Retro Video Game Review: Hurricanes

…OK, I’ll be honest, this review is complete filler. See, I picked the game that I was going to cover for the usual series of articles and even was going to start playing it…but I didn’t start playing it until around quarter past twelve in the morning on the day of my deadline, the game’s length on other reviews that I glanced at indicated it was a game that would take me at least five hours to get through in its entirety and, due to plans over the course of the posting day requiring me to have actually had some sleep, I knew that I couldn’t pull an all nighter to review it and wouldn’t be able to just do it over the course of the posting day to catch up with it.

To say that was a dumb situation to be in would be quite the understatement, I’m sure you’d agree! Luckily, though, I did a stream of a few games a few days ago (which I’ve just learnt that I didn’t set up properly with this game and so streamed the entire game without actually having it show up on screen, so I’ll be replaying it on my next stream on Friday) and one of them is a game that I really feel is worth talking about because it’s genuinely obscure. Seriously, I’ve looked hard on the internet to find information on this game in the past and there’s next to nothing on it. While you can find emulated versions of the game easily enough, actual information on the game is hard to find.

So I figured I might as well do a review of it. Partially because it gets me out of the rut I’m in and partially because, hey, if I’m doing a filler review, then it might as well be something which is actually useful and not just me rambling in circles trying to desperately cover the fact that I’ve got nothing to say!

So, for those wondering, Hurricanes (I played the game on the Sega Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis for any Americans reading this), but I haven’t been able to find out if there are other systems the game was released on) is actually a licenced game for a VERY obscure UK TV show (also titled Hurricanes) that was around in the 90s. Surprisingly, the show had 65 episodes made for it, had some reasonably big names attached to it (Scott McNeil had a role in it, if you can believe that!) and ran for five seasons, but it’s still not something that seems to be very well known to most people, even those within the target audience of the show, which makes the fact it was popular enough for a licenced game all the more baffling. The core premise of it is basically the football team that is being focus on (called the Hurricanes) is either playing games against their rival team, the Gorgons (which has to be one of the worst names for a football club I’ve ever heard, but hey, it was the 90s and I’m not a football fan, so maybe I’m being unfair here) or having adventures in touring locations. Nothing all that spectacular on paper, but hey, maybe it’s all a lot better in practice than it sounds on paper. It has been apparently been reshown in Scotland over the course of the last year and some international countries have had the series broadcast as well, so maybe some people might be faintly familiar with it, but, at least here in England, the series might as well not exist, as far as I can tell.

With all that in mind, what type of game IS Hurricanes?

…Boy, isn’t that the million dollar question!

Contrary to what one might expect, this is not a football game a la FIFA or stuff like that. The game can best be described as a platform game where your only weapon is a football. With this football to protect you from gorillas, spiders, bug things that act like jewel thieves and crocodiles and avoiding threats like lava, water, cannonballs, walking piles of clothes and natives, you must travel to the Gorgons’ stadium through jungles, mines, haunted houses, Aztec temples and the backstage of the Gorgons’ stadium to get to the start of your match against them, while also defeating members of the Gorgons team who will try to stop you with helicopters, motorcycles and other footballs.

…Yeah, if that paragraph didn’t immediately make you do a double take and check you weren’t reading it wrong, then you have some very strange tastes, dear reader, as this is a very weird game when you think about it for more than a second. Now, to be fair, there’s nothing necessarily WRONG with the game doing this (heck, when you boil down some platform game series to their core, they look pretty weird!), but it’s the combination of football and platform game that really leave me scratching my head and wondering what the developers were thinking.

However, that doesn’t make it a bad game. In fact, once you get past the shock and start actually playing the game, it’s actually a fairly decent game that just suffers from a few issues that hamper it. It’s nothing mindblowing (aside from the silly core concept), but a lot of fun can be had with this game and it’s certainly the sort of game that I’d have said was worth at least a look at, if only to confirm that the game does actually exist.

Let’s start with the controls. Honestly, it’s here that the big problem comes into play, and it’s a problem that anyone who is familiar with the Sega Mega Drive as a system would be able to tell you right away: the aiming of the football. See, depending on how hard you press the attack button and how hard you press the up button on the arrow keys (or whether you’re crouching), you can adjust where the ball goes. This isn’t really a bad system for its time, but it does mean that it can be very hard to pull off some shots and is ESPECIALLY a pain when you get to stages where there are guards who you can only pass by knocking their cap over their eyes with a hood or the bikers in the final level who you have to hit in the face with a football because the hitbox for actually doing what you want to is VERY precise, so it’s all too easy for you to miss the target entirely, spend ages trying to line up your shot to let you hit the target and then hit the target, but miss the point where it actually does what you want it to do. The rest of the controls are fine, admittedly, but the aiming of the ball can easily become very frustrating, especially when you have to aim precise shots against some bosses in the game.

The art is pretty good, avoiding the strong pixelated look that a lot of early Mega Drive games suffered from and actually looking very smooth overall. It’s very cartoony, but that’s understandable, considering it was a licenced game of an animated series. There’s a lot of variety to the artwork overall, with the level artwork in particular being pretty strong, and it all feels like it’s all tied together well.

The level design is generally decent for the time. Most of the levels have more than one route available that allows you options for completing them and even the levels which don’t are mostly large enough to give you extra locations to check. The difficulty of the game can be a bit strange at points, but it generally scales up from “very easy” to “fairly challenging” without too big a spike anywhere.

The sound of the game is fine overall, with some very solid music (heck, the music might well be some of the most underrated music composed for the Sega Mega Drive) and some decent sound design that, despite more than a bit of repetition of sounds, is more than up to getting the job done. None of the sounds are going to blow anyone away now, but, for something on a 16-bit system, it’s pretty respectable!

If you pardon a slight digression, I think that this game really shows the mindset of 90s gaming fairly well: it’s a game that would never get past the concept stage if it were made in today’s triple-A video game industry simply because most would take one look at the concept and reject it because it would never fly by most people without causing a lot of problems. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy and bitter sort who hates modern day gaming (I’ll admit that, on a technical level alone, games today blow games from the Mega Drive-era out of the water), but part of me wonders if that’s a reason for the charm of older games: in a time when you couldn’t create something on the complexity of Call of Duty (technically speaking), you had to try to create something that was fun to play and, with a smaller range of options for what games you could make, games like Hurricanes were all the more memorable because they focused on being fun and made their weird concepts work because the game itself is enjoyable to play. With the triple-A gaming industry pushing for cutting edge graphics as a priority, though, triple-A gaming now seems more focused on making stuff that looks pretty than actually being…well, games. True, one could make a case that deliberately not using the best technology available when you have it is a waste (and there’s certainly something to be said about the technical quality of games today in comparison to the cartridge era of gaming), but, after playing Hurricanes, I can’t help feeling that there is something terribly wrong when a game made in a time with barely enough technology to it to render a character in a modern video game (let alone the whole game) feels like a more fulfilling experience to me than any game with a focus on making realistic looking human beings. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, I don’t know…

Anyway, I’m rambling. At the end of the day, Hurricanes is a game that, while bizarre when you look at it, is actually fairly fun. For a licenced game and one with a concept and combination of genres that pretty much make it difficult to approach for most people, there’s a lot to enjoy about this game if you approach it with an open mind.