Sonic the Hedgehog is still considered by many to be the speedy platforming king, but his heyday was definitely during the early '90s. This led to several sequels and spin-offs, as well as just as many wannabes and rip-offs. While Sega's mascot was the coolest, fastest thing on two legs, his many imitators were far from it. One particular mimicking marsupial game, Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt, was at the top of the heap when it came to rock-bottom quality.
Awesome Possum was the star of a titular platformer for the Genesis, and gamers nowadays laugh at the less-than-awesome adventure. Despite its modern ridicule, it actually received some fairly decent to great reviews back in the day. This begs the question: Is Awesome Possum simply a victim of revisionist reverse-nostalgia, or was his sole time in the spotlight better off playing dead?
What Was Tengen's Awesome Possum?
Released in 1993, Awesome Possum was anything but subtle. The game's protagonist teams up with allies, Killer Bee and Rad Rhino, to take down the evil Dr. Machino, who aims to destroy all wildlife with his robotic hordes. If the setup sounds familiar, it should. The character is obviously meant as a "too cool for school" wiseacre in the vein of Sonic, as well as to a lesser extent, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. His foe, Dr. Machino, couldn't possibly ape Dr. Eggman, then still known as Dr. Robotnik, anymore than was done, while the rhino animal buddy ironically predates Rambi from Donkey Kong Country.
Levels in the game ended with quizzes based around environmental trivia, though this inane element has no real bearing on anything worthwhile, such as extra lives or items. Instead of coins, rings or bananas, trash is collected -- a poor attempt at being topical. It's worth noting that the game was created by Tengen, a company known for their less-than-savory practices and lower quality products.
The gameplay itself is as generic as it comes, Awesome Possum's movement trying to evoke Sonic's speed with none of the finesse. This extends to defeating enemies, with his whirling dervish attack rarely connecting when it should. Thus, the gameplay is usually seen as messy and uncoordinated, with the poor controls and level design being the only real challenges to overcome. Another infamous feature of the game is that it had voice acting at a time when that was still incredibly rare in video games. The unfortunate result of this "revolution," however, is that Awesome Possum never shuts up, casually commenting on just about anything throughout the entire experience.
Was Awesome Possum Actually That Bad?
Even upon release, some bemoaned Awesome Possum as the leftovers of the platforming genre, but theirs weren't the only opinions on the game. For instance, Electronic Games, the first video game magazine, gave it a 93% rating, with heavy praise being given to the speedy gameplay as well as the voice acting and music. Other positive reviews included GamePro's 16/20, Gamezone's 76%, Video Games and Computer Entertainment's 8/10 and Game Power's 89/100. Beep! MegaDrive, Mean Machines Sega and others gave much lower scores, criticizing the gameplay and the voice acting, but they were definitely in the minority when it came to professional review outlets.
This makes modern hatred of Awesome Possum somewhat suspect, as it could simply be derived from modern cynicism. Does the knowledge that Awesome Possum was meant to be a cheap stand-in for Sonic cloud modern gamers' judgement about his sole title? Can the same be said about his annoying characteristics, which are likely far less endearing to those outside of the intended child target audience? Parallels could be drawn to a similar '90s animal mascot named Bubsy. His initial side scrolling platforms were mediocre to decent, though they had nothing on Mario or Sonic titles. After the release of the horrendous Bubsy 3D, the franchise as a whole was seen as irredeemable.
Sadly, Awesome Possum has been dealt a similar fate, condemned to the purgatory of failed game mascot limbo. His only game certainly wasn't on the level of the Sonic series that it so desperately wanted to be. Ironically though, it was arguably a good bit better than many of the hedgehog's later titles.