60 Second Retro Gamer – Episode 52 – Babe (PS2)

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Oh, where to begin. This is the game that caused Rich to have a breakdown, live during our podcast. As part of our efforts to play absolutely EVERY GAME EVER, we’ve played some bad games. There are a lot of really good games with fantastic stories, nice graphics and game design that makes sense and, y’know, works. Then there’s pretty much everything that’s been released to tight deadlines with limited prep time and a launch window that can’t be altered. Right at the bottom of the pile (or at ankle height at the very most) are Blast! Entertainment, a sub-set of the once great Mastertronic group and a business partnership with the unknown Disky Entertainment Group. Although, they could actually be very popular in their native Holland (or The Netherlands). Something tells me that they’re not.

From previous blogs we’ve established that Blast! tend to buy up licences for movies and TV series and convert them, badly, to video game format. So far we’ve looked at Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Paddington Bear, Lassie and now Babe. Yes, the sheep pig of the same name. Under normal circumstances you might think that a game about a sheep pig would be quite entertaining, shepherding sheep and, potentially, other farmyard animals around the place with the smug satisfaction that comes from being a pig with a small tuft of apparently anthropomorphised human hair betwixt your ears. This game takes inspiration, and little else, from the two Babe movies but owes more of its design to Babe: Pig In The City than the original movie, for the dressed up monkeys (some even with tutus and lipstick) and disabled, wheelchair-bound dogs. No joke. Go see the 2nd film if you don’t believe me. Done that? Told you so.

So how does this fail so epically? Playing as Babe, your role is to get the sheep to the exit, avoiding obstacles, dangers, “bad men” (I’m quoting from the instruction manual), manholes and the oh-so-typical ability to get completely stuck in a corner and not have space to turn the sheep around. Funnily enough that happens a lot. Far too often to make this anything other than an exercise in frustration. Luckily there are checkpoints dotted around each level, so if you get it completely wrong then, in theory, you shouldn’t have to backtrack too far. Nor would you really want to, let’s face it. I’ve since gone back to it and played through to the end, but it was a struggle and is four hours I’m not going to get back. My last attempt at playing through the game saw me reach level 2 then, after about an hour of trying to get the damned sheep to the exit, realised I now felt quite ill and needed to switch it off. I was effectively incapacitated for the rest of the afternoon.

Luckily the game doesn’t stretch to 50 levels as listed on the back of the box, there’s just 18. Despite the fact we rip into them quite regularly, most Blast! games realise their limitations and limit you to something between 6 and 10 levels per game. No, not this game – 18 levels of torture and badly designed isometric puzzling. I could get along with the isometric style if it was coded properly. Case in point: you would point Babe towards Gypsy the sheep. You bleat at Gypsy to make her move, and she’ll keep going until she reaches an inanimate object. Fair enough, sounds easy. So, you line everything up, you assume that Gypsy is going to follow a straight line, within the confines of an isometric adventure, naturally. Of course, that doesn’t happen. Instead Gypsy starts moving as you’d expect, then for NO REASON AT ALL shifts over in a diagonal line and heads straight for the hazard you’d previously accounted for and deemed to provide no risk. I’m no stranger to isometric games, having played a number of RPGs that sit in that graphical sub-genre (Fallout being the most notable). Games like Fallout no doubt had an extensive testing period, and you can walk in a straight line with little trouble. By comparison, Aqua Pacific (the game designers) probably went for for the isometric look just because it was different to every other Blast! game.

Whilst I managed to struggle through to the end, it took a couple of hours to adapt to the style (and the poor graphics), I’m still not sure if the queasiness was because the game is just terrible or if the poor isometric gameplay was the cause. If I start bleeding out of my ears any time soon, I’ll know it’s because of this game. Much like the other Blast! games we’ve covered, I’d hope kids know that there’s much better games out there that are appropriate for them to play. There’s also much better games by Blast! that you can try before even thinking about this one. It’s quite funny in a way – years ago we used to think the Thunderbirds game was diabolical. And it still is, let’s be honest. But we never expected it to be the best of a bad bunch. A couple of years down the line and there’s still not been a better Blast! game than Thunderbirds. And if that isn’t damning evidence that they’re cheap cash-in merchants, then I don’t know what is.

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