Back in 2009, I invited readers of HonestGamers.com to “torture Zigfried”. Readers selected from a list of ten commonly-berated titles, with the promise of a review detailing the painful experience. For the first (and only) episode of “torture Zigfried”, Mr. Nutz was the game chosen by the majority of the userbase. Below is the resulting review, originally published in 2009. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading it more than I enjoyed playing the game.
A few years back, while flipping through a newstand magazine, I came across a short review for Kabuki Warriors. The writer claimed to have beaten the game by rubbing the controller against his ass. I’ve played Kabuki Warriors. It’s a bad game. An easy one, too. But it’s not so easy that it can seriously be conquered via ass-rubbing. The thing is, that game makes an easy target. It wasn’t highly anticipated, the developers weren’t a media darling, and it had little to no hype. Those are the kinds of games upon which reviewers vent all their pent-up frustrations, since professionalism (and the desire for future employment) compels them to restrain their resentment and anger when disappointed by “real” games.
That may sound unfair. Writers are more likely to cut loose when reviewing unknown games from smaller studios . . . but shouldn’t all games be treated with the same level of professionalism and respect? In theory, it’s easy for people to say such double standards are misguided. In practice, those ultra-bash reviews are the ones that give writers a reputation for being witty and cool, so there’s an incentive to be unfair. The phenomenon isn’t limited to pro reviews; amateurs love to tear 16-bit games like Shaq Fu and Barney’s Hide and Seek apart. I think most of us have gone through that phase at some point.
It’s now 2009, and I’m reviewing Mr. Nutz for the Super Nintendo. I’d be hard pressed to find a game that is LESS relevant to the world at large. The only reason I’m doing this is because the site’s fine userbase thought the game would be atrocious. They want me to rip it to shreds with biting venom. The screens for Mr. Nutz don’t look particularly appalling . . . but it does look like a childrens’ game. Targets don’t come much easier than an old, forgotten kids’ games.
Sorry, readers; you’re about to be disappointed. I need not prove my manliness by smashing innocent games to a bloody pulp! Mr. Nutz is a mediocre game, but it is not a bad game.
It’s clear that the adventure — which begins in “Woody Land” — was heavily influenced by Sonic the Hedgehog, as Mr. Nutz collects coins from nooks and crannies across numerous expansive levels. Unlike Sonic, there’s no time limit; the squirrel with attitude can ride slow-floating sponges across acidic waters, swing around on vines, and clumsily bounce off of pinball blocks at his own leisurely pace without fear of Time Over. He definitely does dawdle; even holding the “run” button barely picks up the pace. Mr. Nutz clearly realizes there’s no clock.
There’s no battery backup, either, so be prepared to give up an entire afternoon or dateless evening to consecutively finish 24 long stages. Later ports wisely added a password feature. The SNES version does include a world map reminiscent of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts that zooms in and out for no particular reason, but I wouldn’t call that an even trade.
Although bright and colorful, the scenery is mundane, which compounds the dull pacing. The most exciting locale is a haunted kitchen populated by walking lightbulbs, walking roasted turkeys, and flying bees, all of which are defeated in the same three ways: jump on top of them, pelt them with nuts, or slash them with Mr. Nutz’ mighty tail (which is the one thing in the game that is RIDICULOUSLY well-animated). Regardless of appearance, enemies rarely do more than walk or fly back and forth from left to right in set patterns . . . even after they “see” the heroic squirrel, their patterns remain unchanged and undaunted. The slow, saccharine music makes this all feel even less exciting.
For all of these faults, Mr. Nutz is absolutely playable. The controls are responsive enough and the challenges fair enough to spare this game from the vicious beating that site readers expected. Cruel writers would smash this game over their mighty knees. Kinder souls would say the colorful and playable quest meets its goal of mindlessly entertaining children. After all, children have low expectations.
I reject that school of thought! It’s true that subtlety and narrative complexity are often lost on a child’s mind but, if anything, childrens’ games should show more wild imagination and more blatant emotion, not less.
Compare this to something else kids could have played back in ’94: the Sega CD’s Popful Mail opens with a hilarious sequence depicting an elven bounty hunter chasing the villainous “Nuts Cracker”. Nuts looks like a walking, talking nutcracker, and titular Mail is after his head. While running through that game’s version of Woody Land, the cackling Nuts Cracker actually removes his own head and lobs it at Mail. The head unleashes a puff of smoke, and Nuts Cracker escapes. The dejected Mail returns to town and tries to cash in the head . . . unfortunately, she discovers that the guildmaster already has a stack of fake Nuts heads. It’s broad humor — the type that children can appreciate — but more importantly, it’s an imaginative scene that engages the mind.
Children are immensely impressionable; making games for children means developers aren’t bound by conventional rules and logic. Mr. Nutz is a thoroughly conventional game that uses “for children” to excuse the designers’ stifling laziness and lack of imagination, instead of using “for children” to open doors for creative minds that want to escape.
Children are the people who’ll be designing our entertainment in twenty years. Would you rather play games crafted by people who grew up with Super Mario Bros. 3 and strive for creative freedom, or would you rather play games churned out by people who grew up with Mr. Nutz and see game development as a by-the-numbers way to earn money? Whether acting as critic or gamer, we should demand excellence instead of giving “kids’ games” an insulting free pass. Otherwise, in twenty years, there might be a whole lot more crappy games for reviewers to supposedly beat by rubbing controllers against their asses.