Thursday, November 16, 2023

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Game Boy, 1991)

This is a particularly special game for me, as it was very nearly the first video game I ever bought. Unfortunately (yet very fortunately) the store didn't have it, so I had to "settle" for Kirby's Dream Land instead. Thank goodness. With the new movie out, it was time for me to finally play this game. Let's find out how history might have been different if this game had reached me before Kirby's Dream Land had a chance to intervene. Would it have stopped me from ever getting into video games with its sheer badness? Would Corona Jumper cease to exist? Let's find out.

(Originally posted November 2019. Now with more shots (mainly of the late-game) added. Also added some thoughts at the end on how to fix the game and make it good, which wouldn't actually take much)


If I HAD succeeded in getting ahold of it, this is what I would have seen on the box. Whoa, just got a blast of nostalgia that must be from someone else's lifetime. Ever have that happen?

And here's what the cart looked like. As a kid, getting one of these and popping it into the Game Boy was a certain kind of excitement that's nearly impossible to replicate as an adult. It was better than any drug. Even a bad game like this could give you some joy.

OH BOY.

It's good to see Sarah Connor again, as she explains what's going on. Is she explaining this in 2029, where the game begins? It looks like she's explaining it in the early 90's.

Long story short, John Connor is attacking the Skynet Mainframe, and he's doing it by himself for some reason. This game predicted Terminator Salvation! Get this man some backup for God's sake!

Also like that movie, the Future War here is all grey and brightly-lit rather than the dark, blueish version from the early movies. The cool thing about this game is that the entire first half of it takes place in the future. Only the second half takes place during the time of the movie.

This is an infamous stage where you have to destroy radio towers in order of height before you can proceed with the game. On the surface, the game isn't bad. The controls are okay, the gameplay is fine, and the life meter is generous. The problem is that the developers couldn't get out of their own way: The radio tower puzzle is a bit of a chore, and your life meter doesn't get restored between levels. Oh, and you have one life.

HK Aerials and Terminator endoskeletons attack on the future war battlefield. Honestly, I probably would have liked playing this as a kid. I might not have gotten past the first two levels, but I think I would have enjoyed the hell out of those two levels.

YOU'RE NOT MY MOTHER, TODD.

There's a random glowy thing on one of the radio towers, and if you jump up and hit it, Sarah tells you how to actually complete the level. Chances are the average player will waste quite a bit of time before this, and if you already destroyed some towers out of order you have to reset the game anyway. Meeh.

Get past the radio tower battlefield and it's onward to the boss, a Ground-HK. These things were so badass in the first two movies, and it's bizarre that we've never really seen them since. Supposedly Salvation has a proto version of one during the first major war scene, but you can only see it onscreen for about two seconds and it doesn't move so it's hard to tell if it's a turret or an actual HK.

Staying ducked during this fight means none of its shots can hit you, though you still need to watch out for bombs dropped by Aerials. Jumping up to fire at the boss' head about 30 times is the only way to win, and it's crucial to avoid losing much health here so that you have enough for the second stage. The shared life meter only extends through that stage, to my knowledge. Weird.

The next stage is inside Skynet itself! Exposition Sarah is busy.

This place is full of endoskeletons and monitors. Nice attention to detail that some of them show mountains on them, considering that Skynet's mainframe is inside of the Colorado rockies. That's like "they read the screenplay" attention to detail.

The music here in Level 2 is pretty good. The music is probably the strongest part of this game.

 There are four minibosses in here that are called Centurions by the instruction manual. These don't look at all like Centurions though.

Most of the fighting in this game is on the easy side; the difficulty comes from the way the game is set up. Things like sharing a life meter between multiple stages, having no extra lives, etc.

 This part is just weird. You have to jump over a trio of land mines at the end of the level. The ceiling is too low to actually jump over them, though. It's impossible. I might just be missing something here, because it seems like the height (hyuck) of poor game design to put in something that's impossible to jump over. Better have enough health left when you get here to survive running through them. On the bright side, this is the last thing you have to do with the shared life meter of the first two levels.

 Stage 3 is a puzzle where you have to re-wire the T-800 Model 101's circuits and send it back in time. This is a cool idea and even the execution of it is fun, though they ruined it by only giving you two chances to get it done before going back to the beginning of the game again.

 The first of three timed puzzles is pretty much a gimme. You rotate the loose circuits to line them up with the circuits around them so the current can go from the lower left to the upper right. It's the kind of puzzle you find all over Bioshock, except that game didn't erase your saves when you failed one.

 There we go, all set. It lulls you into a false sense of security, like the not-so-hot sauces on Hot Ones.

 The second puzzle is notably more chaotic. The key is to just focus on fixing broken circuits and ignoring the rest. The third plug on the top row is already lined up correctly and can be ignored, meaning you only need to fix three circuits. Still, it's easy to fail this one. Especially considering that the only circuits that you can even use are the 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th (as those are the ones that get electric charges once the timer runs out), something it gives you no clue on.

Sometimes the 2nd puzzle is completely different. Not sure if this is a random occurrence or if it depends on the version of the game. I've played two different versions of this and they each had a different 2nd puzzle, though.

 At least the game is swell enough to give you a second chance here, unlike the first two levels.

 Fail again though, and it's BACK TO THE BEGINNING. That was the only reprogrammable terminator in existence, I guess.

"Circuit 2 done, now do Circuit 3"

YOU'RE NOT MY MOTHER, GAME

 The third puzzle is even worse. At least there are only four circuits to work with here which eliminates the confusion of puzzle 2 having seven circuits with only four of them working (the hell was that about). The dots can't be occupied by circuit, which prevents you from rotating a lot of the loose circuits the way you want to.

 LJN: "NO PAUSING TO CHEAT, YA RUFFIAN"

 After many, many tries (with save states to prevent massive time-wasting) I finally got all four circuits connected with basically no time left on the clock. There was no easy way to do this. Though if you follow this screenshot you can do it with like ten seconds left. That's right, even with the answers in advance, you're almost cutting it within single-digit seconds.

If this had been my first game back in 1993, I have no doubt I would have found a way around this. Chances are I would have finished the game the same way I finished Kirby's Dream Land, and it probably wouldn't have had much adverse effect on me continuing to play games. That's my conclusion.

I would have probably spent many man-hours figuring out a way around this damn puzzle, though. I likely would have started by finding a way to copy the image (maybe with a photograph, which back then you had to go get developed). Then I would have copied it onto graph paper or something and set about figuring out what to do from there. I still would have had to actually execute the process within the strict time limit once I figured out what to do. In 1993, I totally would have gone through all of that trouble, and it seems so unnecessary just to continue the game. I wonder how many kids had their T2 run dashed by this puzzle.

 Onward to stage 4, which is a shooter. They could have just jumped to this from the Skynet base and saved players a lot of grief. And again, the puzzles were actually fun for me when I had unlimited tries, so taking them out isn't even the best choice. This game could have been fine as it is if they hadn't tried to make it all punitive with lives.

The rest of the game pretty much flies by quickly. Stage 4 has you playing a new character since you're in the past now, with a new life meter, and a shootout with the T-1000's truck.

This is probably the most fun stage. It's also over in like one minute. Dammit! They were so close! Also if you even slightly bump into the truck, you insta-die... and go back to the very beginning of the game. The truck slowly advances no matter what, even if you're blasting it, so the key is to just get over to the right and blast from there. It'll never actually get that far over. Course you're gonna take damage from obstacles since you have no room to dodge.

This is a problem because...get this, you have a shared life meter for the last 3 stages. My God. Why, LJN?

The between-level graphics are actually quite good. Somebody was making a real effort with these.

 Stage 5 is Cyberdyne, which for some reason is full of falling spikes and gun turrets. Looks pretty much exactly like the Skynet interior stage, except without terminators.

The stage is full of these cannons that fire at you randomly (meaning there isn't a pattern to avoid, so you just get hit). They take so many hits to beat that they aren't even worth trying to deal with. Because...get this, you have limited ammo in this stage, and then you're stuck with basically melee attacks. Why'd they put super high HP enemies in a stage where you have very limited ammo?

There are also cops and SWAT guys. The Terminator just blows them all away! What happened to "I swear I will not kill anybody"?

The objective of this stage is to find a bunch of cards that open these gates. Bump into a gate and it's an insta-death (...and you go back to the beginning of the game). WTF.

The first card is at the end of the stage, so basically you're running to the end, then back to the beginning, then back to the end. And trying not to get hit so you have some health left for the last level.

 Finally, stage 6 has the player blasting the T-1000 around the factory. The secret here is to turn around and go to the left a little bit at the beginning to grab a gun that drops from the ceiling. It's easy to miss, and if you miss it you're punching from the get-go.

That's right: Run out of ammo, and you're stuck punching, which is like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and basically a total random thing whether or not your punches land. You don't want to get stuck doing this any more than absolutely necessary.

Die on this fight and it's BACK TO THE BEGINNING.

And winning is almost a random thing because you're completely dependent on shotgun ammo randomly appearing while you push the T-1000 back across the level. If you get unlucky on ammo appearing, you're dead. Protip: If ammo appears while you still have some, use up what you have before grabbing it because otherwise it'll be wasted. Yes, it doesn't refill your ammo unless you're out. W...T...F.

Finally he goes full liquid metal as you get close to the molten steel pit. Punches and shotgun blasts can't knock him off here, so you're dependent on a grenade launcher drop to actually finish him off. It only has like five shots, so he better be close to the edge when it does drop. If he regains some ground, the grenade launcher won't finish him off and you're more or less back to square one. This whole stage is bizarre.

 Eventually the T-1000 gets knocked into the molten steel, and that's it. As the T-1000 thrashes about, take the time to reflect on this completely infernal game. LJN should be ashamed!

Weirdly enough, in the ending it's all ambiguous about whether or not Judgment Day was actually prevented. Then it cuts to the Coda Ending where everything turned out fine. Da hell?

This game isn't terrible, but it sure isn't good. It REALLY needed some thought put into making it more playable. The whole thing can be finished in 20 minutes for someone who's really good at the game, which is probably why they made it so ungodly hard. The circuit puzzle halfway through the game needed to either have unlimited tries or be axed entirely, as the difficulty of the third puzzle dwarfs everything else in the game.

I think this could be fixed easily enough and made into a pretty good game if any intrepid rom-hacker wanted to take a swing at it. Here's what I would do:

-Extra lives. Hell, just give the player unlimited continues from the beginning of whatever stage they're on. This "one life for the whole game" BS was poorly thought-out to say the least. I wouldn't even add checkpoints (aside from the puzzle stage), because the stages are too short for that. Just "no going back to the beginning on death" would instantly be like 50% of the needed fixing.

-Restore the player's health between levels. Why they didn't do this is beyond me. The only actual heal you get is halfway through when it switches you from John to the Terminator.

-Get rid of the "destroy radio towers in specific order" part of level 1. It doesn't exactly extend the gameplay to have to run back and forth, and you have to reset the game if you do it out of order. Just let the player blow them up in any order as they go. I'd only do this to make the game more welcoming to a new player.

-Put checkpoints between each puzzle in stage 3 so the player doesn't have to start at the beginning if they fail. Stage 3 is easily the one that takes the most retries.

-Get rid of the annoying floor mines in level 2, especially the unavoidable floor mines that mean you need to have at least two blocks of health left to even finish the level, no matter what you do.

Make those five fixes and this game suddenly becomes a pretty respectable go for a movie licensed game. Either way it's still better than the SNES version of the game, which was so bad I couldn't even play through it. The lack of overhead bike stages alone makes this like 10x more playable.

Now for a quick look at another game I was desperate to get in 1993, and was probably better off without.

.....OH BOY.

This half-skull image was on the box art of a lot of T2 games back then. It brings back a ton of nostalgia.

This shitty game? OK, OK, I'm being unfair.

This...is not the T2: The Arcade Game of the arcades. However, it isn't awful either. The controls work well (though aiming with a D-Pad instead of an actual light gun really takes the wind out of its sails), the difficulty is fair, and it looks pretty good for a Game Boy game from 1991.

The first boss is a Ground HK in this too. This is a blistering fight where you have to blast the gun turrets, then the head, then the torso, then the lower tracks in order. It helps to spam your missiles at this point (after saving them up to now, the player should have a ton)

I'd do more with this but I'm gonna give it its own post next.

This game looks pretty bad, but in an era where I couldn't play T2: The Arcade Game on the Super NES, I might have liked it a lot. I can't say either of these games would have ended my game-playing career before it got started, as it turns out. I think I would have made the best of it if they'd gotten to me before Kirby's Dream Land. The games are what we make of them.



10 comments:

  1. That music is pretty good.

    Given how unfair that hacking part is, I doubt very many people finished this game at all back then.

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  4. HyperspacePhantomXYOLGOctober 21, 2023 at 9:30 AM

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