Review by Tom Clark

"Stealing cars and causing mayhem has never been so tiny"

Nintendo have gained a bit of a reputation over the years. Much as their fans try to deny it, the big 'N' have become known as a fairly 'kiddy' company. So it really is quite a surprise, then, to see Grand Theft Auto, arguably one of the more adult games out there, appear not only on a Nintendo machine, but on the Game Boy Color, a machine even more associated with the youngsters out there than it's N64 and Gamecube cousins. Just what in the name of Brooklyn Beckham were you thinking, Ninty?

In all honesty, though, you can see why it makes perfect sense to port GTA to Nintendo's hand-held wonder - the top-down graphics would in theory only need toning down in detail, as opposed to a complete overhaul, and the gameplay - a mixture of car-jacking, killing and general criminal behaviour - is perfectly suited to quick bursts, making it just the thing to play on the train to work. However, somewhere along the way things went a bit wrong for Grand Theft Auto's GBC conversion. It became, well, not too great.

There is a plot to Grand Theft Auto, although based purely on the GBC version it's kinda hard to know just what that plot is in any detail - the game itself doesn't go into it much. The basic concept, though, is that you play one of a choice of criminals, you walk around the city, answer pay-phones to pick up jobs from the local Criminal gangs, and proceed to partake in a little bit of lawless rampage. Sounds good, but the execution on GBC was poor.

For a game in which stealing cars is a vital (even titular) aspect, it is shocking to see that one of the most notable flaws in the game is the lack of cars! Cars aren't completely absent, of course (that would just be silly) but they are as good as. It's not completely the developers fault, really - you can't expect the humble ol' GBC to handle a really busy rush-hour city, but the inclusion of more than the scant handful of vehicles that show up (you'll be standing around waiting for a car to show up for up to three or four minutes on occasion!) would surely have been possible - this is the system that brought you the rather packed Zelda: Oracle games and Pokèmon Gold/Silver, after all, surely it can do a bit better than this? Well, apparently not, as the empty street problem plagues the game throughout, not just in the busier periods of gameplay.

There are also some very real gameplay problems caused by the graphics. It is not uncommon for your character, in or out of a vehicle, to just disappear for a few seconds. The game carries on around you, and if you keep moving the controls then the character will have moved by the time it reappears, but for a few moments it seems as if you should be getting out the pipe and smoking jacket for our invisible friend.

When you can see your character, things aren't always much better - your car or pedestrian can become trapped behind invisible scenery, and the can quite often refuse stubbornly to move, leaving you forced to abandon your vehicle in pursuit of another (which will take a while, probably), or in extreme cases, reset the game - it sounds a bit extreme, but you do find yourself in the situation where, trapped by who-knows-what, your car won't move, and your Game Boy won't let you get out of it. Frustrating doesn't even cover it, I'm afraid.

These flaws added up mean that it's hardly worth bothering with the mission element of GTA - there is nothing worse than getting just a few minutes away from the point at which you can log your progress only to have your car disappear from sight, resulting in a sticky end to your criminal career, or to have it get completely stuck on the scenery, leaving you looking on helplessly as your hours of play go to waste. If you don't want to break into fits of Game Boy rage, but you do want a decent, mission based car game, this certainly isn't the place to look. However, that said, if you ignore the mission mode (no small order, considering that you just paid £25 for it) the game can be quite good fun. Just wander around the city, shooting innocent passers-by, stealing cars, ambulances, busses and such, and generally causing carnage, and the game comes very much into it's own. It is far too shallow to justify the price tag, but proves to be just enough to prevent this game from falling into the category of 'unmitigated disaster'.

Presentation wise, this game is fairly average. There is music in the game, but it is instantly forgettable, and the sound effects are simply awful. The GBC has handled some fantastic sounds in it's time, so it's a shame to see a game that should have been full of impressive explosions and other such mayhem-induced sound effects go off like a firework held underwater [REVIEWER'S NOTE: Do Not Try That At Home (unless no-one is looking)]. Graphically this game fares a bit better. While the city looks fantastic, there's no denying it, and the vehicles are a decent size, all the pedestrians (including your character when on foot) are really tiny. Playing the game on the GBA's widescreen there is absolutely no problem, but for those GBC owners yet to upgrade to the latest addition to the Game Boy family (which, face it, has to be a lot of you) this will prove a real issue at times, unless you have eyes like Superman.

Control here is pretty awful, too. Not only do things like car-jacking and driving prove problematic, but even the simple, basic human function of walking seems to trouble the game. Openly defying all reason and logic, this game boldly manages to make walking one of the hardest things to do in the game. Basically, your little chap or chappette handles in just the same way as the cars - you actually have to hold down the 'A' button in order to get the little bugger to move forward, with the D-pad changing the way they face. Although this is less than ideal when controlling a car, when controlling a tiny person this is a real nightmare - for the first hour or so you spend playing the game, it's likely that you'll send the little 'un sprawling around the city like a student on a particularly rowdy night out. Not good.

Ultimately, this was a game with good intentions - they certainly tried to make this game just like the Playstation GTA, they just, well, messed it up a bit. It's a terror to control, it's a better eyesight test than any you'll find at the optician, it's glitched beyond belief, and so flawed that you may as well not bother with the mission mode. Still, just roaming the city is fun in short bursts, but whether you'd want to buy this game in order to have a few minutes' worth of fun is really down to the size of your bank balance. Unless you see this one second-hand for only a few pounds, dollars, yen or whatever, then it's probably best left on the shelf.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 02/25/02, Updated 02/25/02

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