Friday, May 14, 2010

In Defence of FMV games – Part 2

Following on from my previous entry on FMV games, I shamelessly review a series of such titles based on little criteria other than my own bias. The games are real. the opinions uninformed. This heading photo is another from the collection of FMV-god Tom Zito, caption to read: “Beautiful women love a man who appreciates the satisfaction only FMV can bring.”

It Came From The Desert (Turbo Duo)
“We all know you took the money. What did you do, USE IT TO BUY REEFER?!”
So goes the drug-using accusation spouted by the local town’s gun nut. ICFTD on the NEC Turbo Duo was one of the earliest console FMV games which wasn’t a port of an arcade title (actually, it might be the first). It’s also totally different to all the other iterations of ICFTD. Stuck in a small town with a nuclear power plant, ants are mutating to giant sizes while the queen psychically controls the people. You watch FMV dialogue clips and then make decisions based on multiple-choice questions.
Occasionally you’ll end up playing one of three action minigames, side-scrolling action, overhead action or Operation Wolf style action. The FMV is low-resolution and low-colour so it’s a real eyesore, while the action segments are poorly coded and even more poorly designed (think unlicensed NES game quality). And yet, despite this being a complete mess, it hangs together by the sticky, smelly horse-glue that is B-moviegoodness. It’s like a playable version of those black-and-white 1950s creature-feature horror movies, and if you can get it for $10 or free, provides a lot of entertainment.
SCORE: ****

Kingdom the Far Reaches (3DO)
Graphic adventure with a lot of FMV segments in it. Suffers from design problems of instant death and the ability to waste your limited supply of essential items, but if you abuse the save-system and maybe use a guide, it’s a fairly good yarn.
I finished it in a day and enjoyed it – kinda like a cheap Disney knock-off. Had a sequel which I’ve not played.
SCORE: ***

Iron Helix (Sega CD)
I downloaded this and played for maybe 10 minutes, but grew bored of the tiny screen and slow moving nature of it. While the idea of wandering a derelict spaceship sounds cool, the controls made it cumbersome. Potentially awesome if you persevere further in...

Mansion of Hidden Souls (Saturn)
Like a bad version of 7th Guest. Wander some halls and talk crap to spirits. Hideous visuals. I stopped playing shortly after a dream sequence where I turned into a butterfly - I think that’s what happened, I don’t recall this so well, but there were butterflies everywhere, man, EVERYWHERE. I bought the disc for £1, and then I sold it for £1 to a guy named Mark, and I’d like to think that Mark went on to sell it for £1, like some kind of self-perpetuating curse.
SCORE: - (zero)

Star Wars: Rebel Assault (Sega CD)
Most places describe this as good – the best of the FMV games. I regard it as one of the worst. Horrid controls render is almost unplayable, and if you make it past the first, excruciating stage, it’s little more than a really grainy, poor-man’s rail shooter. It’s just not very entertaining, and by using pre-existing source material, they’ve lost the ability to create something original and interesting. Awful, just awful.
SCORE: - (zero)

The 7th Guest (CDi)
No, I didn’t like this either. I also fail to see why it sold so well – perhaps you had to be there, at the time, using the new CD medium. I realise people love it, so fair enough. I think it's slow moving, has boring acting (not bad acting, boring acting, the difference is important), and obtuse puzzles. The whole thing creaks along at a slow pace and the FMV features far too much low quality CG. I was wondering around a corridor when some CG skull flew past, and I thought to myself, I could be investigating murders on the mean streets of Snow Job, or shooting aliens in Ground Zero Texas, instead of wandering some dirty old house.

D (Saturn)
This has to go somewhere in the list, though it’s technically more of an adventure game using CG FMV in places. One of the weakest games by WARP studios I found (and I’ve played most of them), beaten only by some of their 3DO efforts. I love WARP though, so I don’t want to complain too much and I’m going to score it higher than I should. Kenji Eno is a lunatic genius on par with Suda 51 (man, can you imagine those two guys teaming up?), and D2 is still a fascinating survival-horror experience (the disturbing mechanical vagina boss has to be seen to be believed). The original D though is a bit naff. You find yourself magically warped to a castle and have to spend about two hours wandering the halls, solving a couple of basic puzzles, before shooting your dad who is a vampire (I think – I played the French language version).
SCORE: ** (only because Kenji Eno is in the credits)

Burn Cycle (CDi)
We covered this in the cyberpunk entry, but the prodigious use of FMV necessitates its inclusion again. It’s an adventure game in that you visit locales, talk to people and collect items for later usage, playing against a mixture of CG background and FMV people-cutouts. You’ve had a virus downloaded into your brain and you’ve only got 60 real-time minutes to stop it (you can increase this time limit though). The world’s atmosphere is pretty cringeworthy, and hearing the main character talk about how he needs to withdraw Zimbabwean Dollars from the Cosmic Karma Church’s bank never fails to raise a smile. It was developed in Australia I believe, so all actors apart from the main guy have an Aussie accent. A lot of effort went into the game, and the CDi release came in a neon-green jewel-case with plastic grooves in the front plus a music CD (which is diabolical). Despite the embarrassing nature of Burn Cycle at times, and some poor design choices (instant death ahoy), it’s still very entertaining to play, and essential for fans of adventure games, FMV games or cyberpunk. The best bit? HG101’s Kurt says you can buy it for like a dollar these days.
SCORE: *****

Corpse Killer (3DO)
“Welcome to hell, sucka! We gotta jump quick, zombie come.”

This almost takes first place as my favourite FMV game of all time, beaten only by Ground Zero Texas. You parachute onto an island infested by voodoo zombies and are helped by a Jamaican soldier with one of the strongest accents you’ll hear. It’s then off across the island to kill zombies and stop the evil doctor’s mad plans. There’s also a blonde reporter along the way acting as potential love interest, complete with innuendo-laden lines (you bet I know how to turn it on, baby!). Apart from the perfection of the hilarious overacting and classic B-movie story involving both VOODOO and ZOMBIES, the game has some diversity in that you can choose the locations to visit and can select between different weapons, which keeps the Operation Wolf-style gameplay interesting. It’s a lot of silly fun despite its simplicity and, as is essential for any FMV game, the story, acting and atmosphere are absurdly (im)perfect. NOTE: emulating the Sega CD version sometimes results in messed up controls for some reason. There was also a version for the Saturn released.
SCORE: *****

Fahrenheit (Sega CD)
You play a firefighter rescuing people from burning buildings. I loved it until I realised the game seemingly had no structure apart from randomly generating burning corridors using the same pieces of recycled footage. It renders the game almost impossible, as you walk through corridors which all appear to be the same, trying to find some old lady and her dog. A map system, or some kind of clever trickery to make the doors and walls appear more different would have been helpful.
SCORE: ***

Jurassic Park (Sega CD)
Not really FMV. More point-and-click adventure with some videos in it, and poorly animated dinosaurs. Quite good though. An interesting take on the film license.
SCORE: ****

Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine (Sega CD)
Worth downloading for the lengthy intro, this is like a really cheesy sci-fi flick (it reminds me of the old, incredibly awesome sci-fi series called Space Rangers). The game plays like Sewer Shark, but later levels become visually repetitive and it becomes difficult to navigate the railways. Even with emulator save states I never got past later levels.
SCORE: ***

The Masked Rider: Kamen Rider Zo (Sega CD)
Oh god this is amazing. They apparently took the Japanese Kamen Rider ZO film, which was never released in the USA, and turned it into an FMV game (cutting out large sections of the film), which was then badly dubbed into English for release in the USA. Regardless, this is AMAZING to play, and everyone who critically panned it should be ashamed - this stands as one of my top 10 pirated games. It consists mostly of non-randomised QTEs, but occasionally there’s a multiple choice to make, such as following a kid, investigating a lab, joining an enemy’s side, and so on. These give you different clips to watch, can help avoid some fights, and towards the end will kill you suddenly – it’s bad design for unintuitive multiple choice questions to kill you, but the continue system will respawn you at said question, negating any frustration. And that’s the thing about Kamen Rider: the design is archaic, the dubbing terrible, the plot goofy in the extreme (Guyver meets Power Rangers if you’re not familiar with the Kamen Rider franchise), and it’s pure cheese from start to finish. But the wrongness of it doesn’t frustrate, it’s just bloody entertaining. The fact the main character looks like a Ryo Hazuki reject should also raise a smile (sadly this video isn't dubbed).
SCORE: *****

Tomcat Alley (Sega CD)
Full-screen FMV take on Top Gun, where you watch recycled footage of jets flying through clouds and must lock on to enemy jets and blow them up before they blow you up. It’s fairly good, but for my taste the setting is a little too straight and serious (well, compared to an island of voodoo zombies, or town of alien replicants). Later levels are also quite difficult. I also have vague recollections that later in the game, the mission structure changes depending on how well or badly you do.
SCORE: ***

Chaos Control (CDi)
Ugly CG rendered FMV rails shooter. The game is actually a series of continuous clips, where if you hit any of the enemies shown, it overlays a pixelated texture over them to give the effect of them being on fire/damaged. The only point of note is that it has that distinctive “CG look” from the early 1990s, like a second-rate Lawnmower Man.

Psychic Detective (PS1)
Ambitious three-disc FMV adventure where you can read people’s minds and piggyback inside them to see where they go and what they do. Touching objects can also yield information about them. A big complaint about FMV titles is that you don’t have much control over them, which Psychic Detective manages to avoid by having a diverse range of options. If you choose to look at an object you might miss the chance to speak with a character, or there’ll be a situation where you can choose only one of three people to piggyback on (the bit where you can jump into the mind of a skateboarding kid is highly entertaining – even though it can lead to a game over). All the footage leading up to the final boss confrontation is compelling watching as you try to unravel the mystery. If you want an FMV game with replayability, relatively decent actors (the main star, Kevin Breznahan, also acted in the documentary film Alive, about people surviving on a frozen mountain by turning to cannibalism), a decent interface and fascinating story, then Psychic Detective comes highly recommended. I played the PS1 version which had one of the love-making scenes removed, though I hear the 3DO version is uncut.
SCORE: *****


  1. Cool stuff, once again.

    The stop-motion FMV game I mentioned in the other thread is called "Wrath of the Gods". I didn't play it, but it sure looks awesome.

    Oh, and kinda off-topic, but as the old post is so, well, old, I'm gonna write it here: If you're interested in having a look at the german video game TV show search for "X Base" in Youtube. Funny thing is that one of the moderators (guy with about shoulder-long hair back then) became notorious as the big anti-social national asshole on TV years later.

    Also, remind me to post a small bit about Korean FMV games when you're through with the series...

  2. Masked Rider Z really is a great game.

    Also, regarding Mansion of Hidden Souls: it was originally a Sega CD game. The Saturn game never got a US release.

    Maybe I'll post up a look at the original(and far superior) version. It was genuinely eerie and unsettling.

    You play as a brother who goes into a haunted mansion looking for his missing sister, and they're told if they don't escape by dawn, they'll both become butterflies.

  3. Aww, no enemy zero :(

    Still a great selection :D!

  4. You should look up Space Adventure Cobra for the Sega CD. It is pretty bad, but kinda awesome in some ways. It is based off some old anime, and it had an English release. If nothing else there is some random nudity in it which I found odd for a game released in the 90's.

  5. Ever heard of Escape from Cyber City? It was an animated FMV game for the CD-i and was quite good, if I remember correctly. I ask because I actually owned it as a kid (I was unfortunate enough to actually have a CD-i instead of a REAL game console), and nobody else seems to have ever heard of it.

  6. Holy shit, I remember playing Loadstar as a kid on a friend's PC.
    It was packaged with a similar Cadillac and Dinosaurs game.
    I would give anything to find out about this release... anyone know?

  7. Damn, I knew about both Cyber City and Cadillacs and Dinos, but forgot to mention them both. I also forgot I own Starblade on 3DO, another rails shooter (though apparently the arcade original is a lot different from the console port). There's a lot more than I realised - in fact the genre has quite a nice backlog to work through!

    Still, this is blogging chaps. And the current list of games was already a mammoth task to write up without all the titles I missed. So, if you can think of an FMV game which I've not listed (there's still part 3 to come), but you've played, write a few paragraphs on it and post it in the comments section, and I'll make a "Special Edition In Defence of FMV Games Part 4" based on everyone's entries.

    Assuming I don't lose interest in all this and manage to make it through part 3!

  8. I honestly love the scores of Dragon's Lair-type laserdisc arcade games from the early 80's: Ninja Hayate (Revenge of the Ninja here), Thayer's Quest, Cliff Hanger, Badlands, etc. But most Western console FMV games still irk me to no end. Sewer Shark, It Came From the Desert, Rebel Assault, and so on . . . I just can't bring myself to enjoy them. The Sega-CD Mansion of Hidden Souls is definitely worth checking out . . . amazingly, it looks better than the Saturn version. Also, how could you forget THIS:

  9. "both VOODOO and ZOMBIES"?

    Voodoo's where the zombie term comes from in the first place, so it's the ideal background

  10. A personal favorite of mine is Super Adventure Rockman, the interactive Megaman anime. It's very easy to follow and play even without knowledge of the language, and the boss fights are quite fun. Capcom's other FMV game, Street Fighter II: The Movie, though, is pretty terrible, in my estimation.

  11. @derboo:
    I missed your post the first time I skimmed the comments. Are you saying there are FMV games made in Korea, for Koreans, that never left Korea? Because that sounds like potentially the most amazing thing ever. By all means, please write something about them when you have the chance.

    Part 3 of this might be a while.

  12. Space Rangers is considered old?

    Please don't make me feel older than I am ;)

  13. Come on, Rebel Assault is not so bad. Did you play it with a joystick or not? Because although the controls are bad, they don't make it almost unplayable with a joystick. I finished the game with no problem. It's too similar to Star Wars: a New Hope, I'll give ya that. And yes, it's too grainy and poor overall. My point is: it's not unplayable and it could've been more original and better-looking, but not a zero-star game. Have you played Rebel Assault 2? Because that one has really good graphics for its time, real actors and an original plot that has nothing to do with the movies.

  14. You should have covered the Amiga version of It Came from the Desert. It's in a sub-category known as FMA (Full motion animation) which was popularized on the PC Engine Duo (think the intro to YS) but it's a much better game than the Turbo Duo version.