There are plenty of people who’ve said that the basic platformer is dead. Once one of the most popular game formats, the number of these games has significantly slowed to a steady trickle as more and more people veered towards shooters, real-time strategy titles and RPGs. Similarly, the mascot title has also slowly died out (furry animal mascots in particular), leaving players with distinctly human heroes to conquer gaming universes. Well, Eidos has decided to play a game of What If, taking the twisted love child of Mario and PETA and giving it a center stage with a pair of quirky, unique mascots. Welcome to the dark world of Whiplash, where parody rides on the shoulders of two of the oddest heroes to grace a console.
Whiplash is the story of Spanx and Redmond, a rabbit and weasel that’ve been chained together in the bowels of the Genron Corporation, a multinational conglomerate that makes products in everyone’s home. While Genron goes out of its way to put forth a friendly face to the outside world, its actual business practices are far from altruistic, with a massive animal “testing” facility locked behind its walls. Torture is more like it, as animals are used as projectiles, toxic waste absorbers and other horrific experiments. The worst one the company has is the Genetic Recombinator, which fuses the DNA of two animals together to make a new creature. Fortunately, before they can be scrambled into a carrot-eating weasel or a sneaky hare, Spanx and Redmond escape their cage and seek revenge on their captors.
Take a quick glance at these fleeing animals, and you’ll notice that you couldn’t have chosen two dissimilar creatures to be paired together (which just adds to the comedy). Spanx, who’s been a victim of numerous electroshock treatments, isn’t particularly smart, but is incredibly fast. His affinity to voltage provokes him to often shove things into electrical sockets to recharge his batteries. However, thanks to the experiments and power running in his body, he also acts as a natural radio, picking up communications from strange “helpful” voices in his head. His unwilling cohort, Redmond, is an smart-alecky bunny rabbit whose been rendered invulnerable to damage thanks to countless hair spray tests. This makes Redmond the perfect weapon to be used against Genron. With the chain that connects the two of them, Spanx whips, swings and slams Redmond around like a medieval ball and chain. Such attacks can also be chained together to form destructive combos, which powers up Redmond’s attack meter. Once Redmond gets fully charged up, he gets hyper, smashing anything and everything in sight. Redmond can also be thrown into spinning gears to ruin machinery, or can be dipped into radioactive waste (amongst other things) to poison enemies.
Aside from the typical puzzle elements found in most platformers, Whiplash features a unique premise: Raise as much hell as possible. Obviously, Genron employees that spot the former imprisoned animals will attempt to stop you at every turn. Assaulting these people will not only render them unconscious, but can sometimes provide you with HyperSnacks, items that can be redeemed for additional life for Spanx or extra damage for Redmond. However, the more unique twist is taking out your animalistic aggression on Genron itself. Just about everything within the massive levels in Whiplash is destructible, including the prototypes for new Genron products (or should that be torture chambers?) Redmond and Spanx can smash each item that can get their furry paws on, causing irreparable harm to Genron’s bottom line. What’s even better is that at the end of a level, the financial cost is tallied up and can be redeemed for new moves or maps of upcoming levels. Plus, breaking some equipment can free fellow animals that have been imprisoned, who will gladly lend a hand in assaulting their tormentors. And you thought Planet of the Apes was brutal for humans…
Spanx and Redmond look like two Looney Tunes rejects, and their animation backs up their character models handsomely. Spanx twitches and darts his head to and fro with a manic stare plastered across his face, while Redmond’s large eyes often display his disbelief at being wielded as a weapon (or being set aflame, or frozen, etc.). The thing is, it works nicely, and gives a great sense of each animal’s character. Some of this detail has been imparted to the other creatures and the humans in the game, and while it comes across as wooden or static at times, it serves its purpose, although it can sometimes skip frames or clip through objects. Environments happen to be a double-edged sword: While many of them are filled with breakable objects that splinter and crumble nicely, quite a bit of them are generic and can be found in multiple areas. Seen one air duct or laser-filled hallway and you’ve seen them all; problem is you’ll see plenty more throughout the hours you’ll play this game.
Whiplash also features a cartoonish soundtrack, with some whimsical music thrown in for good effect. The vocal acting, for the most part, is decent, with most of the human characters saying one of a few phrases. The better lines come from the mysterious voice, who introduces new areas, and Redmond, whose wisecracks are often based around the dire straits he and his companion are in. Hearing, “Just wait till PETA hears about this!” or “I can’t believe you set me on fire! You literally set me aflame!” is hilarious. Only problem is that the delivered lines tend to get overused in an attempt to make Redmond sound witty, so you’ll wind up tuning him out for a majority of the gameplay. You’ll do the same to the sound effects, which are simplistic and not varied in the slightest.
Unfortunately, that same criticism can be extended to the maneuvers granted to Redmond and Spanx. Aside from a few swings or charge moves, very few new attacks are granted to our heroes. Considering that the most basic block performed by any enemy can counter any blows, this reduces the combat to simplistic button mashing. Even worse is the overly narrow number of enemies found within the game. There are robots, security guards, scientists and very few other opponents, so you’ll often see the same model with the exact same face thousands of times. See, the game has a nasty habit of respawning enemies, especially in cleared areas, so you can expect to see defeated foes again and again. Considering that the navigation provided within the game is incredibly poor, along with a limited amount of instruction, players can expect a huge amount of backtracking, stumbling around and head scratching as you explore the labyrinthine (and oft-duplicated) hallways of Genron. Unfortunately, this manages to lose much of the drive of the game, something that the limited puzzles scattered throughout the game or the minor combat scheme can’t fix.
A unique concept for a platformer, Whiplash takes a tongue in cheek look at present day situations and provides a decent foundation for a possible series. Unfortunately, lackluster navigation, combat maneuvers and repetitious sound effects, amongst other slights weaken this game significantly, relegating it to a try-before-you-buy for anyone other than the greatest platformer fan.