It’s been a while since I indulged myself in the medium of video games. But, as any Trash Culture historian knows, while today the argument that video games are an art form is stronger than ever with hundreds of indie designers and games having ample memory to convey complex stories, there was a time when the video game market was flooded with shameless cash-ins, some more bizarre than others. This makes that era of gaming rich in trash culture fertilizer. Hence we have Home Improvement:
Yep, they made a game out of family-friendly sitcom Home Improvement. Sadly it’s probably the closest we will ever get to a real-life Full House: Tournament Fighter.
Alas, it’s not a tournament fighter, or a dating sim where Jonathan Taylor Thomas has to lose his virginity before he graduates high school, or a Grand Theft Auto clone where Al, pushed too far by Tim’s abuse, goes on a rampage through the Detroit suburbs’ upper-middle-class white ghetto. No, this was the age when most cash-ins were platform jumping games in the Super Mario Bros. vein, no matter how little sense it made compared to the source material. As a result, you can supplement your Wayne’s World experience by having Garth leaping around and firing lasers at walking drums! Okay, to be fair, they weren’t all like that; as teethgrindingly bad as the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Nintendo adaptation was, at least it actually did have you play Bill and Ted traveling to different time periods and looking for historical figures. As for how they handled Home Improvement…well, was there ever an episode where Tim Taylor fought animatronic dinosaurs with a chainsaw that can produce deadly sonic booms?
To be honest, the show wasn’t really my bag. I know it still has a following and actually got some credit for doing a better job of handling the husband-wife dynamic than other sitcoms of the time, but I was never a fan, so who knows? Maybe Tim Taylor was inept at household repairs but was proficient at turning power tools into highly advanced death-dealing devices that can take out entire armies. Now that would be a Very Special Episode.
As for the game itself…it pretty much makes almost every list of Crappy Video Game Adaptations out there, so of course I had to play it. My initial impression was, meh, I played worse. The prologue, which rivals today’s epic cut scenes in its length, tells a tale that actually shows that somebody at least gave ten minutes of thought to the plot rather than the customary two minutes you usually see in these adaptations. Tim Taylor and Al are about to have a special episode of “Tool Time” where he introduces a new line of power tools made by his sponsor, but they’ve been stolen right when the show’s being aired! Naturally they’ve been hidden on different neighboring television show sets, the first of which is populated not by any staff, but by killer animatronic dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.
Two thoughts: 1) I didn’t think, “Wait, “Tool Time” is filmed alongside some show with million-dollar animatronics that are left to run amok? I say, that’s preposterous!”, but, “Wait, the audience has to sit around while Tim fights dinosaurs with a nail gun? I say, that’s preposterous!” 2) If Al doesn’t turn out to be behind the tool theft and is the game’s final boss, I will be sorely disappointed.
Once you grab your first weapon, a nail gun (meaning the game could double as a very loose adaptation of Nail Gun Massacre!), you find you can actually aim in most directions. The controls are fairly fluid. But then the crap begins to seep in. The first enemy you encounter is a tiny caterpillar that can be tricky to see because of the colorful background and which can be tricky to kill because, surprise, you can’t really aim at a downward angle.
Even that’s excusable, but then you see how much punishment the bigger enemies, especially the T-Rex, can take. It takes what feels like 20 shots to take down the T-Rex, which kind of sucks because they charge at you on top of spewing not very scientifically accurate fireballs and you usually encounter them in areas where you can’t really maneuver yourself well.
But your real enemy is…the stone walls. In Stage 1-1, they’re almost everywhere, hiding both items and sections where you have to go to get through the stage. It probably takes about as much time to smash through a real stone wall as it takes to shoot your way through in this game.
And as you might have noticed, you have these obstacles and apparently steel-plated enemies and then there’s a time limit, the bane of old-school video games. Oh, and I forgot to mention, your goal isn’t just to get from one side to the other side of the stage. No, you have to find five boxes, containing Tim’s missing tools which are hidden around the stage. The game does give you a bit of saving grace by giving you, if you stand still for a few seconds, an arrow will point you in the general – very general – direction of the box you’re closest to. Unfortunately, even Stage 1-1 is a bit of a maze, with multiple levels and quite a few nooks and crannies.
If having to run through mazes searching for specific items, shooting your way slowly through walls, fighting enemies with weapons that barely hurt them while having a time limit dangling over your head already sounds like “fun”, well, what clinched it for me was this little pitfall.
There’s an underground part in the bottom left corner of the stage. There’s a pit on the leftmost side that looks like it would let you drop down to another section, but you’d be wrong…DEAD wrong (to the programmers’ credit Tim can sort of look down, but it only really works when the game feels like it). It almost looks like you can jump back up to a higher ledge, but, well…
How was I supposed to know Tim could do that?! “Find the instructions online and read them, jackass,” you might say. Funny you should (hypothetically) mention that…
Okay, it’s a cute (and weirdly accurate) nod to the show, but, yeah, real man or not, you do kind of need them to get that you have a grappling hook (and have to use it pretty much at the start). And that you don’t have a life meter, but that your “health” is determined by how many screws you’re holding (kind of like Sonic and his rings). And that you can make an arrow helping you find the tool boxes appear by standing still, which I probably wouldn’t have figured out myself if I didn’t have to make Tim stand still to take screenshots for this write-up.
So is there any reason to turn to this game to get your nostalgic 16-bit platformer fix? Well, the controls aren’t bad and…that’s about it.
When you lose a life you get a quick scene where Tim’s sons revive him like a beaten boxer, so…you can’t even play to get the satisfaction of killing Tim Taylor over and over again.
Like with Spiritual Warfare, I’m going to sail this ship all the way to the iceberg. So see you next time!