If this is your first time dipping into the Animorphs Re-Read, I strongly suggest you head back to the beginning and start there unless you’re already familiar with the books. Alternatively, check out the Animorphs Re-Read tag page for a list of every post in the series.
The Animorps Re-Read is back after last week’s unscheduled hiatus! I’m not going to be covering the next book, though, because I have received an item most wondrous indeed:
Yes, there was an Animorphs Gameboy Color game. And I have it. Well, I have it temporarily thanks to a friend of mine. Still, you’re the ones who get to benefit!
This isn’t the only Animorphs videogame: there’s a terrible Playstation 1 game, a terrible PC game, and a terrible browser game. The browser game is kind of like a bizarre version of Pac-Man. I played it years ago. Together with the TV show (which I’ll be covering at some point), the games represent Scholastic’s attempt at turning the Animorphs franchise into a media powerhouse. None of these extra-literary efforts were all that successful in terms of quality, but I guess someone probably made money out of them.
The GBC game is basically like a bunch of B-plots from the books strung together. The dialogue seems to have been written by someone who was only vaguely aware of what the series is about, and also doesn’t provide any real grounding for those unfamiliar with the books. (‘Why am I talking to a hawk?’ was a question most likely asked by many confused children at the time.)
For all its flaws, though, the game is not, I repeat NOT, a shameless ripoff of Pokémon.
The first mission stars Cassie, who must ‘Rescue the Animals!’ Luckily, this is something Cassie is good at. You start off in her barn, where you talk to the other Animorphs and get a taste of what you’re in for in terms of dialogue:
Jake: “Guys, the situation is very serious! [...] The processors have immense power!”
Rachel: “The morphing power is totally cool!”
Oh, Rachel. What did they do to you?
The ‘processors’ Jake is referring to are some Andalite computer dealies that the Yeerks have stolen. They’re basically an excuse plot to string the game’s four missions together. (Yes, four. Epically long this thing is not.) After reading a note from Cassie’s dad, you step outside and…uh, and this is where things get a bit weird.
The first thing I did upon exiting the barn (which looks like a house) was to morph into a dog and beat up a goat. After reducing its HP to 0 with my fearsome Bite attack, I acquired it and was thus able to goat myself at will. This is of course nothing whatsoever like the system in the Pokémon games where you fight wild Pokémon to capture them. Once you’ve acquired an animal, it gets added to your ‘Ani-Manager’ (har har). You can then morph it in combat or on the world map, but morphing when someone can see you will result in an instant and completely unexplained game over. Again, I can only imagine what people unfamiliar with the games thought was supposed to be going on here.
Armed with the awesome power of goat, I proceeded to explore the town. And by ‘the town’, I mean ‘a random assortment of odd-looking buildings in an empty field’, and by ‘a random assortment of odd-looking buildings in an empty field’ I mean this game is a blatant Pokémon ripoff just look at it.
The city/town/whatever is basically a reskinned version of one of the starter towns from an early Pokémon game, which gave me the odd impression that the game is taking place on another planet – and an extremely under-populated planet at that. There is a single block of about six houses, which is right next to the mall, which is right next to the Sharing building, which is right next to the (weird-looking) school. I realise i’ts difficult to evoke a sense of scale in a Gameboy Color game, but this just seems like laziness. Oh, and the the entire town is surrounded by a river and a forest. I’m now imagining the Animorphs books rewritten so that the kids live in a tiny mountain hamlet somewhere.
Anyway, the first mission involves you going to the mall and beating up some animals to acquire them. I got a monkey and a chimpanzee, then used the monkey morph to go and acquire a snake that was going crazy in the mall and which nobody seemed overly concerned about. (Almost everybody you talk to goes on about the Sharing and nothing else.) You have to use the snake morph to sneak into the Gardens, which can be a bit difficult given that your morph ‘dies’ permanently if you lose a battle with it. (Just like in the books!)
The other animals aren’t too dangerous, but the random Hork-Bajir and Taxxon you bump into can be a bit tricky. Mostly you just hit the enemy until it dies. There are some ‘support’ techniques (all of which sound like they came from a Pokémon game), but I never once got any of them to work. Healing is handled via ‘food’, which you get at random after a battle. (Although I prefer Rachel’s explanation: “Use food to heal. I saw some around town earlier.”)
My time with the game was fairly brief, mostly because it is genuinely difficult to play. After suffering through the first mission, I used the ludicrously-complex password system to hop around and get a feel for the other levels. The actual ‘gameplay’ feels like it was coded in a matter of days; there is no complexity, depth or nuance to it. You can win most battles by finding a decently powerful attack and then hammering ‘A’ until the enemy stops existing, and if there are any ‘rock-paper-scissors’ systems where certain animals are better against each other than others it was well-hidden enough that I couldn’t find it. The plot is sort of cobbled together from various events in the books (at one point you turn into a bat to get into a laboratory, for example), but overall it adds nothing to the mythos and isn’t particularly interesting.
The dialogue, however, is the game’s real downfall. I can only assume K.A. Applegate had nothing to do with writing it, because it is atrocious. The character’s personalities are sort of present if you squint and turn your head sideways, but only just. The NPCs all spout throwaway one-liners, and the series’ huge secondary cast goes almost entirely unused. There could have been an interesting game here – the ability to morph at any time is pretty neat, for example – but this isn’t it.
Still, it’s the only game I’ve ever played that let me turn into a monkey and punch a goat to death. That’s got to count for something, right?
Okay, next time I’m finally getting back to the regular series! Unless someone feels like mailing me a PAL version of the Playstation game, that is. Wait, don’t do that. I’m not sure I can handle another awful tie-in game so soon…