Bad Mojo review

The Good:
  • Totally original premise
  • Wonderfully surreal atmosphere
  • Great graphics and design
  • Organic obstacles
The Bad:
  • Buggy videos (there, I said it)
  • Fairly short
  • Wasted dramatic plotline
  • Some gross images
Our Verdict: A true one-of-a-kind experience; unless you absolutely can’t handle the gritty material, you owe it to yourself to hunt down this quirky game.

Is there a more globally despised creature than the cockroach? Oh, sure, people are more frightened of snakes, sharks and [insert local geographical menace here]. But just in terms of sheer, unadulterated disgust, the roach rules! It could be because the largest can grow to half a foot long (15 cm), or because it can live over a week with its head cut off, or even because it's a scavenging omnivore that would gladly feed on human flesh if it confused our sleeping bodies for dead...

Yes, it could be any of these things, but really it's far more basic than that—the cockroach is simply ugly and vile, invades our homes and our food, and lurks in the shadows like a secret, silent stalker. We see them from the corners of our eyes in that hazy instant when dark turns to light, and then they're gone. They're like insect ghosts haunting us, but very much real.

So I ask you (assuming you haven't already run screaming for the can of Review Raid), does the cockroach sound like an ideal protagonist for an adventure game? Well, the gutsy developers at Pulse Entertainment thought so. They gambled that a game about a cockroach would be so abhorrent it becomes compelling. The result? An obscure, raw little gem called Bad Mojo that shouldn't be missed by anyone but the most pestphobic.

As the story opens, a loser named Roger Samms is planning to flee the pathetic hovel he lives in above an abandoned bar, thanks to a fortune embezzled from an entomology grant. Before he can escape, he is confronted by Eddie, the obnoxious landlord who lives downstairs with his free-roaming cat. Alone again after the interruption, Samms grabs his late mother's locket, which unleashes the titular bad mojo (a hex or spell). Suddenly, before you can say "Kafka," a metamorphic storm of magical energy turns Samms into a cockroach, and the player's task begins.

Since no obvious objectives are presented at first, it's time to begin exploring in the hopes of understanding and ultimately reversing Roger's predicament. However, we quickly learn that the world we once knew and took for granted as a human presents some serious transportational and survival issues for a small bug. As a result, the entire game becomes a giant obstacle course of household elements. What was once familiar and insignificant is now awesome and insurmountable, and that's the unique design and clever challenge of Bad Mojo.

Each room contains multiple dilemmas, but scattered about are symbols which trigger helpful (though cryptically poetic) clues. The game has very few conventional puzzles, opting for organic difficulties instead. Whether it's navigating makeshift bridges through deadly insect traps, wending across a stovetop maze while boiling chili splatters the available paths around you, or creating safe passage through gusting vents, there's plenty to keep a roach busy. None of the challenges can be considered particularly difficult, but will still require careful exploration and observation to succeed. A few are decidedly illogical, but never so much that they frustrate and annoy. Progression through the game is largely linear, as courses are typically dictated by boundaries of spilled liquids, poisons, and basic architecture. Credit goes to the developers, however, for making these borders feel so natural.

As you pass from room to room, you are also rewarded with video sequences that present a much more human drama unfolding. Without giving away any details, it becomes clear that Roger's transformation has a higher purpose—one of redemption and reconciliation. This adds a very personal dimension to an otherwise surreal experience. Regrettably, the direction of this story is established so early and so blatantly that it loses all sense of mystery and wonder. It's still a nice touch, but ultimately offers little dramatic impact, and that's a shame.

The game plays out in a third-person... um, no... a bird's-eye overhead... err... Well, whatever the applicable insect terminology, you see yourself as a cockroach, at any rate. Frankly, this was a good decision, as a direct bug’s perspective would require a compound viewscreen that would make us all dizzy. Besides, the strength of the imagery is in watching yourself skitter around the game world as a critter you'd really prefer to crush with your bootheel.

I'd describe the onscreen interface, except there isn't one... at all. There is no cursor, no commands, no inventory. Maneuvering Roger roach is done entirely through the keyboard’s arrow keys, and that’s the sum total of the learning curve. I know the mere thought of direct control is enough to discourage some people, but movement doesn't come any easier than this. Believe me, you could probably control it with your nose if playing with the keyboard attached to your face didn't pose some logistical problems of its own. The game design is very forgiving of clumsy fingers, so you shouldn't find yourself meeting your doom accidentally.

As you'd imagine under the circumstances, item manipulation is extremely limited. Only tiny objects can be affected at all, and then only by making full body contact. So you'll be able to slide a bottle cap or peanut shell a small way, but are powerless to move a fork or shoe. This adds a refreshing degree of realism, and again, will pose no problems even to the most dexterity-challenged gamer. Unfortunately, Bad Mojo rarely lets you move items that aren't directly involved in overcoming obstacles, so the interactivity is limited and inconsistent.

Continued on the next page...

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Adventure games by Pulse Entertainment

Bad Mojo Redux  2004

Inside a seedy, dilapidated bar in San Francisco, your dreams of escape are about to be realized.

Bad Mojo  1996

Inside a seedy, dilapidated bar in San Francisco, your dreams of escape are about to be realized.