Way back in 1992, the Game Boy was a booming handheld. It had such iconic games as Super Mario Land 2 and Kirby’s Dream Land. There were also ports of newer classics like Mega Man 3 and Bionic Commando. Even a newer version of an old arcade gem named Dig Dug. What 1992 also had was awful Game Boy games like Swamp Thing, a game ported over from the NES based in the short lived animated series at the time and thrown out to the world from THQ.
Someone told me that I’ve been reviewing the gems lately and I can make even bad games sound good with the way I describe them. The stranger then suggested I review Swamp Thing for Game Boy before he seeped back into the Internet never to be seen again.
Swamp Thing is a 2D platformer staring the environmentally conscious un-man of the same name. The art for the game is pretty impressive, there are a few cut scenes that look great on the Game Boy, but that’s about where the flattery ends. Swamp Thing himself moves at an okay speed, but the jump launches him faster than the screen can follow. Maybe its like Sega’s Blast Processing for the Genesis. Sonic always moved so fast that the Screen couldn’t catch up to him.
The controls are pretty stiff, Swampy has an attack that will boomerang back to him, but waiting for them to go out and come back is like watching a snail race a bag of trash. Swampy can duck attack and even send a projectile up at a slight diagonal, but it feels useless. A duck punch that he uses to push certain ice blocks around for platforming reasons. The jump makes the un-man launch forward at a harsh diagonal. There is no short jump either. Its all or nothing. Firing a projectile in the air also seems tricky to time it. Its as if the projectile can’t be between two cells on a grid. Its either row 2 or 3 in the air, never 2.5. Attacking in the air will stop him in place and make him fall straight down like a stone. The developer at least tried to have some diverse controls, but it all feels so slow compared to other games at the time.
One thing that I do like is that Swampy’s attack affects things. Seals covered in oil get cleaned off. Distressed turtles stuck on their back flip over. Its a nice level of detail. So the game does have its few positives.
When you start the game, you have a stage select to chose between three levels, the arctic, the desert or the swamp. Each one has two different looking environments that play out across several different parts of the level. The swamp has an forest outside and caves. The desert has a sandy outside and pyramid interiors. The arctic has an icy outside and frozen system of caves. All levels have many sections that require Swamp Thing to go up, down, left and right over platforms and sometimes through mazes and death defying tree jumps to get him over the next peak of land. The pyramid sections offer a unique labyrinth that has you touching hieroglyphs to make it further and further. The only problem is which hieroglyph do you touch? It turns a dull section into a maze. There are some tricky platforming parts, like where Swampy needs to jump on a leaf then jump off it before it blows away in the wind.
The display shows what I can only assume is your health and timer. The health is the longer bar and the timer is the shorter one. The health is tied to your attack. I assume because Swampy’s projectiles are part of him. So when you throw a projectile, you lose health, but when it comes back to you, the health returns. The time is what never returns until you die.
Death sends you back to the start of the section you were at, but every item you collected is now gone. The enemies aren’t gone, they’re back. So each time you attack, you lose health and having no items makes it a challenge. Each defeated enemy throws out a glob of health for you to catch before it floats out of reach. If you can keep pushing and make it through to each section then die, you still have items waiting for you. The only problem is that once you lose all your lives, you start the game over again. Not the level. Maybe there’s a secret code somewhere to let you continue, but I wouldn’t know.
Completing a level only rewards you a brief cut scene in photos. Again, one of the only highlights of this game. Each boss is a pain and their projectiles are swift while yours are sluggish. Swampy is too sluggish to move out of the way, so he ends up taking damage and if he didn’t, attacking would just deplete his health. Once each boss gets defeated then a door opens. How do you go into the door? Push up? Down maybe? No you jump.
There are plenty of items to pick up with no explanation, but playing through an hour, I got an understanding of what they did. A leaf is an extra life, a water or sun icon replenishes some health. Its the cycle and garbage icons that I didn’t understand until two hours. I kept collecting cycle icons, but couldn’t figure out what they did. They have a place on my display showing how many I have, but it just didn’t make sense. The garbage icons made less sense. There is garbage scattered everywhere that I couldn’t collect. Then after two hours it all made sense. To destroy the garbage icons you need to hold select and then attack to unleash a cycle using power shot that destroys the garbage! What does it do? Points?
Enemies can attack and jump in from all angles. There are a few that pace left and right, but others can leap long distances, birds can dive down and swamp men have arced throws. These arced throws can go for miles. Even if they’re far off screen, up a long hill, their projectiles will still fly in. Maybe that’s why the game is so slow, the enemies are off screen but still actively doing something.
The game could have been enhanced with continues to find, but the glaring problem would then be you can finish the game in half an hour. It might take 3 hours to get good enough to get that far. Another enhancement would have been to not have every icon animated. I don’t think that was healthy for the Game Boy’s processing speed. Its all said and done though, released on the Game Boy two decades ago.