The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges
3.5
Game Name: The Three Stooges
Platforms: NES
Publisher(s): Activision
Developer(s): Incredible Technologies
Genre(s): Action
Release Date: 1987

Ivan Reitman's gone downhill, but this still beats Evolution.

So, I load up the Three Stooges ROM and the first thing I see is the Ghostbusters II logo, complete with creepy music. “Great,” I think, “Somebody obviously misnamed this thing. Now I’ve got to go hunt around for the real game.” But as I’m debating whether or not to just play something else, who should wander on screen but Moe, Larry, and yes, friends, Curly himself. “Hey fellas!” says one of the programmers, doing his best Curly impression, “We’re in the wrong game!” “Hey, this looks like a kid’s game!” says another programmer, probably doing Larry. “You imbeciles!” remarks, as far as I can tell, the real Moe Howard. Then, with a loud slap and an “Ow!” from Curly, the game begins. This was clearly going to be much better than I thought.

I’d be hard pressed to explain the game’s premise any better than the manual does, so I won’t even try. Here it is:

The nasty banker I. Fleecem has threatened to tear down Ma’s Orphanage unless the mortgage is paid. He wants $5000 in 30 days –or else. The Three Stooges, known for their soft hearts as well as their soft heads, volunteer to rescue Ma from her plight. Being desperate, she accepts their offer.

“We’ll get the dough!” vows Curly.

“5,000 smackers? Where are we going to get that kind of money?” asks Larry.

“We’ll get a job, you knuckleheads!” says Moe.

And so the trio heads into Stoogeville…

I had no idea they lived in “Stoogeville”. You’d think, they’d get a bit more respect in a town named after them. At any rate, The Three Stooges game is simply a collection of mini-games based on classic Stooge shorts. Each day, Moe looks at a map of the town and does the ol’ eenie-meenie-miney-moe to see where they’ll look for work next. It’s up to you to stop his hand on a good job, because whatever he chooses will be the mini-game of the day. And as I. Fleecem said, you’ve only got thirty days before he paves over the orphanage and builds a Bed Bath and Beyond on the spot.

The new season of 24 really isn't that good.

There are four opportunities for employment: waiter, doctor, boxer, and cracker-eating contest participant. None of these require any experience or references. Meanwhile I’m writing reviews for decade old software and I still had to give the J Man certain… favors… before he’d hire me. The waiter game recreates a Stooge pie-fight, with the trio attempting to sling pies at the snooty guests, while staying clean themselves. The doctor mission sets the boys racing through a hospital (paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard), collecting lost medical equipment and avoiding patients, ultimately arriving in an operating room where they can pick up more extra cash. In the boxing match, Curly must go up against the champ, earning more money the longer he can stay in the ring. Just like the original short film, he becomes a fighting machine every time he hears the song “Pop Goes the Weasel”, so Larry brings a violin along, intending to play it for him. Unfortunately, the instrument breaks, and you, as Larry, must rush out and find a radio to play the song, dodging poles and ladders, and hopping over trash and fire hydrants all the way. The quicker you get back, the better Curly fares, and the more money the Stooges earn. Finally, the cracker-eating contest sees Curly competing to eat the most crackers from bowls of soup, while staying ahead of the pesky oysters that keep beating him to the punch.

In addition to the main game squares, Moe’s hand may also land on a bonus or penalty square. The bonuses offer the Stooges a free bag o’ greenbacks that they find in the street. Hey, I’d take it too. After all, there’s an orphanage at stake. It’s not always a fortune. In fact, some of the bags are less than you could have made playing a mini-game, but found money’s found money. Alternatively, some of the bonuses are SAFE! squares. Land here and a safe will fall on Curly’s head. The gang will opt to return this money and collect a reward for their trouble. The penalty squares cost you a visit to the evil Mr. Fleecem. He may just insult you, or he may make up a reason to steal some of your hard-stooged cash. There’s also a question mark square that could be either a bonus or a penalty. Any of those squares will cost you a day of your quest.

Each section of map will also have a few mousetrap squares. Land here, and you’ll snap one of Moe’s fingers (no, not OFF, I wondered the same thing). Apparently afraid of injuring it again, Moe will fold that finger down and pick a new square. You won’t lose a day, but poor Moe’s only got four fingers (I guess his thumb is too dainty for pointing), so four total snaps during the thirty day period will mean an automatic end to the game. If you haven’t earned enough money by then, the orphanage is sunk.

Now, it’s time for me to confess: I’m not really a Three Stooges fan. Sure, I like them, and I know enough to recognize that most of this game was based on their shorts, but I am far from a hardcore enthusiast. I’m really more of a Marx Brothers fan. I’m sure their game will be along any day now. With that in mind, I think the game is great. The mini-games are challenging enough and the pay-off system is carefully structured to reward your hard work. For example, throwing your entire supply of pies earns you double pay, finishing a bowl of soup is worth $50, but each cracker still gets you $10, every medical instrument adds $15 to your total, whether you run out of time or not, etc. And if there’s a game you can’t stand, the selection process gives you a chance to avoid it.

Oh no! My...um...violin's broken... Wait, what?

This is enough to bring the game up to mediocre status, but it’s the final two squares that will really capture the interest of the true Stooge fanatic. The Trivia square allows you to take a stab at three Stooge related questions for $200 a pop, providing a mean $600 to gamers who probably never thought knowing Larry’s real name would come in handy. It pays to know your stuff, and that’s key in a game based on a cult property, because it shows the designers were as savvy as their audience. But we’re still missing the only element that under no circumstance can be left out of a Three Stooges game: gratuitous violence. Land on the slapstick square and Moe does goofy battle with his cohorts. Punches, eye pokes, and kicks are at your disposal, complete with actual Stooge sound effects and voice clips. This game earns you no cash, but the better you are at it, the slower Moe’s hand goes when it’s time to pick the day’s job. This means a better chance to land on the one you want.

As far as graphics are concerned, the palette is admittedly drab. Most of the scenes are heavy on orange and brown. Still, there are actual scanned photos of our heroes in most of the mini-games, and many of the sprites show some attempt at artistic shading. The animations capture the madcap slapstick of the Stooges fairly well.

The music is full of safe bets, old songs like “Pop Goes the Weasel” that have been in Stooge shorts before. As far as I can tell, none are original, but they’re all appropriate and cheerful. The sound effects are all very Stoogey, but what really shines are the voice clips of the Stooges themselves. I’m not sure exactly how many Nintendo games had voice samples, but let’s just say it was fairly rare. The handful that existed usually only had token phrases like the game’s title, a “Game Over” message, or an easily reusable catch phrase. This sucker, on the other hand, has a respectable vocabulary garnered from the original shorts. Granted, the Stooges hit the NES in 1989, not terribly long before the Super Nintendo debuted in 1991. The technology was getting better by then. Still, when you consider that even some SNES games like Star Fox often didn’t bother to use voices, it’s rather extrordinary that a property like the Stooges would recieve the treatment. As Falco might remark, “Oodoombodadum”. Cynics will point out that this is probably because the game is so simplistic, that plenty of extra cartridge room was available. In any case, these snippets really complete the package, making the game feel official. This was an excellent choice.

How do the clips actually sound? Well, remember that when it comes to voice in older games, the best you’re going to hear is “trapped in a cardboard box” quality. What we’ve got here alternates between “recorded in a cardboard box, rerecorded from a broadcast on a transistor radio” and “dental suction tool scraped against a belt sander”. It’s about what you’d expect for the era, 75% understandable with a few hillariously unintelligible outbursts. The reprimand Curly yells at his oysters is particularly garbled, and can admittedly get grating since you hear it so often when playing that mini-game.

Curly would probably have less trouble with oyster gremlins eating his crackers, if he laid off that booze.

Of course, the game is not without its problems. As I mentioned, the voice clips add a great deal to the gameplay, but are limited by NES technology and occasionally sound scratchy. The control scheme is a bit wonky as well. You’d do well to snag the manual if you want to avoid the learning curve, as the game often employs the directional buttons in ways you wouldn’t expect. It’s hard to tell if Larry’s going to collide with something in the Boxer mission, and the spoon in the cracker contest is perhaps unnecessarily difficult to steer. Conversely, I’d like to see some elements of the game made more complicated. Moe’s hand goes faster as the game progresses, making choosing your desired game harder, but what about the games themselves? In the boxer level, for example, it’s almost possible to win, simply by jumping and running at top speed. People walking the sidewalk would add a challenge and provide needed variety later in the game. Similarly, one can speed through the pie fight with a reasonable score, by just quickly alternating Stooges. More obstacles would force players to develop strategy, and award those who play all the way to day thirty.

If you figured out the controls, you’ll still need to track down the manual to pick up some details. The game itself tells you that you’ve got thirty days, but never mentions that the goal is $5,000. Even when you lose, Fleecem just tells you that you came up short, never mentioning an actual figure. Also, the game could have done more to explain things to us casual Stooge fans. The whole convoluted “Pop Goes the Weasel” aspect of the boxing mission is never explained except in the manual, and is very confusing without the proper back story.

Congress.

Finally, as entertaining as the game is, it’s just the same four mini-games over and over. It’s certainly worth picking up when you’re bored, but it’s questionable whether there’s thirty turns worth of fun here. Not much exists to persuade you to start over when you fail.

Those gripes in mind, this game is great for what it is. The Three Stooges franchise is probably not at the top of anyone’s list of concepts just waiting to be made into a videogame. But if one had to be made, this was exactly the way to do it. You may never bother to finish it, but its design allows it to be picked up and abandoned whenever convenient. This could have easily been a really crummy platformer or even a shooter, but instead the creators, clearly Stooge fans, avoided this pitfall and turned out something worth fooling around with even if you never see it all the way through.

Incidentally, if you find yourself unmotivated to finish the game, perhaps a breakdown of the possible prizes will motivate you. According to the manual, if you earn between $5,000 and $9,999, Ma will be able to save the orphanage. If you earn over $10,000, she’ll also be able to make some much needed repairs. Finally, there is a bonus ending if you reach an unspecified high number: Ma will give the Stooges the hands of her three lovely daughters. Now that’s something to work towards.

The Good

Light, Stoogey fun with enough variety to push it above other games of its kind. Voice clips from the trio seal the deal.

The Bad

Scratchy audio and repetitiveness make long play sessions unlikely.

“Dear Stooges, Heh-heh-heh! You will never earn enough money. Truly, I Fleecem, Banker.”

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