Genre: Action Developer: Software Creations Publisher: Acclaim Players: 1-2 Released: 1995
In a rather surprising twist, playing Cutthroat Island led to some kind of transcendental experience for me. It led me to think about the way licensed games work. Unfortunately enough, in most cases licensed games aren’t among the better games, and most of the time they come of as pretty average. Nevertheless, these games usually sell rather well. This is mostly because they profit from the popularity of the material on which they are based. A game based on a summer blockbuster is almost guaranteed to be a hit. Of course, in order to take advantage of the free advertising provided by the movies PR and cinematic run, a game has to be released while the movie is still popular or relevant. Too late, and the fad has already fizzled out. This, in turn, unfortunately more often than not leads to unfinished rush-jobs, many of which left many a fan of those movies with a sour taste in their mouths once the game came out. It isn’t always fair, though, because the game has to face criticism from both sides in how well it holds up against the concurrent video games and how it measures up to the movie it is based on.
Also, if the supposedly guaranteed summer blockbuster turns out to be such a devastating bomb that basically destroyed both the studio that financed it and the career of its female lead, chances are that hardly anyone would be interested in this game. Such was the fate of the video game version of Cutthroat Island, once of the biggest failures in cinematic history. It was faced with the worst of odds: It had to be produced on time to stay relevant, but the license it was based on turned out to be a horrible flop. Furthermore it was released late in the Genesis life span, so when it finally came out, it was largely ignored and faded fast into obscurity. Now, thirteen years later, the movies infamous disaster can be forgotten and we can have a fresh look at this games, without any prejudice in our hearts. And we can safely say…
God damn, this game is horrible!
No matter how you look at it, this just seems like a lazy rush job. At the start you have the option between swordplay and a brawling mode. Brawling mode is exactly like swordplay, except you cannot use any attacks with your weapon and are reduced to your punches, even though your character sprite still brandishes his or her sword! Why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. It’s like trying to play the game with one arm tied behind your back; it provides a handicap that has absolutely no point. It’s okay to make the game harder that way, but you could provide some new, albeit weaker, fight moves or at least remove the weapon!
Control-wise, this game is no revelation either. Both characters basically control the same, although Shaw is a bit faster while Morgan can jump higher. Both characters can double jump in mid-air as long as they go straight up… which turns out to be a rather useless move as well. Generally you get your usual side-scrolling brawler fair, and as you progress you even get awarded with some special moves. However, they are hard to pull off and are pretty useless. For example, the first one you get, which can be used from stage three onwards, requires you to have two weapons. You need two swords of the same type however (which is stated nowhere in the game), so when you play as Morgan, who uses a rapier as her main weapon, and pick up one of the Scimitars Shaw uses, the special move won’t work. And even if you get the right one, the controls react so badly that you usually can’t pull it off, even though all it should take is pressing two buttons, like A + Y, at the same time.
Also, the gameplay throws in some sudden twists that I think are supposed to provide some diversion but come off as illogical and irritating instead. The first boss is a prime example for that. While during the whole level you could walk left and right as well as up and down, for the boss fight you are forced to fight like if you were on a straight line – suddenly, pressing down makes you duck! The first boss has a gun, for crying out loud – trying to sidestep the shots would be logical, but instead your range of avoiding the shots is limited to ducking! And this change in controls comes with no warning whatsoever, so you’ll probably get thoroughly wasted the first time around.
The second level then is a cart chase in a lorry, where you have to avoid obstacles – without getting any warning beforehand whatsoever. The level is fast, so avoiding the rocks and trees is pretty hard in itself. If you crash once, you have to start the entire level over again. There are also some guards in your way that you can simply run over – as long as they don’t carry hammers. You hit one of those, you also lose a life. This is cheap as hell; you get no warning whatsoever, and before you face the first of those guys you will probably have run over dozens of guards already, so how should I know that I have to avoid those guys, while I have hardly any time recognizing that those are different to the other ones I can run over?
As I said, the game seems like a rush job, and it becomes pretty apparent in the graphics and sound departments. In every level, the soundtrack consists of a few dull notes constantly repeating over and over. There are no catchy tunes and hardly any sound effects either. You can’t even hear the shots when the first level boss fires at you! This can get pretty annoying, especially when he vanishes at the left side of the screen (which can happen) and you can neither hear nor see him shooting at you as you go down from the distance. In general, all you get for sound effects are dull swishes and a few weak thumping sounds when something hits the ground. As for the graphics, they usually lack in detail, and they are rather dull and lifeless, extremely disappointing for a game released this late in the Genesis’ run. The intro looks promising, but it makes the rest come off even more disappointing in comparison. I was almost shocked to see the game over screen, which suddenly is rich in detail and probably the most colorful screen in the entire game!
Even when trying to judge Cutthroat Island on its own merit, what Acclaim provides here is nothing short of an embarrassment. Everything seems so lackluster and unpolished. I almost have the feeling that once the movie bombed the game got hurried out even faster, trying to salvage anything from the movies hype before word of the critics spread around too far. Either way, the game’s a mess, and becomes near unplayable beyond the second level.
Truly, it’s a sad thing when, in all seriousness, the best part of the game is its “game over” screen!
SCORE: 3 out of 10