Monday, June 5, 2023

Review: Austin Powers Game Boy Color Games

It might sound like I’m describing a fever dream, but it happened. And if you — like me — loved the Game Boy Color and goofy spy movies back in The Spy Who Shagged Me era, you probably remember the Austin Powers video games all too well.

(Yes, I said games.)

A few days ago, I found my old Austin Powers: Oh, Behave! Game Boy Color cartridge and it unlocked a memory for me. Until that moment, I had completely forgotten that this game existed. Maybe I unconsciously blocked it out. Either way, revisiting it in 2022 has been quite an adventure.

While we wait for another installment in the Austin Powers franchise, let’s awkwardly jump into the “ti-me ma-chine” and see how much mojo they have left.

Wait. What?

Back in 2000, Rockstar Games (yes, that Rockstar Games) published two licensed Austin Powers tie-in games: Austin Powers: Oh, Behave! and Austin Powers: Welcome to My Underground Lair! for the Game Boy Color.

All of this happened just before Rockstar was Rockstar.

Rockstar had made a couple of Grand Theft Auto games, but those games were very different from Grand Theft Auto 3, the huge 3D sandbox game that redefined what it meant for a game to be a Rockstar game.

This moment in 2000 was a transition moment for Rockstar. After the release of Tarantula’s pair of Austin Powers handheld games, Rockstar — or one of its subsidiaries — released Midnight Club: Street Racing (2000), Grand Theft Auto 3 (2001), and Max Payne (2001). And they never looked back.

Looking back, it’s amazing that Rockstar published Oh, Behave! and Welcome to My Underground Lair! 

But enough about the studio’s background and Rockstar’s involvement — let’s get to the Austin Powers Game Boy Color games!

Becoming the International Man of Mystery

I don’t remember seeing Oh, Behave! behind the security glass at Walmart, but I distinctly remember coming home with it. I was in the backseat of my dad’s car, and I couldn’t believe what was in my hands — an Austin Powers game! It’s safe to say that I was obsessed with the Austin Powers movies at the time. I couldn’t appreciate many of the PG-13 jokes until I watched the movies a little later, but I still thought the movies were hilarious. Mike Myers’ International Man of Mystery was a funny take on the suave James Bond character, Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham were gorgeous, and the infinitely quotable Dr. Evil was everywhere, a certified staple of the late ‘90s pop culture.

Back in those days, you didn’t really know what games were coming out. Going to the video game store was an adventure, and you never knew what might be on the shelf. That’s how Oh, Behave! was for me. I never expected to walk into Walmart and see an Austin Powers game. But there it was.

Before I got home with the game, I didn’t know what an Austin Powers game might play like, but I imagined it was some sort of 2D sidescroller that put you in control of the world’s grooviest spy. During the ride home, I poured over the box art and read (and re-read) every word in the manual.

On that 20-minute car ride, I overhyped the game for myself. And when I played it, I was incredibly disappointed.

Austin Powers: Oh, Behave! isn’t really a single game. It’s a set of familiar mini-games with a shagadelic coat of paint.

Oh, Behave! boots up like an old machine running MS-DOS. After the game boots up, you answer some basic questions — including your name, favorite Powers girl (Alotta Fagina), pad address (747 Jumbo Jet), and interests (Swinging), before arriving at what looks like an Austin Powers-themed desktop screen. From here, you can click around to use Programs — including a calculator called the Shagulator, a basic word processor called Austin’s Pad, and an emulated Internet browser with recreations of basic ‘90s Internet pages about Austin Powers — and Games.

The Games folder includes three different games: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Mojo Maze, and Domination.

Rock, Paper, Scissors is exactly what you expect. You can play as a single-player or use a link cable to connect with another Game Boy to play a two-player game. (Why you’d want to connect Game Boys to play a digital match of Rock, Paper, Scissors — as opposed to, you know, just playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with your hands — doesn’t make sense to me, but I digress.) If you play in single-player mode, you play as Austin, and you can pick your opponent from a relatively large cast of Austin Powers villains, including Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, Number 2, Patty O’Brien, Frau Farbissina, Random Task, and Mustafa. The game has these really charming pixel caricatures of all the characters. It’s a nice touch, and it gives you a reason to play through Rock, Paper, Scissors, even if it’s just to see all the character animations.

Mojo Maze is a Pacman clone. You play as Austin Powers, running through a maze, collecting male symbol medallions, and avoiding enemies. Not much to see here, honestly.

Domination is an Austin Powers-themed Othello board game. You play as Austin, and your opponent is, naturally, Dr. Evil. Not much to see here either.

For some reason, the real game in this game is hidden. There actually is an Austin Powers platformer in this game. But you have to scroll through several menus to find it. The game — “Austin Powers: International Man In a Platform Game” — finally lets you control a pixelated version of the International Man of Mystery himself. As Austin Powers, you navigate basic platforming challenges, shoot enemies with your pistol, and collect items to run up a high score. The first level is a London Underground level, and Austin must face off against sworn enemies like trash cans and cones…? You have to defeat all the enemies that are scattered throughout the level and make your way to the time machine before time elapses. And it’s actually pretty difficult. It took me more than a few tries to get through the first level this many years later. It plays a little like the NES Mega Man games.

Back in 2000, I was incredibly disappointed with this game. I remember thinking, What IS this?! But playing it today, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about Oh, Behave! There’s so much early ‘00s charm to it, and in a lot of ways, the game — if we can call it that — is incredibly ambitious. It could have been a simple cash grab, but rather than simply building a generic platformer with an Austin Powers sprite, Tarantula developed an Austin Powers experience on the Game Boy Color. With its “programs,” Oh, Behave! takes advantage of the Game Boy Color Printer add-on, and in its interface, it mimics computers of the time, reminding us of what the Internet was like back then.

A Frickin’ Game Boy Game!

I don’t have nearly as much experience with Austin Powers: Welcome to My Underground Lair! But Tarantula appears to have taken inspiration from the king of Game Boy games at the time — Pokémon. Like Red and Blue or Silver and Gold, Welcome to My Underground Lair! isn’t that much different from Oh, Behave! There’s basically an Austin version of the game and a Dr. Evil version.

As the title implies, Welcome to My Underground Lair! is more focused on Dr. Evil, putting him at the center of the action. This time, you become a henchman for Dr. Evil and team up with him to defeat Austin Powers!

The game itself plays out much like Oh, Behave! The first time you start it up, you’re asked several questions, including your name, your pet (Mutated Sea Bass), your Lair Address (Moon Lair), and your Interests (Diabolical Schemes). I’m not sure what (if any) impact your responses have on the rest of the game, but it’s a quaint bit of world-building that makes you feel like you’re part of the game. The interface is similar to Oh, Behave! but Dr. Evil’s logo and pictures of Mr. Bigglesworth have replaced Austin’s groovy imagery. The programs, extras, and games — Rock, Paper, Scissors, Mojo Maze, and Dominion — are all the same.

In place of the platformer, there’s a game called “Dr. Evil He’s ‘Kin’ Evil.” Unlike Austin’s game, in this game, you play as Dr. Evil and Mini Me on a scooter. You ride over a few platforms and jumps, trying to collect money and fuel as you go. The game reminds me a little of Excitebike on the NES, but the controls here are awful. It’s fun to play around with for a while, but it’s so difficult to control the scooter and keep Dr. Evil upright, the game gets old pretty quick.

The Nostalgia That Shagged Me

Let me be clear: These Austin Powers games aren’t great games. At all. But they are fascinating time capsules that show us a creative way to use licensed characters. Tarantula could have just made simple run-and-shoot platformers with some boring Austin Powers pixel art, but they tried to do something different.

Like I mentioned, at the time, it fell flat for me. But playing them more than twenty years later, I loved them. Their fun computer interfaces capture the time, and using an IP like Austin Powers means the games aren’t taking themselves too seriously.

It doesn’t look like we’re getting an Austin Powers 4, and that means we’ll probably never see another Austin Powers video game again. And while that’s probably for the best, I’m glad that these two weird little games exist.

They’re fab. They’re switched on. They’re a bit of alright. Yes!

Justin McGee
Justin McGee
Lifelong Nintendo fan. Follow me on Twitter @PuffyRedShirt

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