Looking back to being a 10-year-boy, I realize I put up with a ton of poor quality in the name of playing videogames. I clearly remember coasting through games, only to go back to them 10 years later and grimacing.
Growing up, I can't think of any game I wouldn't play for at least 15 minutes. I can tell you the first game I ever played was Space Invaders on the VCS, my first arcade game was Super Mario Bros. Vs., my first gaming machine was a C64, the first game I rented was Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! and the first game I bought with my own money was The Legend of Zelda.
In 1991, I hit another milestone. I rented Captain Planet and the Planeteers and for the very first time I can remember thinking, "Man. This game is awful." I remember this clearly because it was such a strange feeling.
I would explore worlds such as Hydlyde or Deadly Towers even though I thought the games were subpar. I would stick with poor LJN sports titles in the hopes of nailing that one big highlight reel moment. My friend and I would revisit E.T. and loop the game. Oddities such as Friday the 13th made my friends and I laugh. But I couldn't play Captain Planet no matter what odd motivation popped into my head.
I could spout off a list of games I believe to be technically worse than CPatP, but, somehow, this was the game that served as the straw that broke the camel's back. As such, this "review" serves as much as a story I am sharing as it does as a mechanical breakdown. Even as I type this in 2013, I still think, "Seriously? Of all games, it was Captain Planet?"
At that age, I thought the animation the game was based on was okay. It was filler on TBS until something cool like S.W.A.T. Cats would air. So it came as a bigger letdown when the opening of the game was actually fairly well detailed with the characters from the show. In fact, if any positive could be thrown at CPatP, it would be a portion of the graphics. While no animation is present in the "cutscenes," the characters and colors are actually fairly impressive.
However, barreling through the title screen and opening, everything falls to pieces. The show revolved around this ultimate defender of justice that could control any of Earth's elements, rocked a red banana hammock and green mullet as hard as he could and spouted puns so lame, you could hear the world groan simultaneously. And there were kids, rings, a ship, a goddess thing, eco-villains, an evil twin and PSAs in there somewhere.
So how do you start a game based on this so-bad, it's good superhero? You put five teenagers in a gaudy, yellow ship and launch what is arguably the worst sh'mup in the NES library. Most of the weapons at your disposal are useless and the ship controls so horribly, the one-hit kills will drag the teenagers into the abyss left and right until you get a grasp on the basics.
But even once you get a hang of the game, you can tell you are in for a challenging fight through the entire game. Anything you touch in the game's vehicles sends it careening down and "fun" gimmicks await you such as the race against the dump trucks and using the heart "power" to save animals. The only useful weapon I remember having was the ring of fire, which shot projectiles. The other powers seemed to serve as subweapons for specific uses throughout the different levels, which I suppose gave an element of experimentation to the game.
And as I cruised along in the ship, copter or submarine, some of the worst music and sound effects filled my ears. Honestly, I've seen people who will defend this game even admit the sound in CPatP is absolute garbage. Anything audible in this cart just spits out blooping and adds nothing to the experience. Most importantly, the lack of any soundbytes resembling the show should be considered a crime, especially considering the iconic theme song.
I toughed it out for a while and finally I reached one of the eco-villain's bases in the game. This is when the teenagers finally let their powers combine and call Captain Planet - you know, the person you just wanted to play as in the beginning, just like in the Spectrum version of the game. The mullet, the Speedo and the super powers - they're all large and in charge in digital form.
Admittedly, the segments involving the good captain were subpar as opposed to abysmal. You can fly around, punch, turn into different elements and actually fight off the villains. Too bad the level design does nothing to highlight the different powers and just leads players through uninspired corridors.
Overall, when you look at the NES library, there are so many more games you could recommend to someone that nailed down solid gameplay or captured the essence of a licensed project. CPatP hit neither of these. In fact, it is like having two bad games inside a single cartridge when you break the game up between the different play styles.
At the time, I couldn't fathom how everything came together so wrongly. I'd never felt this way about a videogame before, so was it just me? When my grandparents still lived in a different state than I did, a visit to their house meant grandma would always buy a gaming magazine for me. While Nintendo Power was shipped straight to my home, a visit to grandma's meant scoring an issue of mags such as GamePro.
Flipping through an issue of Videogames and Computer Entertainment, I was met with a review of CPatP, and, as expected, the game was trashed. I was justified. Even with all of the NES games I've played through that bloggers and YouTube channels blast, it seemed like CPatP was a secret. No one puts it on their cheeky lists of worst games. Some people may not even know the game exists.
Still, I treasure my history with CPatP. One of my cousins actually received the game as a gift a few years later and I essentially had to play it with him. Using his Game Genie is how I experienced the game in full, gritting the teeth the entire time, but honestly getting a few laughs along the way.
If you believe in the concept of yin and yang, you have to experience "bad" to understand and appreciate what "good" is. I had to experience Captain Planet and the Planeteers - it was my destiny. But, still, of all the games that could enlighten me and elevate me to a higher plane of gaming existence, it took a group of teenagers and superhero that could be defeated with car exhaust to say, "This is bad."