Gex – A gem in the shadow of the dragon (and the bandicoot)
I wanted to kick off the weekend with a review of a game I fondly remembered from my childhood. But which one? Which console would I look to for inspiration? What period of my life would I draw this nostalgia from? Should I tackle a mainstream favorite or dive into the obscure gems of old?
Each thought trumped the last, and I realized over a beer and some under-buttered popcorn, that there was no ‘right’ choice. Instead, I decided to go with a game that had been on my mind since fellow Cartridge Club member, Pam, had shared her thoughts on some early PS1 classics; Gex, one of PlayStation’s earliest side-scrolling platformers. So with an idea in tow, my salt-covered fingers began to type.
“Gex never really hit the mainstream stage – but for me, he was my favorite.”
Perhaps an acquired taste, this 2D platformer was a staple for me and my friend Matt growing up. It starred the titular protagonist, Gex, an anthropomorphic gecko with a ‘tude. Overshadowed by other mascots like Crash and Spyro at the time – Gex never really hit the mainstream stage, often with a reserved spot beside Boogerman or Bubsy – but for me, he was my favorite.
“…some of the most enjoyable, wise-cracking dialogue I’d ever heard in a game.”
The game itself had all the usual tropes of a great 2D platformer of its time; diverse and colorful stages with hand-rendered backgrounds, cool power-ups to help defeat the baddies, tons of hidden collectibles to discover – but one thing that set this game aside from the rest, was its attitude. Gex, voiced by Dana Gould, had some of the most enjoyable, wise-cracking dialogue I’d ever heard in a game.
“Not quite Conker’s level of risqué, but it’s funny, and it works.”
Whip a monster with your tail; “Now that’s what I call, Getting Some Tail!”. Destroy a TV; “That’s for twelve years of Full House!”. Enter the jungle; “All this thanks to Miracle-Gro.” Loud, borderline-obnoxious, in-your-face humor. Not quite Conker’s level of risqué, but it’s funny, and it works.
“The songs all fit their atmospheres…”
Another area where this game shined was its soundtrack, composed by both Greg Weber and Steve Henifin. The songs all fit their atmospheres, with long loops and dynamic ranges – often lengthy enough to get through the entire level without hearing the reset. Bamboo flutes, whistles, and tribal calls, as an example, are what you could expect while exploring the jungle ruins. The compositions also incorporated lots of SFX which complimented the tunes. Just listen to this song from the first level; which starts off fairly ‘basic’ but then escalates with screams and cackles and wails as you progress through the level. I love it!
Gex didn’t take itself too seriously. The storyline was simple, the controls were easy to master and the boss battles were lots of fun. Whether you were spitting fireballs at zombies in the Cemetery, tail-springing across dynamite in New Toonland or using your ice-breath to freeze the deadly piranhas in Jungle Isle – this was a great 2D platformer which screams mid-90’s.
Gex, unfortunately, is amongst the majority of platforming mascots who was unsuccessful in bridging the gap from 2D to 3D (our mustachioed plumber being one of the few who succeeded), so the sequels (for me) weren’t nearly as enjoyable. But hey, that’s just an opinion, and I’m really curious to hear yours!
What do you guys think of this game or the franchise for that matter? Think the age of these animal mascots will ever return, or will Drake, Chief and Mario cement themselves at the top? Do we need more pop-culture comedy in our games, or was that a product of the 90’s? Head over to the Cartridge Club Forums and share your thoughts