MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE / Freakzone Games / PC
 
 
 
Mystery Science Theater 3000 was one of the greatest shows ever put on television (a dude and some robots rip on bad movies), but it's understandable if you've never heard of it. It actually ran for a decade through the 90s, but it started out on a local channel in Minnesota before being picked up by Comedy Central before a lot of people had Comedy Central in their cable packages. There was this brief, glorious period of a couple of years in the mid-90s where Comedy Central became widely adopted in the lower-end cable packages and actually gave MST3K a good time slot, and it even got popular enough to even spawn a movie; unfortunately, shortly after that they dumped it off to the SyFy Network (then called SciFi as it was markedly less terrible) at a time when it was a "premium" channel that NOBODY had, and it hung on for another couple of seasons before fizzling out for good there.

Anyway. I bother with all this preamble because it explains why there even is a Manos: The Hands Of Fate game. Manos was a low-budget terrible movie made by some no-name director in the early 1960s that would have been totally and completely forgotten by time if MST3K had not dredged it up somehow. The combination of its sheer unrelenting Terrible and the mascot character Torgo (a shuffling goat-man) made it one of MST3K's most popular episodes.
 


MST3K has a steady stream of new fans discovering it thanks to digital downloads and episodes on Youtube, and my concern coming in with this game is that it was going to be some kids who just discovered the show cranking out some Flash crap to ride the coattails of someone else's joke and make a few ill-gotten dollars. You know what, though, it came out OK. It is made in Flash, and it's a little rough around the edges, and has a few glaring bugs/glitches, but on the whole I actually liked it.

I credit that to the approach, which was basically to envision Ocean or LJN or one of those companies getting Manos as a licensed property in the NES days and making a game out of it. If you weren't there for the 8-bit days, standard practice with a movie license was to make a platformer/run-n-gun out of it as that was the genre du jour. Since most movies don't actually adapt themselves well to platformers, they were usually crappy affairs full of bizarre stuff that had nothing to do with the movie, and with movie characters hammered in as weird enemies and bosses. That's basically what Freakzone goes for here, except that the design is better than the usual LJN shitfest. It's a series of levels and bosses loosely based on the movie, as you control main man Mike with the aid of his infinite ammo pistol (and sometimes shotgun when he finds one in the levels).
 


They really nailed the NES aesthetic, and the chiptunes rendition of the movie music is often quite good. Granted, there's probably a few more colors than you'd see on the NES palette and sprites are generally larger, but everything is composed of pixels rather than being that usual Flash pseudo-retro style that looks terrible. The game isn't particularly difficult, but it's challenging in spots and overall I thought it was decently balanced.

The one major issue is that it at times relies on finicky platform-jumping, but does not seem to support gamepads at all. Yeah I know, Joy2Key, but it's just my personal policy that a game that's asking for money should have its own gamepad support when appropriate, and it gets no more appropriate than with a 2D platformer. There's other inartful moments, like a "continue" screen when you die that doesn't actually seem to work ... and if there's a way to actually quit out of the game without using CTRL-ALT-DEL I haven't found it yet. Maybe they just assumed that everyone would be playing it in Steam? They also don't let you alter the controls, and SHIFT is the jump button ... welp, pressing SHIFT five times in most versions of Windows is the shortcut to turn on the obnoxious "sticky keys" mode. I know they're not asking MUCH money for it, but still ... if you're asking money things like this really should have been ironed out.
 
 
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