Now, if you think it seems desperate to start my Boogerman review by stealing another man's fart joke, well, aren't you a perceptive little fart? Truth is, trying to make sense of Boogerman in 2011 has, indeed, made me a little desperate. I'll admit it. I'm desperate like a preacher who just farted in the middle of his sermon. Verily, verily.
So let's stick to other people's fart jokes for a second, eh? Here's George Carlin talking about farts. Talking about farts, I believe, at Carnegie Hall.
Farts are funny. Farts are fun. Farts are a part of every day life. Farts are on the fire escape outside your window, trying to get in. Farts are a basic building block of humor. Every child laughs when they hear a fart and every old grandpa is known to tell a fart joke or two. And fart. Everyone farts. Even the prettiest, most-angelic girl you ever met farts like a donkey from time to time.
The earliest joke recorded in history was a fart joke, I shit you not (ha!). Pretty sure it goes back even farther than that, too. I bet every time a mammoth farted all the Cro-Magnons standing around had a big laugh about it. Those whose lungs didn't immediately evaporate from the whiff, anyway.
'Cause farts stink! Breaking news from Negative World: Farts stink. The sound of a fart is funny, of course, but surely it's the stink that started us laughing in the first place. If farts smelled like strawberries, we wouldn't laugh. We'd clap. We'd smile. We'd hire guys to fart in our cars for us. You could imagine old ladies saying, "Oh, here comes Lawrence! I hope he's brought along one of his lovely, almond farts!"
But it wasn't to be. We didn't get strawberries. We got the worst smelling guy at Burning Man. We got returning from a 2 week vacation only to discover a family of possums died in our wall. I let a fart go in bed once that was so rank, I saw my wife run from the room in a panic usually reserved for fires or the spontaneous outbreak of war. If I'd had a camera I could probably sell that photo to Life Magazine. Try to pass it off as something that happened in Afghanistan. Except my wife would have spoiled the whole effect because she was laughing the whole time.
That pretty much proves farts are funny, even once-in-a-lifetime stink bombs like that. (My wife just read this and remarked, "That better have been once in a lifetime.")
You know what ain't funny, though? Mediocre platformers from the 16-bit era. And now that I have to buckle down and take you through Boogerman, I kind of wish I could just keep telling fart jokes.
Okay, let me clear the air (har har) with the obvious point: His name is Boogerman, not Fartman. So I get it if you're wondering why I'm focusing on farts. Surely I should be repeating all of Redd Foxx's booger jokes, instead. Well, first and foremost: Boogerman may have this whole booger theme going on, but he also farts. And second and foremost: There's not really anything particularly funny about wiping boogers on people. Or, if there is, it's pretty situational. Maybe wiping a booger on Hitler is funny, but I'm sad to report nothing like that happens in Boogerman.
Get used to levels that look like this
Instead, we get some weird story about a guy who… look, do you really want me to go through this? Boogerman is a superhero who has to save the day by throwing boogers, hocking loogies, belching gas and farting anal fumes on the bad guys. His nemesis, Booger Meister, has stolen a macguffin crystal that has something to do with pollution, because it was 1994 and every single animated bad guy was primarily interested in polluting the Earth as much as possible. So Boogerman assaults Booger Meister's booger-encrusted home world of Dimension X-crement to use his boogers to defeat all manner of boogiemen who largely appear to be made out of boogers.
I'm sure I just made that sound super appealing, but it's really not.
That Oscar Worthy Story™ is coupled with gameplay that's about as mediocre as it gets. If Boogerman was an ice-cream flavor - and if the FDA decreed that that flavor couldn't be boogers - it would surely be some version of vanilla. Not like a luxurious French Vanilla or life-affirming Homemade Vanilla, more like that huge tub of Bargain Vanilla whose actual flavor is best described as "cold".
So, no, inspiration is not the hallmark of Boogerman. Beyond a few nice touches - like the nose warps, a few hidden secrets, and the blocked off caves that you open by blowing the debris away with a mighty wind - there's not much going on beyond usual genre stuff. You're going to spend the whole game shooting enemies, jumping to platforms and collecting a bunch of crap. (More specifically, digging through literal crap to collect figurative crap.)
As far as fighting enemies goes, it's nothing special. Boogerman's powers are mapped to 3 buttons, which I suspect is to make the game compatible with the original 3-button Genesis controller. That's a shame because this game, in particular, could have benefited from more variety on that score. Since I played the SNES version, I had plenty of button real estate that went unused, apart from an unnecessary taunt mapped to the Y button. I'm not really complaining about that taunt, though, as I appreciated the quirkiness of a button that does nothing apart from making Boogerman do something gross. Unfortunately the taunt is just Boogerman saying, "Booger" and pointing in the air, which I'm pretty sure makes it the least gross thing he does in the game. As Guillaume pointed out to me, that button should have just made different fart sounds. Guillaume should develop games.
There's also this rare attack, that's funny while it lasts, I guess
I definitely commend the team on the quality of the sprite animation, which is pretty above average throughout. But the actual fighting mechanic isn't much fun in practice. For most enemies, one booger is enough to finish them off, and since enemy placement is fairly predictable I found myself often firing a booger off before anything had even scrolled on the screen. Most of the time I hit a target.
And I can't be the only one who wonders how a single booger can cause these goblins to pop like balloons. They all seem to be made out of the stuff, anyway, so I'd think trying to kill them with boogers would be like trying to kill off Gumby by throwing Play-Doh at him. Surely it should only make them into stronger, uber booger goblins. Unless we've got some kind of matter/anti-matter thing going on here. Maybe Dimension X-crement is an anti-matter universe where no booger from our world can exist in the same space as a booger from theirs. But I'm sure I'm overthinking this, now.
The actual platforming is below average for the period. A large percentage of the game seems designed using the basic philosophy of drawing a few platforms here and there and then putting enemies on them, without getting too hung up about it. I want to be fair to the designers of this game: it's not awful, but you're not exactly getting Yoshi's Island, either. Also, the platform detection can be a little off at times. This was an all-too-common problem during this era of games and, to be fair, Boogerman isn't as bad as some of the worst offenders you could list. It's a minor problem, here, but it's still frustrating to time a jump only to find out that you can't actually land on that little clump of grass at the edge of the platform. There are some toxic waste barrels floating in some of the bonus rooms where you can land on one side but not the other. It's that sort of thing. If you've played any middleweight platformer from the mid-nineties, you know what I'm talking about. Boogerman isn't an exception.
What kind of freaky S&M crap is this?
Apart from the platforming, Boogerman has a number of boss battles. I liked these a little better than the levels, though they were a bit harder than I'd expect for a game with the demographic this game is aimed at. The bosses are big, colorful, well-animated and require a bit of patience to fight. And, in a strange turnabout, the first boss is actually the hardest and the final boss is the easiest. That couldn't have been the original idea.
Since I'm talking about the bosses, let me rattle off our Boogerman Rogues Gallery: Hick Boy, Revolta, Fly Boy, Deoder Ant, and Booger Meister. That's it. You've got 5 bosses and two of them have the word "boy" in their name. Did no one wonder if that looked lazy? Here, free idea: How about "Fly Guy"? It rhymes and it lampoons the usual superhero naming convention at the same time.
And that gets at what I found most frustrating about Boogerman. For a game with such a ridiculous premise, there isn't actually a lot of creativity on display. It's almost as if Interplay went with the first idea they had, every time. Like they had one meeting, over lunch, wrote a few ideas down on a napkin, and then went straight back and made that exact game without ever refining any of those ideas into something truly witty or interesting.
Case in point: Boogerman's a superhero and yet the game does nothing with it. There's no attempt to parody Superman or Batman or Spiderman or any existing superhero or comic book trope. And this was 1994, a time when Superman was dead, The Punisher was accepted as an actual hero, every issue had a "collectible" foil cover and the whole hero genre was absolutely ripe for parody. But don't look for anything like that here. The fact Boogerman is a superhero is almost superfluous. He could be Booger Lifeguard or Booger Traveling Salesman and the whole game would make just as much sense.
And, okay… the farting. As you can probably tell by this point, I think farts are funny. I'm not uptight about this stuff. Let a fart go and I'll probably laugh. But farts aren't funny for 3 hours straight, which is about the time it took me to complete Boogerman. If you want to keep the laughs coming with a concept like this, you've got to provide the right context for those farts. Look at that Carlin routine again. His stories are funny because he contextualizes the process of farting in a funny way. So does Redd Foxx. Just because Boogerman is trafficking in gross-out humor doesn't mean it can't be witty in its own low-brow way. Even the Garbage Pail Kids, a direct influence on Boogerman, prove that's possible. And while, this…
…maybe doesn't qualify as satire, it at least uses the gross-out material in an original way. And that makes it funny. If Boogerman could have provided fresh new context throughout the game for all those fart/belching/booger jokes, I'm certain it could have kept me entertained. Instead, it's just the same thing from start to finish - farting for farting's sake - and that completely ruins all the potential in the concept. It's the difference between being half-witted and no-witted. Low-brow and no-brow. Farting and just shitting your pants.
But, if I'm honest with you, the biggest problem I actually have with Boogerman is that it doesn't have the good sense to be either a really good game or a laughably bad game.
If it was really good, I could bring it up as a game that didn't get a fair shake. I could say, straight-faced, "You'd think Boogerman would be flush-the-toilet horrible, but it's actually a solid little platformer. There's a wry wit to the whole thing that elevates it above the gross-out stuff you see on the surface. No one will admit it, though, because they don't want to be the first person to show up to that particular party." But no dice. If you catch me saying anything that kind about Boogerman, you'll know I'm either drunk or being heroically passive-aggressive.
Now if it was laughably bad, then we could have a lot of fun with Boogerman in other ways. This is what I'd secretly hoped to discover, to be honest. I wanted to see and hear things that were in such horrible taste that I'd throw down the controller, puke, and then have to start the level over again (okay, the digging around in shit came close). I wanted to see slow down and misspelled words. I wanted to discover that Someone At Corporate ordered the boogers to be colored blue because of something the focus group said. I wanted to be at some geeky party and be able to say, "If "E.T." is the 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' of the video game world, surely 'Boogerman' is gaming's 'Glenn or Glenda'." But, again, no dice.
The truth is, Boogerman is nothing more than a mediocre platformer with a gross-out gimmick and better-than-usual animations. That's basically it. In 2011, I can't think of a sensible reason to go back to it, and that makes me sad because I actually did have some hope that I'd enjoy it. But Boogerman just breaks wind and breaks my heart.
@Smerd Oh, I wish I'd thought to compare Boogerman to Conker! Good call, Smerd. I would have liked Boogerman a lot more if it had the wit of Conker, only in a PG form.
And, again, it goes back to context for me. The Great Mighty Poo is funny not only because he's made of crap, but because he's absolutely gigantic and because he sings opera. That's such a ridiculous notion that it's funny. Genius, even.