Let’s… Sorta… Talk About Pandemonium!

pandemonium front

OK, I’m ready to be bombarded with some random hatred for this but LET ME PUT THIS AS CLEARLY AS I CAN: I am looking at this game from a standpoint of NOW. When I first played this game, I have to be honest and say that this was one of my favourite games on the PS1. It was a glorious little platformer that had a lot going for it. The protagonists weren’t your usual style of heroes, the setting was as creative as you like. I was essentially an old-school platformer in that it was 2D but in a 3D environment. 2.5D if you will. Even though that phrase is ridiculous and needs to be canned right away.

Seriously. Get rid of it.

But here’s the thing: now it feels very… clunky. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes it different now. It hasn’t actually aged that well at all, even though it was, and to a point still is, a good platform game. There’s just too many things about it that make me wince now. Am I becoming a more sophisticated gamer? (PAH!) Am I being slightly more judgemental? (PA-robably…) or is it that in reality, there’s too much to dislike about this game now given that most platformers are slightly better than this?

I suppose I’ll have to run down exactly what doesn’t really work with this game a bit later on in this retrospective because everyone knows that YOU GOTTA STORY THE FUCKER UP NOW.

pandemonium open 1

So Nikki and Fargus, the two misfits above, are playing about with a spell book one night spitting random firework patterns into the sky when Fargus’s puppethead stick thing – whatever it’s supposed to be, other than a ridiculous extra voice actor for no reason – stops the book on a tenth level spell page, making Nikki unsure. Both Fargus and Nikki ‘encourage’ her to do it anyway and the spell summons this delightful looking creature called Yungo who ends up eating their home city.

pandemonium open 2

Yup. Because all you need to do is repeat a phrase from a spell book and it happens. No actual magic is involved it appears. BUT HO HUM.

So Nikki and Fargus, obviously feeling responsible, BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY FUCKING ARE, THEY JUST SUMMONED A DEMON FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION, YOU BETTER FUCKING FIX IT, decide to seek a boon from the Wishing Engine and lo and behold, the game begins.

But… here’s something I don’t get… they never PASS Yungo or the city itself and as they make their way through the levels of the game… they come across all sorts of creatures, plants, zeppelins, etc… but why? If this was an evil character who’s basically out to get everyone and destroy everything in the process with his or her minions to help, fine. You know. Like Robotnik. Like Bowser. Like all good antagonists.

Yungo’s plucked from one world to another and eats the city. That’s it. He spends the WHOLE GAME eating the city because SPOILERS by the ending, he’s still munching on it. And in actuality the final boss is the Wishing Engine because that bitch ain’t giving away wishes for free. I actually think the story is so weak, looking back at it, that a lot of things about the game don’t make as much sense. I get the whole ‘go find the Wishing Engine’ side of things but… who is stopping them? Who’s basically saying “FUCK YOU, NO YOU CAN’T DO THAT” and actively trying to stop them from doing it? Yungo isn’t, unless he has some telepathic ability to control monsters and plants that we don’t know about… and besides… why are you going into one-way caves and whatnot on the way? From a design point of view, the game lends itself more to an adventure game where you might traverse an entire kingdom to get to where you want, slaying beasts on the way and whatnot. Instead, we get a ‘press right to reach end’ style platformer. It… sorta loses a bit of credibility there. Sorry.

pandemonium 1

Anyway, aside from the slightly bullshitty story bobbins, when you get into the game you are treated to a fairly technicolour world of forests, caves, deserts and all that shenanigans. The colour scheme starts off brightly enough but quickly falls into yellowy territory and occasionally rather grey and dull-looking. Nikki and Fargus do manage to stand out enough, which is pretty good all in all, although Nikki’s outfit tends to blend into the background more, particularly in forests.

Character-wise, Nikki is more acrobatic and at times more difficult to handle but she has the extra bonus of a double jump, which is incredibly useful in traversing most levels. On the other hand, Fargus can’t double jump but he has a cartwheel attack which sends him flying across the screen and potentially over the edge of cliffs if you’re not careful. He’s much more difficult to handle in some situations, but he’s handy for killing enemies much quicker. You can plough most of them pretty quickly but by the same token, he can also use magic in the same way Nikki can. Collect a glowing glob and you can cast a spell to help you. Pink ones are generic attacks, blue ones freeze the enemies so you can simply walk through them – a la Sub Zero fatality stylee – and green ones shrink enemies to make them easier to squash. But the enemies are generally just… there. As mentioned before, there doesn’t appear to be any reason for them to be where they are. They’re occasionally handy for getting to higher areas but you can get through every level without killing anything, which makes the reason they’re there a bit redundant, particularly as there’s NO REASON FOR THEM TO BE DUH-DUH-DUH-ING THROUGH THE LEVELS. Which is also what they do. They spend most of the time wandering back and forth going DUH-DUH-DUH, only heightening how useless they sort of end up being. The opening level is also meant to be a nice easy way into a game but BOY does it not fuck around with you. Two hearts, plenty of enemies and lots of random traversing. It feels like one of the longer levels and I suppose in a way it’s teaching you how to play certain aspects of the game. I can’t really fault it for that. Two hits and you’re dead is a bit of a harsh lesson to give younger gamers though.

pandemonium 6

And yes. There are gems to collect. Collecting 300 will give you an extra life but other than that, they are pretty superfluous. I suppose in most cases, it gives a small modicum of purpose to the game in general. Fill the levels with random shit to collect and be rewarded for collected lots of it. You’ll need the lives. They’re fairly uncommon otherwise. We’re not talking Sonic 3 where you could end the game on 43 lives. Getting into double figures in this game is pretty impressive.

However, I am going to take some issues with the level design, particularly later on in the game when it all gets a bit random, purely because it’s a 3D game on a 2D plane. Occasionally, you can bounce on something and it’ll take you one a different path. If you miss the bounce-point or switch-point or whatever, you’ll go off either towards a dead end or a secret passage depending on how the game feels. In the desert, you have one moment where you’re traversing very precarious rock formations and if you continue to go right, you’ll carry on as normal and whatever. If you go left again, you end up taking a path you probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It curls around underneath everything. It’s an ingrowing toenail. That’s what it is. The level design in this game is similar to a painful condition involving toenails. Sometimes. You could jump about randomly and probably find a lot more stuff going on. The later levels feel as though they tried a bit TOO hard. It’s like they’re trying to develop the game as they go along as a way of trying to keep you on your toes.

NO. IT’S MAKING YOU CHANGE THE WAY YOU PLAY THE GAME TOO MUCH. STOP IT. DO IT PROPERLY, DESIGNERS. YOU MADE DECENT TOMB RAIDERS EVENTUALLY SO I WILL FORGIVE YOU. YOU ALSO MADE LEGACY OF KAIN. YOU CAN DESIGN GAMES WELL.

And trust me, it’s far worse in Pandemonium 2 but I’m convinced that that game is actually more of an acid trip than it is anything else. In fact, it’s just… yeah. We’ll get there.

pandemonium 7

I suppose I could go through some positives with this game as a way of counterbalancing the crap it feels like it gives you now. The graphics are pretty lovely in general and looked really nice at the time. There’s plenty of stuff going on and although some of the colours are dull in certain parts of the level, they did have a bit of fun with the general look of the game. They knew what they wanted it to look like. It comes across as a jovial game with jesters and a ye-olde renaissance feel. It’s chirpy, cheery and there’s an element of charm to it. It’s not quite charming ENOUGH for me but it’s got something. I guess it always did have that.

And because the general feel of the graphics and it’s theming work so well, the music backs it up tremendously. That renaissance feel comes across without feeling too ye-olde-worlde. It’s basically a modern day version of how good harpsichord music can be. I like a good harpsichord but on its own and sounding all old-fashioned, it can grate on you after a while. They done good. They done done good.

pandemonium 5

There are also some moments in the game where you’ll come across some of these gates to walk through and they’ll turn you into an animal of some sort. I get that a few of them are useful and have different abilities to help you. In this level, Nikki’s about to turn into a dragon. Dragons can fly and breathe fire. OH MY GOD, HOW USEFUL IS THAT? In this level, very. However, they kept it to these more restrictive level designs so that you couldn’t just float to the top of the screen and cheat your way through. Probably for that best. On another level, you turn into a rhino that can charge through all enemies and break through immovable objects. That’s also very useful.

And then in one level, you turn into a turtle.

pandemonium 3

Yup.

What the hell is he good for? Literally nothing. You can sit inside your shell and not take damage.

WOW. GO ME. I can’t double jump. I can’t attack. I can defend myself from hordes of attacks that probably won’t stop. WOWEE.

FOUR FOR YOU GLEN COCO. YOU GO GLEN COCO. AND NONE FOR TURTLE WEINERS.

pandemonium 4

Look. This game was great in the 90s. It was a cracking little platform game with some interesting ideas and a REALLY, REALLY bad sequel. There are some serious peculiarities with it that in hindsight make much of the game a bit redundant. It did something unusual at the time, the whole *spits* 2.5D thing, and it IS fun to play. The controls can feel a bit clunky at times and you’ll find yourself dying more times than you care to mention purely because you went the wrong way or flew off an enemy down a cliff. Of cartwheeled off of one. Fargus. I’m looking at you. And then I’m looking away because you’re irritating as fuck.

So it’s aged badly. That’s pretty much the crux of it. It’s not a BAD game. It’s a good one in fact. It’s just not as great as it used to be.

Now I need to cleanse myself for mentioning the sequel.

OH DEAR GOD.

THE SEQUEL.

PREPARE YOURSELVES. It’s not going to be pretty. Or fun. Or anything other than a waste of everyone’s time.

I guess you could call it… PANDEMONIUM!

2!

That was lame. Sorry.

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