Captain Zoli's Review

Total Carnage

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Without Further Ado...

Originally released in the arcades by Midway in 1991, the long-rumored Atari Jaguar version of Total Carnage finally has seen the light of day as released in 2005 by Songbird Productions. Total Carnage, the sequel to the popular arcade game Smash TV, has also previously appeared on various other platforms, including the PC, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Amiga, and the Game Boy. The Jaguar version was originally developed by Handmade Software for Midway, but was discontinued when Atari ceased supporting the Jaguar in the mid 1990s.

The story of Total Carnage exists only to provide an excuse for the game, as should be expected from a game that began its run in the arcades. The player takes control of Captain Carnage or Major Mayhem (or both in the two player game) and must go forth to stop the power mad dictator, General Akhboob, bent on world domination. This is accomplished, of course, by facing hordes of the evil general's troops, war machines, and other such standard fare. In addition to the standard shooting action, there is also some light collecting action to be found (collecting keys found through out the game to open the pleasure dome at the end of the game). There are no long, involved plot lines to be found here, just a quick "that guy is really bad" run down and it is off to save the world. Really, for a game of this type, the simple set up and right into the action start works exceptionally well, and expectations of anything more would be misguided.

As is to be expected, Total Carnage really only provides one mode of play: story mode. Variation is offered through a two player option and adjustable difficulty level. There are also large numbers of weapons and power-ups to add variety to the game play. While seemingly sparse, this lack of options is not unusual for arcade conversions and provides a suitable gaming experience for the genre.

In retail, "location, location, location" is the mantra to be followed. 2D shooters share a similar mantra, but instead it is "control, control, control". Control ultimately determines the success or failure of a 2D style shooter and its here where Total Carnage runs into its biggest issues. On the plus side, the players' characters are responsive and move with speed and precision. This responsiveness is a major plus since the game's levels are filled with enemy forces and bullets with the sole goal of stopping the player from completing the game. It isn't until the shooting starts that things really start to go bad. For anyone not familiar with the controls of Total Carnage at the arcade (or Smash TV for that matter), they consisted of two joysticks: one that moved the player's character, and the other which shot into whichever direction it was pushed. The benefit of this set up is to allow the player's character to fire while moving away from the enemy. Now, those familiar with the available control peripherals for the Atari Jaguar know that no such controller is available for use with Total Carnage. Compromises had to be made. Two alternate control schemes have been implemented for playing Total Carnage on the standard Jaguar game pad;a bonus being that the player can switch easily between them on the fly. Unfortunately, neither is quite a satisfactory solution. The first solution is the fire button method. This method fires whichever way the player's character is facing when the fire button is pressed. The benefit of this method is its ease of use, but the downside is that the player is unable to fire in one direction while moving in another. This lack of flexibility is a hindrance to being successful at the game. The second method is the key pad method. This method maps each of the eight firing directions to a key on the controller's key pad, thus allowing the player to fire in any direction while moving in any direction. This method is superior to the fire button method, but is still clumsy and not quite as satisfactory as a control method. Despite the criticism, it is probably the best that could be done with the hardware available, but the lack of a satisfactory control method reduces the fun factor of the game, as there will be several player deaths attributable to the clumsy controls.

Graphics and audio play a large part in the arcade experience, and as a result, there is a great focus on how these items make the conversion when an arcade game makes the transition to a home console. Graphically speaking, Total Carnage offers a nice conversion of the arcade experience. The sprites are large and colorful. The backgrounds are well done and suitable to locations in which the game takes place (although a bit more variety would have been a nice touch). The audio does well in the conversion also. The explosions are satisfying, as are the sounds of the shots. All in all, the look and sound of the game will really take the player back to those good old days in the arcade of pumping quarter after quarter into a Total Carnage machine.

Besides the control issues, there are a couple of other small issues with Total Carnage. The first is a lack of variety in the environments. Granted this is a small complaint, but it would have been nice to see more variety. The second issue is difficulty. This is, of course, a product of its arcade roots. Even on the easy level, Total Carnage is difficult. Part of this is attributable to the shooting control issues, but it is probably something that should have been recognized in development and adjusted.

It would be remiss of this reviewer not to talk briefly of the price of this product, and of the package that is received for said price. As of this writing, Total Carnage is being offered by Songbird Productions for the price of $89.95. The good part about the package received by this reviewer is that the packaging is nice, high quality professional work, done in the style of Jaguar releases that were made during the console's heyday. A nicely done black and white manual is included, as well as a white insert that holds the cartridge in place. It is disappointing that controller inserts weren't included, especially since the numeric pad is used so prominently in the game. There is a black and white copy of one included on a page in the manual, but at the price of the game, there should have been a couple of full color ones included with the game.

After all is said and done, the value of this version of Total Carnage really rests with the individual gamer. The game itself is a quality conversion of the arcade version, and aside from some nagging control issues, is great fun to play, especially with a friend. That having been said, a copy of the SNES version and a SNES console are cheaper to pick up than the Atari Jaguar version of Total Carnage. It is great that Songbird continues to support the Jaguar console with releases, but, as stated before, those controller inserts definitely would have been nice considering the price the game. For Jaguar collectors, this long-awaited release will certainly be a must-have despite the price, but there should be some deep soul searching for the casual Jaguar gamer before putting up the money.

3 out of 5

posted October 9, 2006.

Copyright 2004-2006 Ronnie Richardson. All rights reserved.