Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kid Gloves as the progenitor of Angry Video Game Nerds

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Wouldn't that make a compelling thesis title? Far more than my actual one at least, guaranteed.

Back when I shared the family home with my brother, I'd become accustomed to hearing some pretty strange utterances emerge from his loft-conversion cesspit of a bedroom. Topping the charts would be the vented wails, "it never touched me!", "I was nowhere near it!" or "I killed you!", intermittently punctuated with disgruntled tuts and incredulous sighs and groans. Have a guess how I knew whenever he was playing Amiga games, and not making much progress with them at that.

When verbally assaulting the TV screen failed to elicit the desired change in providence, thuds and thumps would often reverberate through the floorboards. I assume this was my delightful sibling taking his frustration out on whatever inanimate object was closest to fist or boot.

I was both fascinated and disturbed by this ritual and often wondered how tortuous a game would have to be to elicit such an extreme response. One day I concocted some excuse or other to go upstairs to look over his shoulder and finally solve the mystery.

More often than not he'd be bashing away on the seemingly innocuous, ultra-cute, screen-flipping platformer, Kid Gloves from Millennium Interactive. It features 'Kid', who wears gloves, perhaps not surprisingly. Only these are magic, time travelling gloves that have unexpectedly transported our protagonist into yonder past from which he has to escape by battling through five diversely themed levels slaying all manner of wacky foes in the process.

I'd thought little about these spontaneous outbursts of rage until recently - approximately 23 years later - when I was tinkering with the Amiga emulator, FS-UAE, wondering what nostalgic button-masher to fire up next. I reasoned that if someone could hate a game to that degree, yet still kept going back for more, it must have something going for it. With that I booted up Kid Gloves and my descent into madness began.

It turns out that all the teeth-gnashing, vehement physical violence and vitriolic abuse levelled at it were entirely warranted! It's the most excruciatingly, infuriatingly, demoralisingly, vexatiously irksome pile of pixels ever to grace the gaming catalogue of any computing or console platform, ever. No, it's worse than that!

A spot of musical foreshadowing in a game often comes in handy because it alerts the player of the necessity to guard against the danger lurking just around the next corner. But what happens when danger lurks around every corner and you could die at any moment and for no logically discernible or copacetic reason?

Millennium have that base covered; repeat the same two second, sense-of-foreboding-laden ditty over and over and over again. It's played when an enemy spawns, it's played when the hurry-up-eyeballs-of-damnation put in an appearance all too quickly after entering a scene, it's played when you return to the screen after losing a life, and also when nothing at all instigates it, but it's been more than three milliseconds since it was last trotted out to mercilessly assault your lug-holes.

I have to concede that the first time I met my maker I couldn't help grinning at the imaginatively quirky death animation. "Oh noooo", 'Kid' shrieks as he spontaneously combusts, his hat - all that remains of your character - falling to the ground accompanied by Wile E. Coyote style "weeeeeee... splat" sound effects. The seven-hundredth time you see it, it's not quite so endearing.

Trust me, if you're going to embrace the sadomasochistic lunacy and give Kid Gloves a go, you will become acutely familiar with this routine. The problem is the collision detection is abysmal. My brother was right; he/she/whatever really didn't touch him, but somehow Kid is incinerated anyway. One minute you can jump through an enemy and not perish, the next you could bite the dust just by looking at a bouncing troll. OK, sometimes it's a fair cop, but is it imperative for the enemies to re-spawn right on top of you? One could argue you were warned; did you not hear the ditty-of-doom?

Image courtesy of Amiga Magazine Rack
One pixel out either side of the centre point of a ladder and you've got as much chance of ascending it as you have of not wanting to assassinate the developers of this game. Given that this will often be your only means of escape from an impending threat, feeling as though your feet have been welded to the ground is far from ideal... and you get no bonus points for performing the Smooth Criminal lean.

The jumping mechanism is equally fiddly and unfair; if you don't leap those gaps with pixel-perfect precision, you fall short and it's goodnight Vienna... "oh nooo", weeee... splat", insert sense-of-foreboding-ditty here... lather, rinse, repeat.

Is it really any wonder Amiga Power gave the game away free on a cover disk back in 1991?

Personally I would have buried all the surplus copies right next to Atari's 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' in that New Mexico landfill site, concreted over the surface and arranged for the area to be patrolled around the clock for all of eternity by a crack team of mercenaries with rabid guard dogs.

Just imagine if Millennium had failed to learn their lesson and released an equally abominable sequel, sans the gloves - or Kid himself for that matter - though retaining the eponymous title, Kid Gloves II? That could never happen, surely? They wouldn't dare!

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