The Lawnmower Man

The Lawnmower Man
2.5
Game Name: The Lawnmower Man
Platforms: Super NES
Publisher(s): THQ
Developer(s): Sales Cureve Ltd.
Genre(s): Platform
Release Date: 1993

Hidden out in the backwoods of a small town, a shady government agency runs “The Shop” – an institute developing advanced virtual technologies. Their funding comes from secret virtual experiments to train chimpanzees in combat, with the intent of sending them out into warzones too dangerous for humans. At roughly the same time, a doctor for The Shop recruits the local lawnmower man to see if VR can be used to treat his mental retardation. The lawnboy responds so well that the government decides to progress from chimp to human testing, by sneaking a little combat and aggressiveness training in there. He goes berserk, turns evil, develops telekinetic abilities, and then digitizes himself and tears around cyberspace making all the phones in the world ring at the same time.

Strange choice for a movie to be making a game out of, but that’s exactly what has been done. The Lawnmower Man has nothing to do with lawn care, but everything to do with the movie that was short on logic, but high on groundbreaking effects (coming out roughly the same time as Terminator 2). In it, you play as the aforementioned doctor or some female assistant, and must fight through the real and virtual realms to get to Jobe the lawnmower man and shut him down. Revoke his IP. Format his C Drive. You get the idea.

Most of the game is played through what I assume to be the “real world.” It’s a tough call though, as plenty of virtual computer nonsense is thrown around. Your weapons are referred to as ‘bit streams’ and work by rapidly firing little balls of energy until the enemy or object explodes into particles, swirls around, and often reforms as a powerup. You can collect CDs of data to gain a virtual suit that provides you extra resistance against your enemies (government agents who fire plain old regular guns). You move between levels by firing at a virtual representation of an TCP/IP port floating somewhere in the world – “hacking” it with your bit stream until it unlocks. The weirdness continues the further you progress, and I suppose this is meant to be virtual powers manifested in the real world, a la Jobe toward the end of the film. You won’t need to know too much about computers though, as it all plays out just like any other platform game: shoot enemies, collect powerups. The designers have added nothing new in terms of platform gameplay, except for the graphical touches to make it fit with the movie.

Combat of the future: Monkeys fight other monkeys inside an Atari 7800.

Short minigames connect levels, and here’s where new elements come in. When you “hack” the floating port, it will turn green and unlock. By leaping into it and pressing up, you enter the definitely virtual world, and must perform linear quests based on the visuals and concepts shown in the movie. There are levels where you must fly through virtual obstacle courses, levels where you must play the wargames that the chimps were subjected to, and so on. Basically every virtual sequence in the movie has been given a minigame here, right down to the IQ test seen for all of one minute (but not the virtual sex scene… too bad, that would have made a hell of a minigame). Success here, achieved by flying through the Exit sign at the end of each virtual course, means you’re popped out of a portal somewhere else in the real world and must play more platforming until you hit the next portal. Failure in the virtual world keeps you in the level you were just in, but gives you ready access to try again.

The real world/virtual world system is interesting, albeit somewhat confusing, and is quite faithful to the film. In fact, this is probably the best way to make a game that follows this film. But that still doesn’t make it a great idea. People who haven’t seen the movie will probably be wondering what the hell is going on, and even people who like computers and the idea of VR might be lost. It’s a game of course, so it doesn’t have to make logical sense, but from a gameplay standpoint the two worlds are so completely different that they require you to be equally skilled at two totally separate things. The flying only gets harder and the platform shooting only gets more frantic as the game wears on. To win, you’ve got to be great at both. There are also a number of features in the game, namely HUD icons and some powerups, that will remain a complete mystery unless you can grab a manual.

Hmm. Guess the sex scene made it in after all.

All of the fighting and flying culminates, of course, in a final virtual battle with Jobe where you must seal his connection to the outside world to keep him from escaping. Once you do this, the game should be over, but no… it keeps on going like a drunk houseguest who can’t take the hint to leave. The designers have made up some cheeseball storyline expansion that serves only to give you more of the same levels to play through and a new boss to fight at the end. Will it all matter by that point? Probably not.

The game’s graphics aren’t too bad. The platform levels look nice, and the virtual worlds are probably about as good as you can get for the SNES. They move fast, and copy the look of the film as closely as they can. Controls are basic stuff – fire, jump, charge weapon, and are responsive enough for the game. They also hold up when navigating the virtual worlds, and crashing into objects will be a lack of reflexes, not lack of solid controls. Sounds are bland, except for a nice opening theme. Past that, all the virtual worlds share one theme and all the real worlds share another. Neither are very impressive. The effects are similarly uninspired and sound like every other shooter out there.

The Lawnmower Man is a pretty average platformer, made fresh only by its odd, but challenging virtual minigames. It’s no Tron, and doesn’t handle a combination real world and virtual world as well as System Shock does for the PC, but the idea of VR is reasonably well done within the game, and the only reason to play it. If you’re not enjoying the game by the end of the first minigame then it’s time to throw it out.

The Good

Virtual reality environments, decent graphics, good control.

The Bad

Requires mastery of two totally different game types, gets stale far before the last level.

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