Retro Review – Gex: Enter the Gecko

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By Josh Nichols on April 6th, 2021

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Gex’s debut was an interesting release on 3DO, PC, and PlayStation that served as the foundation for Gex’s true potential, which would be realized in the two sequels: Gex: Enter the Gecko and Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko. The original release helped establish who Gex was a character and featured well designed and detailed environments for the 2D side-scrolling platformer but the sequels were full 3D adventures that were inspired by games like Super Mario 64. They were still based in Gex’s nonsensical and ridiculous humor and technically took place in something resembling reality but the main portions of the games took place anywhere and everywhere, since Gex was inside ‘The Media Dimension.’

‘”That’s for 12 years of Full House!”‘

The premise of Gex allowed the developers to do anything they wanted. Gex was inside a digital television universe, seeped in pop culture references and entertainment tropes. Nothing was off limits and while this removed a sense of focus and cohesion, it almost didn’t even matter. It meant anything was possible and there were no constraints to speak of while designing levels for Gex to explore. This worked to the game’s advantage since developer Crystal Dynamics didn’t have to design an overly detailed overworld, like Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64. It also allowed Gex to jump quickly to different kinds of locations with a framework that worked within the fiction, like the warp rooms from Crash Bandicoot.

Enter the Gecko‘s story is relatively simple overall but more involved and detailed than most platformers. Crash is trying to save his partner Tawna and stop a mad scientist from destroying his home. Mario is trying to save Princess Peach and stop a giant, evil, fire-breathing turtle.

Gex is fighting his way through a digital dimension to destroy a terrifying digital demon overlord, known as Rez, who rules over the Media Dimension and is threatening the outside world. It’s a trip.

‘”That’s the sweet stuff darling.”‘

The game opens with Gex being persuaded by government agents to help them stop Rez, who has returned after being defeated by Gex a few years earlier. Gex initially refuses, claiming he already went through this and shouldn’t have to do it again, but has his pure mind and heroic heart nudged in the right direction after being bribed with a very large amount of money and some rad digital gadgets.

Gex travels through twelve different levels, taking place in eight different settings. Think two different water-themed levels in a water-themed world in a Mario game–except the two levels are filled with animation tropes and falling anvils in the ‘Toon TV’ channel. Gex’s settings were so much more off the wall than other platformers. His levels weren’t as defined by weather and natural occurances, like ice, rain, or desert themed locations.

Gex: Enter the Gecko had just as many differences with its contemporaries as it did similarities. The levels satirized TV tropes, movies, and contemporary pop culture references, which worked and didn’t feel out of place. Gex can crack fun at stuff and say things we might be thinking since he’s traveling through a dimension derived from pop culture. He loved watching TV just like we did.

Scratch part of that though. Gex was thinking things just like we all do when we watch stuff, but he was not thinking the same things we were. He says what he’s thinking throughout the entire game, providing commentary on his surroundings, along with unrelated musings. While you help Gex jump, tail bounce, climb, and tail swipe his way through different dimensions, he talks almost the entire time.

‘”Move like a butterfly sting like a gecko!”‘

Sometimes he says things that sort of make sense but most of the time they’re just ridiculous and off the wall. When I arrived in a particular level, Gex looked back toward the camera and proclaimed, “This place is bigger than Drew Carrey’s bar tab.”

This level was a haunted mansion, complete with zombies, brick walls with faces that lunge outward, and ghosts. You’ll either laugh or groan when Gex opens his mouth. You’ll likely do both intermittently throughout the game. Gex probably says something every minute or two. The frequency varies depending on environments, enemies, and the player’s actions.

Gex is voiced by comedian, actor, writer, and voice artist, Dana Gould in the American version. You may recognize his name from a few things but he’s probably most known for his work on The Simpsons and a few other various writing and acting roles. You’ll forever know him as Gex once you either play the game or experience it vicariously through a ‘Let’s Play.’ I’ll never forget his voice after having hours of Gex quotes that have been ingrained in my mind since the game’s 1998 release.

‘”Now, that’s what I call getting some tail.”‘

It was the late 90s though and everything had to be edgy and in your face. Sonic was wagging his finger with a smug smile on title screens. Crash Bandicoot was yelling outside of Nintendo’s headquarters with a megaphone, demanding Mario come out and face him. Gex was warning us all not to drink the water at Jerry Garcia’s house for the third time. This game is so part of the time it comes from in terms of tone and humor but it’s aged pretty well overall.

I was extremely relieved and pleasantly surprised how well the game felt when I replayed it. I hadn’t touched this game in almost twenty years. I was expecting it to feel like most 90s era 3D platformers. For every Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, there is a Bubsy 3D and Jumpin’ Flash. It was new technology and it took a lot of time for it to fully hit its stride. And honestly, even games that felt good at the time don’t feel as good now. Super Mario 64 was the game to compete against and emulate. It feels reasonably well now but it still pales in comparison to all the progress 3D movement has made in the years sense. This isn’t a knock against what the games did. It’s just acknowledging how tightly tied games and technology are to each other. They grow with each other and the progress stacks. After we experience years of iteration, it’s only natural to feel an unraveling feeling when playing something underneath all the growth.

‘”A little tongue now, a lot of tail later.”‘

But I honestly feel like Gex: Enter the Gecko is in the same camp as Super Mario 64, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, and Spyro the Dragon in terms of how good they still somehow feel, decades after their original releases. Camera movement is still admittedly a bit stiff. It’s controlled with L1 and R1, as opposed to an analog stick, which obviously doesn’t feel as comfortable. But it works and it feels good enough. There’s an in-between option where the camera can be manipulated by you and it automatically moves around some too. That’s the style I recommend using. It’s too tiring to manually control the camera constantly and the game doesn’t do well enough controlling it all on its own, despite its best efforts. It hits walls sometimes and you can’t always get the perfect angle, but it gets the job done. That’s how Super Mario 64 feels after all these years too. I’d love to recommend you go out and purchase Super Mario 64 so you can experience its strange place in video game history and technology but Nintendo decided it shouldn’t make Mario’s landmark 3D debut available for purchase anymore. It was the best way to celebrate Mario’s 35th birthday, I guess.

Running and bouncing through Gex’s levels is functional enough to avoid most frustrations I experience when going back to early 3D titles and the gameplay itself is still really fun. I was smiling most of the time while I bounced through haunted houses and ran from Elmer Fudd lookalikes. Sure, it faded sometimes when Gex talked but the silly noise the camera makes when it hits an invisible wall usually made me smile again.

Enter the Gecko is sometimes difficult and there are a few sections where I had to check a guide to figure out where I needed to go. Gex collects remote controls in levels and they add up to unlock additional stages, which of course eventually get you to the final boss, Rez. Sometimes these remotes can be tricky to find. They’re like the stars in Super Mario 64 or crystals in Crash Bandicoot. Sometimes they’re in plain sight and you just need to go collect them. Other times though they’re in an area that requires some strategy and exploration to find a door or opening. This is partially the game’s fault but at the same time, the limited technology of the time only allowed so much.

“Is it just me or am I ENGULFED IN FLAMES?!”

The music of the game is very fun. It’s playful and helps paint the picture of the world you’re visiting, Gex is exploring, and the game is either referencing or poking fun at. It works really well. Several songs sound just enough like the official thing they’re referencing but different enough to be funny or silly in some way.

I think Gex: Enter the Gecko has aged really well overall. It’s worth replaying if all you have are distant memories and it’s fun enough where I think newcomers will find enjoyment with it, too. Enter the Gecko features densely detailed environments, especially given the limitations of early 3D capable hardware. It’s fun moving around in the levels though, which is one of the biggest goals and hurdles for 3D platformers.

Gex’s standard jump is full enough where it’s often not too difficult to get where you’re trying to go. If you hold the jump button down while hitting the ground, Gex bounces up, with the help of his tail. This tail bounce and the recovery it provides makes platforming easier and adds some joy to falling and redoing sections. It’s fun moving around so having to attempt a jump sequence more than once doesn’t really feel like punishment. Gex’s long tail helps him take out enemies without him having to get too close to the danger. Once players get familiar enough with Gex and his moveset, exploration and combat become second nature.

‘”Ah to see the world as Keith Richards does.”‘

Each new level provides different locations to explore, which are actually fun to search through, not only with Gex’s abilities making movement fun but the enemy variety is big enough where it really does feel like you’re traveling through different channels. The game’s themes can constantly shift, twist, and morph since the only basis in reality is the entertainment medium’s response and reflection of reality.

Gex is only bound by TV and film entertainment, meaning he can go anywhere and do anything in this digital dimension. Anything is impossible and Gex has a good time throughout the whole experience. He loves TV and films. He’s rarely out of his element or afraid of his obstacles. Since he’s cool and having a good time, it helps the player sink into the fun and exploration.

“Reminds me of Halloween at Rip Taylor’s.”

Gex: Enter the Gecko is harder to play these days outside of emulation. The original game can’t be purchased digitally on PlayStation or Nintendo platforms (the game also saw release on N64, but it’s arguably an inferior version). The first game is available to purchase digitally on GOG.com to play on PC. Crystal Dynamics has been a part of Square Enix since 2009 so I’m surprised we haven’t seen some effort put into at least some cheap barebones ports to PC and consoles. Hopefully Crystal Dynamics is either able to remaster or at least port all three games to consoles eventually so they can be available for nostalgia seekers and newcomers alike. I feel like it’s at least possible and not entirely unlikely since the GOG release of the first game was published by Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics. The first game is neat and did some cool stuff but it’s certainly not as beloved as the two sequels.

Square Enix started the ‘Square Enix Collective’ program in 2015, which would provide newer developers with the ability to create a new game from one of three different series under the Square Enix umbrella. Those series were Fear Effect, Anachronox, and Gex. I’m hoping we either see a remaster or Crash 4-style sequel soon. Until ports or remasters happen though, Enter the Gecko and Deep Cover Gecko are only available if you find a working secondhand copy. It’s a real shame, especially considering how much reverence Gex pays to older media.

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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