N64 Review #14- John Romero’s Daikatana
It is once again that time of year. Kids are getting ready to go back to school. In Florida, it is still sufficiently hot that not only could you fry an egg on the pavement, you could prepare an entire Thanksgiving meal. The NFL has begun preseason, thus bringing meaning to the humdrum lives of millions of Americans. All of those things signify just one thing. The time has once again come for Review a Bad Game Day, the celebration of the worst games the earth has to offer. I am proud to say that this is the 3rd year I have participated. This year, the date fell on an N64 Connoisseur posting date. Well, I’m one day early but close enough. I have chosen a true festering heap of garbage, the incredibly disappointing and offensive to all five senses, John Romero’s Daikatana.
The only real way I can properly explain this three ring circus of a game is to give you the proper backstory of it. John Romero is a name you may or may not have heard of. He had a large part in the development of Wolfenstein 3D, Quake, and Doom. John left id Software and formed Ion Storm to make his dream game, Daikatana. [Author’s Note: Do you know who he formed Ion Storm with? Tom Hall. Not me, mind you, Tom Hall the far more successful game developer.] He promised a laundry list of things that would make Peter Molynuex blush like 64 distinct monsters, weapons out the wazoo, and an impressive number of levels. He made it sound like it would be the best thing anyone had ever seen. He also promised that the game would be done in just seven months. It would be safe to say that John was suffering from some severe hubris as can be seen in this actual promotional poster for the game that was released. I’m not kidding. This was real.
How unfortunate, John. About the time he tried to show the game at E3 that year, id showed off the Quake II engine. You see, Daikatana was being built on the original Quake engine. John, apparently in his very first day of game development thought he would simply switch to Quake II. He would later discover the code was entirely different and essentially had to start building the game all over again. Extremely long story short, most of his dev team quit and the game took three years to make until Eidos finally got pissed off, took over, and forced the game out onto the PC. The unfortunate N64 port came out just a couple of months later.
There isn’t much you can say about Daikatana that hasn’t already been said about performing your own root canal. It is painful to play. It is cheesy and laughable and it does almost nothing right. You play as Hiro Miyamoto. Yeah, I know. There is a super weird, poorly explained time travel plot but the crux of it is that there is a magic sword that there are somehow now two of because time travel. There is an evil dude who has one and he rules the world. You thought you had stolen the only one at the end of the first level but I guess there’s two sides to every Schwartz. You have different one. Or the same one but in a different time line. Or whatever.
We like throw the word “unplayable” around a lot. This game fits the bill if ever any game did. The controls were designed by people without hands, I am certain. Here is a prime example. Early on, you have a partially open door that you have to duck under. You can push every button on the controller and still not duck. When you do, you figure out that L actually has no function. How do you actually duck? By pushing A and R simultaneously. But.. but L doesn’t.. oh screw it.
For someone who supposedly created the world’s best FPS titles to that point, the level design was probably the worst I have ever seen. There are a ton of cheap traps hidden in each level and the only way you will ever know about them is to have them kill you. That is wonderful since there are absolutely no checkpoints in the levels so any death sends you right back to the beginning of the level. What a great thing to do to the player.
There are 24 weapons in the game, I’ll give them that. Here is the tragedy there. The game itself is broken down into four chapters. Each chapter is in a different time period. Each time period has specific weapons for it. The other weapons basically stop doing damage once you are not in the same time period you got them in. You can also no longer find ammo for them. Yet, they all remain in your inventory. The only way to switch weapons is to hold B and cycle through the list of weapons, including all of those now useless weapons. The best part about that? The game around you does not pause while you are in this menu. Need to switch during a heated battle? Well, good luck. You will be getting shot/stabbed while you switch weapons.
This, of course, assumes that any of the enemies have even a shred of AI. They don’t. It’s bad enough that most of them can be killed in one hit. This is made worse by the fact that most levels have so few enemies that you will be genuinely surprised when you find one. Better than that, none of them will actually attack you most of the time. They walk into walls and ledges and they never attack until they are right up in your grill. They pose about the same threat level as a bag full of stuffed animals.
The other great part about the weapons is how most of them have recoil similar to that old woman firing Tackleberry’s gun in Police Academy 4. This knocks you into traps, off of ledges, and even back into elevators. Some of the weapons have features that actually hurt you, making them totally worthless. In fact, the best weapon you come across is a hammer making this a first person shooter where IT IS ACTUALLY FRIGGIN PREFERABLE TO NOT USE A GUN!
Hey. Let’s take a second and review one of the greatest character names ever. You see, you are not on this quest alone. You get two friends that come along with you. One of them is a large African American gentleman named Superfly Johnson. Fantastic. I really don’t think I can add anything to make that better.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that you make it all the way through this turd sandwich. You now arrive at what you think is the final boss battle against the dude with the other Daikatana. Two things happen. First, this ghost from the past that has omnipotence and helps you to know things throughout the game suddenly enters your body and equips the full power of the Daikatana. WHY THE HELL COULD HE NOT HAVE DONE THIS AT THE START OF THE GAME? No, instead I have to struggle through four chapters of the worst crap this side of E.T.
Secondly, there is a cutscene, no not the 10 minute cutscene that starts the game, this one is in the middle of the game and it clearly shows both swords capable of summoning dragons. Magic dragons, no less. This should come in handy, right? WRONG! We are going to have a good old fashioned sword fight free of any magic dragons, or fun as it would be known in any other game. An even better part of this sword fight is the fact that you are told that if the two Daikatana’s connect, it will collapse the space time continuum, yet here you both are slashing away at each other with them. Glorious.
Are you familiar with the old saying that misery loves company? Great. Because there is multiplayer. Good Lord, there is multiplayer. You have your standard deathmatch which you can play on a whopping two different maps. You can’t have AI players (I guess thank God in this case). You can’t set a time limit. You can’t set a kill limit. You have no idea how many kills you need to win. Suicides do not detract from your score. Again, the melee weapon is the best weapon. There are only six weapons available to find and you will frequently pick up ammo for guns you don’t have.
Then there is the Jewel Quest mode, proof that John Romero hates us. The objective is to pick up five jewels and make it to the exit of the level without being killed. Sounds simple. Except there are only five jewels in the level. The only way to get a jewel back from someone is to kill them. They don’t drop the jewel, mind you. It respawns back to its original home. Even if you manage to get the jewels, you still have no real idea where the exit of the level is. A real jewel in its own right.
John Romero’s Daikatana is the perfect Review a Bad Game Day choice. It looks terrible, plays terrible, has a wretched story full of plot holes, and is overall an uninspired piece of crap. If you were ever trying to get information out of someone, force them to play this game until they tell you everything you want to know. It should come at some point in the 10 minute opening cutscene. If someone gives you this game as a gift, they are not your friend. Immediately sever contact with them. If you find a copy laying on the ground, cross the street in a calm and orderly manner but with purpose. You’ll want to get away from this thing as soon as you can. If you are unfortunate enough to actually have skin contact with a copy, immediately consult a physician for amputation of any affected body parts. As for me, having played this, I have to go wash my eyes out with soap. You head over and check out the other bad game reviews. Happy Review a Bad Game Day to one and all!