From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week, a game that... wait a minute, are you eating? Yeah. You might want to put it down for a while. Just a thought. And animal lovers? Push it far away.
Bad Mojo is The Cockroach Game. It's actually not unique in that any more, thanks to Daedalic releasing an adventure called Journey of a Roach, but that doesn't matter. When you think cockroach games, you think Bad Mojo. If you don't, you're not aware of it. You will be. Oh, yes. You will be. This is a story of death and decay, of dirt and disgust. And that's just the behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
The story is one you've probably heard a million times. You're a charming young man who looks a little like a fusion of Willard and Jim Carrey, with a stack of stolen money and a plan to disappear with it, who gets stopped in his tracks when his landlord shows up for the rent. With the kind of acting that's usually reserved for eggplants, Willey finally realises this isn't actually a problem and he can, y'know, pay the man to piss off. Unfortunately, before he can run away into the night, he decides to pick up his mother's old locket and is randomly transformed into a cockroach. So, yeah. Definitely a stroke of bad luck there. But these things happen more often than you'd think. (Sometimes with really catchy music.)
The resulting game, which isn't super long, is a truly revolting journey through one of the most disgusting worlds this side of Silent Hill, through the crumbling tenement home/dive bar of the King of Filth himself. As a cockroach, you stand as proof all that stuff about surviving nuclear explosions and the end of the world is so much nonsense, with even the slightest blob of glue or paint or... other sticky substances... acting as almost instant death unless you can wiggle your carapace off them in a couple of seconds. And that's just the start of it. The other roaches in the house are friendly enough, but the rest of the animal kingdom? You can't even trust the dead ones to lie back and just let you scuttle past in peace.
And so you see why this game can be so icky. That's not a well-drawn picture of a dead rat. That's an actual dead rat, scanned in for your stomach-churning pleasure by developers who jokingly complain that the problem with trying to scan in spiders is that they would literally by vaporised by the heat of filming. They ordered cockroaches from a supply company and let them be fruitful and multiply, creating what they called 'a terrarium of horrors'. The rat, though... the rat really had a bad day.
"It was our original goal not to harm any animals during the production of the game," begins the story. It doesn't get much better from there, with our friend there having just been captured from a restaurant by an exterminator... who then smashed it against his truck. Not apparently too bothered, the team raced back to stick it on the scanner table and get as many shots as they could before it started to stink and go rotten, and the story became "We only harmed animals who were on Death Row anyway."
At least the cats in the FMV bits were handled by a proper trainer.
The catfish you find in the kitchen, though? Beheaded in the studio. To be photographed.
Here's the cheery Making Of video that goes into lots of detail on that. Bad Mojo is easily the game with the most real-world kills to its name, at least until the Tomb Raider team decided Lara's deaths weren't looking accurate enough.
(How did they sleep at night? Answer: By switching to de-Kafkanated coffee.)
In the game itself, you also get to be responsible for quite a few deaths. Though simulated, at least. One of the earliest enemies is a spider, which should come as no surprise because spiders are inherently evil.
It's not normally a match-up in any cockroach's favour, but this time that cockroach has a human brain on hand... and also the spider is conveniently lying right next to a lit cigarette. After pushing it into the direction of its jump, there's a quick whoosh of fire and the forces of good and justice can mark one monster down, with only nine hundred and forty trillion or so to go, including the one that just dropped into your hair.
Not gory enough? Rats also turn out to be less than friendly with a scuttling horror like you, and there's no convenient cigarette butt this time. But there is a solution. Climb up above the rat, through a whole in a bathroom mirror. Look down. See a big wad of razor blades conveniently stuck together. Make it rain.
So, all very cheery stuff then. On the plus side, I suppose, this attention to detail isn't limited to things that can be killed. Bad Mojo is a simple enough game for the most part, your only real skills being to push things and scuttle over things—the precise scuttling sometimes stretching as far as offering huge swathes of pointless scenes, otherwise maddeningly leaving you crawling around in search of the one thing you're meant to go on. There's no map, only a few locations where you can see a vista of the current area, and it's really easy to get lost or lose track of what you're doing, despite knowing exactly where you are.
Whether you're somewhere important or not though, it absolutely lavishishes the world with its dark love, with very few short-cuts taken in crafting the illusion of a real place full of horrors. As you scuttle around your landlord's bed for instance, you see it's more than just the stain-splattered mattress it seems to be up top. It's a stain-splattered mattress with a stash.
Meanwhile, the table in his restaurant kitchen will likely make you never want to eat food again.
As you explore, something of a story also begins to unfold from the scenery and occasional cut-scenes—kind of like Gone Home, with more coprophagia. Eddie the Landlord is about to die, as despite having a well-earned resistance to all disease as a side-benefit of renting his rooms out to most of them, his sloppiness has led to silly things like leaving the gas on.
Without our hero's timely intervention, that means everything's going to go boom. And indeed, our hero doesn't have to intervene, getting his body back just in time to make it out before the explosion and start laughing his arse off. It doesn't work out so well, given that he's also carrying a big bag of stolen money, and his "roach" alibi only buys him a straitjacket when the police arrest him for what looks like a clear-cut case of murder.
Still, at least he gets a few minutes of happiness from another's suffering and isn't that ultimately what all of us are seeking? Some would say "yes". It is not advisable to lend these people a knife.
What's really going on though is that our hero and Eddie have more in common than they think. Eddie is Willey's father, and thus by process of elimination, Willey is Eddie's son. Willey's mother could have written a note to this effect, or chosen to leave a quick message in the slime somewhere, or any one of a hundred other plans. Instead, she opted for the "turn sleazy son into cockroach and hope it all works out" approach to family reunion, which even Dr. Phil has yet to give a shot.
It only comes to anything when the building explodes, leaving him holding the magic amulet and Eddie a picture of her wearing it. Together, they run away to a staggeringly cheap set pretending to be New Mexico, to study roaches and run a bar.
But really, the plot of this one isn't the point. Just weigh up the two sides. The reunion between a father and son. The game where you, a cockroach, crawl over an actual dead rat, and still have a billion more disgusting scenes to go.
It's no wonder that people remembered it whether they played it or not, which led to a re-release as Bad Mojo Redux. The game plays fine, though the movies on my machine are jerky to the point of being unwatchable. Hurrah for YouTube.
No animals were killed in the making of this Crapshoot. This cat did, however, get stroked quite a few times and seemed to appreciate it.