American Gladiators. The name itself is an oxymoron. In a nation of lawsuit-happy pussies, gladiating was all but a forgotten art until the likes of Gemini, Laser, and Nitro came along in the late 80s and early 90s…and changed absolutely nothing. The American Gladiators TV show was basically what would happen if Disney bought The Ultimate Fighting Championship and hired the president of Nerf to run it. Oh, and they decided to hold the competition in a Chuck E. Cheese playzone. And then they hired Captain America to design everybody's outfits.
It should go without saying that the American Gladiators game (developed by Gametek) is just as thematically retarded as the TV show, but its gameplay is hypnotically fun in the same way that beer pong becomes more fun the drunker you get. But in order to truly discover just how this works, we need to deconstruct the fucked-up process by which these people gladiate.
American Gladiators gives you five mini-game events to choose from: the Joust, Wall, Powerball, Assault, and Human Cannonball. If you can imagine Tina Turner hosting a Thunderdome combat competition inside a McDonald’s Play Place, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how this game plays. I know, some of you may think this idea is pretty awesome, but let’s try to remember that American Gladiators was made to function on an 8-bit gaming system that couldn’t give Simon Belmont a face, didn’t let Mega Man duck, and yet somehow enabled your little Contra guy to keep shooting in one direction no matter how many backflips he did while airborn. These abilities and disabilities lent the NES an autistic quality of combined awesomeness and the downright bizarre. Looking at the American Gladiators events individually will help us to better understand this.
Learning to climb The Wall in American Gladiators is like learning to use chopsticks while simultaneously playing Dance Dance Revolution to escape Freddy Kruger. As you can see, The Wall is made of hundreds of little handles for your hands to grab or feet to step on. in a normal game, you move using the control pad. But in American Gladiators, you climb by pressing A B A B A B A B rapidly while pressing the direction you want to climb on the control pad. If real life was like this, then the only way we could walk was if we clapped hands while doing so. This is like learning to use the Nintendo Wii controller, only not fun. To make matters worse, aging porn star gladiator Lace turns the NES’s slogan (“Now you’re playing with power!”) Into something between a come-on and smack-talk just before she starts chasing your sorry ass right up the wall (which in the game measures out to be around a few thousand feet high). Up you go, pressing A B AB A B AB – one button to grab with your left hand and the other to grab with your right – as you race to the top. Touching ONE obstacle, even a little wall, will send you hurtling down to one of the several Lace clones climbing after you.
Don’t worry too much about her/ Lace, though; she’s as dumb as she looks. If you put an obstacle between you and her, she’ll climb into it and fall. The same applies to the Laces who stalk you down from the top of the screen, although these bitches often have a lethal kamakzzi strategy: the CPU will drive them right at you, and when they hit a wall or object above you, they’ll fall down the screen and take your sorry ass with them if you touch them.
Powerball combines the excitement of shelf-stocking with the suspense of being shoved around the living room by your older brothers. You have to grab a ball from a tray and stuff it into one of the five baskets scattered throughout the mini-footballfield, and all the while a bunch of Americanized gladiators are chasing you around. If they touch / hit you you, the ball disappears, and you have to run all the way to the other side fo the field to get a new one. This winds up being a lot like playing tag in a bowling alley, playing duck-duck-goose against Brian Urlacher and Refrigerator Perry, or playing keep-away from The Terminator. Seriously, the Americanized Gladiators are goose-guarding pussies. Fortunately, the whole event is like enduring a kiss from grandma when you were 8. It lasts only a few seconds, and you pass no matter how well you do.
The Joust is a 1-on-1 stick fight on top of a giant platform where you have to beat the other guy off the edge. You’d think this would be the best event in the game, but instead it’s the epitome of button-mashing retardedness. In an attempt to put patty-cake on the level of Olympic swordsmanship, Gametek ended up creating an exact simulation of two retarded people having a sumo contest in a narrow hallway. The tools of your fighting strategy are your high thrust, mid-range thrust, and low thrust, and they provide about as much fighting technique as “I know you are!” and “But what am I!” in an argument / university debate. Button-mash fast enough, and you’ll be treated to an 8-bit digitized midi-scream* of despair as one of the three Nitro clones you fight plunges off the platform to his defeat. You'd be surprised how satisfying this is after enduring one of Nitro’s intro quotes, featured to the right!
The Assault event is a lot like the classic shooting game Galaga . . . except your spaceship is a little guy running around in a Captain America outfit. And he only gets two or three shots for each weapon he picks up. And he controls like he’s on a freshly-waxed floor with his socks on. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this event is fun, but it’s probably the closest American Gladiators comes to any sensation resembling enjoyment.
Usually I have a firm bedrock of sanity and a sound presence of mind to make fun of ridiculous shit like this, in spite of the fact that it makes fun of itself. But when I’m faced with stuff like the Human* Cannonball, my brain really just closes all its running applications and starts defragmenting itself.
In the Human Cannonball event, you’re on a moving platform, and you have to jump onto a swinging rope and then let go of it and swing into a gladiator on a different platform . . . and he’s holding a shield. Ideally, you connect and he goes flying, then you move on to try and knock the next idiot off his pedestal. The quirk is this: you have to hit the enemy right at his feet if you want to knock him off. if you hit him too high or jump on him Super Mario style, he raises his shield and you go bouncing off it.And that’s it! That’s all that happens in Human Cannonball, and it’s so simplistically difficult that, after the first level, you’ve got about as good a chance of knocking the gladiator off his pedestal as you do making a half-court shot. Sure, we’ve all made half-court shots, but virtually none of us can do so consistently; the distance of the shot negates your skill just like the stupidity of the Human Cannonball event negates your ability to knock shield-wielding Americanized gladiators off platforms. So even if you somehow managed to complete all the other events and only have the dirt-simple Human Cannonball left to complete the game, you can still kiss your sorry ass goodbye. It’s like battling through all the fighters in your weight class to reach the Olympic gold, only to have the ref tell you that you have to say “Rubber baby buggy bumper” five times really fast if you want the medal.
The American Gladiators' Ratings:
Fun: "Well I'm a terminator, a gladiator, treatin' my bitches to my wild behavior. We be livin' it up at the V.I.P., and when shorty climbs up the wall I say 'honey stay with me.' Cause you know they call me Gemini for a reason: I give you TWICE the love of any playa' at Four Seasons. Playa' hataz be frontin' at the roulette table, but when I grab my jousting stick it's on like Cain vs. Able. They be playin' The Assault in they Abercrombie & Fitches but I just snipe those mutha-fuckaz and make them my bitches. And damn girl this game is just fun as playin' with your gold and your jade, cause we both be iced-out in my Escalade. You know the whole world knows that we got it made, and if Nirto fronts with you again his throat'll feel my blade."
Gameplay: "Gemini, you can shut the fuck up. Just because I took Gold and Lace to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert doesn't mean you can get all Run DNA on me. So you can . . . you can stop HURTING MY FEELINGS! Take your jousting stick and shove it up your ass!"
Graphics: "Damn stupid cracka', you know I'm comin' at ya! I don't play yo honkey game cause I be knowin' that you might cheat, and how can you blame a brotha' for liking white meat? And it ain't Run DNA, it's Run DMC, and I can't help it that all the bitches wanna' stay with me. So if my bitches in the house with my MC Morris, then tell me what ya' got to say and take it to the chorus!"
Sound: "Oooooo Gemini, you lookin' so fly, and when you roll up to tha club I'm just your sweet butterfly! You got the Remy, the Grey Goose, you got the Crown Royal, so just let us lay you down and cover you in oil!"
Fun: American Gladiators IS indeed fun in the sense that you’ll get plenty of laughs out of its incessant stupidity.
Gameplay: Character in American Gladiators look like what GI Joe figurines would look like if you repainted them using only two colors and stuck them in the blender for five seconds. Also, the backgrounds look like those shitty crosshatch rug projects I used to make in Cub Scouts.
Graphics: Gametek never designed American Gladiators to be a beatable game. But if the Beastie Boys somehow legitimized Buddhism through their hiphop, then I guess anything is possible.
Sound: The American Gladiators were retards, but I think they're deserving of something better than the soundtrack to Muppet Babies cartoon action-scenes.
Challenge: Sorry, Gametek. Playing Hungry Hungry Hippos using chess pieces instead of marbles doesn’t make the game any more stragegic.
"Gemini, you were WONDERFUL last night. Wanna party with me back at the Videogames Page?"
"Sure bitch, we'll party, 'cause you know I'm feelin' naughty. But come THIS way my fly honey Lace, away from pimps and playaz all up in your face. 'Cause I've got a nice crib, cognac, and I rock my Sean John. So just follow me this way back to JJMike.com!"