Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars
Licensed videos games are an easy target for criticism, considering the obvious problem of developers producing them as quickly as possible to capitalize on a temporary pop-culture trend; or, at least, cheaply churning out a shell of a product to turn a quick profit on a subject with longer-lasting appeal.
The Nintendo Entertainment System was no exception, as various companies published several superhero-themed cartridges, and most of them were not too great. One of the more notorious examples was Swamp Thing, released in 1992, when game-makers should have known better since the NES had been out for years with high-quality gaming choices, and created by T*HQ, a development house that should have known better.
The player controls Swamp Thing, a superhero from the DC Comics universe who has super strength, healing ability, incredible endurance, and resistance to damage, along with limited capacity to alter the environment around him and shape-shift his body. Well, that is in the comics, anyway; in the video game, Swamp Thing is a small, slow, lumbering, clumsy protagonist that can jump and punch at short range.
The controls are a bit tight, and will feel awfully similar to veterans of the Simpsons games for the NES. Of all the examples of the same engine being used for different games, this is among the most obvious, as T*HQ even borrowed most of the sound effects, the artistic style of the cut scenes, and other minor elements. This borrowing would not have been so bad in itself, except that it was never a great basis to begin with.
Otherwise, it is a fairly standard platformer, with ol’ Swampy eventually gaining the ability to throw globs of snot (that is what it looks like, anyway) at enemies as a much-needed projectile attack, but in limited quantities. The slowness of the Thing, combined with his limited jumping abilities, means that this is a terribly difficult game when Swamp Thing traverses out of the swamp and into the more populated (if a cemetery counts as being populated), interior environments to fight his nemesis, Dr. Arcane. Again, a high level of difficulty in itself is not a bad thing, but when the challenge is due to poor game design rather than true quality in level and character creation, it shows.
The cut scenes look okay, but at least the game has such scenes. The gameplay itself looks decent: Not spectacular, but Swamp Thing is recognizable, and some of the bayou backgrounds are
nice. Is there anything else worth commenting on? No, not really.
The background tracks are repetitive and sub-standards, and as mentioned earlier, the effects are borrowed from Simpsons titles. Laziness is never a good thing, and especially so when it comes to developing video games.
Originality is minimal, as so many elements are borrowed: The storyline and character are straight from comic books, the “feel” of the game is ripped from the prior Simpsons titles, and the coders did not bother to include anything innovative.
And that is the crux of Swamp Thing’s big issue: By 1992, any organization working on a platformer title for the NES could look to such excellent prior examples as Bionic Commando, Mega Man, Metroid, even a superhero license game like Batman, even superior Disney titles like the Rescue Rangers games, and more. There was no excuse for such bland, boring, difficult gameplay.
There are some glaring flaws: Some enemies can be punched but others cannot, hit detection issues, post-hit flashing does not necessarily mean temporary invincibility, etc. For a spectacular example of why the release year is so relevant, take a look at a video game that was released a month before Swamp Thing: Kirby’s Adventure. If you truly put Swamp Thing up against Kirby’s Adventure, it is only all the more clearly revealed as a sloppily written, unoriginal, flawed, shallow, mindless, unrewarding, ugly, dull NES title. Even something as simple as giving Swamp Thing a couple superpowers to toggle between using at any given time, or making him a larger on-screen presence, or granting a password feature (or, heaven forbid, a save function as perfected as Kirby’s Adventure), or enabling multi-player, or any other good-idea solution; but, no, Swamp Thing sucked then, it still sucks now, and it can earn no higher than one star out of five for being bogged down, almost literally, in its blatant mediocrity.