Genre: Action Developer: Teque London Publisher: Time Warner Interactive Players: 1-2 Released: 1994
As a movie-licensed game with an unappealing cover and a name involving lawncare equipment, The Lawnmower Man is already starting off disadvantaged. The game is based on a less-than-stellar mid-90s science-fiction film starring Pierce Brosnan that was based on a Stephen King short story from which it wildly deviates. So is this thing worth playing?
The game starts off with some grainy stills and text to give you some backstory. I have not seen the movie, but given the nature of this game, it’s probably very confusing. I never really grasped the plot, but basically, you’re going into the computer world to defeat this supercomputer man called Jobe so he doesn’t take over the world. Also, there are possessed gas pumps, evil bikers, and giant killer bees. I’m sure it all makes a lot of sense in context. The music throughout all the levels is stunningly good. You won’t be humming these tunes after, but the dark, minor-key, pumping techno melds perfectly with the fast and furious gameplay, resulting in a surprising amount of atmosphere.
The Lawnmower Man feels disjointed. I get what the developers were going for by alternating between two wildly different play-styles, but the experience is very jarring. Half of the game involves very standard run-n-gun action, a la Contra. It’s generic and boring and had already been done to death even back in 1994. You run, and then you gun, then you run some more, rinse, repeat, blah. This is complicated by the fact that enemies take way too many hits to kill, while your character takes only one. Thankfully, you respawn quickly in the same spot when you die. The levels are fairly uninteresting, consisting of city streets, warehouses, and office buildings. Your character runs kind of dorkily, but controls well. Aside from the weird boss fights, there’s really nothing extraordinary about these levels of the game.
Sometimes, you’ll run into computer terminals that you have to hack into by doing simple timed matching events like guessing number sequences and colored shapes. If you correctly hack them, they’ll explode and give you extra power-ups. I never did grasp what most of the power-ups did, except for the ones that change the range of your gun blasts. Once you complete a side-scrolling level, you switch into the virtual world, and here’s where things get interesting.
These levels switch to a first-person 3D effect where you navigate through twisted colorful worlds, avoiding bumping into the scenery. These levels auto-scroll, so you’re constantly moving fast and dodging flashing walls left, right, up, and down. Unfortunately, these levels look pretty poor for the most part, like some of the early Genesis flight sims – blocky, one-colored, flat polygons that just look unfinished. In some levels, the action will stop and you’ll face off against some computer viruses. These battles are fairly bland. These levels are quick and not that hard, and it’s fun weaving your way in and out of the structures, even if the graphics look fairly Atari-ish.
Finally, sprinkled in between are some genuinely awesome space-shooting levels where you take control of a ship and pilot through rapidly-spinning, flashing worlds. These are a blast to play, and they look kind of like if Space Harrier II took LSD. Your ship can spin all around the screen, creating a flashing vortex that is one of the coolest looking effects I’ve seen the Genesis pull off. I can’t really even describe just how trippy these levels look. Epileptics beware. If the entire game would have consisted just of gameplay like this, I think the game would be more well-regarded. These are also some of the toughest levels in the game, forcing you to quickly dodge and weave, though extra lives are located sporadically.
That really sums up my experience with The Lawnmower Man – constantly switching between the mundane and bizarre; it never really falls into tedium, yet the overall package is less-than satisfying. Kind of like going to work at the post office on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then going bungee-jumping on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Featuring graphics and gameplay that span the range from blah to wow, nice synthy music, and a variety of things to do, it’s a truly weird compilation. I would say give this game a chance just for the strange experience, and don’t let the side-scrolling levels put you off from the neat first-person and shooting levels.
SCORE: 5 out of 10