Saturday Crapshoot: Home Alone
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, the other defining Christmas movie of our time. Well, his time, at least. He saw it in the cinema when it came out. (Turns out he's getting depressingly old.)
It's amazing what a difference a sequel makes. In Home Alone, Hollywood presented the ultimate child fantasy that didn't involve a chocolate-spitting Super Nintendo - a movie of freedom, of good times, and ludicrously convoluted cartoon traps brought to life in a war that is even now talked of in movie lore as "Joe Pesci vs. The Swear Jar". Then Home Alone 2 happened, proving quite effectively that Kevin McCallister was less a bright kid in a bad place as a gleeful serial killer in training. Wow. A blowtorch was bad enough, but an arc welder? It's a wonder The Good Son wasn't officially Home Alone: Part 3.
By Hollywood law though, every movie must become a game. How did this one fare?
Surprisingly well, actually. I know. I'm shocked too. Now, to be clear, that doesn't mean this is a good game. It's not. So not. Even at the time, it wasn't, pulling scores in the bottom half of the bell curve. When it comes to looking back at film licenses though, you kinda have to use different criteria - like Die Hard last week, it's really more a question of how they use the movie to make an experience that you're unlikely to get from anything else than whether or not that experience lives up to the best of the best of the best.
Or indeed, the most mediocre of the 'meh'.
In what I doubt will be much of a shock, the structure of the game is rather more about traps than a more free-wheeling Gone Home - lots of dropping water next to staircases, not much in the way of making silly faces after using aftershave or uncovering the secrets of your sister's developing sexuality. This is pretty standard for Home Alone games, the most famous of them ('famous' being a little strong, admittedly), being the festering pile of 8-bit fail that is the NES version, or the 16-bit abomination that is its SNES version (based on the Gameboy one, to ensure that every platform gets to share the humiliation)
All of them have a few similarities, notably being set in a side-scrolling house and fighting the crooks. The PC/Amiga versions are the bravest though, trying to replicate what happened in the movie - just Kevin vs. Harry and Marv with traps, rather than bulking out the Wet Bandits with more goons, adding gratuitous platforms to the house, or giving Kevin a gun. True, we're talking things like a water pistol and slingshot, but even so. The NES version also focused entirely on traps, but... not very well. It was more about dropping the idea of a trap than actually setting one, with the burglars obligingly falling over but not really conveying the oomph and blood that feeds Kevin's growing demonic core and will one day lead to the rise of Akakatkakakakateshikalonika and the prophesied obliteration of all flesh. Still less painful than sitting through another Hobbit movie, mind. Who knew 'desolation' meant 'drawing out beyond all sanity'?
One of the best things about the PC version is that it offers prep time. The game starts at 8PM and gives an hour of in-game time to run around and both find the pieces that you need to set traps, and to... uh... set the traps. As in the movie, it doesn't seem the best idea, though since this is a movie series that recommended children befriend crazy pigeon ladies and that every scary adult is a potential comrade in arms just waiting for a child to open them up, we probably shouldn't use it as a textbook for life.
Once 9PM rolls round, Harry and Marv enter the house and begin a search-and-destroy mission. They move quickly and act like Kevin-seeking missiles, with just one touch meaning death. They however have Bugs Bunny levels of resilience, with each fall merely being a notch on Kevin's belt - a little like in the movie. Traps are set up largely by solving puzzles, such as using a hosepipe outside the front door to put a slippery puddle in front of some steps or heavy paint-cans over doors. There are over 20 of them to find and set up. Then, once the timer finishes, all that's left is to painstakingly lead the crooks into them until they take enough punishment to stop getting up, and victory and a movie career is Kevin's for the taking.
There's not really much more to say about it. It's a simple premise that's weighed down by a few things - the graphics not really being good enough for the injuries to be funny, a lack of randomness that means there's not much to discover after a while, and most notably, the name Capstone on the box - Capstone being one of those companies whose catalogue was less a list of titles as a rap sheet. Amongst their highlighters were the shooter based on William Shatner's TekWar, a game of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and demonstrating the kind of skill at choosing licenses that probably explains why nobody's ever heard of them, The Beverly Hillbillies. Of all the games that didn't need to exist.
Oh. And speaking of games that didn't need to exist...
The original Home Alone may not have been great... or even non-rubbish... but at least it was slightly defensible. For the time. A bit. Its sequel, not so much. Instead of playing evil mastermind, which is always fun, this one sees Kevin constantly on the run with the Wet Bandits in hot pursuit. So, steaming pursuit, probably. The first stage sets up what a staggeringly bad idea this is, as Kevin runs past about a million adults completely oblivious to the small terrified child picking up dustbin lids and hurling them at the two grown men close on his tail in an obvious state of child-choking fury, not even pausing to try and sell him a banana skin or complain as he scoops up handfuls of gems to throw at his pursuers.
Every level continues in the same vein, through the hotel, toy store and the second house of horrors, with traps replaced with just desperately grabbing for things and throwing them behind. You do get an inventory of items, sure, but there's no tactical element and no satisfaction. It's as if Harry and Marv have been imported from the Terminator license, just as this lady obviously came from a different game...
It's the most half-assed take on the game you could imagine, short of having Kevin simply sit down in front of a TV and actually watch the movie. Levels flat out repeat, only in reverse. The closest it gets to showing the plot is to pop up some pictures that remind you Tim Curry was in the movie. All you do - all you do - is run away from Harry and Marv, hitting one button to pick up crap and another to throw it back at the pursuers, or dump things on the floor that will slow them down for a second or three.
That's it. That's the entire game. Now, sure, those things are sometimes peas from dinner in the hotel that are somehow slippery (try that some time, especially on carpet; see how it works out). Sometimes they're ballistic toilet rolls. They all do exactly the same thing though. The only real challenge - and I use that word in a sense normally applied to stool in the middle of a Christmas morning chocolate-binge driven case of the squits - is that the screen is so small and the characters so well matched in terms of speed that if you're on the wrong horizontal level, you're screwed. You have absolutely no time to move up or down and even the slightest mistake is usually enough for the crooks to close the gap. It is awful, with the only thing you can say in its favour being that it's also mercifully short. I hear that when it was released, Santa liked to give this to the bad kids instead of coal, on the grounds that you could at least have some fun playing catch with that or throwing it at the victim that got them on the naughty list.
How did it stack up to the console versions though? Once again, it was very different, with the NES version taking a ludicrously surreal approach to things, and the Sega one apparently mistaking Kevin for an action hero. It does however have the truly fine ending text: "Mom, I knew you'd find me by the giant Christmas tree. This is my friend, the pigeon lady! Can we go home now?"
The spirit of Christmas, right there. Bye, new friend! Enjoy dying alone in the cold!
"Capstone: The Pinnacle of Entertainment Software" indeed. Presumably "The Pyramid Of Poop" was taken, or the creative genius who felt the company could get away with such a high claim disappeared in mysterious circumstances before it released the dullest named shooter of all time: "Corridor 7".
And that, if my calendar is to be trusted, is another year of Saturday Crapshoot in the bag. Thanks for following along with me, and I look forward to catching you in the New Year for both more ludicrously long looks at obscure games, and more livestreams where we can jump into the archives together and have a bit more in-depth fun with the good, the bad, the obscure and the most deservedly forgotten. Until then, I've put together a list of some of my favourites from this year that you may have missed or enjoy reading again now, and while the archive here is still unfortunately having a little trouble of the Gremlin variety, here's a complete list of every Crapshoot so far. Goodness, aren't there a lot? So many words.
And with that, that's it for me this year. Hope you had a Merry Christmas/other festival/entirely secular but still enjoyable break from work, and have a Happy New Year next week. Catch you in 2014!