Toxic Crusaders

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It’s late and the lights are off as I watch an old cult classic B-movie. I’ve heard terrible things about it, but hope it manages to pass as “so bad it’s good”. I’m not disappointed. The horrible acting is punctuated by over the top graphic blood and violence with a splash of sex and nudity for good measure. As the film rolls to an end, I watch as the corrupt mayor desperately tries to stuff his intestines back inside himself. If nothing else, this movie has firmly implanted a single though in my head, “They should make a Saturday morning cartoon out of this.”

 

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That’s exactly what they did too. I’m not sure what the thought process was behind the show, but someone somewhere thought it was a good idea. They took the brutally violent Toxic Avenger concept and turned it into The Toxic Crusaders, a kid friendly anti pollution show similar to Captain Planet. Even though he was alone in the movies, he has a whole team of mutated superhero friends in the cartoon to help him. The whole thing only lasted 13 episodes, which would explain why I have almost no memory of it beyond the fact it existed. That was long enough for it to pump out a video game based on it, three actually, one each for the NES, Gameboy, and Genesis. Each was made by a different company, and each is vastly different from the others. Today, I’m going to focus on the Sega Genesis version.

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In the game, you can play as one of three of the characters from the show

There’s Toxie, the main character of the movie and cartoon. He was originally a wimpy janitor at a health club and was regularly picked on by a group of the club members. After one prank, which involved him wearing a tutu and kissing a goat, he ran away in embarrassment and fell into an open barrel of toxic waste. Yeah, even in context it doesn’t make much sense. Anyway, the toxic waste gave him super strength as well as hideously deforming him into a green melted faced monster. He chose to use his new power to literally mop up crime. Exclusive to the cartoon, his mop also mutated and gained a mind of its own and he befriended a small furry mutant thing he named Blobbie.

Then there’s No-Zone, a new character made for the cartoon. He was originally a test pilot, but after flying through a hole in the ozone layer, he crashed his plane into a silo full of radioactive pepper. Is that even a thing? Are they expecting me to believe radioactive pepper is thing I should be worried about? Somehow, the radioactive pepper gave him blue skin, a wheel for a leg, and a giant nose. He also gained the amazing superpower of being able to sneeze so hard he blows people over.

Finally, there is Junkyard, yet another character made for the cartoon. Originally, Junkyard was a regular junk yard dog. But one day a homeless man took shelter in his toxic waste covered kennel which was then struck by lightning, fusing the two together. Really, it’s like they weren’t even trying. Then again, I have heard worse origin stories.

Gameplay

Tromaville

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The game starts out kind of weird. It’s primarily a beat ’em up game, but for some reason you start on a rocket powered skateboard with a front mounted machine gun. Sure, you’re allowed to get off the skateboard at any time to fight the bad guys, but you’re given no incentive to do that. Your goal is to make it to the far right of the screen, and that’s all you have to do. Weave up and down as you go to avoid being hit by cars, but otherwise this first section doesn’t really do much to set up the game.

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Death count: 5

The next area feels like it starts the game proper. In typical beat ’em up fashion, you’ll be fighting in the streets mostly beating up radiation rangers. These are the generic henchmen from the cartoon which resemble people in hazmat suits, but are actually Smogulans, cockroach like aliens from the planet Smogula.

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Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something oddly disturbing and unfitting for a kids game about melting my enemies down into a puddle, even if they are cockroach aliens. Of course you can’t just LEAVE a puddle of melted aliens on the side of the road. If Toxie walks over to the puddle, he’ll use his mop to clean up the mess. It’s kind of cute the first couple time it happens, but since it’s an automatic action, eventually it starts to become annoying, especially since you can still take damage during the animation.

Troma Park

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Death count: 9

Starting in Troma Park, it becomes painfully clear that the level design itself is intended to kill you. While that is true with many older games, it’s a little too obvious and disruptive in this game. Like with these viewing ponds in front of the park benches. There is only the narrowest of walkways between the ponds, and a single touch of the water means instant death. No wonder I haven’t seen any ducks in this park.

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Death count: 13

Make it past the deadly ponds and you’ll eventually encounter your first boss, the weed monster. This two headed fire breathing dragon was actually a kind of nice boss. Not very strong, and it had a nice patterned attack that required at least a slight amount of attention. Probably one of the few well done feature of the entire game so far. Attack his heads until they eventually melt off, then head inside the cave.

Space Ship

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Remember that praise I just gave the game? Don’t expect to see any more of that, it’s pretty much downhill from here. At the end of the last level, Toxie said he was going into a cave, but this level is called “space ship”, and it looks like some kind of factory. So I have no idea what is actually going on right now.

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Death count: 15

This level expands even more on the level being designed to kill you. It’s stuffed full of flames shooting up from the floor, laser guns built into the walls, heavy machine presses, and even some Smogulans in the foreground throwing stuff at you.

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This level also has a few sections that have you detouring around the machine presses by riding an elevator up and over them. This wouldn’t be such a problem except that the presses aren’t particularly hard to get past, and there’s no off switch or anything at the top of the elevator. In fact, there’s a wall at the top of the elevator, which caused some confusion for me. You’re supposed to ride the elevator up and jump off the ledge past the machine presses. At least put an actual wall to jump over if you’re going to do this instead of an arbitrary invisible wall.

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Death count: 18

The gaps in logic don’t stop there though. Starting with act II, a “Freefall” warning will occasionally flash on screen. I don’t know what freefall means to everyone else, but in the game it means “runs at half speed.” Whose idea was this? Was there really a game designer that thought “you know what everyone loves? When their game lags and starts running at half speed. Let’s work that into our game.” Toxie CAN jump higher in free fall, but with all the enemies firmly on the ground, this is a useless feature.

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Death count: 22

At the end of the spaceship levels you’ll get to fight Dr Killemoff. Even though he looks like an old man with an oxygen mask, he’s actually the main recurring villain from the cartoon. Since he comes from the planet Smogula, he can’t breathe the air on our unpolluted planet, and needs the help of his breathing apparatus to survive. He is also a terribly designed video game boss. He has no pattern that I could see, and leaves no openings for a hit and run style attack. He shoots his machine guns nonstop, and will follow your movements so he’s always shooting you. As a kid, I don’t think I ever managed to get past him, and he was the main reason I rarely played this game, despite having so few other games to play at the time.

Airport

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Death count: 28

Gone are the wide roads and hallways of the previous levels, replaced with very narrow walkways more typical to a platformer game. You still have 8 directional movement though, and with no guard rails you are free to fall off the front of the walkways to your death.

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Death count: 31

Normally, such a drastic change would be unwelcome, but in this case I think it works better. The narrow platforms actually give this game a little bit more structure which I think it was lacking before. The whole game would have probably worked better as a pure platformer where bottomless pits and instant death ponds are more common elements.

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Death count: 34

Excuse me for one second, let me check my notes. Yes, this section right here where you are very clearly riding a train is called “Airport – Act III.” Why? Why put a train in the airport level? For that matter, why bother with the train at all? I’m allowed to jump off the train and just run along side of it. Not just that, I could outrun it if the screen didn’t keep locking. The only reason for the train at all is to further make this a platformer with a single narrow path to stand on rather than the full road like the beat ‘em up this game originally intended to be.

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Death count: 37

The level ends with you jumping off the train, making the whole ride pointless, and being attacked by this guy in a giant motorcycle thing. I’m guessing he must have been a character from the show, but after tracking down and watching a few episodes, I had to stop for fear my brain would melt. So I will continue to not know who this guy is. Similar to Dr Killemoff, this boss doesn’t seem to have much of a pattern and simply attacks nonstop. Yet another poorly designed boss fight.

Channel

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Death count: 42

In a nice change of pace, the channel level has you riding some kind of Jet Ski down a highly polluted river on the planet Smogula. This level plays very similar to your typical side scrolling shooter. The only problem is that your machine gun is front mounted, and most of the enemies come from behind you. There are power ups that would allow you to shoot backwards, but I rarely managed to stay alive to make good use of them.

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Death count: 45

Make it to the end of the level and you’ll be attacked by this giant mutant octopus thing. Finally a well done boss. He’s not shooting anything at you nonstop, instead he will dive under the water, and you have to attack him when he jumps back out. It’s a nice simple pattern for an enjoyable simple boss.

Smogula City

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Death count: 48

When you make your way into the heart of the city, you’ll find that it’s almost exactly like Tromaville. Wide roads full of radiation rangers and a whole bunch of cars trying to hit you. The difference this time is that you can knock the driver out of the cars. I thought I’d be able to jump inside, but sadly that is not the case. It’s definitely a missed opportunity. I think it would have made this level more fun if you could mow down radiation rangers with one of their own cars. Oh well.

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Death count: 53

Eventually you’ll enter the sewers, and once again, you are contained to a narrow platform surrounded by instant death. The developers really should have just made this a platformer. The only thing of note for the sewer area is that it gives you the first use of your mop’s swinging ability. This will come in very useful in a later section, and is useless for pretty much the rest of the game.

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Death count: 65

With no lack of bad design choices so far, the developers thought they’d add small moving platforms to the mix. Anyone who has ever seen platforms in a game like this knows that it is nearly impossible to actually land on them. The depth perception with this camera angle just isn’t up to the task of allowing you to know where you’re going to land. To make matters worse, when you finally DO land on one of them, there’s a sludge monster that will pop out of the toxic water to attack you. I eventually just gave up trying to land on the platforms and made a mad dash across, taking damage from the water and making it to the other side with just barely any health left. Thankfully this is one of the few sections where the water isn’t instant death. I don’t think I would have ever made it across otherwise.

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Death count: 98

It doesn’t get any better on the other side though. Now you have to scale a wall by swinging on the exposed pipes and using the few platforms to make it to the top of the building. What’s really annoying though is the hit detection with the platforms. Sometimes you’ll pass right through them, but other times you’ll hit it and fall to your death. Also the pipes are arranged in a way that you don’t always grab the one you intended to. This really screwed up quite a few of my swings. One thing that I’ll admit was my fault was that I forgot I could jump. Swinging from the pipes took such central focus in this stage that I forgot I could sometimes just JUMP to the next platform rather than swinging to it.

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Death count: 111

Make it to the top, and you’ll be greeted by this jet pack guy. He’s a little bit better than the other bosses. He attacks at a much slower pace, giving you at least some chance to get your hits in.

Fortress

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Death count: 123

Well, we finally made it. We’re about to fight the final boss and beat the game. And you know what everyone loves doing right before fighting the final boss? That’s right, fighting all the other bosses again one after the other. None of the bosses were particularly good boss battles the first time, and having to fight them again is nothing short of torture.

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Finally you get to meet Czar Zosta face to face. Prepare yourself for an amazing final battle. Or not. As soon as you get close to him, his chair flies up through the window and he escapes.

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The End. Congratulations. Now enjoy the soundless credits, and then go cry in the corner for having spent money on this game.

Verdict

Gameplay – 4 / 10

So many of this game’s problems come from simply trying to be the wrong genre. The Narrow ledges, bottomless pits, and moving platforms would all be right at home in a platformer game, but they feel out of place in what was supposed to be a beat ‘em up. It still probably wouldn’t have been a GOOD game, but it would have been at least acceptable. That’s not even to mention the terrible hit detection. there were several times I would walk into a barrel of toxic waste or on occasion an enemy only to have them stuck to me causing constant damage.

Graphics – 4 / 10

The backgrounds are nice enough, and the enemies are pretty good. But there’s just something wrong with the hero. Even for a melted face mutant, he just doesn’t look right. He neck seems stretched out like he’s a turtle or something. There just isn’t enough detail on him. All of the character sprites could probably have benefited from being larger, like most other beat ‘em up games. There were also a few color inconsistencies I noticed. Blobby for instance is pink in the cartoon, but showed up yellow in the game for some reason. Dr Killemoff, the second boss of the game, and main antagonist of the show also had close to a purple complexion, but was seen with a more human skin color in the game. That is of course the least of his problems as a boss sprite since most of the bosses were just static images. The weed monster was nice, as was the octopus thing, but the others were just large static sprites sliding up and down the screen.

Audio – 3 / 10

The audio suffers mostly from bad balance. The background music was so much quieter than the sound effects that it was almost inaudible. Not that it would have mattered much, what you can hear is very bland and forgettable. Bland as it is, it’s still noticeably absent in a few sections, leaving only the generic sound effects to fill the silence.

Story – 3 / 10

The few episodes of the cartoon I managed to watch before I threw my hands up and quit didn’t have very great stories. Most of them seemed to revolve around the Toxic Avengers simply being present as the evil plan quickly imploded on itself with the Toxic Avengers offering little help. In that sense, the game did very well in replicating the feel of the show. I had no idea what I was doing or why and still don’t know what evil plan I may have foiled.

Total Deaths – 127

Nearly half of those deaths coming from swinging on the pipes late in the game.

Total Playtime – 1h 15m

The impossible difficulty was no doubt meant to make it feel longer, since you’d never actually beat it normally.

Overall Score – 3 / 10

There’s a certain charm that comes from watching a terrible movie. Being able to laugh at what was meant to terrify, or seeing the zipper of the rubber costume, breaking the suspension of disbelief. It’s why I watched and generally like The Toxic Avenger movie. But the same charm is rarely found in terrible video games, and The Toxic Crusaders is no exception. With sub-par graphics, sound, level design, and general game mechanics, there’s very little left to enjoy. I actually owned this game as a kid, and even though I only had about 10 games in my collection, I remember rarely playing this game. Just more proof that even a child couldn’t be tricked into thinking it’s a good game.

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