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ups: Bright and colorful graphics on both platforms; if Frogger was just a little too intense for you, this may be your game.
downs: Textbook definition of derivative and pedestrian (adj.).

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game: Zapper
three star
posted by: Jason Frank
publisher: Infogrames
developer: Blitz Games
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Dec 22nd, 2002

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I really should be doing two separate reviews. I mean, these are two games that are distinct from one another and I should be able to come up with something unique to say about each one. Unfortunately, the only difference that I could find between the games is that the Gameboy has a top down 2D perspective and the Gamecube uses the same perspective with 3D graphics. Sure the graphics are a little different but they are both adequate to their respective systems, and the Gamecube version does include a forgettable multi-player mode. It's the same game, or at the very least, I have the same feelings of ambivalence towards both games. If ever I wished that I could give a game 2 1/2 stars, this is that game. My ambivalence is the stuff that ennui is made of.

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing a review is finding the right angle. If the game isn't particularly interesting, I have to find some way to make writing about the game engaging. If the gameplay is mediocre or standard, I try to find some way to discuss the game's themes and values and how they reflect us as a society. But sometimes I simply draw a complete blank. I sit down at the computer without a strategy or plan and I start writing with the hope that the simple act of committing words to my computer screen will generate the review that my editor has requested. I've played the games, I understand the controls and have appreciated or in this case unappreciated the graphics; I know what the game does well and what it does poorly. But I still find myself grasping for some type of way to approach Zapper: The Wicked Cricket. I sit here with the feeling that I have absolutely nothing interesting to say or write. It is a writer's worst feeling to have a forum and have nothing useful to present in that forum.

Lately, I've been commenting a lot on how content we are with mediocrity in videogames. I worry that if I were to go down that road again, I'd be beating a dead horse. I have to admit that I actually had some high hopes for Zapper, or moderate hopes at the very least. I had never played the game before, nor had I heard anything about it in the form of previews or press releases. I had hopes for the game because it was a new franchise. This, I thought to myself, is a game that is brave enough to stand on its own without the aid of gamer nostalgia or movie tie-ins. It takes a great deal of chutzpah (Happy Chanukah one and all) to release a game that has nothing to sell it other than its gameplay and the reviews of gamers like myself. The biggest games of this year all seem to stand so high because they are standing on the shoulders of earlier games or other pop culture icons. Mario, Metroid, Tony Hawk, GTA Vice City and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell all came to the table with a well established legacy to recommend themselves to the world.

When a new game comes along that is not tied to any known brand or product I have the faintest of hopes that it will be the next Frequency or SSX. After a few minutes with each of the incarnations of Zapper, I soon learned that these games were nothing more than a simple marriage of the original Super Mario and Frogger with some updated graphics thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately this game failed to crib the most essential elements of those two games is completely lacking in tension or urgency. In Mario there was a clock counting down and in Frogger there were all those cars racing at you. In Zapper, there is little that is pushing you to advance the plot (The plot in both games is identical if you're concerned that I'm glossing over both of the games. There really is nothing to distinguish the games from one another other than the graphics). Sure there's a wild magpie that's kidnapped your little brother who wreaking havoc all around, but I was honestly never all that worried about the little brother. Maybe I didn't have the time to develop the necessary emotional connection with my fraternal cricket. The pedestrian pacing of this game is virtually sleep inducing. Zapper adopts the over-head perspective of Frogger along with its penchant for hopping. Zapper is also able to zap open crates, travel to hidden levels and must destroy a series of magpie eggs along the way. There are also some blue orbs that look mysteriously like coins to collect in each level.

There is the faintest of story lines-no real background is given for these characters. In fact, it's almost as if the game had been around for a few generations and developers simply assumed that gamers were well acquainted with the plight of Zapper and his rivalry with Maggie the Magpie. I initially wanted to know more about these characters, but the more I played, the less I actually cared about learning their stories.

The graphics on both systems are pleasantly colorful. I think that it was the graphics that really appealed to my two kids. Both my four-year-old and my two-year-old proclaimed Zapper a good game, but that was a purely superficial judgement. The characters and animations are cute; they're just not engaging. When my son asked me why I didn't really like the game, I tried to teach him the word 'derivative' but I don't think it sunk in. The games look just fine, but as with every other aspect of the game-no new ground is being forged.

The controls for Zapper are fairly well thought out, if a little annoying. They have incorporated an interesting turn move that is controlled by the use of the left or right shoulder button. At first it was incredibly frustrating when I meant to turn to the left and ended up jumping to the left instead. Every push of the D pad or control stick will move you one hop in that direction. Sometimes jumps have to be timed just right. It took me a little while to get the control scheme down where I remembered to turn before hopping, but once I did, it played just fine. Secret areas and bonuses can be unlocked like in most every other game. Nothing new there.

Here I am at the end of the review and I think that I've finally discovered my angle: I hate crickets. They are everywhere in my house and their incessant chirping is slowly driving me insane. I could use my experiences with the real crickets as an analogy for my experiences with Zapper. It really could work. Unfortunately, I'd have to go back to the beginning of the review and start over. If either of the Zapper games had been better than they were, I might have considered it, but I don't want to spend any more time playing, thinking, or writing about this game than I absolutely have to.

Jason Frank (12/22/2002)