When you really think about it. The 90s were a strange decade. The American city of Seattle sparked an unlikely music revolution. MC Hammer wrapped himself in a parachute and called it his pants, Babylon 5 and Star Trek fans battled each other at conventions and Dr Alban conquered South Africa with ONE song.
Yours truly spent much of that decade in a ‘kortbroek’ with grey socks pulled up high to his knees (complimented with the most porno-looking hairstyle a brown man will ever rock… shudder…).
But, one of the strangest features of the 90s is the odd phenomena of anthropomorphic critters loosing their minds and going on homicidal rampages. Virtually overnight, you had psychopathic bunnies, chickens and even an earthworm kicking tail and taking names.
From a strictly rodent perspective, there was Bucky O’ Hare kicking toad butt in space, Jazz Jackrabbit blasting his way towards saving Eva Earlong, and if video games weren’t your thing, you could always settle for the Killer Bunnies card games. I know what you’re thinking, that’s an awful lot of homicidal cuteness, but we absolutely loved it. Not to mention, when we grew older and discovered Monty Python; ‘the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog’ skit became an instant classic. Or at least should have, had we moved on to other things other than memorising “The Lumberjack Song” for our drunken pub crawls.
Local is Lekker!
It just so happened that South Africa wasn’t immune to the wave of ‘homicidal cuteness’ either, because in 1996, local developers Celestial Games released a DOS-based action side-scroller called Toxic Bunny. You have to remember that this was in the mid-1990s, a time when the mere thought of creating a commercial video game developing studio in South Africa would have caused a huge segment of the world and locals to scoff at you. Game design was not considered a viable career option for South Africans. In fact, had you told your school’s guidance counsellor that you’d like to pursue a career in video game design, they would have probably called a meeting with your parents, or given you the “disapproving eye”. Therefore, when a South African video game developer released a commercial game, it caused a stir amongst South African gamers. Suddenly, the future looked brighter, and it was Toxic Bunny that led the way.
Back in the day…
There’s no question that Toxic Bunny fills a special place in the hearts of a sizeable proportion of South African gamers. It’s a game that’s remembered fondly, in spite of being nearly 16 years old. If you’ve never heard of Toxic Bunny you’re probably staring at this review in disbelief, or on the brink of screaming “Why are you giving us a history lesson James, just tell us, is it good or is it bad?”. And the truth is, context is needed for our homicidal, coffee-addicted friend. It might not be Mario or Sonic, but it’s definitely a part of South African gaming history. In fact, it’s like our gaming version of Madiba and any overt criticism may lead to a hamster to the face.
Ouma se gekookte wors…
At its core, Toxic Bunny features a tale we can all empathise with. A pleasant day or even a pleasant cup of coffee ruined by a**holes. It could be an annoying office worker insisting to tell you about their day, a boss insisting that you submit your report first thing tomorrow morning (just as you’re about to leave the office) or a megalomaniac dumping “ewwy goo” in your backyard. Suffice to say, it’s a story any man, woman, child or gun-wielding bunny can relate to.
Instead of merely taking it on the chin, our hero, Toxic sets off to find whoever is responsible for ruining his day (and make them pay). Along the way, our demented hare discovers a virtual arsenal of weaponry. These include simple projectile weapons, a Rocket Launcher to even the crème de la crème, the Nitric Hamster Launcher. A weapon so powerful, it guarantees “at least one fatality”. The game is essentially a 2D side-scrolling platformer but the most noticeable feature is the humongous size of the levels. This is a game that begs you to revisit areas and make ample use of the jump button. Fortunately, you can call up a map of the level (through the menu system) to see where you are geographically. But, if you break Toxic Bunny down to its most basic constituents then It’s essentially a relentless maze filled with all sorts of traps, enemies and curious boss characters.
There are also collectibles to find. Some of which, like the coffee cups or the pizza slices help to keep Toxic’s health bar in the green, whereas others like the coloured cans/bottles can be used to discover and craft helpful (or even deadly) potions. To top it all off, there’s also an in-game store, accessible through the menu system, where you can buy ability improvements or potions for our vengeful buck-toothed leporid. Some of the improvements are especially useful, like being able to jump further or to take no damage for a short time.
Gameplay and Value: 4/10.
It’s hard not to compare Toxic Bunny to more contemporary platformers like Rayman Origins, Megaman 9 or even its closest stylistic competitor, Jazz Jackrabbit. In all the comparisons, the game’s controls just doesn’t do it justice. There’s an awkwardness to how our coffee-addicted rabbit pal navigates through the four labyrinthine maps. Since Toxic Bunny is an unforgiving platformer that relies on quick timing, accurate jumping and a quick finger on the fire (shoot) button, it’s a little disappointing that the controls add to the frustration. However, Toxic Bunny has its finger on the pulse of a whole generation and it’s not in the least bit afraid to throw in a few funny anecdotes or a movie reference or two.
Design and Presentation: 6/10.
If you compare the original Toxic Bunny to the Toxic Bunny HD remake, the difference is mind-blowing. The remake sports delightful and colourful hand-drawn graphics. The new character designs and environments instantly reminded me of Ubisoft’s spectacular Rayman Origins – only not as nice looking. The wheels come off a bit with the animation. It’s not as smooth as it could have been, and Toxic can definitely need a few more frames during transitional animated bits.
I’m sure hardcore Toxic Bunny fans will be pitching their tents on my front lawn and loading their Nitric Hamster Launchers with hamsters, or planning to dunk my “stupid head into goo canisters” (because of the score). However, Toxic Bunny HD is clearly intended for those who loved the original. It’s a piece of nostalgic gaming that may struggle to entice the current crop of hyper-critical and next-gen orientated gamers. Is it perhaps misplaced nostalgia?
With just the right bit of tweaks to gameplay, animation and controls, it could be a winner on the iOS/Android market. At the end of the day, the real question everyone should be asking is “Please make Toxic Bunny 2?.”
Reviewed on PC – Coffee not included!
Toxic Bunny HD releases at rAge tomorrow – and will be available for R149.
Last Updated: October 4, 2012