Friday, May 27, 2011

The Manhole

Cyan / Sunsoft / Sun Electronics / Activision

The Manhole packaging utilizes cover space to pledge that children will be entertained by what the game has to offer, a declaration that may as well be taken as notice to those of us beyond our prepubescent years that thrills are not in store here. Indeed, there's nothing thrilling about the title's point-and-click-and-watch play style (as there's never any risk of anything horrible happening) or its simplistic manner of presentation (as its "action" wasn't even deemed worthy of receiving full-screen treatment). It doesn't hide the fact that it takes its cue from famous works of children's literature (including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia) and perhaps takes its acts of homage too far, ending up a mere exhibition of mimicry in some places. At its best, it's an odd and intriguing one-strange-thing-after-another little adventure, delivering successions of wacky happenings like some sort of kindergartner-targeted Yellow Submarine.

Again, nothing that occurs is particularly exciting; this is a bizarre but utterly hazardless realm, and your hosts are peculiar but hospitable, even the grumpy, little-kid-averse walrus.

Still, after spending a few minutes coming to terms with Manhole's complete amiableness and toddler-level simplicity (traits that make it seem so out of place as a PC Engine release), I found myself compulsively clicking on anything and everything that came into view, suddenly determined to find every brief animated sequence, odd sound effect, and weird trinket to play with that the silly game contains.

Unfortunately, while it initially seems like you have many options as far as where you can go and what you can do (climb a beanstalk, take a boat ride, warp via an apparently magical fire hydrant, etc.), you'll discover in short order that all paths ultimately converge, abruptly leaving you with nothing more to see or do. In the end, it's the brevity with which The Manhole plays out, not its style or simplicity, that really leaves it devoid of value.

Of course, the ubiquitous caveat regarding the game is that it's meant for kids, not for an over-the-hill, mean-spirited bum like me. You know, I really wonder what the hell kind of kid people believe Manhole can be some sort of great success with. Children generally can't sit still through the sort of slow-paced, pointless nonsense that this title delivers; they tend to prefer fast-paced, pointless nonsense. When I was little and in need of a new LCD handheld or 2600 game to conquer, the element I considered a requisite above all others was action--so did my buds when they were hunting for a new game, and so do most other kids. The Manhole actually seems more suitable for an easily amused old fellow with a bit of leisure time to burn than it does for a restless little runt.

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