Whomp ‘Em (NES)

This would probably be pretty offensive if the game actually had a plot.

This oddity is 1991’s Whomp ‘Em by Jaleco and it has to be a serious contender for the “stupidest NES game title ever” award. Originally released for the Famicom the previous year as Saiyūki World 2: Tenjōkai no Majin (“Genie of the Heavenly World”), it was yet another game based on the classic Chinese historical fantasy novel Journey to the West. Saiyūki World 2 starred Sun Wukong the Monkey King, a mischievous trickster hero from Chinese myth and a prominent character in the novel. He’s best-known outside of East Asia as the inspiration for the character Goku in the Dragonball manga and anime, but this wasn’t the case at all back in 1991, so Jaleco opted to modify the game for international release. They swapped out Sun Wukong for Soaring Eagle, a (non-specifically) Native American lad on a quest to gather magic totems from the game’s various bosses. Because magic totems are cool, I guess. Like I said, there’s really nothing resembling a story to be found in Whomp ‘Em. What you see is what you get. The publisher also didn’t see fit to alter anything other than the main character’s sprite and the title and ending screens, so your totally American for reals hero still has to battle panda bears in a bamboo forest and scrap with what’s obviously a demon cast from the Buddhist mold in the game’s final stage. Nice.

Lazy localization aside, Whomp ‘Em is a solid NES action-platformer that takes structural cues from the Mega Man series and combines them with play control reminiscent of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. After a short introductory level, the player can then choose to complete the next six stages (which are based on common platforming themes like fire, water, ice, and forest) in any order they like before moving on to the final one. Defeating the bosses in each of these six main levels will net Soaring Eagle a totem which confers a new special ability or attack. Unlike in Mega Man, these powers don’t eat up ammunition and can be used at will without restriction once acquired. It’s too bad most of them are pretty underwhelming and don’t offer much of an offensive advantage over your standard spear weapon. With the exception of the throwing spear that allows for a much-needed ranged attack, you probably won’t find yourself bothering much with these totems much except when one is needed to smash or burn away a barrier in one of the stages.

Soaring Eagle himself is a pretty competent hero. As mentioned, he handles a lot like Link in Zelda II, except with a spear for a primary weapon instead of a sword. This even extends to having the same downward and upward weapon thrust maneuvers available while in the air. He can also deflect some attacks from above by holding his spear up over his head while standing still, though this ability is never really necessary to progress in the game. In a fashion that recalls Bionic Commando, you can increase Soaring Eagle’s health meter from its initial four hearts all the way up to twelve by collecting enough of the gourd items dropped by enemies. Taking the time to do this early on will greatly offset the game’s difficulty. Finally, there are several power-ups which drop from defeated enemies: The spearhead temporarily boosts attack power, the headdress does the same for defense, the spear will improve weapon reach, the deerskin shirt confers brief invincibility, and the magic potions work like the energy tanks in a Mega Man game and automatically restore some of Soaring Eagle’s health when it runs out.

Whomp ‘Em isn’t very difficult when compared to many other games of its kind. Once you have a full health meter and a magic potion or two, Soaring Eagle can absorb a ton of punishment. Enemies in your way will drop life replenishing hearts on a fairly regular basis, too. The usual bottomless pits and instant death spikes are also nowhere to be found in this game. Instead, hazards like these will only cost you a small amount of heath. Platforming veterans will be able to practically sprint through Whomp ‘Em in no time flat and even newcomers should be able to make steady progress. The final stage is the toughest by far, due to some tricky elements like a zero-gravity corridor and pits that can send you back to an earlier section of the level. Continues are unlimited, though, so even this final stretch can be mastered with relative ease.

Whomp ‘Em was never destined for greatness. It was in no way original, the name was awful, the cover art was ugly as sin, and it was released fairly late in the system’s lifespan by a smallish publisher. While it was true enough that few Americans had ever heard of Sun Wukong, none of them had heard of Soaring Eagle or seemingly wanted to. Despite having gone nowhere fast and being virtually forgotten today, it still makes for a pleasant enough afternoon or evening of completely by-the-book NES action platforming. The control is solid, the graphic are colorful, and the stages flow well. I can’t imagine this being anyone’s favorite game ever, but if you’ve already played all the higher profile classics or you’re specifically on the lookout for a less challenging take on the genre, you may as well whomp them. They probably have it coming to them, the bastards.

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