Sunday, July 12, 2015

VGR Mad Max (NES)

Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves...

I remember a time of chaos. But most of all I remember the Road Warrior, the man we called Max...

VGR: Mad Max (NES) aka Mad Max (1990)
From Gray Matter Enterprises/Mindscape
Played on NES
Also available on Atari 2600

Type Top-down action game 
Year 1990

You know, we might be finally getting a worthwhile Mad Max game this year, but that doesn't come as a surprise to me. George Miller's classic film series is responsible for the entire post-apocalyptic post-nuclear aesthetic.

Far from mediocre, the films are legendary and went on inspiring countless imitators and an entire narrative genre.

You can see the influence of the Mad Max series beyond Thunderdome the film industry. Even Japan went on spawning its heavily Mad Max-influenced martial arts series Hokuto No Ken/Fist of the North Star. Without Max we wouldn't have gotten the likes of the Fallout series (which heavily draws from the films and refers to it through countless cameos and allusions), Borderlands, and many more! To this very day it's not a surprise to see games like id Software's Rage entirely designed after the template the Mad Max films provide.

So why has there not been any Mad Max game until now?

Well, there has been a couple of games actually. But they were entirely forgettable or better ignored for their lack of quality.

Let's start with the very first (and basically only) Mad Max video game adaptation!

The game was developed by Gray Matter Enterprises (not to be confused with Return to Castle Wolfenstein's Gray Matter Interactive), published by Mindscape in 1990 for the NES.

This 1990 Mad Max games wants itself based around the first film as the cover and logo appear to be taken from the original movie. But then the introduction narration, the fact that it completely skips over Max's origins and the premise seem to indicate it's actually a game adaptation of the second film The Road Warrior. (And released as a tie-in into the more child-friendly third movie...)

Like in the film you play as Max Rockatansky. You live in this wasteland, trying to scavenge for food and fuel. There are dangerous gangs and bandits on the road. And you can participate in a Thunderdome arena-type of fight if you have enough to warrant a ticket. And the game's main objective is to defeat Road Warrior's iconic villain Lord Humungus to allow survivors to live free from the tyrant's reign.

On the surface this look interesting, right? Like the perfect setting for the perfect Mad Max game?

The fact it's on the NES shouldn't factor much in how creative they could get with this. After all games were still being improvised and imagined back then. There were no templates (outside of the occasional top down shooter or sidescroller platformer) to adapt original movies into interactive games.

Well, you can forget about all this. While Die Hard on the NES resulted into a pretty original action game and Ghostbusters ended up okay if a significantly confusing but original title, Mad Max feels like a very disjoint attempt at adapting several key elements from the film.

And yet we don't even get the traditional Mad Max road chase sequence!

This NES Mad Max game is basically a patchwork of several different gameplays.

The main game is played from an overview perspective. You control Max's Pursuit Special V8 Interceptor car. The goal is to roam this huge environment looking for several types of items. There's food, water, fuel, health, money, etc. (Surprisingly a lot of stats for this kind of game.) The car's fuel is basically your life and it also works as a timer, no matter how slow or fast you drive you will lose your fuel so you need to complete this segment as quickly as possible. There are three huge open maps or stages like this. You need to find caves (there are always four caves per maps) in order to scavenge for items. Once you have enough supplies, you need to actually sell those for an Arena Pass ticket for the arena in a garage (usually near where you started). Then you still need to head to the arena. Good luck finding all that under time (the deplenishing fuel). The car can shoot dynamites, but don't burn those on enemies since you might need to blow up something on the road to move forward.

Once you enter one of those mines you will get the scavenging segment. Like the car portions, those are played from a top down perspective, only now you're on foot and you can shoot! The idea is to run around, looting stuff. There are several enemies in those stages, but the best is still to run around past them since Max is a lot faster than them. Once you're done, go back outside to your car.

Finally the arena areas are much more competitive car stages. Think 8-bit NES Destruction Derby. It's total chaos, just try to make it out alive in the end. Just try to be the last vehicle standing. You can make the others fall of a cliff.Good luck with that.

The game feels really repetitive after a while, and yet it's a pretty short game. 

It's insanely difficult at times and it can be quite overwhelming at first. The fuel time limit really ruins all the fun you could get. Imagine having to play Zelda 1 and explore the overworld map under 20 seconds.

You are free to play it as you want. Rush the game and only visit one cave, or try locating each one of them if you have the time for it. (My best advice is to simply sketch a map while you play.)

The game is only "3 worlds" long, but it all looks the same with only slight color-swap modifications. Go through 3 open roads, each with 4 caves. Then go on to enter 3 arena fights. Once you're done with it you are granted a fight with the final and only boss of the game - Lord Humungus himself! Now the game takes the form of a sidescroller action game. Max and Humungus are both equipped with a crossbow and which one kills the other first wins. Of course, Humungus takes a ton of hits. At least you can move around and even jump.

There. Done. The End. 

The graphics are... decent but they kinda lack details. The sound aspect on the other hand... The music was composed by Nick Eastridge, based on Brian May's work on the film Mad Max 2. It's actually not bad, but there's only one song in the entire game!!! And it basically never plays! The sounds are also atrocious...

The game features a pretty tricky password feature. And I say tricky because if you enter the code to get to the last level you won't have enough arrows to face Lord Humungus. That's right, the developers cheated the cheaters.

Overall, Mad Max on the NES is a very strange game. A compilation of weaker elements that don't entirely work together.

On the paper this sounded like a solid way to make a Mad Max game a reality. But each segment just feels lazy and poorly thought of. The game is just boring and very frustrating. It also completely lacks any personal identity, the game kind of reminds you of several elements from all three films without any plot or real focus. And what's even worse no one's even mentioned by name except Max himself!

They couldn't even get the controls of the car right! The segments on foot work a bit better, but it's barely there.

This game feels like a chore and it's only Worth Checking Out if you're a fan of the franchise. Otherwise, Avoid It at all cost!

Strangely enough the game was actually never released outside the US for some strange reason. I mean, it didn't even get a release in Australia, can you believe it??

The game would be followed by a sort of sequel in all but name, from the same developers, etc. Only they weren't able to secure the rights to the Mad Max ip and so they released it as Outlander on the Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo in 1992 and 1993 respectively.
I give it:
1 / 3 Invaders!

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