From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week, it's time to start the music, it's time to light the lights. It's time to meet the Muppets, in this Muppet game tonight... or from about 18 years ago. One of the two.
What's great about Muppets Inside is that it all goes wrong. Immediately. It starts up with a CD-ROM version of the classic theme ("It's time to boot the disc up. It's time to turn stuff on!") and then it crashes. Loudly. Full on speaker-crashing, back-to-desktop crashing. Well, poo. What a waste of money that was!
Except. "Well, that worked out great, didn't it?" mutters Kermit, as Fozzie Bear pushes open the desktop to apologise. "Oh no, not the bear!" shout Statler and Waldorf. "I thought computers were meant to make things better, not worse!" Because what could be more appropriate for a Muppets game than the whole thing being based on technical difficulties, with a trip backstage to your computer system to put things right so that the Muppets can put on a show? The answer: Nothing. Nothing at all.
Just look at the majesty of that opening. The details are perfect, from Beaker getting slammed into the screen to the cracks appearing near the end. Bad jokes, great puppets and the familiar voices... clearly, this must be the greatest Muppets game ever! Well, yes. Admittedly, it helps that the other ones have been completely forgettable. That said, this being a multimedia CD from 1996, it shouldn't be a huge shock that the actual game behind all of this stuff isn't particularly deep.
It's your classic collection of minigames and movie clips thrown together, those games not being great and the movie clips being extremely short. Everything is wonderfully wrapped though, mostly with puns. How do you travel through a computer? On a Databus! How do you find your way around? With a Bitmap!
Two of the games are basic clip-rearranging jobs. Beaker's Brain has you put clips in order, while Statler and Waldorf have a few scrambled up in picture form that they'd rather you didn't put back together because then everyone has to watch them. They deserved a better game, because they are the greatest Muppets ever.
But at least they do get to bring their delicious, with introductions like "Welcome to the Best of the Muppet Show. Well, that's about it for the Best Of The Muppet Show!" Statler and Waldorf are cultural heroes made of felt and bile whose every word should be written in stone and then used to crush a bad vaudeville performer flatter than their jokes. All hail you, ye gods amongst Muppets.
The actual games are more fun, at least once or twice. Simple, but again, well-wrapped. Mostly. For the time. By the standards of a genre that are, admittedly, so low that Charon occasionally sails past on his boat and waves hello. For instance:
This is Wokka On The Wild Side. Or "Missile Command" as it's otherwise known. A twitching Fozzie jerks across stage as if having a seizure, while the audience throws bananas for some reason that I'm sure makes sense. You have to shoot them down with explosions, because the same person who didn't realise it should be tomatoes also couldn't think of anything funny to throw. Like, say, custard pies.
Still, it's at least a little more complex than...
Death Defying Acts Of Culture! Imagine Angry Birds without the birds or the pigs or the landscape or the castles or the scenery or the anger and you've got a rough idea of this minigame, in which you launch Gonzo out of a cannon into a wall and occasionally a target while he plays royalty-free... ahem, "classical" music.
Not much to say about it, though it is cute that as soon as Gonzo smacks into the wall, he's picked up and carried right back into the cannon by paramedics for another go. Later levels complicate things by making you fire him through a ring of flame and so on, but not by much.
Trivial But True! Now, this is just lazy. Over here it was known as Celebrity Squares, while in the US I think it was Hollywood Squares. Either way, the lack of a pun in the name is deeply, deeply shameful. Still, it's endearingly Muppet-heavy, as they try to answer trivia questions (with occasional interruptions) and you have to pick whether or not they're correct to make a line of Xs.
"It's like basketball, except you're trying to get three Xs in a row, you don't sweat and you don't talk trash. Hmm. Maybe it's more like Tic-Tac-Toe." It's no You Don't Know Jack and it only has a handful of questions per round. But as a one-off, it could be worse.
But goodness, here's a question more dated than a septuagenarian escort...
Yowch. Next game?
Yeah, it's Name That Tune, only the tune is played on fish or small animals. Cute, but is there really anything to say about it? Not really. It's Name That Tune with some Muppet characters around the side and Miss Piggy complaining about being roped into helping to host.
But oh, does the last game make up for everything. It's...
...wait for it...
...wait for it...
...wait a little longer for it...
Does it matter that this is probably the worst Doom-style game ever made? Does it matter that it's technically more Wolfenstein 3D than Doom? Does it matter that the difficulty wouldn't challenge a fruit-fly who's never seen a computer before? Does it matter that it's terrible in every way?
NO. Because it's The Swedish Chef in a Doom parody, and the laws of the universe will not allow that to be a bad thing. Actual physical laws. If you travel to the great Law Center on Proxima Centauri, and speak Blodranian, you can see for yourself. I highly recommend it. They serve great nerve-squid.
The problem with all of these games is that once seen, well, they've been seen, and Muppets Inside doesn't have a lot more meat to offer. You play the games to unlock the main map, from which you play the games again and again and again and again until finally you're done.
It does at least throw in lots of clips and extra gags between them though, with props being added to the data bus, bad puns like a melon described as "This meloncholy guy was ripe for love—he fell for a banana that had a peel but then was told he cantaloupe."
There's also completely random stuff, like Rizzo the Rat popping up to sing a trademark song that starts "Jim Henson's Muppets... And all of the their names. Are trademarked of course. And highly enforced..."
As you keep playing there are also regular cut-aways to the Muppets doing their best to fix things, from Sam Eagle making a stand against pirates, to Gonzo demanding his right to pain, and Animal beating the drums in the Sound Card Club. ("We believe in Designated Device Drivers.")
Once everything is done and reconnected, Rizzo is finally able to beam everyone out... give or take a sandwich... and it's finally time to start the game properly. Start the music! Light the lights! It's time to meet the Muppets—
And then Lew Zealand blows everything up. Because how else could it possibly have ended?
As with a lot of these things, the CD-ROM also shipped with a load of icons and other gubbins to "Muppetize" your PC, which translated as 'make a bloody mess of it'. But never mind.
For its flaws, mostly in the games and the lack of variety, this was a pretty damn good multimedia disc. Actual effort went into it, with lots of new footage rather than just old footage recycled as cheaply as possible, the gags were either funny or appropriately painful, and younger Muppet fans especially were going to get a lot out of the hours and hours it would take to unlock everything.
It helped that their parents likely weren't going to buy them a new game for the next few months and the Internet cost about a billion squillion monies per second back then. They were dark, dark times. But these? These are lighter ones, not least because you can see the whole thing right here, and fast-forward the dull bits.
Ah, the nostalgia. The heartfelt innocence of those felt puppets. The dizzy days when FMV was cool even when it didn't have Tex Murphy in it. How long ago they seem now. How many summers have passed. On the plus side, at least shellsuits will never be in fashion ever again.
So, swings and roundabouts. Ahem.