I’ve said for years that the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is the greatest video game console ever made. As part of my unabashed love for its 16-bits of brilliance, I’m going to be playing and reviewing every SNES game I can get my hands on.
The name Aaahh!!! Real Monsters should dredge up some nostalgic ruminations from Nineties Kids raised on Nickelodeon (or in Canada, YTV). For those not familiar with the show, A!!!RM feature the adventures Ickis, Oblina and Krumm, a trio of young monsters learning the ropes of scaring humans. Think Monsters University, but replace of the squeaky clean Disney aesthetic with a creepy, grimy, European-influenced look. The show could also be seen as kind of a spiritual predecessor to the Harry Potter series, between the unassuming protagonist, his brainy female and doofy male friends, and the antagonistic teacher who picks on all of them.
How much of that translates into the 1995 video game developed by Realtime Associates? Quite a bit actually. The game certainly looks like the show, not just in static visuals but also in how the characters move and act. You play as all three characters at the same time, swapping out between Ickis, Oblina and Krumm as necessary, with the other two dutifully following at your side the whole time. The Nickelodeon/Klasky-Csupo style is evident the whole way, and by the time you start encountering humans to scare, you might as well be chasing the characters from Rocket Power or All Growed Up. So as an adaptation, this certainly works on a visual level… which is about all that works, because this game pretty quickly goes off the rails.
As a platformer, A!!!RM manages to commit pretty much every game-breaking sin. The jumping is overly floaty, with inconsistent fall damage – sometimes you’ll take a hit for falling less than half a screen, other times you can plummet huge distances and smash into the ground, to no ill effect. Your projectiles are slow and take awhile to “recharge” between shots, so it’s very difficult to kill many of the enemies, especially smaller ones. Other enemies blend in with the background, or are positioned in such a way that it’s impossible to proceed without eating a few hits from them. The post-damage invincibility that’s standard in platformers is also incredibly short, leading to some enemies chaining hits together in ridiculous ways. The first level boss is an especially rude awakening – the first time you fight him, he’ll inevitably run in and catch you by surprise, and either drain half your life bar or kill you outright before you have a chance to react.
That’s the biggest problem with this game right there, it’s impossible to get anywhere unless you either memorize where every single hazard is, or you use Krumm’s special ability to scout ahead every few seconds, which grinds the experience to a halt. Even if you use Krumm, you’re still going to be caught again and again by hazards that appear out of nowhere, blind jumps onto spikes, unavoidable projectiles, and all other manners of cheapness. It’s as if the programmers said to themselves, ‘Well clearly we can’t make this game fun, so let’s at least make it impossible to beat unless players commit every level to memory.’ Seriously, Bop It was a less annoying memory game than A!!!RM.
There are a few things to praise outside of the graphics. The sound is decent – while the effects are nothing to write home about (and some can be a bit grating), the music is bouncy and has good variation between levels. There’s some variation in the paths you can take through sections of the various levels- it’s still pretty linear, but the path is spacious, and you often have the option of going over or around certain obstacles if you’re clever about it. There’s a level of strategy introduced by each character’s special power – in addition to Krumm’s scouting, Oblina can stack with her friends for a high jump, and Ickis can launch himself forward in an arc. Unfortunately, the game can be incredibly finicky about triggering these moves. All three monsters need to be standing on solid ground and in close proximity, and with no control over your two computer-controlled colleagues, that sometimes requires a truly maddening amount of twitching back and forth, trying to get into position.
If you’re a diehard fan of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters – and outside of possibly my good friend Shane, I doubt you are – this might be worth fiddling around with for five minutes or so, before you understandably get annoyed and fling the controller across the room. If the nostalgia bug hasn’t bitten you, don’t even bother.
Final Score – 3/10