I have a confession to make here. I'm one of about two people in the civilized world who actually liked the Howard the Duck movie. Oh, I knew it was never gonna get an Oscar or anything like that, but as turn-your-brain-off mind candy, there's certainly been worse ways to spend 90 minutes of your life. (A Red Bull New York game comes to mind, for instance...) It's probably my favourite bad movie, all things considered.
Of course, "turn-your-brain-off mind candy" does no justice to the real Howard the Duck, the inspired comics creation of Steve Gerber, who stuck him in one panel of a Man-Thing comic as a throwaway gag (see, there was this swamp that was a "nexus of all realities," and Howard, a talking duck from a world of cartoon animals, popped out of the bushes to deliver a one-liner at the expense of the story's lead character) only to have him became so popular he was eventually given his own series. And not just any series, either, but one that very successfully deconstructed the medium in a way usually reserved for underground comix... except this was a mainstream book published by industry giant Marvel Comics. Howard, as a duck "trapped in a world he never made" - that is, ours - survived the usual indignities heaped upon a comics lead with an acerbic wit coupled with some surprisingly insightful commentaries on human nature. Gerber was even allowed to do some experimental stuff, such as an entire issue that was really little more than an illustrated essay on the challenges facing creative writers in a comics medium that too often emphasizes quantity over quality. It was bold, dynamic, and daringly different for a "Big Two" comic of its day.
The movie, however, had none of these qualities. It was just another special-effects bonanza, and while not the worst comic-to-film of all time (though it did hold that "honour" until Batman & Robin came along), it comes off as vaguely insulting to its source material and creator. Still, it does have its moments, provided you view it as pure camp and don't try to take it too seriously.
So of course, Activision - the same Activision responsible for some of video gaming's finest hours, I might add - no doubt hoping the movie would be a box office hit, decided to put out a licensed game based on the movie. Now, admittedly, Activision did release one of the very few movie-to-games that was even halfway decent in its own right (Ghostbusters), so maybe they felt lightning could strike twice?
No such luck, folks. This game is dreck with a capital "duck."
The scenario is thus: As Howard, you're tasked with rescuing your friends Beverly and Phil from the tropical-island hideout of a Dark Overlord of the Universe, fighting your way through mutants along the way, then piloting an ultralite aircraft into a volcanic cavern, where you dodge stalactites and bats while crossing a bridge over lava en route to a final confrontation with the Overlord with your trusty bazooka at your side. Fair enough... until you realize this plot has virtually nothing to do with the film. Actually, given that the film's own plot is pretty lame itself, that might actually be a good thing...
The best thing about the game is its graphics. Howard looks and animates very well indeed, and the backgrounds have a flair that's perfect for the tone of the game. Despite some jerky scrolling during the game's first stage, which hurts the effect somewhat, it's like playing a cartoon on your 64, at least visually.
Unfortunately, once you get past the graphics and start to actually play, the whole game falls apart faster than George Lucas disowned the movie! Howard may be a duck, but he moves with the speed of a turtle and the grace of a drunk elephant... the play control is easily among the worst of any commercial C64 game I can think of offhand. When you fight mutants, you do it hand-to-hand in a manner that brings back bad memories of swapping fisticuffs with Treens in Dan Dare - only with even worse control, if such a thing can even be imagined. And don't even get me started about the ultralite sequence...
If you can muddle through with the most unresponsive flight controls in the history of computer gaming, things do pick up a bit once you get inside the volcano. Unfortunately, while the control has improved quite a bit, now it's the collision detection that will do you in, as you will constantly be cursing the game for killing you when it looks for all the world like you should be perfectly safe.
And your reward for getting through the whole game? A full-screen medal. That's it. No ending movie, no victory text saying how Howard and his pals get off the island, nothing. Even on the hardest setting that's all you get. It's almost as if this game, not content with clubbing you over the head with its horrendous controls and pathetic gameplay, now has to spit in your face as a parting shot.
I've played Flash games better than this. No, not even that... I've played ZX81 games better than this! It may look nice, but that's about all it has going for it... there's barely even any sound! Just some generic fighting noises and an extremely annoying "death rattle" when the mutants gang up on you and toss you off the island. The only music is heard during the intro movie, and even that seems flat and uninspired.
This has got to be Activision's lowest point for the C64. It's astounding that the company that gave us Pitfall II, Zenji, H.E.R.O., and Hacker for our favourite 8-bit micro was responsible for this junk. Still, George Lucas was involved in the making of the movie, so there's shame to be had all around...
Downloads: Music, Advert
|GRAPHICS - 7/10|
|The one strong suit of the game. The backgrounds are appropriately cartoony and the sprites well-animated. Even the intro movie looks good. The in-game scrolling is a bit jerky, though...|
|SOUND - 2/10|
|Other than a lacklustre SID re-creation of the movie's theme song during the intro and the medal screen, this game's almost totally silent. |
|PLAYABILITY - 1/10|
|The joystick is read so poorly in this game that I always thought my controller was broken. Fighting the mutants is almost impossible, and the ultralite sequence is frustration itself.|
|OVERALL - 2/10|
|The movie wasn't QUITE as bad as its reputation (though it was still pretty horrible), but the game is utter garbage. If you ever come across the film, you might want to give it five minutes of your time... five minutes more than I'd recommend letting THIS train wreck have!|