Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Camp California

ICOM Simulations / TTI
Super CD-ROM

Never in a million years did I think I'd end up enjoying Camp California. Goofy animal characters... sunny days at the beach... crappy tunes like "Good Vibrations"... it all sounded rather hellish to me.

I tend to prefer games that aren't as lighthearted or as Beach Boys plagued as CC is--games like, say, Shape Shifter. So it came as no small surprise when my open-minded brother Alexei told me that Camp California is reminiscent of SS in a number of ways, from how certain characters control to the usage of identical sound effects (indeed, Alexei's hunch that many of the men who made up the CC production team had also been members of the SS design crew proved correct). Upon receiving this news, I promptly purchased the game and gave it a go...

...and lo and behold, I was quite happy with what CC had to offer. I expected the graphics to be good, as I'd already seen some of the wonderfully colorful backgrounds and enormous sprites in screenshots. But the controls functioned much better than I'd anticipated; and while the vocal numbers are awful, the in-level tunes are actually very catchy and usually give way to badass riff-driven tracks when you reach the final area of a given stage. And the journey CC sends you on is not some simple jaunt on the beach; you get to visit plenty of different locations, many of which are anything but "cheery."

Some of those locations require that you make use of skills exclusive to particular characters: one guy can fly, one can swim, and one can tornado his way through enemy lines. While I wasn't looking forward to meeting this silly-seeming animal crew, I actually had a lot of fun putting their many interesting abilities to good use.

You have to rescue your abducted buddies before you can utilize their talents, however. And the path you need to travel isn't immediately obvious; you have to tour the area in your ol' jalopy and do a little experimenting in order to figure out the correct route to take.

You can't cruise around endlessly, however, as you have only so much fuel to burn. But if you put some time into exploring the surprisingly large levels, you can find lots of secret items, including recyclable objects that can be converted into gas.

Of course, you'll run into some tough (and very odd) villains who won't allow you to roam around at your leisure.

The characters, visuals, stage tunes, and exploration elements all work in CC's favor, but I can't pretend that the game is flawless. Yes, it plays much better than I thought it would, but the controls are far from perfect. And when you take hits due to those controls, you'll have to endure annoying screams of "Bogus!" or "Bummer!" from the otherwise likable characters. Also, it can be frustrating to march halfway through a long level only to realize the character you picked isn't cut out for the job at hand. And while the length of the quest is a positive, the absence of a save feature is not. You may end up traveling quite a long way only for real life to intervene and force you to abandon your console, leaving you no choice but to resume play from the very beginning when you return to the game.

But Camp California succeeds in so many areas that it shouldn't be very difficult for players who give it a fair chance to look past its issues and enjoy it.

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