Lester the Unlikely

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Lester the Unlikely (1994)

It might seem ridiculously hypocritical, but I simply cannot stand nerds. It’s not that I blindly hate them because it’s my sworn duty as a jock. And it’s not even that I hate them because they’re smelly or that they share some of my hobbies or that their names are Melvin, Cedric and Andrew. It’s more that they have bipolar mindsets. I’m not kidding – we all know that arrogant, obnoxious neckbeard of a dweeb who’s done all the research on athiesm, and God will he let you know about it. You better not open your mouth about sci-fi films or comic book lore either, because he will have all the info, all the knowledge, and he will know everything and you will know nothing. And, of course, he’ll be really loud and annoying about it. Right?

Well it’s all well and good having intellectual debates about Spiderman’s breakfast and what kind of anal beads Chewbacca likes to use, but that sort of thing is only reserved for ivory tower discussions at LAN parties. Take a nerd out of its natural environment and stick it in a nightclub or a warzone or somesuch, and suddenly the results become very ugly indeed. You see, nerds are only really up to it when they have Google, Reddit, 4chan and God knows what else behind them. Computers and the internet are surrogate parents and friends to geeks, and to deprive your local Milhouse of these essentials makes the resulting scene as pitiful as putting your dog out in the rain.

It’s little wonder, then, that the protagonist of our latest game starts the very first level as a gibbering mess. Meet Lester, whose love of comic books was always destined to get him into trouble one day – although the trouble he finds himself in in this SNES platformer is nothing to do with not getting a prom date and all to do with being caught on a deserted island after falling asleep on a ship’s cargo. Wow, doesn’t that sound like an unlikely premise for a game? So enamoured with his rampant misfortune is Lester that he actually takes up the title of ‘The Unlikely’, giving us the game’s full moniker. Lester the Unlikely? Really? Why would I want to suffer this fool? Why can’t I play as Hunter the Rad or Awesome the Bodacious instead?

I’d talk about the gameplay at this stage, but sadly there isn’t any. Well, you’ve got to try to coax your unmanoeuvrable character to the end of each nondescript stage. Sounds like the kind of game you’ve played hundreds of times before in the 80s and 90s, but there’s some problems here. First of all, Lester is unlikely to actually give much heed to what you do with the controller. Most of the more capable video game characters, like Mario or Sonic or even Aero the Acrobat, all regard controller button presses as essential directives. As far as these characters are concerned, controller inputs are drill instructed orders. And If R. Lee Ermey shouts at you to do something, you get it done posthaste and don’t ask any questions.

Lester decides to flout all this and instead treat your inputs are mere suggestions as to what to do. He moves slowly and deliberately, and there’s a lot of climbing up and down involved, so you can think of this as a Prince of Persia Lite… and Outdoors. Except the jump takes about 15 mashes of the button before it decides to work properly. Want to jump straight up? Forget it – that’s a two button combination, up and B, and the game is only really readily equipped to deal with one button press every 10 seconds. You get three hits before your character keels over, although there’s all kinds of spikes and bottomless pits that’ll put Lester the Unlikeable out of his misery more rapidly.

But the best bits are when control is genuinely wrestled out of your hands. Now, I’m not even being sarcastic or flowery on this one. Yes, you were never truly in control of Lester anyway, but at least you could give him a vague direction to go in and he might deign to get around to it in an hour’s time. But nothing prepares you for that galling moment when he is left quite literally shaking in fear at the sight of a new enemy (in the case of the first level, a cute and cuddly turtle). You’ve spent your hard-earned money on this clag, so you don’t want to be wasting time just watching your terrified character shuddering; you want to crack some skulls.

But then your walking stance, already depressingly slouched, becomes even more apprehensive. You draw near to your bemused aggressor… and Lester turns tail and runs to safety, with a digitised scream. That’s it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Half a day later, when you get back to the enemy that initially caused Lester to take fright, you find that he’s overcome his fear of the rabid beast. Lesta can now walk up to it and dispose of it no problem, with some sort of desperately unco-ordinated stumble that almost resembles a kick. Now, was that really so hard, you depressingly luckless geek?

The whole idea of this charade is to show you that Lester is a hopelessly frightened geekfish out of water to start off with, but eventually becomes someone who the cheerleaders don’t giggle mercilessly at everytime he walks past. Listen, geeky is one thing, but you never, ever got the feeling that even McLovin was going to run away from Emma Stone and her mates in a scream-ridden terror. Nerds might be tragic, but they’re not shellshocked babies. So why did anyone think Lester would make for a compelling “hero”?

There’s a point later on the in the game, supposedly, where Lester’s privates finally drop and he assumes a more upright, manly pose. But what’s the point? The damage has been done, and done in spades. Plus, it’s a little hard to get to that point in that game, when the difficulty is artificially difficult because the control designers were happy in the haze of drunken hours, and there are eagles that genuinely come with no warning, scoop you up in their talons and fly seven acres back towards the beginning of the level.

The music is the usual tuneless, bass-heavy moribund guff, and most of the only sounds are Lester screaming, whimpering or grunting in pain, all of which are a lot less entertaining than you’d think they’d be. The graphics, need you even ask, are dire as well. All of the trimmings are generic, but the main course is so ill-advised and dangerously ambitious that the whole meal ends up being completely unpalatable – not a single redeeming feature to it all. It’s little wonder all the nerds stick to the tried and trusted diet of Doritos and Mountain Dew.

10 February 2015

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