Sunday, 10 April 2016

Willy Wombat (Saturn)

The early years of the 32-bit era were a time of great experimentation. The advent of decent texture-mapped 3D on home consoles meant developers were trying to find new genres that wouldn't have been previously possible, and finding ways to take old genres into the third dimension. Willy Wombat falls into the latter category, being an attempt at making a 3D mascot platformer. Unfortunately, I think it came out a year or two too late to be a big success: by 1997, the animal mascot fad had pretty much completely died down, the Saturn was already mostly abandoned in the west, and, to be brutally honest, compared to its contemporaries, WW would have looked pretty ugly and old hat, with its pre-rendered sprites on drably-coloured 3D stages look.

Like you've probably figured out, it's a 3D platformer, about the eponymous wombat. What you might not expect is that he's an ex-cop on the run from the totalitarian regime he once served, and is also searching ancient ruins for six magic gems. The camera is always high above the stage, and can be rotated with the shoulder buttons. You have melee attacks and the ability to throw boomerangs, which can be used to collect items as well as defeat foes.

It's  a shame for a couple of reasons. The first is that the character designs were done by Susumu Matsushita, of Famitsu magazine fame, and all look pretty cool in their cutscene portaits and other art, even if their actual sprites are kind of blobby. Secondly, it was clearly made with a view to a worldwide release,  with all the cutscenes having full english voice acting, and the main character looking like a mix of Sonic, Indiana Jones and Batman. On the other hand, had it got a worldwide release, there's a good chance it wouldn't have gotten the best reception.

Willy Wombat is a game with problems that go beyond the slightly ugly graphics. Mainly, it's incredibly frustrating to play. The stages are huge, full of enemies, puzzles, traps and pitfalls, so obviously, some of the difficulty is down to deliberate design, which is fine. Unfortunately, everything you do (or try to do) ingame is made all the harder because of how the game works. It's sometimes hard to be sure you're facing in the exact right direction to hit an enemy or dodge a trap or jump over a pit. In fact, fighting crowds of enemies is usually best done by standing still and repeatedly firing while rotating the camera with the shoulder buttons to aim.

Willy Wombat is a game I really tried my hardest to like, but eventually, I just couldn't suck up the frustration any more, and it began to sprout into boredom as I fruitlessly wandered round a stage, looking for the next place to go to. It's just not fun enough to stick with, unfortunately.

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