Iron Maiden: The Video Game?H
You CAN play with Madness!
ere is a general theory for you: rock stars and video games DO NOT mix.
Sure, there are SOME exceptions, I suppose. My adulation for Michael Jackson s Moon Walker (both the Arcade version AND the Genesis port) is well documented, and it is not to say that some largely forgotten bands have made appearances in some pretty memorable titles from yesteryear (per, GWAR in the Genesis version of Beavis and Butt Head, Mr. Big in the Sega CD version of Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, and of course, the legendary Crue Ball, featuring the digitized tunes of. . . Winger.)
That being said, the combination of video games and music celebrities has often been about as lethal as the tandem of sleeping pills and hard liquor. Lest we forget such classic titles as Kriss Kross: Make My Video, Revolution X, and that one arcade game featuring the digitized mugs of Steve Perry and company. Perhaps the only thing more horrifying than the rock star games that exist are the ones that ALMOST came to fruition. Prepare to shudder a most ghastly shudder, because at one point, an NES title starring VANILLA ICE was in pre-production.
So yeah, there really isnt much history regarding rock music and video games, at least as far as quality offerings go. Certainly, one of the reasons for such is due to the fact that must video games based on rock stars are, let s face it, based on some pretty crappy rock stars. Did anybody play that one basketball game starring Queen Latifah and Coolio back in the day? Well, consider yourself BLESSED for such fortuities.
I certainly believe that there is SOME potential for a good video game centered around a specific band. For example, that one KISS FPS was pretty entertaining, although to be fair, the game was pretty much all but devoid of the band ACTUALLY mentioned in the moniker of the release. The key, I believe, is in selecting a band that encompasses all of the themes that make video games great. You know, a band that sings about cool stuff, like science fiction warfare, and Viking battles, and sniping German soldiers and fighting hordes and hordes of demons. Sigh, if only there was a band out there that embodied all of those aspects and. . .
. . . Ding FREAKING ding.
Of course! What band out there is more perfect for a potential video game than the mighty IRON MAIDEN? Think about it: a band with a zombie for a mascot that sings about World War II dog fights, Dune, and barbarian invasions. The band is practically the physical EMBODIMENT of all of the things that make video games awesome, and it is hard to believe that no one ever had the gumption to capitalize on such a license to print money.
I believe that it is important to talk about Iron Maiden, the band, before we talk about Iron Maiden, the oh so obvious awesome idea for a video game. Like most 90s fans, I became aware of Maiden through the perpetual praise of Beavis and Butt Head, and around 1996, I picked up my first Maiden CD, which was a re-release of 1989 s No Prayer For The Dying.
Yeah, yeah, I know, its one of their worst albums, but you know what? I freaking LOVED it. While everybody else on the bus bopped their heads to Blur and whatever rap was popular at the time, I was banging my head to Hooks in You and Mother Russia, the latter of which I consider to have one of the most awesome opening hooks EVER. From there, I slowly started to uncover their older (and much better) works, and thus began my teenage fascination with the group.
Of course, Iron Maiden is the PERFECT band for teenage wannabe rebels. I mean, a British band that sings about killing hookers (22 Acacia Avenue), conjuring up Satan (The Number of the Beast) and the plight of Native Americans (Run To The Hills) in ONE album? It was as if someone had uncovered a way to compress sheer AWESOME onto a single compact disc, and Maiden remained a band that never stayed too far away from my portable CD player at any juncture in my growing up years.
I suppose my favorite Maiden album was Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. A lot of purists will go as far as to say that it was their last album worth a hoot, and while their subsequent releases really could not measure up to the standard set by that modern masterpiece, they had some pretty good songs released POST the fall of the Soviet Union, in my humble opinion. Heresy it may be, but I do not think the Blaze Bayley albums were all THAT bad.
Meanwhile, it was around 1999 that I FINALLY started to get into the FPS scene. I had always been a console proponent, and as such, I missed out on a lot of the great PC shooters that littered the landscape in the mid 90s. When I got a Playstation, I actually managed to amass a pretty sizeable collection of ported shooters, and I loved pretty much all of them. Doom, Duke Nukem, Redneck Rampage (well, maybe not Redneck Rampage, so much): I adored them all.
A lot of kids were into shooters for the, well, shooting. Oddly, I found enjoyment in the titles because they actually gave me a pretty convincing semblance of immersion in a mock 3D landscape. Remember, we had JUST made the jump from 2D to 3D, and being able to walk around, and not THROUGH stuff was an incredibly fresh (and captivating) notion to intake. If Duke Nukem did nothing but hand out traveling brochures, I STILL wouldve loved his games: the games were THAT much fun to walk around in and explore the environment.
So, yeah, like I said, I loved FPS games, but I had very little access to them, thanks in no small part to the fact that my computer was an absolute P O S. Circa 2001, we were still running Windows 95 at my compound, so that pretty much tells you how much experience with PC gaming I was ABLE to experience.
In 1999, I was waltzing around the local K-Mart (and in a related story, how in the HELL is that company still in business today?), when I came across a Maiden CD that I had never seen before. For a die-hard Maiden fanatic like myself, such a discovery was akin to finding out a new number existed between 6 and 7: to say that my interest was piqued would be the understatement of all possible understatements.
The album was entitled Ed Hunter, and it appeared to be a double CD of sorts. Upon closer inspection, I discovered Ed Hunter to be a greatest hits compilation, comprised of the top 20 Maiden songs as selected by fans on, I am presuming, the official band website.
Now, Maiden has released about twenty or so greatest hits albums, so the existence of this CD really did not surprise me. At first glance, I figured it to be a greatest hits album featuring live versions of the songs, but no, it was just another standard compilation disc, I am afraid.
And then, I looked at the label below the 19.99 sticker price.
Huh, that is odd. It almost looks like. . . An ESRB rating? Wait a minute, that IS an ESRB rating! What the hell is going on here?
I flipped the CD over and. . .
HO LEE SHEE YET. Not only is Ed Hunter a double disc release featuring top tier Maiden tunes, the CD includes a THIRD CD-Rom that contains an Iron Maiden themed FIRST PERSON SHOOTER. My favorite video game genre and my favorite heavy metal band had become ONE.
To say that I immediately snatched that little bugger up and darted my towards the checkout counter of the electronics section would be akin to calling Chernobyl kind of a misstep. Truth be told, I do not think I have EVER slammed twenty five bucks down as hard as I did that afternoon, and for good reason.
I did not open the package until I got home, and I was absolutely PUMPED the entire car ride back to my abode. A FREAKING IRON MAIDEN FPS, Baby! This was MORE than a dream come true, it was like some sort of wondrous, miraculous merger of your wildest fantasies. You know, like winning a lifetime supply of Dr. Pepper after a torrid three hour plus make-out with the head cheerleader during a screening of Re-Animator. It was too AWESOME to be real, yet here I was, POSSESSING it.
It was not until I got home that I realized the futility of my purchase. Sure enough, Ed Hunter was only compatible with Windows 98, and since I was running on Windows 95, well. . . Theres a certain Homer Simpson catchphrase that certainly echoed throughout the house upon noting such.
The CD itself, I suppose, was pretty good. There were some oddities afoot with the track selection (seriously, Tail Gunner made the final cut but not The Prisoner?), but I really could not complain about what was given. Hell, I have certainly dropped twenty bucks on more fruitless purchases, that is for sure. Still, all I could think about was actually playing Iron Maiden: The Video Game. During prolonged bouts of boredom, I would sometimes envision the unimaginable awesomeness of the title playing before me, as sort of a Doom II on mescaline and steroids. This game HAD to have been like a roller coaster ride to hell, and I so DIRELY wished to experience the indisputable greatness of whatever lie within the ones and zeroes of that CD Rom.
Although I bought the game in fall of 1999, I did not actually get a chance to play the title until spring of 2000. While my home PC could not run the game, the computers at school could. Seeing as how my junior high computer lab had a pretty strict no games allowed policy, it was going to be pretty difficult for me to sneak the game onto one of the lab PCS. . . Which is EXACTLY why I decided to take the thing to the school library instead.
Now, I know, it does seem just a little counterintuitive. I mean, a game with a soundtrack by Iron Maiden, and I was going to play it in a locale that DEMANDED utter and complete silence? Hey, drastic times call for drastic measures, and it may be the only opportunity I would ever get to experience the title. Sound or no sound, I had to play it AT LEAST once before I expired.
So, there I was a little after 3:30. The library closed up at 4:00, and there was pretty much nobody in there except for me. Knowing that the coast was officially clear, I decided to pop the CD in the disc tray and hit the load button on the terminal. After a good ten minute wait, the thing actually booted up, and I was greeted to an opening cinematic featuring druids, futuristic punks, and yes, Eddie, himself.
This game is going to be AWESOME!
And so, the options screen pops up. Huh, there really are a scant few options, especially for a shooter. Oh well, does not matter: I may only have twenty minutes to get in a play, but it is bound to be among the most awesome twenty minutes of gaming I have ever experienced, right?
I click play, and ANOTHER five minute loading screen pops up. OK, so I guess that makes it just a fifteen minute play, after all.
To be fair, once the game started, it was WELL worth the wait AND the risk of after school detention. There I was, in the middle of a futuristic, cyber negative utopia. For a 1999 game, the graphics were pretty damned impressive, and way better than anything I was used to playing on a home console.
The screen was a vibrant jumble of flashing green lights and dingy, grimy, almost photorealistic street ways. It was like taking a stroll through the opening scene of Demolition Man, or actually being able to stroll through the cover of Somewhere in Time. Oh yeah, this was TOTALLY worth the buildup!
And then, I hit the up arrow. Nothing.
Well, that is strange. Huh, the left one does not work, either. Or the right. OR the down arrow. Just fantastic, the game must have crashed on me. But then, a dude with a green Mohawk jumped from behind a car and lobbed a Molotov cocktail at me. The hell?
When I hit the space bar, I suddenly realized what was going on. Oh, Ed Hunter was a shooter all right, but it was not a first person shooter like Doom or Wolfenstein. Instead, it was a RAIL SHOOTER, like Virtua Cop or Area 51. To say that I was just mildly disappointed would be like calling the Juan Valdez a MINOR mistake. Still, I held onto my high hopes. I mean, I have played some all right rail shooters in my day, so maybe this one will be on par with something like the T2 arcade title?
After about five minutes of playing, I realized that this game flat out SUCKED. The name of the game is Ed Hunter, right? Well, it only stands to reason that the point of the game would be, I do not know, HUNTING ED. Instead, the game is really more or less ED FINDER, as the titular Maiden mascot has been kidnapped by a gaggle of cyber punks and it is up to you (and the rollercoaster guidance of the camera) to rescue the worlds most famous spokes-zombie.
There are a lot of things wrong here. I mean, isn t the mascot of Iron Maiden an eight foot tall zombie that beat up the devil himself on the cover of Number of the Beast? So, if Eddie is powerful enough to enslave the source of all evil in the universe, then why couldn t he lay the smack down on a bunch of Prodigy rejects? Like I said, it just does not stand to REASON at all.
So, I kept playing the game. The graphics were downright awesome, but the game play was beyond horrible. It was like playing Operation Wolf with a malfunctioning controller. Sometimes the space bar would work, and sometimes it would not. No matter HOW dead on you placed the cursor on the screen, firing off a shot was about as unpredictable as taking bets on the Thai stock market.
The first level of the game concludes in an underground subway stage. Like I said, the graphics are pretty great, but all of the other aspects of the title were lacking. Of course, since I had the sound off, I really did not bother with arranging the soundtrack for the title, which is perhaps the biggest draw of the game. Surely, being able to blast bad guys while blasting Hallowed Be The Name would go a long way in improving the longevity of the title, but without it, it is just a rudimentary, indistinguishable shooter.
There is ZERO variety in the title. I did not stumble across one weapon upgrade, nor did I encounter a single enemy that appeared, or did anything different, than the one before it. You go from screen to screen, hoping that the unresponsive controls will be a little more negotiable than the last screen, dodging bullets and bombs from pissed off ravers. Since I never got past the first stage, I cannot tell if there was an end boss, but the damage had already been done. Not only was Ed Hunter NOT the dream game I had envisioned, it was one of the CRAPPIEST titles I had ever played. . . And this is coming from a guy that not only owned but kind of LIKED Who Wants To Beat Up A Millionaire on the Dreamcast!
At 3:59, I escaped out of the game and put the title back in the CD case. At that juncture, I had absolutely no interest in ever playing it again, and it did not come in contact with me and my PC again until a REALLY boring summer afternoon in 2008. And in case you were wondering, yeah, it sucked then just as much as it did when I first played it.
Of course, since I am an unbiased journalist (yeah, right), I believe I owe it to you, the Retro Junk community, to at least give a little bit more exposition on the title. As it turns out, the game is actually a pretty long affair, consisting of about ten different levels, all of which are based upon different Maiden album covers. Now, I know what you are thinking: Dude, being able to PLAY the cover art of Piece of Mind or Powerslave sounds AWESOME, and you know what? You ARE right, that does sound awesome, but in practice as opposed to theory, the game just fumbles this baby all the way across the field. The enemies are repetitive, the controls are stiffer than a piece of plywood, and there is NOTHING even remotely resembling strategy going into the title. Honestly. Youd have more mobility in playing with a cinder block, which is an indelible shame, because the Iron Maiden property could have been turned into something SO kick ass.
As far as forgettable cash ins go, this game has to be considered one of the worst oddities in all of gaming. While there is no end regarding crappy tie in titles, this game just BARELY qualifies as a fully formed (and functional) video game. You can tell that the people that made out had very little interest (and most likely, knowledge) of game design, and were just passing this off because the Maiden license was so valuable. In fact, I MORE than suspect that this game was originally an undeveloped prototype for a wholly different game that was half assedly converted to Ed Hunter as a cash grab. No matter the circumstances, one thing is positively incontestable about Ed Hunter: IT SUCKS.
Could Ed Hunter have been a good game? Well, everything has potential, but it was apparent that this title was meant as a marketing ploy more than it was an attempt at selling a legitimate product. Essentially, buying Ed Hunter was like getting a free game with your CD as opposed to a free CD with your game, and that lack of care and polish certainly shines in the myriad faults of the title.
The weird thing is, Maiden actually had a tour in support of the CD / game, which I believe was RIGHT after Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band. With that in mind, a video game based on hanging out in the parking lot of a Maiden show would probably make for a better game than Ed Hunter. You know, a flash game based on Heavy Metal Parking Lot might actually be kind of awesome, if done correctly. . .
So, what have we learned today? That is right, games based on musical acts almost always swallow, and the games based on musical acts that pretty much lend themselves to awesome, high concept video games almost end up sucking twice as hard as the ones based on really artists. And hey, those games already sucked heavily to begin with, so that is saying something. So, the next time you hear about band A getting a video game in the works , just remember:
What sounds awesome on paper, sounds like Cher in reality. . .
James Swift is an award winning writer-person from Atlanta. His second book, Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of two Masks, is now available from iUniverse Publishing.