As we’ve pointed out here in the past, once you got past the first-party, Nintendo-made lineup, and past the major outside developers like Rareware or Konami, the Nintendo 64 library could be a complete and utter crapshoot in terms of quality. Compounding this problem was the massive popularity of 3D platformers like Super Mario 64 and the Crash Bandicoot series over on PlayStation, because that genre was now the wave of the future, convincing just about every development house under the sun to take a whack at taking the Mario 64 formula and improving it. One of those attempts is today’s game, Glover, for Nintendo 64, brought to us by Hasbro Interactive.
There’s a real chance you’ve heard of this game, even if you’ve never played it, because there was quite a substantial advertising blitz surrounding it. You play as Glover, a magical glove who heavily resembles the Hamburger Helper mascot and who belongs to a wizard. The wizard has an unfortunate accident in his lair one day that blows his gloves off and sends your glove brother into whatever potion the wizard was working on, turning him into the evil CrossStitch. Your goal is to foil CrossStitch with the help of a magic shapeshifting ball that you use as a means of conveyance and as a tool to make it through the various levels.
Although Glover is listed as an action game, it’s less action-packed and more resembles a puzzle game of sorts. You encounter enemies, but don’t really engage them in combat; enemies here are more obstacles to be worked around than foes that need defeating. There’s a lot of emphasis on puzzle solving and figuring out how to progress through each part of a level, and while there are boss battles after every level, they’re less of an exercise in pattern recognition and exploiting weaknesses and more focused on trying to figure out each boss’s gimmick. To that end, it seems like Glover would be a refreshing take on the 3D platformer.
That is, until you start to play the game. As I said, Glover’s only constant companion is his ball, and the gameplay centers around controlling and manipulating the ball, and while that’s fine in and of itself, the mechanics of controlling it, the game’s controls themselves, and the camera conspire together to turn a potentially fun action-puzzler into a test of patience. To borrow a line from my esteemed colleague, it feels a lot like playing something like Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball and a lot like losing at Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball.
Y’see, Glover pushes the ball around with his body from behind, and can dribble it like a basketball to jump with it, he can throw the ball in an arc, or he can slap it forwards. The ball itself has four modes you can cycle through with R if Glover has control of it: the standard bouncy ball, a bowling ball, a metal ball bearing, and a glass ball with polygonal sides, kinda like a Dungeons and Dragons die.
Here’s where things start to break down. Most of the gameplay in Glover involves going between platforms above bottomless pits, and Glover’s life is tied to the ball. If you accidentally slap the ball off a cliff, you die the same as if Glover himself gets hit too many times. The ball itself can be popped if it gets attacked too many times as well, costing you a life. If you accidentally send the ball into a deep body of water and can’t reach it, you’re screwed because the ball can float and Glover does not. As you probably guessed, the vertically-inclined action means there’s a lot of precision jumping involved, which would be fine if the actual physics of the ball weren’t an unmitigated disaster.
As I said, you don’t jump with the ball, you dribble it to jump. So if you’re trying to climb up stairs, the wonky hit detection means you’ll probably clip the edge of the next step and bounce back down the stairs. You’ll try to jump around corners and hit…I dunno, something, and bounce away and die. You’ll land on a lot of tiny moving platforms and end up rolling off because there’s no consistency in whether or not you’ll move with the platform or not and you’ll end up overcompensating and dying. Sometimes, you’ll have to jump THEN throw the ball to high ledges, which will take multiple attempts because you’ll either have to move away from the wall to get the ball to arc over the top or because the delay between pressing B to bounce and holding B to throw will just cause you to huck it at the wall.
If you’re rolling into deep water, Glover will hop on the ball and log-roll it around, and pushing FORWARD on the Control Stick makes Glover move BACKWARDS towards the camera, not to mention he flat-out refuses to go in a straight line while riding it. You’ll try to dismount from the ball and accidentally nudge it off a platform because you don’t know which side Glover will move to. If you’re trying to push the ball up a steep hill, when you reach the top, there’s a chance all the momentum you had to build to get up the hill will make it get away from Glover and roll over the edge. If you have the glass ball selected, you can’t dribble it, instead you’ll just shatter it and die. YES. If you have the glass ball selected, B becomes a suicide button. And if all that wasn’t enough, the final level takes place in space, because really, what better way is there to finish a game where you spend the first 90% of the game learning how to handle the broke-ass mechanics than to feature a level with low gravity that messes up your timing and throws away any experience you’ve gained with the physics?
If that wasn’t bad enough, the time you spend in between aggravating deaths will be spent wrestling the camera. You rotate the camera with Left and Right C like Mario 64, but sometimes, especially if you’re anywhere near a wall, the camera will get stuck and won’t rotate unless you move away. Sometimes the camera will flat out override you and put you at the camera angle the designers chose for you, which leads to moments like landing on a seesaw platform and not knowing that you’re on one until it’s too late because the camera is facing downwards towards the flat background and doesn’t give you a sense that you’re moving downwards. There’ll be a number of instances where you have to reorient yourself and jigger with the camera to see if you’re heading towards a downward-sloping ramp or just the edge of a platform. The game also randomly decides whether or not to have shadows, which is LOVELY when you’re trying to jump down to a platform with no idea where you’re going to land exactly, especially considering you’re riding on something that likes to bounce around like a friggin’ Superball.
Aside from just surviving long enough to reach the exit, your other goal in each stage is to collect little red and yellow cards called Garibs. If you collect 10, Glover gets another heart restored to his life bar, and collecting 50 grants you an extra life. Unlike games like Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie, though, where scooping up all the coins or musical notes can be a fun and otherwise non-obtrusive little hunt, searching for extra Garibs is very much gambling with your life, to the point where I basically quit searching for them at all and any I collected was purely coincidental; I just cared more about getting through each stage as close to intact as possible instead of worrying about any extras, and as it turns out, you don’t need them to complete the game AT ALL, they’re just…there. There are also a number of potions scattered about the levels that do things like make Glover supersized or give him the power to turn enemies to frogs, but instead of being able to collect these and deploy them later for creative problem solving, you use them right away, usually on something right next to you that’s pretty damned obvious.
What’s such a shame about this all is that every now and then, I’d happen upon something that showed a little bit of potential, like a spot in the circus level where a magnet can scoop up the metal ball bearing and you drop it through something that resembles a pachinko machine, or using the bowling ball’s weight and momentum to knock over a plank and creating a bridge. Unfortunately, though, it wouldn’t take long for the feelings of “hey, that’s kinda cool” to be replaced by “I HATE THIS FUCKING GAME” after another run-in with the lousy controls and woeful ball mechanics.
By the end, I was excited to get through levels, not because I wanted to see what lay ahead, but more because I was just that much closer to being done with it, which is about the worst indictment I could put on a game. It felt like hard work more than fun. And as a final sort of Eff You, Glover has quite possibly the longest credits screen I’ve happened upon. It runs for over TEN MINUTES. Granted, I get that they wanted to thank everyone involved and their friends and all, but that seems like a bit much to put at the end of a game that very few people are gonna bother to finish. Quite frankly, the only things keeping this afloat and out of 1/2 Star Hell is that I liked the concept, and there were just enough flashes of potential to keep things from being a complete abomination. I would strongly advise you to steer clear of this one, and honestly, you’d probably have more fun making Hamburger Helper than playing with this glove, and at least then there would be a tasty meal for you afterwards.
I did think there was some potential here with the concept and some of the gimmicks, the music’s alright, and the art style is fine.
HORRIFIC controls, dreadful hit detection, and atrocious camera work make this an uphill climb from start to finish.