Change The Channel – Beavis & Butt-Head

In our Change The Channel series, we explore the history of video games that are based on TV shows, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s Beavis & Butt-Head for the Sega Mega Drive…

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Programming on MTV in the early 90’s was a melting pot of basic reality TV shows such as The Real World and Road Rules, heavy metal shows such as Headbanger’s Ball,  and utterly bizarre assaults on the senses like The Tom Green Show. It was a haven for music fans across many genres and sparked life into a number of now-legendary shows.

One of those shows, which spawned a hugely successful movie and a small empire of merchandising, was Mike Judge’s Beavis & Butt-Head, a series of animated cartoons following the misadventures of two Texas high-school headbangers. The cartoon was crude, puerile and controversial, but was massively successful in its own right.

This success saw the release of a handful of games for home consoles, with the SNES version being one of the most disappointing rentals I’d ever made from my local Blockbuster Video. So, instead of venturing back through the bog-standard platforming of that version, part 12 of our Change The Channel series takes a look at the Mega Drive/Genesis version of Beavis & Butt-Head

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The game starts off in a familiar setting; Beavis and Butt-Head sat on their couch, channel hopping through TV channels and generally taking the piss out of pretty much everything that is broadcast. After a commercial for a GWAR (our rightful alien overlords, seen here absolutely destroying Jesus Christ in a basketball game) show coming to Highland piques their interest, they head out to purchase tickets, which immediately get eaten (and subsequently thrown up) by their neighbour’s dog, then destroyed and blown into several different areas of the town by (the proto-Hank Hill) Mr. Anderson’s lawnmower. The boys must go on an adventure to recover these ticket pieces before they miss the gig, and run the risk of missing something cool.

Upon starting the game, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game was a beat-’em-up, as many of the hallmarks we associate with the genre are present here; an elevated camera angle, semi-3D side-scrolling movement, health bars for both Beavis and Butt-Head at the top of the screen, endlessly respawning baddies hurtling across the screen… you get the idea. But after a quick play around with the controls, it becomes evident that this particular Beavis & Butt-Head tie-in has more in common with point & click adventure/RPG games, which is pretty much the last thing anyone would expect in a game about two of the dumbest teenagers in America.

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Beavis & Butt-Head relies on collecting items and solving puzzles much more than attacking enemies to progress through each stage. These are very specific items that, upon collection, aren’t clear in how they’ll be used later in the game, nor does the game hold your hand when it comes to actually finding them. Players must investigate everything that they think can be picked up, thus being forced to actually thoroughly explore the areas that they find themselves in.

That’s not to say that the weapons in the game are useless. Players start off with a suitable attack for each character – a fart and a burp – but picking up weapons such as a baseball bat with a glove on it (a callback to the very first Beavis & Butt-Head episode), a pea-shooter and a dart machine gun make the game so much easier to get through, especially when you take into consideration that unless you have a password jotted down somewhere, dying in the game means that you have to start all over again.

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The game is set over several areas of the Highland that are recognisable to fans of the show, each accessed through the TV set in the Beavis & Butt-Head living room and containing their own unique characters, obstacles and puzzles. Ranging from expected setpieces from the show such as Burger World and Highland High, to the streets of Highland and the mall that Beavis & Butt-Head are known to enjoy loitering in, there’s plenty of variety to the game’s levels that make the hunt for the tattered ticket pieces all the more interesting.

The best part of this? Players are given the freedom to tackle whatever stage they want at their own pace. This opens up the world of the cartoon and really does wonders with helping players immerse themselves in this digital version of the town.

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The graphics here aren’t incredible, but I wouldn’t have it any other way when it comes to the presentation of Beavis & Butt-Head. The earlier seasons of the show have a charmingly craptastic quality of animation, so it unwittingly adds a layer of authenticity to the game by having the characters vary so much in their animations (and general design).

The actions players must perform in the game’s levels also boast a surprising amount of little details that reference back to specific episodes of the show. For example, when playing through Burger World, players must deep-fry a dead mouse and serve it to a customer (in the same fashion as they do in Season 2, Episode 3) and get chased through the hospital by an irate Billy Bob by stealing his scooter (Season 2, Episode 19). Staying faithful to the show’s episodes instead of opting for a completely new, wacky adventure for the constantly laughing duo is something that this game nails.

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The music and sound effects are used well throughout the game too. With the constant sniggering, hilariously childish insults and juddering 16-bit heavy metal music in the background, things never get annoying after spending more than a few minutes in any given area. There’s plenty of repetition with these sound effects and voice clips, which would usually be to the detriment of most other games (I’m looking at you, Wayne’s World!), but for a Beavis & Butt-Head game, it’s a perfect fit. As a side note, having our half-witted heroes do their famous air guitar impression when they collect a ticket piece never fails to make me smile.

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I have loved the show since I was a kid, so it’s refreshing to see a video game based on the moronic duo that actually defies expectations of its gameplay style and remains faithful to the source material’s lewd, twisted sense of humour. Sure, I admit that the game doesn’t have much replay value after completing it, but playing through it is a worthwhile challenge that is sure to nicely surprise players and B&BH fans alike.

While Beavis & Butt-Head is by no means a perfect game, it is definitely a hidden gem in the sprawling back catalogue of the Sega Mega Drive, and one that I would definitely recommend to not only fans of MTV’s most famous idiot savants, but also to gamers that appreciate a bit of push-back difficulty-wise in their playthroughs.

Fartknocker.

Have you played Beavis & Butt-Head for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis? What’s your favourite episode of the show? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!

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