Tuesday, June 20, 2017

MS-DOS Review: 'Avoid the Noid' (1989)

If you're looking for the most aggravating video game of all-time, buddy, you just hit the jackpot.


By: Jimbo X
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@Jimbo___X

In the late 1980s, Domino's Pizza drummed up one of the decade's defining advertising mascots - the Noid. Long story short, the character was a dude inexplicably clad in a red bunny suit who - equally inexplicably - had an obsession with royally fucking up people's pizzas. Numerous commercials were produced starring the Claymation critter, ultimately making the phrase "avoid the Noid" a short-lived household saying. Like every other stupid popular thing in the 1980s, the Noid produced a merchandising bonanza, with the character's visage showing up on toys, cups, playing cards, car covers, buttons, tee-shirts, towels and fucking tambourines. And while Capcom's NES game Yo! Noid is certainly the most popular video game starring Domino's spokes-sonofabitch, it was far from the character's only appearance in the interactive entertainment medium in the decade.

Enter Avoid the Noid on MS-DOS systems. Developed by the preposterously soulless-sounding California Merchandising Concepts, the ShareData published offering is one of the most frustrating video games I've ever played. The game isn't just difficult, it's practically engineered to make gamers pull their hair out and sling their keyboards across the room in unbridled e-rage. In fact, you could almost consider the title a precursor to all that "unironically meant to be frustrating" platformers like Syobon Action and I Wanna Be The Guy. Except, at the time, the folks who made Avoid the Noid weren't aware that irony - as an abstract concept - existed and pretty much all of the irritating aspects of the game aren't intentional, but the aftermath of really, really shitty programming and substandard level design. 

The game has a very simple premise. You play - fittingly enough - a pizza delivery guy and your mission is to get the piping hot pies delivered to the top floor of a humongous skyscraper. Naturally, the Noid is all over the fucking place, doing everything he (I'm guessing it's a "he," right?) to ruin your pizza, get your fired, and make sure you have to live on welfare for the rest of your natural born life.

If this looks like fun to you, it's officially time you got off drugs.

So here's the big problem with all of this. You see, all the Noid has to do is touch you and it's game over. Now, that wouldn't be such a pain in the anus if it wasn't for the following design flaws:

1.) The hit-detection is extremely poor, and sometimes the game registers a "hit" against you even though the Noid is visibly several pixels away from making contact with your character.

2.) The only defensive move at your disposal is a shitty looking somersault. Strangely enough, if you touch the Noid while you're somersaulting, the game doesn't register it as a hit, but if you just complete the somersault animation and you're still touching a Noid, it's an instant-kill. 

3.) There are booby traps everywhere, with absolutely no visual cues whatsoever. So basically, you have to somersault the entire game to avoid activating a falling platform.

4.) To advance stages, you have to use an elevator. The Noid can also use the elevator, and because the thing is so fucking slow, a lot of times you find yourself going up and down to simply avoid letting the Noid aboard. And the moment you do get out of the elevator, obviously the Noid is going to touch you and you're going to fucking die anyway.

5.) And last, but certainly not least, not only does the game throw a preposterous number of Noids at you even in the game's early stages, the sons-of-bitches are easily twice as fast as your character, which makes fleeing from the buggers when all other options have been expended an absolute impossibility.

Granted, the game designers were gracious enough to give you a power-up that clears all the Noids off the screen, but of course, you can only use it a finite number of times and - of course - the fucking things still respawn just a few moments later. Alas, as ass-blisteringly aggravating as this game is, you have to be thankful they even included something as basic as that, because a good goddamn, do you need as much help completing this one as you can get.

We begin the game with a very brief cutscene showing your delivery boy entering the high rise (which, presumably, has the word "DOOM" spray painted on it, because FORESHADOWING, that's why.) The game is laid out very similarly to that old arcade game Elevator Action, with three pastel-colored levels per screen. The idea is to collect keys strewn about the stage to unlock the elevator so you can travel to the next screen. Yeah, it sounds really simple in theory, but just you wait - the pizza chunk-encrusted shit is about to hit the fan in a real hurry

As soon as the second stage begins you can see the error of the developers' ways. Now you've got a steady stream of the Noids coming at you in waves of three, and you have to time your jumps and rolls pixel-perfect to avoid hitting any of those pie-fucking-up bastards. Even worse, there's this second or two-long animation that accompanies your character unlocking a door, which is bollocks to the nth degree because you can STILL get hit by a Noid during the animation cycle. And as frustrating as that is, it's still like, only the eighth or ninth most irritating thing about the title.

Holy shit, this is more intense than playing Gunstar Heroes. While being gang-raped. Multiple times. Over the course of one afternoon.

The third screen is where shit starts getting nigh-impossible. Now, not only do you have to deal with a wave of Noids, you ALSO have to avoid rockets that are next to impossible to avoid while rolling or jumping in the air. Another awful design choice was the inclusion of the telephones. Not only is that incessant ringing annoying as fuck, you really have no clue which one has a key hidden inside it or one that's actually a death trap that will send you plummeting to the equally death-trap ridden level beneath you. And THAT is doubly annoying because every time you fall, your avatar lets out a warbled Mr. Bill "uh-oh!" sound and it makes you want to kill everybody. Oh, and by the way, if you die, you get a cutscene of the Noid mocking you and letting out a chip tune giggle so annoying, that if you hear it more than three times, you WILL become homicidal. Holy hell, this game is good at pissing you off. I mean, really, really good.

Screen four can go fuck itself, because that's when the Noids start arming themselves with rocket launchers. Also, now you HAVE to investigate every telephone booth because they start giving you the digits for a security code you have to enter to access the game's final level. But on the plus side, at least they DO change the music from screen to screen. You have to give 'em points for that, I guess. 

So naturally, you keep looking for keys and security code numbers and avoiding Noids until you get to level 30, which is where the EXECUTIVE SUITE is. Once you get there, you'll have to get on top of the roof to collect more keys, and wouldn't you know it, now the Noids are commandeering biplanes and dropping water balloons on you. Once you collect three of them, you can FINALLY enter the CEO's office, where you are rewarded with a completely dialogue-less ending scene where your avatar - who bares an uncanny resemblance to Bob Denver - wipes sweat off his brow while some unseen rich white motherfucker takes a break from snorting heroin out of strippers' buttholes like in Wolf of Wall Street to enjoy a slice of pepperoni and mozz. And after all that, they don't even TELL you how much you got for a tip, which to me, is way more agonizing than wondering what was in that FedEx box in Castaway.

So, uh, is your avatar supposed to be Asian, or just really, really tired from lugging around pizzas all day?

Conceptually, anyway, Avoid the Noid is a game you can beat in five minutes. That is, you could if the controls were worth a shit - odds are, you're just going to keep dying from cheap hits over and over again until you get your fifteenth game over screen over the course of half an hour and scream "fuck it" and go back to watching tranny porn. The 30-minute in-game timer theoretically gives you enough time to beat it, though, and once you figure out where all the booby traps are and figure out how to game the elevators for all they're worth, I suppose you can muster up enough autism power to actually complete it.

But man oh man, do you have to be OCD as fuck to get that far. I've played some punishing games over the years, but this one may very well be the most annoying per capita gaming experience of my life. This isn't some hard ass fighting game or a SHMUP with a million billion things onscreen at once, it's just a crappy platforming game hobbled by piss poor controls and some of the worst hit detection you've ever experienced. Even as a novelty throwaway it's an absolute chore to churn through, and even the two hours or so I spent documenting it for this site feels like two hours of my existence I'll never, ever get back. 

If you want to play a game that will make you want to break everything you own and burn the local Domino's to the ground like Mookie did in Do the Right Thing, then yeah, Avoid the Noid ought to be right up your alley. Just don't say I didn't warn you when you wind up chucking a remote control out the window or punching a hole through you laptop ... just like that sumbitch Noid would've wanted you to

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