Thrilla’s Surfari (NES) Review

A fact known only to the most knowledgeable and well-travelled of enthusiasts, is that the most gnarly terrain for extreme sports lies in Africa, renowned for offering skateboarders, surfers and shark-riders the thrill of a lifetime. The paved rain forests of Cameroon are packed with huge jumps and plenty of opportunities to bust phat tricks. The Nile is fully surfable and loaded with bodacious waterfalls and wild, twisting turns. And if, whilst wandering lost through the Sahara Desert, you ever think you see a rad gorilla-dude skateboarding on the dunes, dodging the lethal stings of toddler-sized scorpions, chances are, it’s not a mirage. Needless to say, only experts need apply, and only the best of the best will ever be seen again once they enter the danger-filled jungle armed only with a skateboard, surfer shorts and a bitchin pair of sunglasses.

For some reason, the original T&C Surf Designs game (subtitled Wood and Water Rage) was played by pretty much everyone who owned an NES during it’s heyday. This, despite the fact that it was only a mediocre game with a nigh impossible surfing mechanic, makes it somewhat of an anomaly. Even if a kid had only three or four games, T&C would somehow sneak itself into one of those slots. I’d call it a cult classic, but I don’t think it would qualify, due to the sheer number of people who played it. I guess it’s more of a legitimate religion classic than a cult classic. So it took me by surprise to recently discover that the game had a sequel I’d never even heard of.

Things are different this time around. You no longer get to choose your character, though the cast from the first game all make appearances in cutscenes. You are the gorilla dude, out so save your hot (and human) girlfriend from the guy with a tribal mask, who fills the role of villain. Thus, the players’ first task is to come to grips with the morally questionable hint of bestiality implied by this storyline. The players’ second, and probably more difficult task, is to not give up on the game after repeatedly dying in the first level. It is indeed a difficult game, but your first impression will tell you that it’s an impossible game, and a terrible one at that.

Luckily it’s neither of those things, and after about twenty minutes and twice as many deaths, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. These initiatory feats accomplished, Thrilla’s Surfari reveals itself to be a pretty unique and fun little game, with a lot more variety than you could reasonably expect from a game produced by LJN. Just when you begin to tire of isometric jungle skating, the game introduces the surfing, which is thankfully not as much of a headache as it was in the first game. As a matter of fact, it’s almost identical to the skateboarding, but far easier, due to less insta-death obstacles.
Also present, though far less prevalent, are brief stages that send you plummeting down huge waterfalls in which you must surf your way around jutting rocks. These stages are fast and exciting, but they only pop up three or four times. A few more couldn’t have hurt the game.

Having run out of existing extreme sports, the game brazenly decides to introduce shark-riding to the world. These levels play out a bit like free-roaming shoot-em-ups, only you don’t stand much of a chance of shooting “em” up, so you’ll quickly adopt a strategy of rushing to the end and hoping to outrun the squad of enemies that took up chase.

The game rounds out all this madness with boss battles, which will put your boss-cheesing skills to the test. Sure they aren’t the most well-thought-out bosses in videogamedom, but they look cool enough and serve to break up the monotony of the game, which eventually runs out of ideas. About three-quarters of the way through, the stages all begin to blend together with little to no percievable increase in difficulty. Developer Sculptured Software probably should have trimmed some of the fat out, but even as it stands, they sculpted a piece of software to be proud of.

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~ by Krooze L-Roy on October 29, 2008.

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