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Action 52 Review

Developer: Active Enterprises Publisher: Active Enterprises
Release Date: 1991 Also On: Genesis

And now I come to a legend. Action 52 has a special place in my heart and usually in the heart of a few people who grew up in the states during the NES era. This beauty was advertised in magazines at the time for a price of $200, which seems reasonable since there are techincally fifty-two different games on the cartridge. However, gamers and foolish rental stores soon found out that Active Enterprises wasn’t exactly giving much of a crap about content, they were just trying to sell a product. This title is one of the worst, most unplayable, most horrifying, and generally most hideous titles to have ever been created. It’s so laughable that it’s pretty much awesome because of how much it sucks, but I can’t do a review based on that. Objectively speaking, this is one of the worst games in history. It’s hard to say the worst without playing others, but I have to say it’s definitely in the top ten.

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Graphically it’s pretty impressive how terrible this game looks. The opening sequence is actually decent other than the strange, glitchy, milisecond glitches that almost look like the game is short-circuiting in-between each frame. The game selection screen is fine, so no problem there. The games themselves are a different story. Unfortunately, I can’t go over every game, but a nice hammering overall should do it. What you’ll first notice is that Action 52 consists of a plethora of reused shooting and platforming games, though more of the former. There is hardly any variety in design and glitches so incredible you’re scarcely believe it. Some of the designs are so ridiculous and nonsensical I hardly have to say more than describe them. In ‘Sharks’ you’re treated to repeating, color-swapped messes that look more like sardines, seriously. I can’t even describe how poorly they’ve been animated, and that goes for almost every character in every title found in this game. How about the strange being you control in ‘Non-Human’ who can seriously not be described in any way because it doesn’t even look like anything. Below this creature is a continuing pattern of green heads with sunglasses and sharp teeth. What in the hell is this? In ‘Rocket Jockey’ you get to control a cowboy with a lasso on a rocket shooting at cows. No more needs to be said about this. ‘Shooting Gallery’ is seriously worse than a similar title for the 2600, ‘Sombrero’s’ features a man whose arms and feet keep moving even if he’s standing still and ‘Time Warp Tickers’ features a pair of disembodied fingers that almost look as though they’ve been cut and pasted from a different game walking around poking at worms and weird, smiling sticks. I’m not even sure what most of these games are supposed to be about. I think that’s enough, in general you can expect terrible graphics, an awful range of colors, incredibly poor animations, designs so bad they look like they were thrown together in a few minutes and so forth. The only game they took any significant time on was ‘The “Action Gamemaster”‘ because it was meant to be the driving force behind their Cheetahmen characters. Though much better than the rest and actually featuring what appear to be backgrounds, the poor animations and poorly designed opening for this particular game aren’t much to even care about. Just awful.

The sound in Action 52 isn’t actually that bad in some cases. In other cases there isn’t any sound at all or sound effects that hardly represent what they’re supposed to be. In some cases you’re not even sure what you’re doing so I guess any sound is fair game. Some games have never-ending humming or effects so primitive I have to yet again use the Atari 2600 reference because they sound about as good as that, if not worse. In a few of the games I have to admit that the theme and sound effects actually work pretty well, and in some even rarer cases in conjunction with poor, but not absolutely worthless graphics. In general, the sound is awful. The only thing that’s moderately impressive is the opening track. It may be that all of the diodes and such you can see through the clear cartridge were installed for just this purpose because the music is impressive, ending with a digitized voice you can actually understand.

So as I always say, bad graphics, fine, bad sound, fine, but what about the gameplay? For those lovers of suck out there, Action 52 will not fail you in its ability to horrify you with some of the worst and most ludicrous gaming you’ll ever experience. For the most part, there is no indication of what you’re actually supposed to be doing in the games. Of course, its obvious you have to shoot things in a shooter, but with no story other than the short, one sentence blurb for each game in the manual, it’s hardly detailed enough to make it feel like anything. ‘Oooze’ [sic] for example, simply says “Avoid the green oooze [sic]” and has you walking around with a little gun sort of thing shooting at little green globs and big globs in a green, globular world. What in the hell is supposed to be happening? ‘Critical Bypass’ features a square you control over a gray field with orange and blue squares attacking you. The manual seems to suggest you’re transporting cargo but it hardly looks like you’re doing anything.

‘Alfredo and the Fettucinni’s’ doesn’t work and the game locks up, ‘Space Dreams’ is a shooter where you control a binkie shooting at teddy bears (I’m serious), ‘Dedant’ features you controlling an ant shooting at other ants (again, I’m serious), in ‘Fuzz Power’ you control a hairy man with big feet who gets attacked by hairdryers and the list goes on. In short, they never make any sense. Furthermore, the controls are often reveresed and so difficult to get accustomed to you’ll be lucky if you make it anywhere. The usual button for jump is attack and whenever you jump you actually have to repeatedly tap the direction you want to go on the control pad so your character moves. You can’t just jump and press right or whatever, you have to keep tapping it. It’s difficult to describe how awkward this is. Collision detection is usually nonexistent, the programming is sometimes so bad it’s impossible to make it anywhere and the levels are so repetitive you have no reason to continue past the first one, if you can depending on which game you’re playing. The only thing that’s been programmed well is the ability to stop a game mid-play to return to the menu screen. I can’t believe they actually pulled it off considering how bad the controls are, so something tells me it wasn’t too hard to program.

Action 52 has absolutely no creativity whatsoever. There is hardly anything else that needs to be said. They took the most basic, overdone genres in the history of video games and beat them to hell. Want to play two shooters with the same music and nearly the same layout? Want to play a game where you control a clown climbing up levels over and over and getting killed by bags of money sitting on the ground? Want to play a game where your character is so tiny you almost can’t see him or the enemies? If so, then Action 52 is probably the most creative game you’re ever going to see. But enough with the sarcasm, it’s not at all, nothing here, just a bunch of space wasted to say there are fifty-two games present as the main selling point, that’s it. Luckily, people figured out real quick there was no content, just a number.

I must say that I have actually come back to Action 52 here and there. It’s a real show stopper when you’re having friends over who know a little about the NES and you want to show them the hidden horror of the unlicensed market during the early 90s. But I can’t really give it props for that. As far as actually coming back to play this game to play it and not laugh at it, good luck. As for game length, there are fifty-two games here, sort of, but none of them have any lasting value and most of the levels last about twenty seconds but have little difference to the others. Why am I even bothering trying to explain this?

In conclusion, Action 52, though I must say it holds a special place in my heart for suck value, is one of the most horrendous beasts I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I’m surprised the creators were actually able to make it, the programming is so poor it almost looks like there was no chance in hell they’d be able to get it on a cartridge, but they definitely did. It’s even hilarious to look at; it comes in a clear plastic cartridge displaying all the inner pieces as well as a decent piece of artwork printed on it. Rarer copies have a simple sticker and supposedly the two games that didn’t work work on them but I haven’t tried one so I can’t verify that. In addition, complete copies come with a Cheetahmen comic! The only reason, truthfully, that this game gets any attention is that it’s not that easy to find. Still, if you really want it for this reason don’t pay too much. Here’s all I need to say to finish up. After playing it for about fifteen minutes, I smelled this warm plastic stench and turned off the NES. Damn Action 52 was actually a cookin’. Seriously, it was so warm if it were negative twenty outside I could have returned my body temperature to normal within a few seconds with this crooked thing. I’m not sure what basement goof trooping they did to figure the electronics out, but be careful because the thing may end up cooking your NES if you actually play it for more than a half hour. Is there a greater example of why free market is sometimes not the best idea?

Graphics: 1.5
Sound: 2
Gameplay: 1
Creativity: 0
Replay Value/Game Length: 0
Final: 0.9
Written by Stan Review Guide