Review by hangedman

Reviewed: 01/10/02 | Updated: 02/18/02

Japanese kids with vacuums, I kid you not.

''YOU WIN!''

Holy moses, looks like this game was more fringe than I expected. I've seen this game once, in an arcade close to my house that was since closed down. Sadly, this game delivered probably the most unique gaming experience I can remember. I will not soon forget the amazing marvel that was ...''TUMBLEPOP!''


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STORY
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''Hand me the acid tabs, friend. It's time to make a game!''

I kid you not, the story consists of the following sentence. You play a japanese kid with a vacuum cleaner, whose mission is to rid the screen of enemies. Who thought this up? This is hands down the most bizarre thing I have ever heard of. There have been a few games that come close to this, but usually they fall under the category of ''intentionally crazy.'' The makers of this game made sure to make sure that everything was understated, surely. It's as if Japanese children have always chased away ghosts with home appliances.

So, really, your goal is to get rid of monsters with a vacuum cleaner. Again, the game is shouting at you, ''I AM FROM JAPAN!'' as soon as you plunk in your 25 cents by not only the premise, but also because these kids look like they were torn from an anime coloring book, as do all the enemies and bosses.

Because the last boss is an angry old man in a machine, I can only guess that the mild-commando-garb Tumblepop kids need to put an end to his schemes before he goes and does something bad, like shoot someone with a real gun, or perhaps an equally sinister thing. The Tumblepop kids are shown to us to be crazy funsters in the ''cutscenes,'' where we see a still shot of them posing, or sucking eachother into a vacuum. One that burned into my mind particularly well (and will not leave, I might add) is a shot of the green kid vacuuming the yellow kid's bare ass. Yes, a pants-less 8-year old Japanese kid's ass, for the world to see, stuck in a vacuum. And this is a real game?

Sure is, and Tumblepop is pretty wacky.

Story: 4 / 10
The premise alone takes care of the fact that there's no plot.


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GRAPHICS
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''You did it!''

The graphics are really average. They're cartoony, but passable. They really don't scream, ''check me out, baby!'' It's 16-bit, which was pretty much what all arcade games looked like back then. So really, there was nothing to set it worlds above or below the arcade machines that were around it back in its prime.

The Japanese kids are chunky, the enemies are good and well animated, if not suffering from the palette-swap syndrome worse than the Mortal Kombat ninjas, and the backgrounds are decent. The enemies seem to have a lot of animation, notably looking around confusedly and attacking. It's funny though, because every enemy in the game has the ability to stop completely and look around for you, as if it was hard to spot a chunky Japanese kid with a turbocharged vacuum sucking up everything in sight.

The bosses are large and unique. One boss is a french clown that tosses explosives, another is a giant octopus. They're pretty big, and they're well-detailed, but they don't move much. I think the standard seems to be about 3 animation frames per boss, so I'm not going to give it too high of marks in this area.

Lastly, your vacuum sucks things real purty. The effects for the vaccum are cool, and enemies try and break free of the mighty... vacuum effect that your... vacuum produces. Oh yes, it is that good.

Really, these graphics are about as average as games of this type get. Play it for the graphics and you'll find yourself utterly unimpressed, but not to the point where it becomes a chore to actually look at the game.

Graphics: 5 / 10
Dead average.


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GAMEPLAY
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''Tumblepop!''

Here's the way the game works: You suck up as many monsters as possible, then spit them out at other monsters. Suck for too long, and your vacuum explodes. Touch an enemy or get hit by an enemy projectile, and you die. So really, this game sucks. You suck everything that you can suck, and never let off the suck button until you have a choice of releasing the suck button or exploding from excess suction.

Sucking up about 5 guys at once and releasing them creates a giant monster-snowball that tumbles down the level and obliterates everything in its path. It's pretty cool. Thre's a lot of incentive to cram as many monsters as humanly possible into your ultra-vacuum before the thing goes haywire from what I've mentioned as ''too much sucking'' and blows up. I think Japan exists somewhere outside the realm of reality, and making sense must be a completely foriegn concept.

Now, here's the great part: you get wacky power-ups. You can extend the power of your vacuum, suck up everything on the screen with a giant vacuum, blow everything away with a flame thrower, or become temporarily invincible. It reduces the monotony of having to do the same thing level after level somewhat.

You also get to spell the word ''Tumblepop'' with giant letters you pick up. The wacky game decides every now and then to give you letters that aren't actually in the word ''Tumblepop'', like ''K'', and ''C''. Assuming that you actually get the correct configuration of letters, you're whisked to the land of money and diamonds, where you collect them as fast as possible and perhaps gain an extra life as well. Tumblepop indeedy! It makes up for only having a ''B'' left and seeing letters spell things like ''DOCS'' when you mow down a lot of monster baddies. The game really has no concept of giving you what you need in these cases, so you can really only wait things out.

The levels are arranged as a closed side-scroller with multiple platforms, like Bubble Bobble. Enemies can jump up and down from the platforms, and attempt to either awkwardly look for you, kill you with their death-touch, or actually attack you with some projectile. What a concept that last one was. Your trusty vacuum only goes to the sides, so you need to be on more or less the same level as the baddie, lest your sucking be all for nothing.

The sheer idiocy of this game begins to build and build, however. After 9 stages of the same thing, where you fight enemies you've seen before in a different color, you are then whisked to fight a boss, where you do the same thing you did for the last boss, and the boss after this one another 9 stages in the future: stand to one side of the screen and suck up the enemies he spits at you to make a projectile by which to hit the boss. It's so easy you'll wonder if you're mistakenly playing a children's game. Tumblepop might be a children's game, but there are so many things that scare me about it that I don't think I'd let any children near the thing.

The game takes place on different continents that have a unique setting. There's America, Australia, France, Russia, a few more that really could be anywhere, and the final stage is in space. By that time, you've seen so many cutscenes of those vacuum kids doing borderline gay things to each other that you've had enough. It also plays the same music and shouts, ''Tumblepop!'' I'm enamored with you, Tumblepop! Follow those still-frames up with strobing, flashing colors, and you have a real winner.

The game can be beaten very fast, as you can suck about half of all enemies on screen up at once, and spit them out at the other half for most of the levels. Usually this is the best way of going about the game, and really there's no downside to it. After you beat a stage, that damned kid says, ''You did it!'' and there's another stage only slightly different than the one you were at there to greet you. DEAL!

The ironic thing is that you keep putting in your money. It's almost hypnotic, and although the premise is crazy and the game is more repetitive than listening to a kid bang on a pot with a soup spoon, you keep playing. There's just some morbid fascination (as far as I go, anyway) with spitting out a giant avalanche of monsters from a vacuum. Also seeing as how the game is so ridiculously easy, you can play upwards of 6 minutes on one quarter. It's a very economical arcade game, to say the least.

The game really gets good when you have a friend, especially between levels when you get to stare at the screen in unison and holler ''TUMBLEPOP!'' at the game where it's appropriate. Then you can also tag-team the game, which in turn makes it both easier and less dangerous than it already was. I think my friend and I beat Tumblepop on 75 cents each, which provided about a half-hour of fun.

All things considered, Tumblepop is at least worth a play for the extreme bang-for-your-buck you get from it coupled by both the odd package of irritating and bizarre.

Gameplay: 7 / 10
Repetitive and simplistic, but there's something that suggests more...


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SOUND AND MUSIC
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''It won't leave my mind.''

Here's where the game truly shines. I can't think of a game that ingrains itself more into your memory of bad sound and music than Tumblepop. It's a laugh riot, and it has perhaps the most brain-damaged concept of what good sound and music should be.

The sound is noteworthy because of the vacuum effects. Sucking someone up yields a sound of ''yobbloblobloblob!'' It's so addictive, really. Shooting them out is equally satisfying, as they ricochet around the stage and make noises as gems, money, and coins shoot out. When bosses get hit, you're rewarded with a stereophonic ''BLEARGH!'' I kid you not, the best ''bleargh'' yet in a game. I have yet to hear better.

By the way, other than the ''bleargh,'' the other 3 voices are excellent. You have, ''You did it!'' ''Tumblepop!'' and ''OH!'' The ''you did it'' follows every stage, the ''Tumblepop'' after every level, and the ''OH!'' When you die. I really cannot express how the voices here, which are as Engrish as can be, are better than any voice set given to either Guile or Terry Bogard from the SF and the Fatal Fury series of games, respectively.

While the sound derives its blitzkrieg of strength from how funny it can be, the music's ultimate goal seems to be to annoy the sheer hell out of you until you walk away from the game in order to make room for new Tumblepop patrons. All of the music in the game falls under 2 categories: 1. Boss music, of which it's all the same thing, and 2. Variations on the main Tumblepop theme.

This Tumblepop theme is quite possibly the worst tune I've ever heard, because it's bad to the point where you keep singing it. It beats ''it's a small world after all'' in my mind. I can sing it now. The selling point of the irritation is that it's not the same every level, but it changes depending on what continent you're on to the most contrived parody of that original theme you can think of. If you're in France, it's the Tumblepop theme... FRENCH STYLE! If you happen to be in the India stage, it's all Indian sounding. If you're in Russia, it's like hearing the love child of the all-too-familiar Tetris theme and the Tumblepop music. I really shouldn't elaborate on the subtle differences between the Japanese and the American Tumblepop theme, and I won't for your sanity.

Overall, this sound is so bad that it actually goes beyond a 1 and starts going back up. Because the sound is funny and the music is perhaps the most irritating thing (without being bad) I've ever heard in my life, I'm going to cut it a lot of slack here.

Sound and Music: 6 / 10
Engrish with horribly irritating music and ''bleargh!''s? Count me in!


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OVERALL
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''So, does it suck or not? GET IT?''

Tumblepop creates an interesting paradox, which is whether a game that's repetitive, easy, irritating, and nonsensical can be fun to play. Thankfully, Tumblepop can be a fun adventure into how much weird can be crammed into one arcade game that nobody's heard of. The sound, music, and gameplay produce a tight little package that needs to be played to truly appreciate. If you and a friend find a lonely Tumblepop game (of which I can practically guarantee that nobody will be playing), plunk some quarters in and enjoy.

I think the defining moment for me was screaming ''TUMBLEPOP!'' in synch with the game after defeating the same patterns of enemies I was used to, and then being immediately taken to a level that looked like the one I had been at before the boss, only now with more dirt rather than snow. It got better when I realized that the enemy left was not a snowman, like the one on the last level, but rather a DIRTman, attempting to throw DIRTballs at me.

Okay Tumblepop, you win.

Overall: 6 / 10
If this game wasn't so damn weird it would be horrible.


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*Maybe sucking would have saved SNK?

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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