When I discovered Action 52 ten years ago I thought it might be fun to play a new game every week and write about it. It wasn’t (the games are terrible and repetitive), but I kept at it for several months until I ran out of not only new and clever things to say about essentially the same four games over and over, but also new and clever ways to say I was out of new and clever things to say about essentially the same four games over and over. The project ended and since I wasn’t going to be writing about them anymore, I saw no reason to keep playing terrible and repetitive games every Friday. But recently I decided to spend part of an afternoon playing the last unplayed games on the cartridge and in doing so nearly lost my will to live.
As the story goes, Vince Perri was inspired to create Action 52 after seeing how popular his son’s Taiwanese bootleg 40 games in 1 cartridge was with the neighborhood kids. Completely overlooking the fact that the cartridge was a hit because it contained 40 well-known games, Perri reasoned that a cartridge filled with original games that could be sold legally would be a big seller. He also planned to use it as a launching pad for The Cheetahmen, the half man/half cheetah martial artist characters he believed would make him Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rich. The fact that you feel absolutely no nostalgia for The Cheetahmen despite owning Biker Mice From Mars and Samurai Pizza Cats t-shirts shows just how well that went.
To make Action 52 a reality, Perri somehow convinced private investors in Europe, South America and Saudi Arabia to give him 20 million dollars. He hired three inexperienced programmers and gave them three months to complete 52 games. Faced with an impossible deadline, the three young men did what anyone would have done in that situation: they created a few game templates and changed the graphics and sounds to turn four games into 52.
Most of the Action 52 games aren’t worth discussing individually. There are some indistinguishable shooters, a lot of indistinguishable platformers, and a few indistinguishable beat-’em-ups. If Action 52 has a hidden gem, it’s Billy Bob, and even that game is less of a gem and more of a somewhat interesting looking rock you spot on the beach but ultimately decide not to pick up. If you held a contest to create the best Prince of Persia/Pitfall hybrid in less than a week, Billy Bob would take second place. It’s a solid effort and it certainly looks nice, but poor level design and cheap deaths from randomly appearing obstacles keep it from being genuinely enjoyable.
Try as I might, it’s impossible to discuss Action 52 without at least briefly touching on the headline game, The Cheetahmen, so let’s briefly touch on The Cheetahmen. After sitting through a nonsensical intro involving a kid getting pulled into his television by a mechanical arm, you take control of The Cheetahmen to fight your way through six levels of recycled graphics and glitchy gameplay. There are no in-level checkpoints, no on-screen indication of your character’s health, and no visual difference between defeating an enemy and that enemy colliding with the Cheetaman and doing damage, only a slightly different sound effect. And if you do manage to fight the urge to take your own life and play through to the end, your reward is being abruptly and unceremoniously whisked back to the title screen.
If you’re someone who’s spent more time watching YouTube videos ridiculing Action 52 than playing Action 52, do not – I repeat, do not – spend any more time playing Action 52. Actually playing terrible games like Streemerz will not give you any new insight into their terribleness. It will only waste valuable time that could be spent doing other, more enjoyable things, like enrolling in a new health care plan. If you have never played Action 52, don’t. If you insist on playing Action 52, don’t. And whatever you do, don’t attempt to play all 52 games. It’s a long, dangerous journey and not everyone who undertakes it makes it back.