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Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors

Genre: Mini Game Set Developer: Imagineering Publisher: Absolute Ent. Players: 1 Released: 2006

DISCLAIMER: This game never saw an official release. Slated for April 1995, the title was pulled after its publisher, Absolute Entertainment, went out of business. The game had already been finished and sent out to various magazines for review. Years later, an image of the game was leaked to the internet and thus made available to the public, though not officially so. This review is based off that version. Please, don’t ask me where to get it; if you want to find it, you just need to scour the internet for a little bit.

Well, this is certainly one of the oddest titles never to see the light of day. For the most part, this compilation isn’t a game, even though parts of it masquerade as such. When you pop in a game, it usually provides the entertainment for you; generally speaking you don’t really interact with it as much as you simply consume. This is not how this compilation works, however. I wouldn’t get this one if you are only looking to play by yourself, as you’ll probably only be disappointed. No, in order to get the most out of it, you need to show this game to as many vict.. I mean people as possible. No, this disc is true magic… or at least the closest thing to magic you’ll ever get on the Sega CD.

So are you looking for simple passive entertainment? Then you probably should stop reading right now. Do you enjoy tricks, magic, and pulling a prank every once in a while? Then this is just the piece of software for you!

Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors can roughly be divided into three sections: Tricks, where you use the Sega CD to actually perform some (stage) magic, scams, the serve the sole purpose of making fun of a hapless victim (or taking revenge on a good friend), and games, which actually qualify as usual pieces of video game entertainment… in a manner of speaking.

Amongst the tricks are “What’s your sign?” and “Mobo, the Psychic Monkey.” The former is just what the title suggests. Penn & Teller, via prerecorded video messages, ask a number of questions with quite a versatile range of answering possibilities. At the end of the questionnaire, the duo will reveal the astrological sign of the person playing – and on top of that the exact date of birth! And “Mobo, the Psychic Monkey” pulls the ultimate card trick. The video game will read a card, any card, that the person holding the controller has drawn at random.

Of course, these are tricks; the programs need your assistance, and you need to be able to pull them off smoothly. Plus, since you need to do some preparation, you usually can pull the trick only once unless you find a very good way to properly and covertly set everything up again, which is hard to do with “What’s your sign?” (it needs you to preset the internal clock of the system). However, if you can pull it off, you can get a maximum of enjoyment out of these bits, and some priceless facial expressions on your victims to boot. These tricks work pretty well, and the better you handle them, the harder your friends will have to guess to figure them out. These two pieces work great as party tricks, so they can serve to entertain a group of people (at least once).

Then there are the scams. Those are tailor-made pranks directed at specifically one person: your victim (or second player). “Buzz Bombers”, in particular, allows to take revenge on that one person that always seems to get the better of you in whatever game you’re playing. Now, you’re totally in control. While you’re holding pad number one, you can secretly fix the game, giving you the advantage (or, if he smells a rat, giving you a disadvantage). Even if he suspects something and demands the controller back, you can secretly set pad number two up instead. You can even go so far as to boot the disc up in such a way that it directly starts up with “Buzz Bombers,” if you want to carry the joke even further. If you don’t want to fix the game, you can play it proper, too. It’s just a simple vertical shooter though, and the graphics aren’t too impressive; a little more effort in this area would have been nice.

“Sun Scorcher” makes fun of marketing gimmicks like “blast processing,” promising “thermographics.” Here, the point of the program lies solely in your acting skills. The program promises to produce graphics so hot, they actually heat up, and it’s up to you to convince your buddy that they actually do, up to the point that they actually break the TV. You can play that one like a normal game as well, with basically the same downside as “Buzz Bombers” has.

And then there’s probably the most infamous part of the collection: “Desert Bus.” Yes, it exists, the driving simulation where you drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada. An eight-hour bus drive through the desert, in real-time, with all the sights the desert has to offer (none). You can’t go over the speed limit, to you can’t make the trip shorter. The wheel veers slightly to the right, so you can’t simply accelerate and not pay attention to the controller. If you accidentally drive off the road, your bus breaks down, and the towing service has to come and pull the bus back to Tucson – all the way you already driven – in real time. And once you’ve reached Las Vegas, you simply turn around… and drive the entire course again. I know what you’re asking: Is that really all there is to it? Is there no diversion? Why yes, there is. After a couple of miles, a bug splats on the busses windshield! Is it fun? Hell no! The point is to simply waste someone’s time. But looking at the other titles on this compilation, are you really surprised?

Well, for those who were looking for a “real” game, yes, there actually is one as well. “Smoke & Mirrors” is a puzzle/platform mix where our duo is setting out debunking the “magic” behind the stage magicians Stinkbomb and Rot. Penn and Teller each have specific talents you need to apply at certain parts in order to get past obstacles and finish the stage. It’s actually a nice little game, but it feels like it was only tacked on as an afterthought. The mechanics feel a bit clunky, and the graphics could definitely need some touching up. It’s a good way to kill some time, though.

So, are you still intrigued? If you want start looking for this title now, don’t forget one thing: you definitely need the manual! It’s not just about working out the controls. No, they contain the much-needed instructions for working the magic, so to speak. There is an “owners” menu doubling as some sort of tutorial (which is hidden and can only be revealed if you know the trick, of course), but having the instructions ready greatly helps practicing the tricks. And the better your act, the greater the effect! Trust me on this.

This is definitely not something everyone can enjoy, but if you love tricks and own just the right twisted sense of humor (like I do), then this little oddity is well worth seeking out. The graphics and controls could have been better, but that doesn’t make the game any less of a unique experience.

SCORE: 7 out of 10

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