Thursday, April 6, 2017

Plug n Play Game Corner: Play TV Monster Truck

Well, I think it's time to review another Plug n Play TV Game. Let's bring out the most awkward and overcompensating I've come across so far. This is the Play TV Monster Truck game!


Game: Play TV Monster Truck
Manufacturer: Radica
Release Date: 2003
Genre: Racing

...Just... LOOK... At this thing...! ...Yeah, I don't have a long-winded rant about how I don't follow Monster Trucks. The size and shape of this has turned all traces of filler intro into mush!

Though I guess I can say it's automatically more entertaining than the movie Monster Trucks? ...Yeah, I got nothing...

I mean... WHY?! Why does this thing have to be THIS big and THIS silly-looking? It looks like something Salvador Dali made for an 8th-grade art project! It has the basic shape of a monster truck, but everything is skewed and stretched and even slightly compressed. It's like they made a model out of cheap, rubbery plastic, left it in the sun for a few hours, and used it as the basis for the actual thing. ...And did I mention how BIG it is?!

By comparison, here it is next to the Star Wars Original Trilogy game I featured last time. It's at LEAST three times bigger and longer than your average Plug n Play game! ...Probably originally at least that much more expensive as well...

I would LOVE to have known what this looked like in the box and how much bigger the box would have made it seem! ...But due to its age and obscurity, I can't find any copies that are new and sealed. ...Not even a picture of one.

Though strangely, this is the first Plug n Play game I've found that someone actually bothered to save the manual for. Thanks to whomever. Could you also track down the move list for the Lightsaber Duels?

...Geez, where to even start with this design...? So I know that everything is exaggerated with monster trucks, especially with the wheels and the engine, but with the size of THAT engine and how much it juts out, I don't think the driver would even be able to see out the front window! All the guy would be able to see are the internal sparks and gears as he struggles to look around it, inevitably smashing into the stands...

Yet ironically, the wheels look too small for a monster truck. I mean, they're big, probably bigger than regular truck tires, but most of the space seems more occupied with suspension than rubber.

Which I have just been informed is the case with Monster Trucks. ...I dunno. If you're already cartoonishly exaggerating proportions with this game, wouldn't it make sense to just go all the way and have the tires so big, they'd touch the rims?

And this is a little harder to show in a blog, but they actually gave this console suspension! Yeah, there's a mess of springs between the wheels and truck body, so you can bounce it all over the place, lean it left and right, etc. There's no reason, it doesn't affect the gameplay in the slightest and there's no form of force feedback, but I guess they figured they already built a monster truck body. Might as well add all the bells and whistles.

And on the tires, in hard-to-see lettering, it says "Monster Truck XL3000EW." I'm guessing this is some made-up measurement, since a quick search translated it as gibberish and looking up some standard of measurement for monster trucks gave me nothing. Especially since monster truck tires are apparently a custom job.

But the most amusing part is that they actually included the ground underneath the tires, complete with dirt flecks on the back tires! ...And there's a LOT of dirt, since it comes up halfway between the tires as well. I know monster trucks apparently have tires that can tackle any obstacle, but would one really be able to drive through 6 feet of dirt?

What's even better? There's a car being crushed under the front wheels! Heck, it's so squashed, it looks like a melting mound of mashed potatoes someone decided to stick licorice in. ...Probably to make mashed potatoes look even less appetizing than they already do...

And this apparently also had a grill on the front, which is missing on my copy. Instead, we get what looks like the face of a very angry and possessed Cars character...

The controls are built onto the back and sides. ...Very asymmetrically. While the power button replaces the driver's mirror

This giant gear shift is on the passenger's side! ...And in the sense of the monster truck itself, what purpose does this serve?

And on the back is the steering wheel with the button used for "horn", "weapon", and "enter", as it is so helpfully labeled. A VERY sensitive steering wheel, as you'll see in a minute.

And one final notable thing to bring up: Due to its size, this console requires 4 C batteries. ...C BATTERIES?! WHO HAS C BATTERIES?! Your best bet is to unearth that RC car that's been in the back of the closet for 10 years and pray to whatever deity you worship that the batteries still work! And to think I was recently complaining about consoles that use AAA batteries...

Luckily, this is also a console that can optionally be powered with an AC adapter, so grab your universal plug and use that instead of spending $5 on batteries it'll drain in a few hours...

Alright, I'm done ridiculing the design of this thing. What exactly is on it?

This console comes to us courtesy of electronics company Radica.

If you were a kid during the late 90s and early 2000s, you've probably heard of Radica. Like Tiger Electronics, they were one of the largest producers and distributors of cheap electronic toys and games. Skannerz, Cube World, UB Funkeys, those handheld Bass Fishin' games marketed more for adults, and the first iteration of 20Q(before Techno Source took over) all owe their existence to Radica.

 They also produced a number of Plug n Play games under their "Play TV" line, mostly involving sports.

Including a Cricket game, funnily enough. ...I wonder if there's an NTSC version?

They were also the first to hold the license to produce Sega Genesis standalone consoles, before AtGames was a thing, and they ported a few arcade games as well.

Including the Sega Genesis port of the arcade classic Outrun. ...I'm going to need to find this thing...

They were bought out by Mattel in 2006, who used their name for their existing products for a few years, before retiring it altogether.

But they're not the only name in the opening credits, as the game was made possible with Xavix Technology from SSD Company Limited.

 SSD Company Ltd. was founded in 1995, and is surprisingly still around today, mostly licensing the Xavix multiprocessor chip to other developers.

However, they ALSO released their own console called the XaviXPORT in 2004, which I had never heard of until this minute and which they are STILL selling on their website!

It's mostly focused around sports and exercise games that respond to movements from wireless controllers, basically making it a precursor to Wii Fit and Wii Sports. ...Just even more unresponsive and expensive I assume.

But you should still buy it. Why? Because while Wii Fit just has the mannequin-like trainers teaching you how to get into shape, Xavix has JACKIE CHAN as your personal trainer! And when has Jackie Chan ever failed us?!


The final name in the credits, and who I'm guessing actually programmed this, is Sennari Interactive.

This company is a little more obscure than the previous two, not even having a Wikipedia page, but from what I could find, they were a small time developer for pre-smartphone mobile phones and handheld consoles in the early 2000s

And they put out a good number of Powerpuff Girls games for the Game Boy.

They were acquired by eMotive Communications in 2008, which in turn was acquired by Zad Mobile in 2010, which is now completely defunct.

Hey, seeing as how they ported Driver 2 to the Game Boy Advance, at least they went down before they were contracted to make Driv3r...

Anyway, the game, as with most Plug n Play games we've come across, is divided into different modes:

Jump Mode
Rally Race
Demolition Mode 

In Jump Mode, you control one of the monster trucks, which we'll get into in the next mode, and carefully aim it to fly off a dirt ramp into a used car lot, smashing as many cars as possible with the landing.

You get 5 chances to cause as much damage as possible and hit or exceed the target score. If you gain enough points, it goes onto the next round with a higher target for you to hit. And so on and so forth.

So it's a basic angle & timing game, sort of like the Home Run Contest from Super Smash Bros. Not a whole lot to talk about. However, I will say that the graphics are quite good for this console.

They're not the highest quality we've seen so far on this blog, especially since it can get extra-pixelly while driving, but there is an attention to detail and a good amount of variety in the landscape. You can tell the difference between the dirt roads, the green surrounding area, and the gray urban area, complete with different models of cars and labeled buildings. And the surfaces are given a bit of texture, so the dirt looks gravelly, the grass looks like it has separate blades, and you can see the cracks and rocks in the pavement and tarmac.

The monster trucks are also given a lot of frames of animation, the isometric perspective of the car changing roughly every 15° or so, giving the illusion of smooth turns and a more 3D model. ...The turns aren't as smooth as they seem, but we'll get to that later.

But the most surprising aspect is something I can't easily show you in a blog, but you can check out in the gameplay video. This game also includes both music AND sound bites! Besides the deep bass guitar MIDI soundtrack, the announcer will say things like "Get ready to roll!" and "Gentlemen, start your engines!" and "Oooh, that's gotta hurt!" at certain times during the event. It's not as frequent or varied as Loudmouth Larry from Rock n Roll Racing for the Sega Genesis*, but it's interesting to hear in a Plug n Play console.

*I know it came out for other consoles as well, but the aesthetics match the Genesis version the most.

In fact, that's the best description I can give this game. It's very... "Genesis." The colors are muted and focused more on browns and blacks, with a slight bit of bright color for the sprites to contrast them from the background. Everything's grainy and slightly dirty-looking, like 90s games liked to use to stand out from the more "kiddy" bright colored and smooth shaped games of Mario or Zelda. The music's much more rock guitar-centric and less cartoonish or grand than the faux-orchestral scores Nintendo used for most games. And the speech and audio in general is highly compressed, which Genesis had to use as it was a less powerful console than the SNES or any of its other competitors. This is the most 90s game I've played yet on this blog. ...And it came out in 2003*!

*Which also makes it the oldest game I've featured yet. I'd make another comparison to Elmo's World and how this further proves that game had no excuse not to include higher quality graphics and sound, but I think I've beaten that dead horse to the point there's nothing left but dirt and bone fragments...

So you launch the monster truck off the ramp over and over again until you finally fail to hit the target score and you're kicked back to the main menu.

Though they also included a High Score screen that actually saves high scores, so at least you'll have proof for bragging rights.  ...If bragging about being this game's leaderboard leader is worth bragging about...

The next game is the main event: Rally Race. ...And this is where the game gets rough...

Before you start any of these games, you're given a selection of racers to choose from, each with their own Fast and the Furious names: Gear-Head Jed, Slim, Joey Shoxx, Big Trucker Jimbo, Nikky Nitro, and The Masked Mudder. Each has a different car(which just translates to a different color, decals, and slightly different cosmetics in the actual game) and a different set of attributes, but after playing with each of them, I didn't notice that much difference between them, if any.

When the race starts, the problems begin popping up. Big time...

 Problem #1: Overly Sensitive Controls. You know how in other bad games, the controls can be unresponsive or clunky and they make doing something as simple as turning around or moving in a straight line difficult? ...Well, this game has the opposite problem. They're TOO responsive! The slightest turn of the wheel causes the truck to veer in another direction! To drive in a straight line, you need to know how many degrees of the wheel turning equal degrees of the car turning and then have a hand as steady as Medusa's headshot photographer to avoid veering away!

This means you're going to be crashing constantly into the sides and other trucks as you try to navigate the insane amount of turns and ramps on the track. Steering requires multiple slight adjustments to go in a direction anywhere similar to where you want to go, and once you feel like you're getting the hang of it, you turn and have to reorient yourself! As with any bad controls, it's really hard to describe without trying it for yourself, but trust me when I say this is the most confusing control scheme for a racing game I've ever used.

And you really expect me to believe that these vehicular beasts can turn on a dime like this? When Big Rigs has more believable car physics than your game, it's time to stop and think about where your life went wrong...

Problem #2: CONSTANT Road Hazards. This game has two track obstacles: Ramps that slow you down

And mud pits that also slow you down

And while those are the only two natural hazards you need to contend with on each track, they want you to remember they exist, because they're put EVERYWHERE! I don't think you go 100 feet without having to slog through yet another obstacle! And they're practically unavoidable, as they act up if you touch even the smallest pixel on the side...

 So basically they're pointless, since there's no challenge of driving around them nor finding a side road and all racers have to drive through them no matter what! It's like playing Mario Kart and having to run into a Whomp every 5 seconds that takes up the entire track! There's no challenge when having to run head-on into an obstacle is mandatory...

Problem #3: Useless Power-ups. This game tries a bit of kart racing as it has three power-ups, given at random from these "Play TV" icons.

There's a tire wrench, which briefly stuns an opponent when thrown. However, it only travels in a straight line, and since the track is mostly made up of curves, basically the only chance of hitting your opponent is when you're on their bumper(which itself is almost impossible as I'll explain later.)

Then there are bombs, which you can lay on the track and they blow up any car that runs into them.

...But I mean ANY car, since if the other racers manage to avoid the bomb and you forget it's there, you can easily run into it yourself! ...Fair price for cheating, I guess...

And then there's the only power-up worth a toot: Nitro refills. Nitro is essential to winning each race, so when you can, use up your Nitro tank as soon as possible and then hope that you can randomly find more. If you even have a chance of coming in first is dependent on how many Nitro tanks you can find...

And you need to use it as soon as you find it, as hitting another "Play TV" icon randomly gives you a different power-up. So aim for the Nitro, don't bother with the rest.

Problem #4: ANNOYING Voice Clips. I mentioned that this game has an announcer that tells the player to "Get Ready" and such, and it also has a voice sample taunt for each racer. Gear Head Jed says "Eat my dust, suckers", Slim is "YEEEEEHAW", Joey Shoxx is "I am so sweet", etc. These taunts play when you select a racer and during the race.

However, they play CONSTANTLY during the race, and when they play is COMPLETELY random. You don't trigger it, it just sounds when it wants to. And it plays ALL the time, to the point where you're ready to inflict pain on the guy who's screaming "I'm ready to bring some pain!" In fact, sometimes, two of the EXACT same clip will play over one another and you get taunts in stereo(or at least you would if this game wasn't mono...) I can't demonstrate it here, unfortunately, but just watch the video and count how many times in a race you'll hear "I'm ready to bring some pain", as that seems to be the game's favorite...

But all these problems pale in comparison to the game's fatal flaw:


Problem #5: The Racers Are Faster than You! In my Bikini Bottom 500 review, I mentioned that it wasn't as much of a race as it was trying to pass the much slower racers who zoom ahead of you before you're allowed to move. ...Well, this game is sort of the opposite, as all the other trucks are faster than yours! The difference in speed is slight, of course, and you can pull ahead by rounding the corners better than they can. ...But when they're given such a significant boost at the beginning, and since you're stuck behind two trucks at the start and bumped all over the place by opponents passing you, it's almost IMPOSSIBLE to pull ahead!

And the beginning's the only chance you'll EVER have to pull ahead, as once the leader is off the screen, you can forget about ever catching up to him. You can somehow have a Nitro tank every time you hit a "Play TV" icon, and it wouldn't be enough to keep him from LAPPING you!

And by the way, there's no menu button. No way to pause or exit at all. So if you find yourself in last place, and you often will, your only options are either to finish the race(which can take 3-5 minutes), or turn the game off and on(which can corrupt the high scores...)

Trust me when I say you'll be seeing this screen a LOT!

The only way I found to win is to IMMEDIATELY start avoiding the other trucks(which isn't easy since you'll always start at the bottom right), hit the Nitro a bit at a time until you pass the head racer, then pull in front of him and SLAM on the Nitro. If you're lucky, you won't get snagged on a corner or other obstacle and the steering will cooperate long enough for you zoom ahead of everyone.

Then just use up your Nitro, find some more, use that up too, and pray that you can avoid at least a few of the hazards(including your own unexploded bombs.) HOPEFULLY you'll stay ahead of the other trucks long enough to cross the finish line in 1st place.

But trust me when I say it will take a LONG time and a LOT of ragequit before you luck out and make it past the starting line...

 It might just be that I'm not used to isometric overhead-style racing games, like RC Pro-Am, Rock n Roll Racing, Super Sprint, or Super Off Road, but I just found this section boring and frustrating at best, virtually unplayable at worst. The tracks are so thin and contain so many curves and obstacles, that it's stupidly difficult to pass other racers unless you and he are driving straight ahead and you have Nitro on at full blast. It really comes down more to luck than skill, as you're given almost no time to react and you never feel that you have complete control of your vehicle. Instead, you're constantly fighting with the controls, opponents, and the wonky hit detection as you swerve and try to avoid hitting the multiple nearly unavoidable obstacles in your way...

And if you manage to complete all 4 tracks, which I eventually did, there's no reward for doing so. I thought you'd unlock another track or car or something, but the only bonus you get for finishing first is a sound clip of the announcer saying "And the winner is... *YOU*!" ...Which is admittedly awesome to hear, especially since this is the only time the announcer announces a truck crossing the finish. But the stress really isn't worth the reward. So no, I don't like this section. Let's move on.

The last two games are contained in the Demolition Mode: Demolition Derby & King of the Hill.

Demolition Derby is exactly what you'd expect something with that name to be. The goal is to be the last truck standing! So drive around, find the random weapons, and ram into your opponents until they're charred, blackened, and smoking like a George Foreman grill you poured kerosene on! ...Or until time runs out, but that's a lot less exciting.

But that's how you know when an opponent is down. When hit, they start smoking, and continuous hits cause them to darken more and more until they're completely black and immobile. ...I'd thank you to not take that out of context...

However, the same can happen to you, though it's more clearly represented by a red wrench bar on the lower left. Thankfully, you can randomly pick up a repair power-up and gain some health back, which the opponents don't seem to acquire, so if you're quick enough, you can just avoid them until you find one.

There's really not much else to talk about here. It's a mindless kart fighter where you destroy everyone else and are proclaimed king of not getting mauled. However, it is also the most fun game on this console, and what I think of when I think "Monster Trucks." Giant vehicles slamming into each other, throwing tire wrenches and bombs at their opponents, hoping to be the last one standing in an arena of dirt, mud, and oil? ...Why can't we get THAT on Pay Per View?!

But yeah, this is the best game on here. If you're going to get this console, this is probably worth it.

And finally, we have King of the Hill, a more XTREME form of Demolition Derby. Here, you're not only trying to destroy your opponents by pushing them into a pit of lava, but also trying to gain control of the top of the volcanic cone until time runs out.

This time, the goal isn't to destroy others, as anyone either pushed into the lava pit or burned enough by the lava chutes on the side ramps is simply respawned back at the base. Instead, it's all about having the most points AND being on top of the hill by the time the timer runs out, so when you're knocked out, that just means more seconds wasted trying to get back into the action!

You get 50 points for every opponent knocked into lava, plus 10 points for every 7 seconds you spend on top of the hill. ...And that's it. Stay on top of the hill for as long as you can and push as many trucks into the pit as possible without falling in yourself. ...Of course, this is harder than I'm making it sound, thanks to the small amount of space and the overly sensitive controls, but it is a lot of fun to challenge yourself to see just how long you can stay on top until your monster truck meets a molten, firey demise...!

Keep at it, and you will, indeed, be declared King of the Hill!

And that's Play TV Monster Truck for you. If you like top down isometric racers, you'll probably like this one. ...For about 5-10 minutes.


Design: The design is INSANE! Insanely big, insanely detailed, insanely elaborate, and insanely overcompensating. It's the largest Plug n Play console I've come across so far, and one that really doesn't NEED to be this size. A steering wheel on a small base would have worked just as well. ...But I'm glad they made it to look like a giant monster truck driving through the mud while squashing a smaller white car you disturbingly plug a cord into. AND they gave it shock absorbers so the console can pointlessly bounce all over the place! This is the most attention grabbing console I've come across yet. If you were to pass by it in a second hand store or a yard sale, there's NO WAY you wouldn't notice it!

Controls: It doesn't control how you'd expect something in the game to handle. I'm used to mechanics like in Grand Theft Auto where every turn has to be made carefully or you risk spinning out of control or flipping over, so to have a vehicle larger than a normal car turn as smoothly as a little kid pulling a wagon around really fights against all game instincts I have. The slightest turn of the wheel causes the truck to change direction and you can easily overcompensate, or even undercompensate, for turns and crash into the sides or opponents. For the Jump and Demolition modes, this is fine and adds a bit more challenge to it, but for the actual race portion with its claustrophobically narrow raceway and numerous turns, it makes the game nearly unplayable. Everything else works fine, and I especially like the gear shift on the side you use as the gas pedal, but where steering is concerned, it needed much looser control.

Music & Sound: I really like the style of the music and sound clips. As I mentioned, it sounds like they were legitimately trying to emulate the Genesis with how low quality yet grungy the soundtrack and speech sound. Unfortunately, the one rock track is all you get across all games and stages and the riff can easily get old as the game goes on. The sound is nice and varied, detecting when you crash and when you take off and land hard and when you use Nitro and all that good stuff. And, as always, I'm impressed when voice clips are used in less powerful hardware, especially something as old as this console. However, the taunts used throughout the racing, again, have no rhyme or reason and no way of turning them off, so you'll be hearing the same taunts over and over again throughout each game to the point you hit the mute button just to shut them out. Still, if this was ever ported to Genesis, I don't think I would notice that the music and sound were originally from a higher quality game.

Graphics: Again, the graphics are very Genesis. The backgrounds are very brownish and/or muted while the actual player sprites are bright and colorful with a retro style to them. It's also very pixelly, which you'd expect a racing game running on its own power without a Nintendo expansion chip to look like. However, I do think it has more FPS than a Genesis game, and the multiple frames of animation on the trucks are also welcome. It's rough, it's dirty, it has a very 90s "tough & cool" vibe to it, it's exactly what a racing game enthusiast might have bought in 1994. ...In 2003.

Gameplay: This console again has several modes of play, but less variety between them than previous consoles as they're all essentially racing games. However, the racing aspect isn't done very well on this console. The Jump mode was pretty fun and offered a lot of replay to see how far you could jump and how many cars could be crushed in one fell swoop. The Demolition modes were simple, but addicting, especially since it matched how I picture monster truck shows and really gave a feeling of destruction and the power behind these vehicles. But when it comes to actual racing, it not only plays wrong, it FEELS wrong. How easily the trucks turn, how little actually happens when they crash, the small amount of space to maneuver in, all don't make me feel like I'm controlling a monster truck in a race. Add onto that the nearly perfect opponent AI and the overreliance on road hazards to stretch the race out, and the racing segments are something you could easily skip.

Replay Value: The console is nice enough to save high scores, and, like I mentioned before, you are given a challenge to see how much you can perfect your technique on the Jump and Demolition games. But once you've tried the racing games, you'll never want to come back to those...


This is a decent console racer that has a unique style and idea to it. The console design is hilarious, most of the games are addicting, and it can easily be seen as a tribute to early 16-bit gaming. It's not the most exciting or original set of games I've seen, but I'll give it a slight break due to its age. If the racing segments had been given a little more thought, this might be considered one of the best racing games of that genre, but as is, it's a fun little time waster that pretty much anyone could enjoy. ...Once they figure out how the steering works...