makes it the best bodyguard simulator ever.

If you've found your way down this far and you've actually played the game yourself, then why not leave a comment below? If you've read a few of the words along the way you could even share some opinions about the article as well! Otherwise perhaps you could just say something nice about the site, or maybe guess what the next game will be. You've got options here.

3 comments:

  1. I just know that games based on any TV series (even the good ones) aren't typically regarded as things that have any business existing.

    How about... er... no, I can't think of one.






    Oh! The Walking Dead! Although maybe that's based more on the comic; I don't know, as I haven't played it.

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  2. Soooooo Strife is now on Steam... hint.. hint... (I know Mecha did it, but you should take a look too :P )

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    Replies
    1. No way man, I don't need to start playing first person shooters that mecha-neko has already written about. That's a dark path that leads right to Rex Blade and Isle of the Dead.

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