Friday, September 14, 2018

Why is there a Gameboy Color game called "Extreme Sports with the Berenstain Bears?"

Once you are able to answer this question, you will have achieved enlightenment, and truly earned the title of Bodhisattva. First, get a load of the cover:

WHOA. It looks more like some sort of mutant Banjo-Kazooie bootleg than it does the source material. And look how disturbingly boggle-eyed Mama, Papa, and Sister are in the background there. Say what you will about the Berenstain Bears books: they are nothing if not visually consistent (okay, yeah, there was definitely an evolution, but you know what I mean). Given that you paid good money for this license, couldn't you have gotten Jan Berenstain to whip up some original art for your cover? Or at least reused some existing art (of which, obviously, there's a shit-ton)? Or--at the VERY LEAST--gotten someone to do a passable imitation of her style? I kind of have to think that they went the route they did because it seemed Extreme. This is a very weird thing, because think about it: the idea that there's going to be a market for a game about the Berenstain Bears engaging in Extreme Sports seems kind of dubious on the face of it. BUT. The idea that there's an audience that really likes the Berenstain Bears and thinks this game was a great idea, but ALSO thinks the Berenstain Bears aren't cool enough, and would rather have something that's almost unrecognizably distinct from the source material? I don't even know what to say about that line of thinking.

Well, it seems probable that the braintrust behind the box art and the designers were not really communicating with one another. As you can see, the title screen tries to go for a more traditional BB style, at least as drawn by a not particularly artistically inclined eight-year-old. Granted, the GBC format is pretty limited, but there's no excuse for, in particular, Mama's face there, which resembles intentionally bad MS Paint art. Come to think of it, this whole thing very well may be bad MS Paint art. Or possibly Mario Paint.

Look at the bears! Where are they going?!? Why, to the extreme sports arena, of course! MY GOODNESS does this ever set the mood! Here it's sister who comes off the worst. The artist appears to have forgotten to give her a chin, and as a result she looks like a gopher or something.

Yeah, that's all you're going to get by way of context. You can be either Brother or Sister. If there's any difference between them gameplay-wise, I was unable to detect it.

So there's "Championship" and "Time Trials." If you choose championship, you get an image of your chosen bear. But in the time trials...

...friggin' all four of them clamber into your vehicle of choice. The gameplay seems exactly the same between the two. Also, both are timed, which you might have imagined would be the salient difference. You might accuse me of being unfair to this game, mocking it without really understanding it, but c'mon: this game--and this blogpost--are the lowest of low-hanging fruit. Take them for what they are.

All the events are very same-y races. Like this.  I guess maybe some of them are arguably would be a little extreme if the execution were there, but...well, what do you think? Nothing really happens; there are no opposing racers, just a few obstacles that don't really do much aside from make you sort of bump a little, and they just go ON and ON and ON. Also, there's no music; just what--if we're being exceedingly generous--we might describe as "environmental sounds." It's pretty low-effort.

OOH! But we DO get some Berenstain Bears fan-service here! I have no idea who Ellen and Marsha are supposed to be, but the others are all actual BB characters: Freddy--aka Cousin Fred--is who you think he is, the Bears' cousin who appears whenever Brother needs a "friend" character; he was prominent in those old books where the plot consists entirely of Papa acting like an idiot and getting injured--surely the entire franchise's highlight. Honey is Brother's and Sister's infant sister who was introduced when they were sorta running out of ideas; she seems entirely too young to be sledding. Lizzy Bruin is Sister's friend. Too-Tall Grizzly is the mean bully who, with his gang, uses Peer Pressure to get Brother to steal a watermelon from Farmer Ben and subsequently learn a valuable lesson (does he later become good? Difficult to say. Probably). Queenie McBear is the Mean Girl who leaves Sister out of the in-crowd but who later mends her ways. And flippin' Tuffy is the titular bully in The Berenstain Bears and the Bully; that is a deep-ass cut.

I want to assure the reader that I had to look none of that up; these are things that I know. My doleful fate is to roam the Earth damned to be in possession of many, many Berenstain Bears facts.

Of course, it's all very well to show these characters' names in a list, but imagine if they actually appeared in the game? As playable characters with their own strengths and weaknesses? It seems unlikely that this would make the game good, but at least it would evince some degree of effort, which as it stands is sorely lacking.

Look, there's something you need to understand here: you don't actually have to push anything to make the characters go forward, and you don't need to place well to proceed to the next event. Therefore, very quickly, I just started "playing" them by holding the emulator's fast-forward button and nothing else. I freely admit that I definitely missed out on some of the game's, uh, intricacies--for instance, in this level you can push a button to do "tricks" of a sort that are helpfully named at the bottom of the screen--but I have decided that I am okay with this. It is not a major gap in my life. I came in last, of course; maybe there's an ending ceremony if you do well, but I just got booted back to the mode-select screen. Whee. I don't care enough about this game to make any kind of concerted effort with it.

Berenstain Bears are weird stuff, man. They started out just being goofy, then they morphed into anodyne Life Lessons for Kids, then they became evangelical Christians. No joke. My brothers and I were kind of fixated on them--the ones in the second category, mostly--when we were small. We had a kind of weird meta-understanding of them; we knew they were supposed to impart these messages, but I'm quite sure that at no point did any of us actually gain any kind of wisdom from them. It was just a matter of looking at them and sort of nodding along: oh. So THAT'S the message we're meant to be receiving. I wonder how widespread this was. Gotta be pretty highly; I wonder if Stan and Jan would've been annoyed to know that kids were reading their books in this unselfconsciously perverse way. Well, TOO BAD. Who made THEM experts on this stuff? Any of it? But the question remains: WHY were we into this stuff? For the world-building? The characters? These things really wasn't super-compelling. And yet...we persisted. Who can fathom what goes on in the minds of The Kids? Well, my understanding is that these days they're mainly into racist Youtube channels, so maybe it's a bad idea to even try.

But back to these damn bears: GOOD LORD, how about when they overstepped their bounds? There are only so many helpful lessons for kids you can do, dammit, and as a result you get the one where Papa was racist against pandas, which sounds like it has to be a weird dream I had, but isn't. Would black bears have been a little Too Real? The answer, obviously, is yes; racism against Asians isn't such a hot-button topic, and isn't perceived as keenly as the more prevalent kind, so this way it's possible for people to read without getting uncomfortable. Still, you gotta wonder: "What if your room's always messy?" "What if you're having bad dreams?" "What should you do if you're afraid of the dentist?" "What if your dad is a Trump supporter?" One of not like the others, and even theoretically, it's impossible to imagine it actually helping anyone (although, in fairness, it's probably a more urgent question than any of the others). Weird, weird stuff.

And HOLY CRAP, DUDE, LOOK HOW MANY OF THEM THERE ARE. They are churning them out at a feverish rate. In 2016, they published SIXTEEN (!!!) of them. Of course, Stan and Jan are both long deceased; it's more of an industrial process than an artistic endeavor at this point. Well. Anyway.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

I LOVE this review. Even if you fuck up the name a little. It's BerenstEIN Bears.

BTW - Love to see series of your retrspective reviews for this book series ^_^ I would love to read it !

2:23 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

I'm...going to assume that that's a joke about the spelling, but I'm not quite sure :p

Writing about BBears books IS an amusing idea...

2:37 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Do it! Do it! ;)

11:31 AM  

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