Saturday, March 5, 2016

Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon - The anti-smoking SNES game

Genre: Platforming/Educational - Platform: SNES - Release: 1994
In a world much like our own (actually, I think it's supposed to be our own), one of the top salesmen of Blackburn Tobacco Company is DYING as a result of a lifetime of smoking his company's products! His mouth, lungs, heart, and brain are in critical condition and now the only one who can save him is REX RONAN, a surgeon who is perfecting the technique of shrinking to near microscopic size, entering the bodies of patients, and fighting illness from the inside out (I could've sworn there was a movie like this)! But that's not all - Blackburn Tobacco Company is afraid that if this employee of theirs recovers, he'll tell the world how bad smoking is, so they've somehow gotten nanobots inside him to attack Rex Ronan. ...and there's your incredibly realistic plot to get you going in Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon.
I played through the entire game for your viewing displeasure.

Obviously, the game's primary purpose is to warn kids of the dangers of smoking. In addition to the heavy-handed plot, there are also true/false trivia questions throughout the game featuring facts about how terrible smoking is. You can easily tell whether a fact is true or false based on whether it says something positive or negative about smoking. Answering a trivia question correctly clears the screen of enemies (thank goodness, since more than two cause the game to lag and slow to a crawl) and answering one incorrectly will damage you. Apart from answering trivia, you'll also be walking through linear, poorly planned levels and clearing away with the effects of smoking with your magic medigun thing... except that this is pretty much totally optional.
Seen here: enemy spam, tobacco gunk, a smart bomb trivia module, an upgrade out of reach on the bottom,
and flat, boring level design.
But this game doesn't just warn about the dangers of smoking - it also demonstrates the dangers of awful game design! Indeed, this is possibly the worst game I've ever played. Each level feels as though platforms and enemies were placed everywhere without any thought at all. Depending on the level, there are differently labeled blobs of bad stuff to destroy such as tar residue and pre-cancerous cells, but removing them is a monotonous task that only raises your completion percentage at the end of the level. In most cases, all you need to do is keep walking right, defeat a "boss" (just another enemy), and then move on. The trivia "smart bombs" are also mostly unnecessary and work in the unintuitive way of requiring you to shoot them to reveal the question, then touching it if true or avoiding it if false. There are also powerups that don't require any trivia questions and these change your gun type or refill your time or health. In between most levels, there are also 3D-ish flying sections where you avoid and shoot at obstacles as you head to your next destination. These are all mind-numbingly easy, but they do have generic hip, rock-sounding music that all the kids these days love.
One of the flying sections. You gotta move up to the gap in the green stuff.
Sometimes the green stuff spins. I'm not sure how that works medically.
The level design could get away with being an accurate prediction of a five-year-old's Super Mario Maker stage if it weren't for literally everything else also being almost unplayable. Movement is far too slow and clunky to give you any chance of avoiding the waves of seemingly randomly placed enemies. Let's just say that in the time Rex takes to complete his jumping and standing animations, he could have already cured cancer. When shooting at enemies or tobacco gunk, the player is required to stop and then swivel their aim around, but if you want to crouch, as you often will to avoid enemy shots, you'll have to crouch before shooting and then start your ridiculous aiming. That probably sounds like a minor thing, but when you're getting knocked back every second and need to fix your aim over and over, it's a huge deal. And even though movement is slower than your typical constipated bowel movement, Rex's walking speed outruns the speed of the camera so you won't be able to see what's coming until you run right into it. Oh, and I totally forgot until I went back to take the screenshots, but you can kick in this game. Unfortunately, the hitbox is so small and unclear and the cooldown so long, that there seems to be no reason to ever try it.
Notice how I can't at all see what's coming.
Even though the game seems to drag on for ages because of lag and being constantly knocked down by enemies, I actually finished the entire game in less than an hour on my first time playing. So whoever bought this game as a kid didn't even get their money's worth of gameplay out of it. There are a few options to keep the experience fresh on future playthroughs though: you can disable the music, disable smart bombs, and change the language to Spanish. Neato.

I'll spoil the ending so that you don't have to play the game for it: Rex Ronan saves the dude and the dude tells everyone that smoking is bad and everyone listens all of a sudden and the tobacco company goes bankrupt.
The Final Word:
You may have thought that dying of cancer was the worst result of smoking, but one could argue that the creation of this game is even worse. I actually go out of my way to try out terrible games and thanks to the clunky controls, thoughtless level design, and ridiculous story, this is easily one of the most poorly designed games I've ever played. I guess that means I'll have to speedrun it. Heh.
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