Every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.
Well, it’s nearly Halloween and people are talking about all kinds of horror games, but I’m just over here with my retro review of Porky Pig’s Haunted Holiday!
Okay, okay, admittedly I don’t play too many horror games. The Last of Us was about as extreme as I can take in a video game and my favorite survival horror entry just might be Luigi’s Mansion. Heck, a bout of Zombies Ate My Neighbors was enough anxiety for me the other night. It’s not that I’m a wimp or anything (I swear!) but I guess I gravitate toward certain kinds of games, considering how much time I spend with them over film and literature.
So what’s so special about Haunted Holiday?
I was surprised to discover that it’s the only Looney Tunes video game to star Porky Pig, but I can’t even recall how I first came across the game. Licensed games were a dollar a dozen back then (no, actually they were pretty expensive, but you know what I mean), so I can’t imagine why it stood out to me, yet I recall the feeling of disappointed vaguery when I took it home, my brand new video game, and beat it in a day…
Already?! But I haven’t even finished my Kid Cuisine Hamburger Pizza!
I didn’t get to make the trip out to Pearl City’s Toys R Us all the time and when I did I could only pick a single thing to buy, which was either a bike or a video game. True, I got Link’s Awakening and Yoshi’s Island in this fashion, but that day, I choose Porky Pig poorly. As I said, there were plenty of games featuring licensed cartoons and superheroes and certainly other Looney Tunes characters to choose from, but for some reason, I picked up Haunted Holiday.
Fate knew that someday I would become a games critic and seek vengeance.
Haunted Holiday finds Porky Pig settling down for a cozy night’s rest, vacation brochure in hand. Evidently, an active imagination and perhaps a bad sausage before bed coupled with aspirations for a getaway were the exact cocktail Porky’s brain needed to cook up a horrible set of hellish nightmares. It’s the player’s job to guide Porky safely through his night terrors by conquering six stages, beginning with a deep dark forest infested with leprechauns, bats, and ghosts, and then… a wild West stage? After that there’s something like Atlantis, the Alps, Wacky Land, a mine and a castle. So I guess there was some difficulty balancing the validity of the vacation theme with the nightmare theme, the latter of which is at its peak in the forest stage.
Be that as it may, the game finds Porky Pig strolling from one vista to the next, accompanied by the occasional nostalgic flourish with a reference to a real Looney Tunes cartoons. For me, Looney Tunes was an integral part of my summer vacation and I routinely watched the show and fell in love with its wit and humor on networks like TNT and Nickelodeon whenever I could. Recognizing the tormentuous green Leprechaun shoes or Hugo the abominable snowman or Wacky Land from episodes like “The Wearing of the Grin”, “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”, and “Porky in Wackland” were special treats. I remember being fascinated with the concept of “playing a cartoon”, that is rendering a cartoon show interactive, so perhaps that was my motivation in playing games like Haunted Holiday.
However, most of these references are so lovingly rendered.
These are the frames for Daffy Duck’s animation in the final boss fight and when he turns to face his left, a large part of his beak disappears inexplicably.
There’s a general air of cheapness about the game from its slippery controls, unrefined sound design, and floaty gameplay, but the lack of polish is perhaps best seen with its handling of the iconic characters present in the game. Contrary to a surprising number of both then-contemporary and modern reviews that I read, I do not for a second believe that the animation in Haunted Holiday is worthy of praise. Quite the opposite. Gone are the alluringly fluid movements and hilarious caricatures of the cartoon, replaced with a stiff, crude, occasionally unrecognizable parody of Looney Tunes instead.
“Over-design” appeared to be the word of the day with Haunted Holiday. Well, that and “Who cares? Just ship the game already!” This game seemed to attempt to treat two fundamentally different kinds of animation (illustrated and pixelated) with a lazy indifference; with the hand-drawn illustrations of the Looney Tunes cartoons, characters bob and flex and stretch as they’re hit over the head with anvils, blown up, and otherwise mutilated in hilarious fashion, but with Haunted Holiday these additional frames of animation lead to awkward and prolonged if not misleading movements.
One of the strangest is a simple movement with Porky himself: when stopping, Porky shrugs a shoulder, leans into the stop, turns toward the player, and puts his hand on his waist. None of this takes more than a second but it’s too much design and it becomes visually confusing. It tricks the eye into thinking Porky is sliding rather than coming to a complete stop, which is a devilish trick to play with some of the game’s platforming. This doesn’t even take his jumping into consideration. Porky may not have the physical prowess or athleticism of the typical 2D platforming hero but here he seems to have the weight of a cloud. Coincidentally, he turns into a puff of vapor upon death.
Ultimately, Haunted Holiday did about as much for me some 20 years later as it did when I first played it. Yet, I have a kind of bizarre nostalgia for it. It’s familiar and that familiarity hasn’t entirely bred contempt, contrary to the purposefully exaggerated virulence of my tone. I associated this game for years with the latter months, with Fall and Winter, so revisiting it at the end of the October seemed appropriate for me. Plus, completing it and reviewing it is an excuse to never play it ever again. It was nostalgic, but as rose-tinted disappointing as it was back before I wore glasses.
Neither does Haunted Holiday do Porky any favors. Looney Tunes made Porky Pig the straight man a lot of the time. He performed best that way, I think. He wasn’t insane like Daffy or impossibly witty like Bugs, or as bloodthirsty but bumbling as Elmer Fudd, as vicious as Taz, as self-absorbed as Foghorn, or as ruthless as Sylvester the cat. He went from a clumsy stammerer to a kind of every-man, but the game doesn’t preserve any of that. It fails to connect any dots with Porky’s personality and so he seems like a pilgrim passing through a strange land, and that’s it. He isn’t hardly tormented enough by his surroundings to appear truly terrified, and therefore, the game is almost completely without tension.
I’m sure infinite continues has something to do with that, too, in a less elegant sort of way.
While Looney Tunes relied on a variety of visual gags, dry heaving has a lot more of a literal meaning with the visuals here. As this is a dream tale, there’s essentially no need for the game to stick to the source material, though it does its best to give us Porky in his pudgy, half-naked glory, or a Daffy Duck that’s a perennial prankster and terror.
As mentioned above, the visuals suffer from over-design with too many frames of animation in some instances, though with others there are simply too few. The ghost and the shark bosses are notorious examples. The former resembles a static Microsoft Paint image lovingly crafted in a single afternoon and then pasted into the game, while the other bears frames of animation too distinct from each other, making for a final result that’s nearly amorphous. Jumping on the shark’s head with cloud-like floaty Porky and seeing the poor fish scrunch like a slinky possessed no harmony.
A lack of polish or a lack of harmony may be the best way to explain Haunted Holiday’s uninspired visuals. It wasn’t until the Alps level that I began thinking to myself “this is actually just plain ugly” with its grimacing stalagmites and salmon-colored snowmen. It’s a jittery, poorly animated, ugly game. The SNES certainly had much better graphics on display elsewhere.
The final screens bear a credit for Looney Tunes speech, though this is actually scarcely used in the game. The iconic Mel Blanc had to have been one of the most talent voice actors ever yet all that’s left of him in Haunted Holiday is a truncated “Mwahahaha!” uttered by a barely on-screen Daffy Duck and a synthetic stuttering from Porky. The last screen of the game features the familiar words “That’s all Folks!” but there’s no accompanying voice.
Imagine you’re Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders, but instead of going for the lamp with the genie inside, you pick up a few gold Doubloons and a bit of Byzantinian silverware, filling your pockets up with some chump change before strutting back out the way you came. The developers had partial if not complete access to an entire treasure trove of sound effects and voices, some of the most widely recognized in the world, and, whether time constraining or other factors interfering, they implemented one and a half of them.
Then there’s the soundtrack itself. This may be the most that the game veers into the horror scene, and that’s not a tongue-in-cheek statement. It’s actually quite creepy: a low, muttering melody set on frequent repeat. It fits the forest stage rather well, but the wild West less so, and so on. The biggest bumble here is that it’s hardly pleasant to listen to, though it does give the game that dreamlike quality, underscored again by gameplay that feels out of touch.
At least “Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” is here, somewhat!
On a side note, have you ever heard this Big Bear Lake, CA theme song, written by Mel Blanc? I heard it when visiting my dad who lives in Big Bear. I do not condone images shown in the video. Just listen to the music and vocals.
Porky Pig is mostly defenseless and just about as sluggish and clumsy as you’d imagine an anthropomorphic swine named for his girth would be. Given Super Mario Bros.’ influence, it’s easy enough to think in terms of “jump on an enemy’s head to defeat it” and that turns out to be the case in Haunted Holiday, most of the time. It’s a hit or miss whether Porky will receive damage after jumping on an enemy if that enemy is just slightly out of place underneath him. This makes each wafting jump an exercise to deliberate character placement, otherwise, you’ll lose a heart.
Porky can also pick up bowls of fruit found in various places throughout the levels. These allow him to toss fruit at enemies in a kind of slow lob. It’s not entirely helpful and it’s not worth scouring every corner of a stage looking for the bowl of fruit, plus the weapon is only temporary and you’ll have to find the next bowl in the next area.
The level design has a large degree of verticality to it and though the forest and wild West stages are typical “move to the right” levels where the exit is somewhere ahead of you, future stages like underwater Atlantis turn into mazes, requiring a little more exploration. These designs are interesting and serve to invest the player into playing the game a little more, though I could wish that they weren’t always so abstruse. I occasionally found myself wondering if I was supposed to really head in the direction I was plotting, or if I’d broken the game or found a roundabout way I wasn’t meant to take. Warping sections like the wells in the wild West or the floating doors in Wacky Land simply made this navigation worse.
Fortunately, Haunted Holiday is very forgiving. It’s easy to earn plenty of lives as extra 1ups aren’t all that well hidden in stages. Unlike Inception, Porky cannot truly die, or see a game over rather, as there are infinite continues so long as you’re interested in playing. The game is long, though, and that together with some of the more confusing stages plus the general ease of play geared more toward younger audiences can make Haunted Holiday a test for your patience.
Was this really geared for younger audiences? I think so. It doesn’t have a single gameplay system that’s complex, beyond trial and error navigation across its stages. In fact, this is a game which could be played with a NES (not a SNES) controller, if you absolutely had to. There are only two necessary buttons for jumping and tossing fruit. There’s no running.
Besides for being Porky’s single starring role in a video game, Haunted Holiday is also most remembered for the strange inclusion of a unique random-weather-generating feature. You might start the game and Porky will find himself in that spooky forest in summertime or wintertime, with brilliant canopies of green or of amber. It might be raining, it might be snowing, it might be clear. Somehow, I always thought that the weather effects were determined by how much time one spent on the title screen, but I attempted to do some research and found a lot of claims that the effect is purely random.
This doesn’t add a whole lot to the game’s replay value, to be sure. It does however make for a mildly interesting talking point and I should have liked to see a similar feature in other platformers from the time. Certainly, a change of scenery in itself isn’t bad, though one wonders why the developers at Phoenix Interactive Entertainment (PIE) decided to spend so much time programming random weather patterns across multiple playthroughs in a game without virtually any other incentive to play through it again when there are so many other areas of gameplay which needed some spit and shine.
That random weather effect, this being Porky’s only starring role… that’s about all I can think of for uniqueness. Beyond that, there are plenty of other Looney Tunes games and this one draws from many platformer cliches as it is. A mine level? That’s not very unique. In fact, I’m struggling to remember why I remembered this game after all these years. It’s like I can’t remember what the latest acronym at my job means but I can remember almost everything about this meh game from 1995.
My Personal Grade: 4/10
When first bought it way back when, I was disappointed. I experienced the same disappointment replaying it, in a sense. I knew what was coming already but I was disappointed that the game wasn’t actually better than I remembered. Sorry to everyone who expressed some excitement over this one but I really think it’s an unpolished stone among gems, especially in regards to the SNES. Sure, it was fun to relive the memories but playing the game was a frustrating experience all the same.
It’s far from the best platformer on that legendary system, what with the likes of Mega Man X, Super Mario World, and Super Metroid, but on top of that, it’s not even one of the better Looney Tunes games on the Super Nintendo. You can see Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage, Looney Tunes B-Ball, or Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! for that.
In the words of Porky Pig: “A pih-pih-pih a pih-pih-pih piss off, Lou.”
Aggregated Score: 4.8
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