Five Reasons 'The Lawnmower Man' Was A Great 16-Bit Game

Senior Contributor
11.19.12 3 Comments

Dear io9: We are throwing down on this one. In your otherwise painfully accurate discussion of the worst licensed games of all time, you dismiss The Lawnmower Man for the SNES and Genesis as just another knock-off shooter.

But, as somebody who obsessively played that game back in 1992 and who occasionally still plays it, I can testify it was a solid, sometimes great, entry in the 16-bit library. In fact, this tie-in game to a movie that even Jeff Fahey wants to forget is better than the movie it’s based on. Here’s why.

#1) Gameplay Variety

It must be said that there’s nothing original in this game in terms of mechanics. It’s a bizarre mix of genres and ideas from games ranging from Contra to Sonic The Hedgehog to StarFox to Wolfenstein 3D. But it mixes all of these into a game that actually has a satisfying variety of gameplay.

The game itself wasn’t anything revolutionary, per se, but it did make an effort to at least do a good job with every genre it explored. For example, the side-scrolling sections had hidden areas and other aspects that you needed to explore. It was required, actually: If you didn’t find all the terminals in the game, you got the crappy ending.

Yes, this is a game for the SNES in 1992 that had alternate endings.

It was also well paced: No section of the game goes on long enough to wear out its welcome, making it entertainingly bite-sized while also possessed of an unforgiving difficulty.

#2) The Excuse Plot And Overall Weirdness

Look, let’s just face it: The Lawnmower Man is a terrible movie. It’s an endearingly cheesy one, but this is a movie about going on the Internet with gyroscopes and virtual reality goggles. About half-way through, the game gets to the end of the actual movie… and goes utterly bonkers.

The second half of the game is a bizarre, polygonal Mad Max-type weirdness that frankly is better than the actual sequel. Beyond that, you can tell the dev team had fun cramming every stupid thing about the movie you could find into the game. You will shoot a LOT of monkeys if you beat this game, for example, because the movie featured a lot of P.O.’ed chimps. In fact, in the 3D combat sections? Those are supposed to be monkeys you’re shooting, who are ALSO on the Internet, and trying to kill you.

#3) The Graphics

Yeah, now it looks like crap. But consider that this wasn’t some sort of software accelerated cartridge. This is a licensed video game from 1992; there wasn’t the budget for that tech. All of the graphics work is fairly cutting edge for a 16-bit game that wasn’t part of a major franchise, or at least showing off a clever workaround: If you look closely at the polygonal hands in the 3D sections, they’re actually 2D sprites.

Even the little touches stand out: The developers bothered to animate a car settling when you jumped on it, and made it possible to, for example, jump on a car that was driving at you.

#4) The License Wasn’t Used As A Crutch

The overall history of this game is unclear. Much of it smells like a licensed game: The enemies are of the “everything trying to kill you” variety, and as much of the movie as possible is stuffed into every nook and cranny, from the IQ tests Jobe takes to the enemies you fight.

And yet the bones are solid; this has a satisfying length and feels like a game that was thoroughly tested and thought out. If you changed a few features about this game and put it out now, say with better graphics and maybe a twee story, it’d get decent reviews. It’s fairly clear a lot of effort went into this once you start playing it.

Part of that may be the developer’s history: The Sales Curve largely made games for the Amiga and Commodore 64, and this was their only console game (and their last before being absorbed into SCi). They were used to having to deliver a higher grade of quality, and it shows.

This may not seem like much, but ask anybody who grew up at the time: For the few who bought and played the game, the fact that it was this good was kind of mind-blowing.

#5) It’s Still Fun

It’s nothing original or earth-shaking, but it’s a solid game that mixes genres well and is far more fun than a licensed game should be. It’s worth digging out and playing, if you haven’t; it’s that rare licensed game where pride was taken, and the game itself worth playing.

Now, Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi… yeah, that one stunk. We’re with you there.

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