Welcome to the House of Pain.
While Hollywood is known for continually giving the world more and more reasons to hate the American film industry, every now and then the accursed city will shit out a movie that transcends the typical cinematic drivel we've all become accustomed to and achieves a higher level of crap that really gets the more frugal audience members lamenting the loss of whatever sum of money they foolishly fed to the box-office beast in exchange for a ticket. For the unlucky moviegoers of 1990, that movie was Home Alone, a film that made us laugh at the implausible setting and cry every time we saw Macaulay Culkin's freaky-ass little gremlin face. Unfortunately, the movie's reign of terror wasn't confined to the big screen, but thanks to the public's inexplicable infatuation with the flick, it also managed to taint the realm of video gaming when the NES adaptation of Home Alone was released the following year. Astoundingly, the designers were able to make playing the game an even more painful experience than watching the movie (way to go, THQ!), thanks in no small part to the fact that the game apparently took all of three days to make, with a budget less than the cost of this week-old bottle of rum I chugged in preparation for writing this review.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, here... Let's get things formally started with a rundown of the plot for this bitch.
Now, unfortunately, it's been quite a few years since I saw Home Alone, and my long-term memory has been all but destroyed thanks to daytime sitcoms. But I'll be damned before I'll be bothered driving all the way to the video store and forking over $6 to rent that horrible excuse of a movie just to help me write a review that five people are going to see between now and the end of time. Therefore, I'm going to go out on a limb here and explain the story behind this game based on what I can interpret from the on-screen action as well as numerous summer blockbuster clichés. Here goes...
You play as a young boy named Kevin McCallister, who is secretly a super-intelligent alien sent to earth to deliver plans for an advanced force field generator that is humanity's last hope for survival against a giant asteroid that will reduce the planet to space-dust in a matter of hours. In an effort to stop you and somehow gain control of the universe, two evil cyborgs from the future appear and disguise themselves as common criminals. You discover their true identity only after they manage to assassinate a cheerful Motel 6 maid whom you fell deeply in love with despite your vast differences in class and social status. The audience is brought to tears over this tragic turn of events, only to be thrown into a whirlwind of action as the cyborgs give chase to you through downtown Los Angeles.
After a few action-packed car chases and a scene involving slow-motion bullet dodging, they eventually corner you in some sort of scientific facility that has been camouflaged to look like an ordinary suburban home. Just before they deal the fatal blow, however, you are able to attach a pair of time delayed explosive devices to their chests, and you must now evade them for twenty minutes until they detonate and you can continue your mission to save earth from a fiery, asteroid-induced apocalypse.
Sure, it may seem farfetched, but that scenario kicks the shit out of my original assumption that you were just some snot-nosed kid trying to hide from a couple of thugs who were hellbent on slitting your throat, possibly either before or after molesting you. Either way, it doesn't really matter, since the game is content to throw you into the middle of the action without any explanation as to what the hell is going on. Since the programmers couldn't be bothered setting aside five minutes to put in a screen of text clarifying the players' objective, most people will probably end up experiencing the agony of defeat at least a couple of times before they even figure out what the game is expecting them to do. As it turns out, you have to avoid getting captured by a couple of burglars while the police take their sweet time coming to your rescue.
By the way, good motherfucking luck with that.
People have hope because they cannot see Death standing behind them.
While dodging a pair of candidates for America's Least Wanted for twenty minutes might sound easy enough, the game takes every precaution to ensure that this simple task is made infuriatingly difficult. First, the fact that young Kevin has two sprained ankles and a bad case of hemorrhoids results in one of the slowest video game characters I've seen since I played Space Pirate Rosie O'Donnell Goes to Quicksand World for the Sega Saturn. While you move at roughly the speed of a dead fish sliding down a 30° incline, the bastards chasing you can run so goddamn fast it's like their legs are pumped full of enough steroids that they could leap up and dunk a basketball through a hoop fastened to the peak of Mount Everest. Once these guys see you, your only hope to avoid a good ol' fashioned stabbin' is to run as fast as your stubby little legs can carry you and hide behind something before they catch you. Ducking behind any piece of furniture in the house will magically cause you to become invisible to the burglars' eyes, and they'll either run right past you or simply give up their pursuit and leave. Try to stay close to a couch or a bed whenever possible, because if you should you be caught without something to hide behind, you may as well bend over and kiss your pixilated ass goodbye.
Even if you should find yourself with cover, however, hiding in one spot will only work for so long (about five or six seconds) before the game's cutting-edge anti-camping AI program kicks in and the crooks get wise to your whereabouts. At this point, you'll be forced to relocate while fighting back the only way you can: by collecting ordinary household objects and using them to build elaborate traps. And, by "elaborate traps", I mean you drop stuff on the floor and the burglars will come and trip on it and die for a few seconds. I guess when you've got Olympic track star crooks hot on your heels, you don't have time for any fancy MacGyver shit.
Thankfully, the dumbasses chasing you are borderline retarded, and despite the fact that your arsenal consists of crap like thumbtacks, light bulbs, and toys, you can reuse them to foil your would-be captors over and over again. You'd think that, upon seeing that same damn string of Christmas lights on the floor for the fifteenth time, a grown man would know enough to sidestep it and avoid injury... Not these two criminal masterminds, though. They will occasionally walk straight through one of your traps unharmed, but this happens randomly, and I'm thinking it's more of a glitch rather than an intended gameplay mechanic (a bold claim given THQ's nearly flawless record of bug-free NES titles, I know).
Speaking of graphical anomalies, one of the precious few fun experiences I managed to have with this game was wandering down to the basement and having Kevin stand against the wall, then pressing right and finding that he had inexplicably gained the ability to moonwalk. Since this game originally came out back when Michael Jackson was known more for entertaining kids rather than molesting them and/or dangling them off of balconies on tall buildings, that must have put a smile on quite a few children's faces back in the day. Unfortunately, the fun quickly dies when you realize that walking backwards just makes it that much easier for the over-caffeinated outlaws to run up and ass-rape you from behind. As a matter of fact, any attempt at having fun in this game is usually met with an especially swift defeat, as if the game is bitch-slapping you for trying to enjoy it.
Having read this far into my
review, it's possible that you might have come to the conclusion that Home Alone was not given what most people would consider a generous amount of time and attention while in the development stage. In fact, it may even appear as though the designers didn't actually give a damn what they were making, and merely wanted to rush this piece of digital dog shit out the door as quickly as possible so that they could cash in on the film's success and make a quick buck before fleeing to Mexico. If there is any doubt lingering in your mind that this was the case, then consider the fact that the level in which the whole game takes place couldn't have taken any longer to build than half an hour, tops. And I'm talking 30 minutes for the whole production process, here: sketching out the level design, creating the artwork, putting everything together, writing the code, summoning the Dark Lord Lucifer for his approval, etc. The stage is no more than a dozen screens big, yet the designers still cut corners everywhere. Everything looks plain and generic, the color palette is smaller than a marketing executive's dick, and everything aside from the three character sprites is completely devoid of any animation (unless you count all of the flickering walls and objects as being "animated", in which case this game puts the frame counts in fucking Street Fighter III to shame).
That's the ugliest Christmas tree ornament I have ever seen.
I know this is the NES we're talking about here, and I don't expect anything mind-blowing in the graphics department, but goddamn it, this game is even a step back from the original Super Mario Bros., and that game had approximately infinity percent more levels than this. And it's not like people expected all video games to look this terrible back then, either. This game came out the same year as Final Fantasy IV and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for fuck's sake!
Even if you can get past the soul-crushingly bad visuals, though, you'll still bemoan how shoddily this game was thrown together. Having the entire game take place in one house would be bad enough if the house wasn't some kind of fucking maze-like deathtrap, but the designers for this gem of hardened crap felt the need to go above and beyond the call of cruelty and put together one of the worst levels ever to grace a console game. Evading your pursuers is insanely difficult thanks to the many dead ends and impossible-to-climb staircases just waiting to screw you over each time you start up a new game. And I guess there must be a barbed wire fence around the whole yard or something, because even though you can go outside, you can't leave the property to seek safety. Honestly, if there was ever a fire in that house, the family living there would be fucked. Especially since it would probably take the fire department twenty goddamn minutes to get there.
Speaking of dying, I think it's about time I started wrapping up this review so that I can get back to using alcohol to kill the brain cells that remember this game...
Every time I'm forced to look at this screen, something inside of me dies a little.
The culmination of my time spent with Home Alone occurred after I had spent hours cursing and mashing buttons like a maniac, when my perseverance was finally rewarded and I miraculously managed to stay alive for an entire four and a half minutes. It was a moment so satisfying that I felt like smoking afterwards. But then... then came the horrible realization of what the numbers on the 'game over' screen meant... It was a countdown timer, and it was informing me that I was still more than fifteen minutes away from claiming victory at the time of my latest failure. It was then that I adopted the new strategy of screaming "FUCK THIS BULLSHIT!" as loud as I could and throwing my controller at the wall. Later, after I had coaxed my dog back into the house and assured the neighbors that everything was fine, I began one of the longest and most intense sessions of drinking ever attempted.
I've got to hand it to THQ... Their unbridled hatred for gamers everywhere gave me one hell of an excuse to dive into a state of inebriated euphoria I very seldom get to experience. That by itself makes this game worthy of two socks in my opinion. Unfortunately, I was eventually arrested for urinating in a sandbox at a public park while some kids were playing in it, so I'm going to have to take one sock off of my final score for that. Tough luck, Home Alone.