That about sums up this game. And no, it’s not supposed to be funny. This game is funny the way the movie Terms of Endearment is funny: unintentionally. And I’d like to go ahead and throw in this disclaimer lest you all think I’m lying: I swear I am not making any of this up.
Anyway, Virtual Hydlide has been sitting untouched in my Saturn collection for years, rubbing elbows with games that wouldn’t take five seconds out of their busy days to kick its ass. Shit, I caught Drake of the 99 Dragons giving Virtual Hydlide a wedgie after gym class, and that masterpiece claims a spectacular 21% on GameRankings.com.
But wait! Not unlike Manimal (Google it), this train-wreck is so ridiculously abominable that you find yourself—gasp!—actually sort of enjoying it. In a stick-your-thumbs-in-your-eyes-until-you-tickle-your-brain sorta way.
So, for you, loyal readers, I will present my experience with this award-winning gem step-by-step.
Friday, May 13, 2005, 8:00 pm: “Okey dokey, time to review this game for GameCola,” I say to myself. I take the disc out of its standard oversized Saturn case and look at it. It certainly doesn’t look evil. I throw the game in and hit the power.
Immediately, I realize I must have put in the wrong game, as what appears to be a Meat Loaf music video begins playing. We see an ancient, foreboding castle with lightning crackling outside, its shadows flittering demonically across the walls after each strike. A comely maiden with hideously crimped hair piled atop her lovely plastic tiara runs through this structure, holding her dress off the floor with one hand while looking anxiously over her shoulder. It does no good, however, as a cardboard cutout of Satan turns our lovely Mötley Crüe sycophant into three tiny fairies. Inspired, I sing along: “I would do anything for love, but I won’t…do…that!“
You begin in a field that has been randomly generated with trees (that you can walk directly through) and…well, your guess is as good as mine. Just toss some random words out there. Green boulders? Sure. Three-legged jellyfish monsters made from tennis court nets? Why not. You realize you have never seen pixelation this bad before. SNES Doom is sharp as steel compared to this. My eyes actually asked if they could leave my sockets and go play some Jaguar games in the other room. They said they’d rather play AirCars. AirCars.
By the way, one of the first things I discovered while screwing around with my in-game buttons was this: If you use the L and R triggers to sidestep, your chubby little Meat Loaf will immediately go bowlegged and turn his head directly profile to whatever direction you’re going and prance from side to side.
So, I consult my map and objectives and see that I am tasked with finding my way to the graveyard. Exiting said map, I turn my hero to the direction I’m supposed to go and notice that any time I move my fatty one way or the other, the environment grinds to a screaming halt while the CPU tries to puke up some new pixels that seem to indicate landscape. I started off—a little seasick—ambling slowly toward my destination. After screaming at my onscreen overweight slowpoke to hurry the fuck up for ten minutes, I finally figured out that if you hold the X button down, he breaks into a huffing kind of lard-sprint. Let me tell you, friends, it was a shock to me as well. Who knew Meat Loaf could run?
So my alter ego—Corporal Baco Fruity McCheeseHead—makes it to the graveyard at last, and after leaning over and catching his breath for 20 minutes, we’re ready to enter. It’s upon entering that things start taking a turn for the truly bizarre.
See, this is supposed to be three-dimensional game, meaning that all objects can be viewed from all angles in real time at any point. Well, drop your acid now, because the truth of this misnomer stood proudly front and center during this section. There are four gravestones in this area that you need to walk up to and interact with to advance. You can clearly see them above the pixely oatmeal world around you as they stand eight feet tall. I cautiously walk up to one and then have my MC Meat Loaf saunter sideways around it, promptly noting that the face of the gravestone rotates with me. Yes, dear friends, in this world there is no such thing as “sides” and “the back of something”. With this newfound information grasped triumphantly in my chubby fist, I wobbled over to the skeletons vomiting themselves out of the ground with disgusting splorking noises. I approached one, drew my mighty Useless Dagger of Shit, and then slowly (as in, around 5 FPS) rotated around him to score a hit from behind. He matched my nefarious plan by rotating with me step for step. I left him and tried the same thing with the trees, bushes, and assorted clumps of whatever. The truth hit me like a ton of bricks:
I…I was living in a work that had no backside.
That meant no sneaking up to slit the throat of some unsuspecting dirty Cobra soldier (go Joe!). No piggyback rides. No “guess who”. No wheelbarrow rides at the company retreat (who will hold the legs, smart guy?). Speaking of corporate retreats, no more “trust falls” either, because none of your coworkers could get behind you. I don’t think I need to tell you what a world without trust falls would be like.
So, I saved my game, went into the bathroom to scrape the top three layers of my cornea off, and went to bed, determined to finish up what was turning out to be quite possibly the most creative 30-car pileup in the history of videogames in the morning.
Saturday, May 14th, 2005, 11:14 am: I return to my game and discover that somehow my previous days’ saves have been erased. I will have to start over. This makes me unhappy.
Oh, but it gets better. When you boot up this game, it first gives you the option of “Internal Save” or “Cartridge Save”. Neither shows I have a game saved, so I exit out to the Memory Manager section of my Saturn. Hmm. It shows I clearly have a saved data block for Virtual Hydlide that is uncorrupted, but it’s simply not there when I go to load. I take this news calmly. Virtual Hydlide is trying to break me. I know this game can be beaten in a few hours; all I have to do is be a man. Buck up. Show I’m not yella. I restart.
This time, I put in the code that will give me the famed Fairy Armor. The code is FAIRYPLATE. What this code did, beside boosting my defense stats considerably, was to cement in any doubt whatsoever you may have had about your character’s sexuality. I’ll save you the suspense: He’s gay. The fairy armor may be strong, but Michelle Kwan sure is going to miss it at her next ice-skating event. Say what you will, but while battling away green blobs and frothing, teeth-gnashing trees, at least my hero is going to look fabulous. So that leads us to ask why, exactly, he’s spending all the time and effort to save this ’80s butt-rock princess if he’s a homosexual. I dunno, maybe she owes him money. Or, he’s trying to get her to the Whitesnake video shoot in time. God, this review is already too long and I haven’t even mentioned the Vampire’s Castle with its transdimensional furniture, the various lava caves, or the trippiest last stage this side of opium.
Look, humor is my weapon against games like this, but let me set one thing straight: I truly appreciate this game for what it is. I’m sure I would have been supremely pissed if I would have bought this for $50 just for a next-gen RPG at the time (*cough*King’s Field*cough*), but I didn’t. Think about it: Would you rather watch a schlock splat like Leprechaun in the Hood or sit through “legitimate” cinema like The English Patient? I don’t know any friends I could call over to watch The English Patient just to make fun of it.
No, when my friends come over, I take them to the other television, in the back bedroom. They look at all my shiny Xbox and GameCube games and wonder where we’re going. I pop open a beer and hand it over.
“Friend,” I say, “Meet Flamboyant Meat Loaf. Flamboyant Meat Loaf, meet Friend.”
Take these scores with a grain of salt, and if you ever pick up this game, for God’s sake e-mail me and tell me about your experiences.