Tiny Toon Adventures
Nintendo Entertainment System
I grew up with the Looney Tunes among other cartoons and television. It might be more apt to say that my parents grew up with the Looney Tunes since most of the shorts I watched with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the crew were created well before my time. There were still cartoons being produced starring those ink and pen anthropomorphic comedians but while they were teaching me the fundamentals of well-timed jokes, they were clearly having a bit of an issue reaching a younger generation.
Cut to 1990 when Warner Brothers, the company that produced Looney Tunes and the Merrie Melodies cartoons, decided that they wanted to “inject new life” into their animation department by creating a show that featured younger versions of the characters the public had come to know and love. Alongside plenty of other shows that turned classic characters into children and babies at the time, Tiny Toon Adventures, a cartoon about the next generation of Warner Brothers’ stars in training, came to life.
As was the way at the time, once the show had proven to be remotely successful, the market was flooded with merchandise. Stuffed dolls, lunchboxes, coloring books and, of course, video games. The first of these to hit the shelves was for the Nintendo Entertainment System a year after the cartoon had its first episodes on the air. Given the mild phenomenon, the game arrived to mostly great reviews across the board. I had some fond memories of playing this game with my babysitter as a kid, but I know some of my other favorite games growing up have let me down as I’ve gone back to them now.
As usual, I had to figure out if Tiny Toon Adventures was one of those games that would fold under the weight of time.
Much like most of the shorts on the show, Tiny Toon Adventures doesn’t have a terribly deep plot. It seems that one day, one of our stars, Buster Bunny, is lounging around and watching television when local millionaire and all around ne’er do well, Montana Max, announces that he has kidnapped Babs Bunny and that if she isn’t rescued soon, he’ll be feeding her to his pet sharks.
Given that Buster is the hero of our story, he gathers some of his friends from the town of Acme Acres to go rescue their friend. Of course, there are plenty in the employ of Montana Max who will try to get in their way. With the snarky Plucky Duck, wrecking ball Dizzy Devil, and the timid Furball the Cat, Buster begins his trek across a number of locales to gather the five keys to the doors that will lead to Babs and her rescue before it’s too late.
While Tiny Toons is a solid platforming game, it is still just that at its core. You move with the directional button and one button makes Buster jump while you can hold down the other button to run while you move. Things get slightly more complicated in that you can hold down to duck and if you run and immediately duck, you will slide a distance- a mechanic that becomes vital in the final levels of the game.
The game does have its own identity beyond that, though. At the start of each level, Shirley the Loon, one of your fellow Tiny Toons, will allow you to pick one of three of your allies, each with a different ability. While you begin as Buster, you can find balloons throughout the levels you traverse. Some of them have a heart which will grant you an extra hit from an enemy or hazard. If you take a hit without one of these, you’ll lose a life and have to start the level over. They occasionally drop a bouncing red ball with a star on it, however. When Buster touches this, he becomes whichever ally he picked at the beginning of the area.
While you can finish the area as any of the four available characters, there are advantages and different routes that can be taken depending on who you are playing as. Buster, acting as the “Mario” of the group, seems to be great at jumping but otherwise somewhat unremarkable. As Plucky, you can swim really well (in what few water levels there are) and by tapping the jump button after you make your initial jump, he will flap his wings allowing you to glide and fall a bit slower. Dizzy can turn himself into a tornado for a short time during which he can burst through destructible terrain and take out most enemies head-on. Turning into Furball will allow you to cling to walls when you jump against them, making them scaleable by jumping upwards- and also providing safety should you start falling into chasms on occasion. The game offers a number of ways to get from one end of the level to the Exit door so no matter who you choose, it won’t impede your game.
In each area, you will find a plain white door that looks a bit different from the Exit. In each level, you will find carrots that you can collect (up to 99 total) and by entering this door, you’ll find another familiar face to the series, Hamton. For every 30 you have stowed away, he will grant you an extra life. It’s an interesting twist on the ‘100 Coins/Rings’ formula in that it sparks the flames of exploration but if you miss the door, it may be a while before you find another 1-Up.
There are other trappings to Tiny Toon Adventures that will be familiar to most gamers. Enemies are defeated by being bopped on the head, and there are times when there will be a multitude of adversaries to deal with by avoiding them or disposing of them. There are six worlds, each with a different theme and a boss at the end of each of them. In a unique twist, the ‘mini-boss’ is always Elmyra. Known for trying to catch the ‘adorable’ inhabitants of Acme Acres, she’ll chase the player around and must be avoided until an exit appears or can be reached lest the character wants to be hugged to death. It’s an interesting twist on the formula that keeps things relatively fresh in a market saturated with mediocre platformers at the time.
The Good, The Bad, And…
The only terrible part of the game is that there is a severe lack of checkpoints. Some of the stages can be lengthy and given how platformers work, there can be a cheap shot here or there meant to keep the player on their toes and winds up with a lost life. This will always mean that the player has to start at the beginning of the level. It can be a bit daunting and while it was sort of the nature of game design at the time, it would have been nice to have some kind of halfway mark on some of these levels to avoid the frustration of maneuvering through the entire sequence again. Really, this is where most of the difficulty comes from in the game.
Otherwise, the game is as well put together as many of the Capcom Disney platformers from the time (and yes, this game is from Konami but I wanted to use that point of reference). The jumping feels good and while there are some cheap shots like I mentioned before, everything moved so smoothly and reacted so well that they were easily overcome on the next attempt. The only collision detection issues I found were involving the bonus stage that you can end up in. Even that only really had to do with one sprite in particular, so overall it was negligible.
The best part of the whole game is that they really seem to have stuffed as much Tiny Toons into such a short game as they could. There are plenty of minor characters strewn throughout, mostly as enemies, and some of the locales are ripped right from random episodes of the show, as well. My personal favorite ended up being the short jaunt through Wackyland, the home of the show’s ‘weirdest’ character, Gogo Dodo. In a refreshing change of pace, rather than defeating a boss in this, your objective is to find a number of tiny Gogos so that when you reach the end of the level, they all join together to become the real Gogo, at which point you are given the key from the level. In a fitting way, Wackyland serves as its own boss and brings its own unique mechanic to the game.
Keeping in tone for Tiny Toon Adventures, the game is well animated on every front. The sprites are large and vivid, and the environments are colorful with just the right amount of decoration and accents. If I had one nitpick, the borders of the characters are near non-existent so they look a little ‘unfinished’. An argument could also be made the game is lacking in detail, but the overall visual presentation is consistent and a lot of fun to look at.
Listening to this game is an all-around treat. As expected, you’ll hear the incredibly catchy theme song a number of times, usually in the brighter ‘overworld’ levels. Most of the levels come with their own earworms, though, and whether it’s the just-spooky-enough underground theme or the bouncing and energetic boss fight music, everything you hear feels like it fits the Tiny Toons motif. The game only has a few tracks, but what it offers all enhances the experience.
At the end of the experience, Tiny Toon Adventures might feel a bit light on content due to its length. Like many platformers of the time, if you’re able to navigate the levels with ease, it only lasts about an hour or so. It feels like it goes faster, though, because the game keeps things pretty fresh as you go with a number of factors- different styles for boss fights, variations on level objectives and designs, and interesting mechanics that let you play how you want to. Despite Capcom being the reigning champion of NES licensed platformers, Konami had their share of solid efforts back in the day, too. Even if you’re not a fan of the cartoon, I would highly recommend checking this one out if you like solid platformers.
Plot Discussion and Therefore, Spoilers
First of all, let me assure that there are no spoilers here. There are no spoilers because there is very little plot to speak of. One of the things that were brought up by a reviewer in the past was an interesting point that doesn’t have much bearing on the plot but struck me as odd even as a kid.
In the game, Montana Max kidnaps Babs Bunny so it’s up to the crew to go and save her. The real question comes up in “why Babs?” In the show, she’s almost always at the center of the rescues or action and she has proven more than capable of handling herself against the likes of Monty. I know it’s silly to dissect a cartoon and kids show like this, but other characters (take the eternally hesitant and oft-incompetent Hamton, for instance) would have been a better pick and therefore could have left Babs as a player character. At the very least, she could have been the character to help aid the group by handing out lives.
Sadly, it’s a little indicative of the times and mindset that crops up every so often: “boys don’t want to play as girl characters”. In early Nintendo games, female characters are almost always the ones being rescued, but in the case of Babs, it feels more contrived given her popularity and her equivalence to Buster.
I didn’t get to play as April O’Neil. I got to play as Princess Toadstool once out of the three Mario games. You could have at least given me Babs, folks. Jeez.