Captain Planet wasn’t the only morally righteous slab of covert cartooning Ted Turner attempted to foist upon us ’90s kids under the auspices of education. In 1994 he followed up with a live-action-cartoon crossover starring Macauley Culkin and Christopher Lloyd known as Pagemaster. As alluded to in the title, the largely animated movie revolves around the appreciation of books, or rather, addressing the underappreciated appreciation of classic literature.
Rich Tyler is the ten-year-old focus of the story. A boy so obsessively fixated on the statistical probability of succumbing to all manner of hazardous incidents that he’s wasting his childhood analysing the subject when he should be wasting his childhood playing computer games and getting lost in the literary land of make-believe. Rich barely leaves the house without full body protection, has adorned his bedroom with safety warning signs/emergency ephemera and shuns all attempts from his nurturing parents to help him adjust to the inevitable risks of life.
There’s a term for this; pantophobia. No, not the fear of pantomimes, the fear of everything and anything. A vague sense of eternal dread that causes one to stagnate, becoming emotionally and socially stunted. It’s not a diagnosis that’s officially recognised in the DSM of psychiatry disorders, probably because GAD already covers this. Generalised anxiety disorder that is.
Haha! Can’t see me now! Phew! Close call.
Alan Tyler: He’s afraid of tuna-fish sandwiches.
Claire Tyler: Mercury levels in the tuna-fish sandwiches.
As opposed to a tuna pear. Never mind, look it up. You also need to be wary of the excessive histamine levels found in canned fish. It can exacerbate urticaria symptoms and lead to migraines. Not that I’m paranoid.
We need to talk about Kevin
Claire Tyler: Alan, the world is a frightening place to him right now. I think we could be a little more supportive.
Alan Tyler: Supportive? I’m the most supportive father on earth, but I’m running out of supportive things to do. I signed him up for Little League, he drove everybody crazy with statistics about how you can develop tumours from being hit in the head with a ball.
Alan Tyler: (off-screen) Did you know that shin splints can lead to blood clots in the legs?
Alan Tyler: Claire, he brought in a medical journal. Nobody wanted to play after that. And now I’m building him a treehouse, in a tree he refuses to climb.
(while Alan says the last sentence above, Claire turns on a light and he looks at the treehouse on a dark and stormy night)
Claire Tyler: You know he hates heights.
Alan Tyler: I don’t know. I just want to be a good father.
Claire Tyler: But you are a good father.
No! Never look up! Anything could fall into your eyes!
Reluctantly, one day Rich is cajoled by his dad into bike-riding to the hardware store on an errand; fetching a box of nails to allow him to continue building a treehouse he never intends to set foot inside.
Richard Tyler: Can’t argue with statistics, Dad.
Alan Tyler: Statistics. Here’s something you can do: go down to Gutman’s Hardware Store, buy a pound of these.
Richard Tyler: But, Dad…
Alan Tyler: Son, you can’t live your life based on statistics. You’ve gotta take some chances. Now come on, Buddy.
Alan Tyler: (with a five-dollar-bill) You can do this.
(Alan gives money to Richard. His mother Claire releases him and joins her father in unison)
Richard Tyler: (Leaving his parents behind) This is not good. Definitely not good.
A spaceman came travelling on his ship from afar… blah blah blah …just like a star.
On route, a tumultuous storm erupts, leading the riot-shielded basket case to seek shelter in the local library… situated out in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Or is it, in fact, a lie-berry, Mr Lie-berry-rarian? It’s new territory to Rich too seeing as this is his first visit. Where’s this precious mastermind been getting all his information so far?
Never mind, there he meets Mr Dewey (of Dewey Decimal System fame) played by Christopher Lloyd. He’s a kind of overly intruding, erratic mish-mash of his wild-eyed Doc from Back to the Future and Switchblade Sam from Dennis. We’re not quite sure whether he’s to be a mentor or creepy child-catcher, and that’s really the crux of the matter, as we discover just before the final page turns.
Great Scott, Marty!
Mr Dewey: Welcome to the library, young man. Don’t tell me. You’re here for a special book.
Richard Tyler: Mister…
Mr Dewey: Stop stop stop. Allow me to guess. I have a talent for guessing what people need. You’re in need of a fantasy! Brave knights, mythical fairies, ferocious dragons!
Richard Tyler: Look, all I want is…
Mr Dewey: Adventure! Of course! You’re a boy who loves adventure, brimming with wicked demons, cutthroat pirates.
Richard Tyler: No, no, that’s not it.
Mr Dewey: Horror! Oh, horror! Evil demons, wicked monsters, haunted houses, graveyards. Yes, it’s horror for you, boy. I’m sure of it. Your library card, please.
Richard Tyler: I don’t have one.
Lollipops! And all free today!
Mr Dewey: (pulls out a brand new one) You do now. Sign here.
(Richard signs it)
Mr Dewey: Richard Tyler, consider this your passport to the wonderful and quite unpredictable world of books.
Richard Tyler: But I don’t want any books.
Mr Dewey: Hmm?
Richard Tyler: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I only came in here ’cause of the storm.
Mr Dewey: You mean you don’t need…?
(Richard shakes his head)
Mr Dewey: (disappointed) Oh, I see.
Come along, my little dears, my little mice. Come to me.
Understandably intimidated, soaking wet and dishevelled, Rich scoots for the public phone, not-so-accidentally located beyond the far end of the fiction aisle.
Before arriving, Rich is stopped in his tracks by the mesmerising rotunda mural poised overhead, depicting the Pagemaster plus various minacious characters on loan from classic literature.
The world is not in your books and maps. It is out there.
Transfixed, standing in a growing pool of dripped rainwater, he leans back to absorb the lavish spectacle, slips and lands flat on his back on the hard marble floor in the centre of an etched compass.
Head trauma and delusions are the only triggers required by these fictional favourites to melt into life, submerging Rich in technicoloured CGI paint.
Richard Tyler: I… I’m a cartoon.
The Pagemaster: you are an illustration.
Obviously, being deluged with Dulux’s finest causes Rich to transform into a cartoon replica of his former real-world self, whisking him away into a fairy tale escapade filled with Horror, Fantasy and Adventure. Literally – he meets three anthropomorphic talking books named accordingly, voiced by Frank Welker, Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Stewart respectively.
Horror is depicted as the downtrodden, pulpy equivalent of Quasimodo, genetically spliced with Egor and Frankenstein’s monster, whilst fantasy (a sassy, mostly airborne fairy) and adventure (a roguish, swashbuckling pirate) are more generic creations.
Adventure: How would you like to curl up with a good book?
(Fantasy wallops him)
Adventure: Ow, me binding!
Fantasy: In your dreams!
To keep the kiddies entertained, a cavalcade of madness, mayhem and striking animated visual effects ensues wherein Rich encounters/is terrorised by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Moby Dick and Captain Ahab, Long John Silver, the Queen of Hearts (screaming “Off with their heads!”, naturally)…
…The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the giant squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Adventure: Remember, mate, not all sharks are in the water.
Further exhilaration/torture is delivered in the form of a flight on the magic carpet found in One Thousand and One Nights.
Cutting a short, flimsy story even shorter, through his experiences, Rich delves deep into his soul to discover he’s a brave little soldier in a lamb’s fur. I think that’s how the phrase goes. Whatever, he plucks up the courage to face his demons, overcomes adversity and evolves as a fully rounded, well-balanced human being.
Death is just another path, one we all must take
Tada! Up pops Mr Dewey to reveal that it was all a devious ploy to help Rich deal with his unhealthy paranoia (or astute, rational fear under the circumstances?). He’ll likely be scarred for life, but… erm, in a positive, life-affirming, practical way that will stand him in good stead… for casting off the shackles of child actor superstardom, veering perilously off the rails into the province of drug abuse and rock and/or roll?
Is there a problem with Earth’s gravitational pull in the future? Why is everything so heavy?
To say that Pagemaster wasn’t a roaring success would be a bit of an understatement. From a $34m budget, it grossed $13.7m at the box office, whilst most influential, professional critics detested it. Certainly, it didn’t help that the premise was so muddled – to teach kids that there’s an abundance of pleasure and comfort to be gleaned from reading? By exposing them to extreme trauma?
Rich didn’t actually do any reading in the movie, that’s the problem. Classic fiction tropes escape from a surreal, nightmarish alternative library, enveloping him, more often than not to his detriment. Books and their fabricated ecosystems are typically the enemies to be avoided at all costs! Opening the floodgates was surely only going to compound Rich’s otherwise misguided belief that the world is to be dreaded, exacerbating his already worryingly compulsive behaviour.
While the movie was a commercial flop, you’d think the ‘out of this world’ subject matter would be perfect fodder for console game conversion. Fox concurred, which is why in 1994 they commissioned Probe to take charge of an officially licenced platform game for the SNES, Mega Drive and Game Boy. Both the movie and games were released in synchrony in November.
Prudently, there was no talk of an Amiga port at any point, of the platformer under discussion or alternative PC adventure game. History demonstrates that games unveiled in the year of its demise didn’t fare too well, although plenty of plucky publishers gave it their best last-ditch, parting shot.
With a plot so lightweight, their main challenge was mirroring the chaotic sensibility of the silver screen kinetics and stylised environmental themes. This Probe achieved admirably, as well as improving on the cartoon’s washed-out palette and drab visuals which bore the brunt of a fair bit of criticism from Roger Ebert, along with almost every other component of the piece. Pagemaster wasn’t made by Disney, that seems to have been his fundamental gripe.
Richard Tyler: This is not good, definitely not good.
Even the Game Boy version managed to enhance the movie’s all too often diluted colour scheme.
“With 18 levels in all, this is an excellent game – particularly on the Super Game Boy, where each level has its own special colour. The gameplay is challenging enough to become addictive.”
Video Games & Computer Entertainment (80%, Game Boy, December 1994)
“The solid graphics keep you playing. Although the backgrounds are pretty bland, the foregrounds are nicely detailed and feature sharp-looking enemies. The sounds are adequate and support the visuals with atmospheric music, but they need more sound effects. Unfortunately, it’s the poor control you’ll remember. Pagemaster may make you a Rage master this holiday season.”
GamePro (50%, Game Boy, December 1994)
Rich’s 16-bit pixely world comprises the same three literary genres seen in the movie split across 74 levels in the SNES version verses 68 in the slightly shorter Mega Drive incarnation.
Navigating them entails traversing a map designed in the guise of an open book. What else? They’re everywhere you look. Many platforms comprise them, we ride or fly on them, they help, hinder or attack us.
Richard Tyler: (reads title) Alice in Wonderland.
(Richard opens it)
Queen of Hearts: Off with his head!
Richard Tyler: (In shock closes the book) Sheesh!
Even the exits are leather-bound, papyrus page-turners, some of which we dive headfirst into to complete the stage. It’s like Last Action Hero for bookworms.
Fantasy: (reading the names on a house) Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde…
Fantasy: must be a duplex.
Each stage features characters lifted directly from the movie so, for instance, in the opening horror realm we witness the grotesque transformation of Dr Jekyll, who – as Mr Hyde – pelts us with bubbling laboratory flasks. Invading his playground is the shambling, contorted manifestation of a certain hunchback, who is no longer a book or on our side.
Horror: I scared you, I’m sorry.
Fantasy: You mustn’t judge a book by its cover.
Fantasy: Look, he’s smiling.
(Horror shows a homely, toothless, ghoulish grin)
Richard Tyler: That’s a smile?
Horror, our friendly neighbourhood olde-worlde novel compendium makes a cameo too, though only as an inanimate lump to be thrown or climbed upon. Other books are nondescript, serving only as respawn points.
Horror: (to Adventure) I know I’m not your favourite kind of book, but I could be just like you.
Adventure: You’ll never be Adventure! You ain’t got the spine for it!
Fantasy: Come on, honey, even books have spines!
In the adventure level, we face a prominent peg-legged pirate you may be familiar with who attempts to swat Rich with his crutch.
I know you, you’re Bob Hoskins. You can’t fool me!
There’s something you don’t see every day, a cross-dressing pirate
Two for the price of one. Screenwriter, David Casci, must have really appreciated the comedy value of shoe-horning gruff pirates into women’s clothes.
Tom Morgan: Give the word, Captain Silver, and I’ll show you the colour of his insides.
Richard Tyler: Red, red, they’re red!
Long John Silver: Stow your cutlass, Tom, I want a better look at his outsides first.
His wayward parrot is as much of a threat, as are the demonic books that populate every level. In accordance with the movie, interaction with most of them aside from our benign tour guides tends not to reap rewards. That is if you count death as the antithesis of reward. Although the Hound of the Baskervilles is fine in black and white, you wouldn’t want it shaking its chops, slathering bloody slobber all over your favourite clobber.
Adventure: I wrote the book on sailing. In fact, I am the book on sailing.
Part of this stage takes place on a pirate ship where, aside from Long John Silver, we tango with Captain Ahab armed with his signature harpoon (an escapee from the pages of Moby Dick). With no whale in sight, it’s Rich who spearheads his menu.
Fantasy: He’s possessed!
Horror: He’s insane!
Adventure: He’s my kinda guy!
If you’ve ever wondered why Moby Game’s mascot is a whale, there you go. That’s actually pretty obvious, isn’t it?
One historical fictional figure, in particular, you won’t recognise from the movie – at least an appendage of his – is the levitating, decapitated, hammering fist of Frankenstein’s monster.
That’s because the enemy sprite was based on a scene shown in the promotional material that was ultimately expunged from the theatrical cut.
Richard Tyler: Fantasy!
Fantasy: Naturally. Who were you expecting, honey? The Tooth Fairy?
Fantasy land ushers in another selection of diverse enemies including the Big Bad Wolf known for terrorising the Three Little Pigs (or Little Red Riding Hood, take your pick). There’s also a fawn who looks a lot like Mr Tumnus from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, except that can’t be right because this was published relatively recently (1949). More likely he was plucked from HG Wells’ The Time Machine (1895).
“While playing The Pagemaster, you’ll appreciate the novel theme and the wide assortment of literary nasties, but you’ll wish there was more originality in the gameplay department.”
All Game Guide (50%, Genesis, 1998)
Elsewhere we ascend a beanstalk (thankfully sans giant), while baby dragons hatch from eggs, immediately taking flight without any lessons.
Then there’s the dive-bombing Humpty Dumpty who can be thrown like a projectile weapon or ridden to cross safely over spikes to protect one’s delicate tootsies.
Sword-wielding knights of the round aren’t so useful unless you’d scheduled a lobotomy anyway.
Richard Tyler: Do I click my heels or something?
Fantasy: You’re in the wrong story, honey.
Whichever pop-culture characters Rich encounters, they won’t have been created after 1st January 1923 since that would have entailed paying royalties to their respective copyright holders. Prior to this critical juncture, they are considered public domain. Quite a deviation from the contemporary predisposition towards modern superhero crossovers we see all too often.
What sets Pagemaster apart from your average Amiga platformer is the number and variety of power-ups available. Something YouTubing console gamers seem to take for granted, consumed by their vitriolic rants centred around the shoddy controls.
“This game would be enjoyable, but the control just isn’t there. Being able to select your stages with a particular theme was innovative, but after missing that jump for the hundredth time… well, you get the idea.”
Electronic Gaming Monthly (60%, Genesis, December 1994)
They have a point to be fair – collision detection is highly suspect, and Rich slides around like Bambi on a frozen lake. Being unable to see a few feet below and not much at all in the ‘who turned out the lights?’ section certainly doesn’t aid his cause. What do you call a deer with no eyes?
“Pagemaster isn’t bad, it just isn’t as fun as it could’ve been. Younger gamers might enjoy this game the most, because the action’s simple and the levels are relatively short. But with these controls, gamers are better off in the library.”
GamePro (70%, SNES, December 1994)
If you can work around those issues, there’s plenty of fun to be had. It’s possible to collect magic, sparkly shoes to allow Rich to jump higher and further. Sticky green goo clings to his hands and feet, duly glueing them up to enable Rich to climb walls Zool-style. He’s pretty athletic regardless, monkey-swinging beneath ropes and pipes and bounding up walls clinging to hoops. That’s assuming you can master the tricky art of timing and pixel-perfect leaping despite the imprecise control mechanisms.
Fantasy: What do you mean grabbing a person by the pantyhose like that? Now I’ve got to straighten out my Little Mermaid underwear.
We do get by with a little help from our friends. Fantasy appears in horror world, for example, offering to pick up Rich and drop him on safe, solid ground.
When they’re not around we might like to fall back on the ascending bubbles of green goo that erupt from slime pools. Or take a trip on a floating leaf or hovering shield.
We’d seen it all before in the Mickey Mouse games by this stage, but tropes are tropes for a reason; people enjoy them, and they’re neatly worked into the synopsis to mesh the two mediums together, so why not?
“In some ways, the game is superior to the film because it enables the player to re-enact and live Richard’s initiation, as he faces numerous archetypal trials. The fun in this game comes less from the accomplishment of beating it then from the journey itself. I can usually finish it while losing only a few lives, but I still haven’t found all of the secret levels and library cards. The meticulous level design and the vast array of power-ups make this game a very good example of classic platform gaming.”
Sega-16.com (70%, Genesis, November 2005)
We begin our quest with only the traditional head-bounce and hill-slide for defence, yet there’s later the potential to upgrade to more potent weaponry such as chuckable eyeballs, magic dust, and a sword.
Reminds me of Monkey Island II’s opening scene on the bridge where Guybrush meets Largo LaGrande for the first time, although this unorthodox method of turning out one’s pockets isn’t especially new.
Incidentally, only the sword weapon was extracted from the movie; Rich borrows it (along with a helmet and shield) from the skeleton of a long-dead crusader trekking up a rocky precipice headed for that elusive exit sign. A reference to the King George and the Dragon story I expect. That book can be seen on one of the bookshelves.
Probe had to adopt a degree of artistic licence since Rich spends much of his time running away from danger rather than confronting it head-on. At least initially; he does intend to show the dragon who’s boss having dug deep to pluck up the courage, except he’s no match for the colossus who swallows him whole without a chaser.
Thanks to Rich’s ingenuity (and existing familiarity with fiction), he evades being digested by acids in the dragon’s stomach through unleashing the beanstalk from that old fable starring Jack. Now what was that called?
It all works out rather neatly since this is the movie’s main lesson, aside from books being awesome. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Life’s scary, deal with it. Nevertheless, you can’t leave dragons to flap about dousing everything with flames; someone could get barbecued if you don’t skewer them first.
Unarmed, it’s a matter of one hit and you’re dead, an extra layer of defence added with each weapon power-up or helmet acquired. Think of Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins for comparison. Like Capcom’s medieval platformer and its sequel we can only carry one weapon at a time, plus some other power-up accoutrements such as the go-faster shoes.
With no energy and only three continues, it’s a tough blighter that’ll soon have you wringing the neck of your Macaulay Culkin doll. What, you haven’t got one? Er, yeah, mine’s really a voodoo doll because I’m badass too.
The remainder of the difficulty/frustration can be explained by unseen, off-screen nasties that can’t be anticipated until it’s too late. That and the aforementioned dodgy controls.
“Looks good, plenty of variety, large play area. However, Pagemaster just doesn’t play as well as it looks, and is destined to be swamped by the other platformers we’ve seen.”
Mean Machines (74%, Genesis, January 1995)
Still, it’s doable – there are longplay videos available on YouTube for both the SNES and Mega Drive versions. They’re almost interchangeable except the latter drops the jokey/foreboding level names, doesn’t incorporate a password system, and the continue countdown begins at 11 rather than 10. Cerr-razzzy mate!
Short levels, restart points and passwords alleviate the steep difficulty curve, though keep in mind that we’re punished for making use of the latter. Well, kind of, not really.
Fantasy: What is this?
Richard Tyler: It’s a library card.
Fantasy: I’m a book, honey, I can read.
Complete the game in several sittings using passwords and/or without collecting all eight library cards and we forfeit the ‘privilege’ of experiencing the true finale sequence.
Nevertheless, as all this amounts to is a static picture of Christopher Lloyd and an extremely brief congratulatory message, it hardly matters.
Yes, that’s your lot, make sure you saviour it; Mr Dewey pops up in his wizardy facade to metaphorically pat us on the back for retrieving all the library cards, then *poof*, he’s gone. Note that we get to see the credit roll call either way.
This has little to do with the way the movie ends. Dewey gives Rich a pep talk, then allows him to take home all three of his book companions rather than the statutory two.
Richard Tyler: Hey! How’d you get here?
Fantasy: Quit it! We are in the presence of the Pagemaster.
Richard Tyler: I know who he is. He’s the guy who did all THIS to me! Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?
The Pagemaster: Tell me.
Richard Tyler: I was nearly torn to shreds by a crazy doctor, I was made a slave to a bunch of mangy pirates, and eaten. Got that? Eaten by a fire-breathing dragon!
…visited Monkey Island and met a wannabe mighty pirate
Horror: He don’t mean it, my Pagemaster. He don’t mean it.
Richard Tyler: Not to mention being tossed, squashed, and scared practically to death!
The Pagemaster: Yet you stand before me.
Richard Tyler: Well, yeah.
The Pagemaster: Think, boy. What kind of an adventure would you have had if I brought you here with the turn of a page?
Rich is given a single library ticket rather than eight since he’s not a secret superspy or identity thief, before heading for the exit clutching his prizes/new pets.
Richard Tyler: (to Adventure) You guys are the only friends I ever had.
Now endowed with the power of ten pumas (or whatever) he rides home minus his heavy-duty protective safety gear, en route fearlessly bounding over the death-defying, makeshift BMX ramp he avoided previously. Today the ramp, tomorrow 50ft Japanese B movie monsters!!! Bring ’em on!!! Grrr, *bicep flexing* etc.
(At night, Rich’s parents arrive home in their car)
Claire Tyler: I can’t imagine where he could be. Maybe we should call the police.
Claire Tyler: (Gasps as the car parks in front of Richard’s bicycle, lying down) Alan!
(the car stops)
Claire Tyler: (gets out) He’s home!
(Alan gets out)
Claire Tyler: Alan.
Alan Tyler: (sees Richard in the treehouse) It’s impossible.
(Alan goes up into the treehouse)
Alan Tyler: Rich?
Claire Tyler: (Goes up into the treehouse and takes Richard’s signature glasses) We probably should put him in his bed.
Alan Tyler: Let’s let him sleep up here tonight.
(Claire goes down, as Alan uses the coat as a blanket for Richard)
Alan Tyler: (turning off a lantern) Love you, Richie.
(Alan descends from the treehouse. Alan and Claire go inside the house)
Alan Tyler: Good night, son.
(Alan closes the door, leaves, and the living room lights turn off)
Oh yeah, the game, I’m not finished yet. I’ll never finish this one. To break up the platforming pandemonium, secret 3D bonus stages in which we hover over the terrain perched on a flying open book can be accessed by leaping into a hidden teleporter.
These deviations entail navigating between stone pillars or around other fixtures and fittings to accrue as many gold bags, keys etc. as possible to earn extra lives. It’s not all that dissimilar to Bullfrog’s Magic Carpet, albeit the scope is much less ambitious.
A variety of ambience-appropriate music is included as well as a few short burst speech samples courtesy of Macaulay Culkin. He certainly wasn’t consulted, as revealed to James Rolf of AVGN fame in the most surreal let’s play YouTube video you’re ever likely to watch. That’s right, Macaulay Culkin played as himself alongside the Angry Video Game Nerd and co-star Mike Matei in an episode revolving around the Pagemaster game. If that’s not the very definition of meta I’ll… I’ll… erm, pilot a paperback.
“I don’t know whether to like this game or not. Pagemaster is pretty much just like any other action game, even though there are areas that utilize Mode 7. Oh yeah, the play mechanics, which take some time to get used to, are pretty cool. The sound is pretty decent. Aside from that, nothing in this game really jumps out at me. Don’t get me wrong. I think the game is pretty good. It’s just slightly above average for me.”
Electronic Gaming Monthly (65%, SNES, December 1994)
Aesthetically it’s really quite lavish, in a similar style to Ocean’s Dennis. Many layers of parallax scrolling are in effect enhanced by semi-opaque foreground objects. This is especially prominent in the horror setting where our view is partially obscured by belt buckles, chains, spider’s webs, atmospheric green fog, and spooky drapes.
Visibility is similarly manipulated in the gloomy, poorly illuminated zone where we can barely see two inches in front of our nose. Somehow Rich’s immediate vicinity is lit without the aid of a torch. It makes no sense… which is fitting.
Emulating the movie beautifully, its iconic neon exit sign – as seen looming over Dr Jekyll’s mansion…
…and later yonder horizon over’t sea – is almost omnipresent. It can be spotted through glassless, barred windows (and all manner of other breaks in the scenery) like a glowing beacon of encouragement for useless gamers.
Animation is smooth and convincing thanks to the bounteous frames allocated to each sprite, awash with idiosyncratic quirks that endear us to their personality.
Rich reads and scratches his head when idle, teeters comically on the edge of platforms, falls dramatically accompanied by an appropriate gasping sound effect…
…sways as he dangles from ropes and the scenery, and so on.
It all helps to humanise our pint-sized hero, although some of the more amusing animation routines are absent from the SNES iteration. Can you believe he was nominated for a Razzie award for his performance in Pagemaster? Oh wait, that was Macaulay. Even so, he was only fourteen years old, give him a break. Two years earlier Macaulay was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe Award for reprising his role as Kevin McAllister in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Sometimes though it’s the animated scenery that stops me in my tracks. In adventure land, turbulent waves batter the flotsam and jetsam, awaiting our terminal fall with bated breath in a vista reminiscent of the visually stunning shoot ’em up, Agony. Except on the Amiga there were no squid tentacles hopefully groping the air, jostled by the sea’s violent current.
Meanwhile, amongst many standout artistic flourishes found within the fantasy arena, there are the streams of solidified molten gold draped across book platforms. I expect the graphicians were shooting for a similar vibe to Dali’s hypnagogic Persistence of Time painting. A perfect motif given the dream-like scenario in which Rich finds himself, one that takes a talented art team to invoke.
“The Pagemaster won’t satisfy most palates, but it may be just the thing for young tots who aspire to be like Big Mac. Otherwise, go find something to read.”
GamePro (60%, Genesis, January 1995)
No, it was Pizza Hut who gave away licenced Pagemaster toys, not McDonald’s. Hoho. Probe too were so focused on bringing to life miniature characters, creating exquisite environments for them to stalk, that they entirely forgot to include any boss battles. Quite a blunder when you consider the potential candidates offered to them on a plate by the movie.
That is all about the melodramatic, spectacular set pieces with very little plot-glue with which to bind them. Rich stumbles from one treacherous calamity to the next, barely afforded the opportunity to draw breath. It’s as though Turner Pictures set out to produce a cinematic rollercoaster ride interpretation of Dragon’s Lair. There’s so little substance to Pagemaster, it’s instantly forgettable.
A crying shame since its heart was at least in the right place. Had we been introduced to a literary Philistine who had his close-minded assumptions about books shattered through exposure to the joys of reading it would be much easier to embrace the philanthropic lecture.
Judiciously, Probe’s interpretation is also a regrettable missed opportunity. A promising – albeit formulaic – platformer released well into the genre’s autumn years that’s sabotaged by the failure to implement reliable, responsive controls.
Adventure: Hmm, you know what would make this a happy ending? A kiss.
Horror: Doh, okay.
(the screen goes blank, a smack is heard)
Adventure: I meant from her!
(all three are heard laughing)