Last week, Interplay Entertainment announced it will be selling its entire library of video game assets and intellectual property. That’s seventy-ish titles that you probably remember best as illustrated boxes sitting on a game rental shelf or behind the counter at your local CompuServe, except now you can go home with the rights to the entire franchise instead of a single copy. MDK, Clayfighter, and Dark Alliance – along with the characters that made them famous – could be yours to do with as you please.
Interplay’s IP catalogue ranges from the iconic to the cliché, and while there is undoubtedly some trash, there are at least five games that deserve a second chance. Here are five Interplay properties you should buy, presented with a few suggestions about the best way to reboot them.
One quick note before we begin: no, Boogerman is not on the list. I intend to buy Boogerman and all related IP so I can erase the snot-powered superhero parody from the face of time. I will launch Boogerman into the burning hot core of the Sun to prevent his return if I have to. There is no place for Boogerman, and if culture somehow shifts to accommodate his scatalogical 2D antics, then we live in a world undeserving of salvation. So please do not buy Boogerman, and definitely don’t create a 22-minute network sitcom starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan as eccentric millionaire Snotty Ragsdale, who uses his Boogerman alter ego to save the world and skewer superhero television tropes. I know it sounds watchable, but you will have made the world worse.
Anyway, on with the list. These are the five Interplay properties that you should buy instead of Boogerman.
1. Earthworm Jim
In a turn of events as unforeseen as a cow falling from the sky, Earthworm Jim is actually for sale. A parody of the violent video games that characterized the console wars of the 90s, Earthworm Jim is about an earthworm in an atomic powered super-suit that goes by the name of Jim (though it can reasonably be assumed that his given name is James). Jim flies through space straddling a jet engine like a horse, journeying to exotic planets and carving up their lush ecosystems with his big red gun.
The first two entries of the franchise are fantastic 2D shooters brought to life with vibrant artwork inspired by Doug TenNapel’s absurd concepts, and stand alone as retro classics even if you don’t want to read into their satire. That makes Earthworm Jim the most legitimately valuable property on the list, as well as a game with lucrative merchandising potential. Before it lost its groovy way in the transition to 3D, Earthworm Jim was a Saturday morning cartoon starring Dan Castellaneta (aka Homer Simpson) as the dirt eating hero. It ran for two seasons and turned the Litany Against Fear from Dune into a catchphrase.
All of which is to say that if you buy the rights, you have some big shoes to fill. That’s why you should play it straight with a reboot. Go back to 2D, fill the game with colour and bullets, and constantly subvert expectations. James was always at his best when he was defeating enemies in two-second cutscenes, or getting transformed into a blind nematode before being forced to float through abstract Hell to the tune of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. For extra points, you can also play up the feminist games critique with the character of Princess What’s-Her-Face, a living satire of the damsel in distress trope, one of the many ways in which Earthworm Jim was just a little ahead of its time.
The original Bioshock and its mindfuck spiritual sequel, Bioshock: Infinite, explored the idea that story-driven games offer the illusion of freedom and helped established the philosophical first-person shooter sub-genre. Sadly, the rights to Bioshock are not for sale, but Interplay can give you the next best thing with Messiah, a cyberpunk shooter that puts you in the wings and itty-bitty shoes of a baby angel sent from Heaven to clean up a dark and sinful techno-Earth.
In Messiah, you are Bob, an angel that looks like a baby, sent to cleanse a Blade Runner-esque future Earth of sin. The original game was third-person shooter that played up the silly contrast between Bob and his gritty surroundings. However, the best possible reboot you can make is in the first person. Since every reflective surface is covered with cyber-gunk and celestial creatures lose their memory when they come to Earth, you won’t even know you’re a baby angel. You think you’re some religious fanatic listening to the voices in your head, and that’s how you progress through the game until you meet the devil himself. Satan then reveals your true identity, showing you a mirror to clinch the baby-angel thing (he keeps calling you a “putto”).
The twist sends you on a third-act revenge journey culminating in a final boss battle against the God who lied to you. The player must then confront the central question of Calvinism: if God wrote all of reality and is the motivating force behind all things, and you kill him, did God really only kill himself? To illustrate that last point, the final area isn’t actually playable. You just watch one of the developers defeat the last boss in your place.
3. Battle Chess
Since the game’s inception, humans have longed to have chess pieces that could come to life and kill one another on the checkered field of battle. That dream of animated, violent chess was realized with the release of Battle Chess, a digital version of the strategy game that represented each piece with an animated avatar. After capturing a space, a black knight could actually kill a white rook, making Battle Chess the logical evolutionary endpoint of the game. Every new version of the tabletop game, virtual or analogue, is just a variation of the concepts perfected in Interplay’s 1988 masterpiece.
The point is that we don’t need more chess video games or more chess sets. However, we could use a chess reality show, and that’s where the Battle Chess IP comes into play.
Battle Chess TV is a reality show in which a team of sixteen humans cosplay as themed chess sets and compete in life-sized turn based combat against a robot and/or hologram team controlled by the AI from the original video game. The king is able to give the other human players instructions, but the other players can choose to ignore them if they think they see a better move. Ideally, Battle Chess TV will also have an element that allows a children’s chess club to play from home, an idea that is heartwarming but complicated for host Maurice Ashley to communicate to viewers, proving detrimental to the show’s overall pacing.
4. & 5. T-Rex Rumble and Redneck Rampage
While T-Rex Rumble and Redneck Rampage each sound like a sweetheart of a deal in name, the properties that come along with the seem limited in their reboot potential. The former is a real time strategy game in which tribes of cavemen compete for food in a world where terrible lizards evolved alongside primates. (Editor’s Note: That sounds awesome.) The latter is a game in which stereotypes of southern white poverty drink so they can’t feel pain and attempt to murder each other with easy-to-obtain American guns. T-Rex Rumble doesn’t go far enough with its concept. Redneck Rampage might deliver a little too well. It would be tough to market to today’s more considerate audiences.
Thankfully, the problem is resolved if you buy both of these Interplay properties and combine them to make the balanced super-property T-Rex Redneck Rumble Rampage.
I honestly don’t care how this new property manifests itself. I don’t think it can fail. It could be a real time strategy game for the DS like the original T-Rex Rumble. It could be an Alien vs Predator interspecies FPS. T-Rex Redneck Rumble Rampage could even be a 45-minute network drama that explores themes of xenophobia and the perils of capitalism, garnering critical praise for its nuanced allegorical representation of the 2016 American presidential race. The point is, no matter what Interplay is asking for these two IPs, it’s a small price to pay for the chance to build art about a drunk, heavily-armed old white man wrestling a dilophosaurus and a T-Rex for a steak.