The Wayne’s World movie may not have been the natural source for a videogame – and it turns out that’d be something of a problem.
Cinemagoers in 1992 helped make the movie Wayne’s World a genuine sleeper sensation hit. It starred Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in the title roles, characters that’d been originated as part of the TV show Saturday Night Live. The film grossed over $100m in the US alone and introduced Wayne and Garth to the big screen, and a less successful – but arguably better – sequel would follow the year after. In the midst of the duo’s antics spiking though came a tie-in videogame and – bluntly – not a very good one.
The videogame tie-in came along in 1993 – and the Super Nintendo (SNES) version was quickly regarded as one of the worst movie tie-in games of all time.
There’s not a lot of plot in the movie itself for the game to latch onto. It centres of course on Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) who still lives in his parents’ basement in Aurora, Illinois. With best friend Garth (Dana Carvey) they produce a cult public access TV show.
Wayne falls in love with singer Cassandra (Tia Carrere), the evil Benjamin (Rob Lowe) tries to steal her and cash in on the show’s popularity to promote Noah Vanderhoff’s arcades, and there’s a Scooby Doo ending just for laughs.
So how do you turn that into a video game?
Well, in a few different ways.
The DOS/PC version by Capstone took a conventional approach, becoming a point & click adventure. Players can switch between Wayne and Garth as they try to hire people and collect the items they need to run a charity pizza-thon. It’s a relatively short example of the genre with only one or two memorable twists to it.
But this was an era where licensed products were typically turned into a platform game when they make it to games consoles in particular. Create a few maze-like levels themed around scenes from the movie, turn the bad guys into bosses that must be defeated and show a few static cutscenes in between the action. Some titles from that era are still well regarded – Aladdin and The Lion King from Shiny Entertainment spring to mind – but there were many bad examples too: who remembers the Home Alone game?
Canadian developers Radical Entertainment followed that platform template for the NES and Game Boy iterations. Again, players could switch between controlling Wayne and Garth, the former equipped with karate kicks learnt from Cassandra and the latter having, er, a laser gun.
Powerful special attacks were limited in number, Wayne unleashing a roundhouse kick and Garth a bigger laser blast. Levels were themed on the music store, the Gasworks nightclub and the TV studios. A bonus level saw the player gathering donuts at a donut shop to earn an extra life. The aim? To stop Benjamin taking over the show. Reviews were not particularly favourable, dismissing it as a cash-in, an accusation hard to shake as it was released shortly before the film’s sequel.
Across the Great Lakes from Aurora, young Canadian programmer Chris Gray had found fame with his design for the classic game Boulder Dash. A smashing game that, and First Star Software turned it into a hit franchise with the help of mathematician Peter Liepa. Chris then created the US #1 best-seller Infiltrator, mixing flight simulation with stealth-based levels (long before the more lauded Metal Gear series started by Hideo Kojima). Chris took the profits from Infiltrator to set up his own development company, Gray Matter Inc. This company would create the Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) and SNES games of Wayne’s World.
Neither went down well.
In these version of the game, Zantar the Gelatinous Cube has kidnapped Garth, so Wayne sets out to rescue him in a series of surreal levels based around film locations. In fact, it’s more like a nightmare.
Kramer’s Music Store has a No Stairway (chortle) sign and killer instruments on the attack, Stan Mikita’s Donut Shop has walking Mr Donuts and coffee cups that assail our hero, and the Gasworks nightclub is filled with pyrotechnics belching fire at regular intervals.
Human bouncers patrol the club, along with enemies based on bad Beatles puns – six-legged beetles with a mop-top haircut, and yellow submarines.
At the end of each level a purple hand snatches Garth away before Wayne can rescue him.
The finale happens in the disjointed suburbs, among floating houses and white picket fences, where the inventor demonstrating his vacuum-powered hair-cutting machine (used on a spooked Garth in the film) appears. Finally, Zantar himself must be tackled.
This is, of course, another film reference, with Zantar being a game notorious at Vanderhoff’s Arcade for being impossible to beat – although it’s relatively easy here.
The nadir of this admittedly terrible title is a cutscene trying to recreate the iconic ‘headbanging’ sequence set in Garth’s Mirthmobile (the blue AMC Pacer with flames painted down the sides). A tinny and almost unrecognisable section of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ plays over two alternating frames of the friends rocking out to the Queen classic.
A musical aside: Originally a Guns ‘n Roses track was suggested for this interlude in the film by the studio, with Mike Myers threatening to quit unless ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was licensed instead. Filming the scene required many takes and caused tension between the actor and director Penelope Spheeris, with Myers ultimately preventing her return to direct the sequel.
The inclusion of the song led to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ topping the UK charts and reaching #2 in the US just months after Freddie Mercury’s passing. Freddie had had the chance to view the scene and personally approved the use of the track in the film.
Other cutscenes did at least feature a ‘wobbly screen’ that recreated the flashback effects from the film. But even here, things are less than perfect. The ‘Grey Poupon’ joke is ruined by being replaced by the generic word ‘mustard’. And Robert Patrick’s movie cameo as a police officer that stops a speeding Wayne – inspired by his role as the shape-shifting T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day – is spoiled by replacing his image with that of Garth. Perhaps Robert’s agent was sensible enough to keep him away from any association with this game.
The biggest gameplay flaw is the poor collision detection, which is support to be how the game tells if Wayne is standing on a platform or touching an enemy/hazard. All too frequently Wayne falls through a platform or gets his energy drained by something that was still some distance away. Many times, the player is forced to jump without seeing where they will land, particularly harsh when missing a crucial jump can see the player sent a long way back through the maze of platforms.
One particularly annoying piece of design is a bar stool (that acts as a spring, sending Wayne higher) being placed next to a bar. The imprecise detection makes jumping on to the stool exceedingly difficult without ending up on the bar instead. Sampled speech from the film should add to the appeal, but hearing Wayne say “NOT!” every time he takes damage soon starts to grate. At least the ‘Schwing” power-up is helpful, clearing away all enemies onscreen.
The critical response was damning. Super Play magazine in the UK gave the SNES version of the game a truly awful 26%, while Electronic Gaming Monthly’s overall 4.5 score came from marks ranging from 3 to 6 out of a possible 10 from its four reviewers. The Sega-16 website’s Sophie Christie was even harsher on the Genesis conversion in 2004, scoring it 1/10. Super Pro named it “worst SNES game of 1993”, while FLUX magazine would go on to rank it #19 out of the 25 worst games of all time.
A final footnote to the tale is the possibility of what might have been. UK developer Argonaut was working closely with Nintendo at the time, creating the SuperFX chip add-on for the SNES behind the first Star Fox game (entitled Starwing in the UK). As plans for a CD-ROM add-on to the SNES were in progress, Argonaut apparently began work on a CD-based game of Wayne’s World. Little is known about what the game would have been like, beyond plans to include footage and plenty of music from the movies.
Fortunately for the film’s big screen sequel it went unsullied by bad video game adaptations. Finally, for a deeper look into the failings of the SNES game I recommend this excellent VGJunk blog post.
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