Hello, NESQuesters! I'm Matthew Conway, writer of various internet blog-things of no consequence and full-time Retro Gaming Rain Man. I'm here because the proprietor of this fine website asked me to pen a few guest articles for him while he's busy doing other things. I'll never forget when I got the call from Mr. Cornelius. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: "Uh, it's Matthew."
Dylan: "Michael, I'm a busy man so I'll get straight to the point. I need some more content on Questicle while I'm out in Los Angeles. Trying to secure my multi-million dollar book deal AND sell the movie rights at the same time is taking longer than I thought it would."
Me: "Wait, I knew about the book, but... they want to make a *movie* about your Nintendo blog?"
Dylan: "Damn straight! I hear Tim Burton wants to direct, but I'm holding out to try and get Todd Holland on board."
Me: "You... you want the director of The Wizard to make your movie?"
Dylan: "Shutup! Don't judge me or I'll have your ass in court! You have any idea how much stroke I have now, son? You know anyone else who reviewed all the American Sammy games AND plays the baddest game of Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf on this planet?"
Me: "Well, no, I suppose not..."
Dylan: "So listen, Mitchell, you're gonna do some content for me. Review some of those weird requests the crazy kids in the comments section keep asking for. Like the California Raisins game. Or any of the 639 Japanese mahjong games. Or the nude hack of the California Raisins mahjong game. I don't care what you do, just get over here and do it, okay?"
Me: "Um, well, okay. But you'll remember the little people once your book and movie deal is finished, right?"
And so here I am, with carte blanche on the weird and wonderful world of unlicensed NES oddities, rare imports, romhacks, de-makes, etc. It's a little strange being locked inside Mr. Cornelius' basement, but I'm sure the Snickers bar and can of Tab soda he tossed down the stairs will hold me over until he gets back from L.A. In the meantime, I have some games to review! And first on the list is...
Too soon, game. Too soon.
I wasn't even supposed to be here today!
PUBLISHER: Shenzhen Nanjing Technology
DEVELOPER: Dragon Co. / Nice Code
RELEASE DATE: 2005 / April 15, 1912
"Titanic" - the James Cameron movie - is the story of Rose and Jack, two star-crossed lovers from the Montague and Capulet clans on a voyage across the sea of green to find the remnants of the Yellow Submarine. Along the way they meet Celene Dion, who sings "My Heart Will Go On" at a shopping mall to an audience of teenage girls and weepy soccer moms for six hours on repeat.
Yeah, leave it to Hollywood to turn one of the most tragic maritime disasters in recorded history into a complete work of fiction. Then leave it to a Chinese pirate game company to turn said fiction into a Prince of Persia-style platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Uh, no, I didn't quite follow my own logic there either.
At any rate, Titanic - the video game - plays much like any run of the mill platforming game on the NES. You have a choice between Jack or Rose as your character, though both play identical, thus your decision comes down to which idle animation you prefer. Rose looks as if she's hunching over to whistle at her imaginary pet dog whilst Jack does an awkward head-bob which makes it look like he's either suffering from a serious medical condition or he's headbanging to Pantera records. The character animation is smooth at first glance, but do not be deceived, the control is not. Like the aforementioned Prince of Persia, jumping must be precise. You can hang off ledges like the good Prince, but you'll need to line up your jump perfectly and say a Hail Mary or two if you want to make it. Forward jumps are also a pain, although it was through the awkward forward jump that I discovered a number of glitched areas where you can jump through supposedly solid objects and cheese your way through certain parts of the game. And that's what you get when you don't have the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality on your cartridge, folks.
I *definitely* wasn't supposed to be in here today...
Since we're talking about a sidescrolling platformer, there are enemies to contend with, and there's no chance to grab a weapon and bash them. Instead, you're left to jump, dodge, and occasionally duck out of the way from rats, electrical currents, furnace flames, falling light bulbs, flying axes, and blocks of ice. For the most part, I applaud the developers' sense of creativity here. They needed enemies of some variety, and they (mostly) stuck to real-world things that you'd have to contend with if you were trying to climb from the lower depths of a massive ship up to the top deck while it sinks. Simon Belmont flying axes aside, the enemies are more coherent with the source material than, say, those damn killer bees in Back to the Future.
The first few stages of Titanic are repetitive enough to lull the player into a false sense of security, but the game livens up with some ambitious level design as you advance. We're talking a screen push stage, swimming stages, 'find the object' stages with different doors to explore, and even a final area on the deck of the ship which features multiple levels to explore via climbing ropes and ladders. None of this is particularly great in actual play, mind you, but I still appreciate the ambition on the part of the developers, who were very likely working on the most threadbare of budgets.
Platoon aside, Titanic is one of the more bizarre choices for a movie-based video game adaption on the NES. And given the game's 2005 release date, it's not as if someone tried to strike while the iron was hot. (Unless the Chinese bootleg market is just now catching up on American films from 1997, in which case I eagerly anticipate the upcoming Jungle 2 Jungle bootleg video game.) Titanic is nowhere near hidden gem or undiscovered classic status, but it's worth a look if you're up for some esoteric gaming or you really have a hankering to control a pixelated Kate Winslet in a video game.
4 Gilligans out of 7
Not quite as grim as Friday the 13th's game over screen though...
Matthew Conway can be found on Twitter at: @Mattaconda