Lately I’ve been replaying Gex: Enter the Gecko for the Playstation because I don’t have any self respect. Sure, there are plenty of new games I could be playing, especially because I just got a new computer after years of not having a machine capable of running modern games. But instead I had a perverse urge to dig Gex out of my pile of PS1 “classics” and give it a spin. What’s wrong with me? I think I need help.
For those not in the know, Gex is a TV-obsessed Gecko who made his first appearance in the eponymous 1994 2D platformer Gex on the PS1, developed by Crystal Dynamics, where he enters the Media Dimension to take out the robotic Rez. This was followed by Enter the Gecko, a 1998 3D sequel, and 1999’s Deep Cover Gecko, the third, and final, game in the franchise. There are also some N64 ports and Gameboy Color versions, if you really want to see how deep this rabbit hole goes. I’ve never played the first game or the Gameboy games, but the second and third entries were childhood favorites of mine. I used the rent them constantly from the video store, enough times that I could probably have just bought them for far less than my parents spent on the rentals.
I’ll be the first to admit that these games are not exactly what I’d call “good” (though they got decent reviews at the time). They’re not exactly “bad,” either. I’d put them firmly in the “interesting” category. I wouldn’t recommend them to non-gamers, but for fans of the platforming genre it’s worth your time to at least check them out. The controls and camera are about what you’d expect from a PS1-era 3D game (read: shitty), but they’re at least mostly functional. The gameplay is pretty simple and nothing groundbreaking: Gex can whip enemies and object with his tail, do a spring jump to gain more height, and a flying kick to cross large gaps. Powerups are kinda neat: they come in the form of TV sets that release remote control flies that Gex can eat to regain health, get a 1-Up, or collect a flame or ice powerup.
It’s in the overall aesthetic that Enter the Gecko really shines. Gex himself is the star of the show. Voiced by comedian Dana Gould, the gecko constantly spouts movie quotes, snarky quips about the level he’s currently exploring, and bizarre references to obscure subjects like comedian Rip Taylor that I definitely didn’t get when I was twelve and only barely get now. This is both a blessing and a curse. A lot of the voice clips are actually pretty funny, and the sheer number of them (most of them level specific) is impressive. But they get repetitive pretty fast, and you might be thankful that there’s option to turn the voices off. Gex is supported by tons of hilarious signs plastered all over the environments, my favorite being a road sign that simply says “Pimp Struttin.”
The levels are broken up into several themes: cartoons, horror movies, kung-fu theater, space operas, inside a computer (Tech TV I guess?), and pre-historic (History channel perhaps?). Of these, the Toon TV levels stand out as my favorite, with Scream TV as a close second. These each get repeated between two and four times, for a total of fourteen regular stages a slew of bonus stages. Remote controls are the basic progress-blocking collectible, and most stages have two or three red remotes to find (think Stars from Mario 64), as well as a hidden silver remote and one gained from obtaining 120 common collectibles.
The cartoon-themed levels are some of the most wildly imaginative levels I’ve ever played, with zany environmental features like falling anvils, hammer-wielding flowers, living bear traps, floating I-beams, and a giant red rocket you can ride. They owe a lot to Looney Tunes as well, given the presence of hunters with shotguns, forest areas, and desert areas. I’m okay with that. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. There are unfortunately only two cartoon-themed stages in the game, the fewest of any, which is a damn shame.
Other stages are not as much fun. The horror levels are great, with plenty of secrets and puzzles, and the kung-fu levels aren’t bad, but the computer, pre-historic, and space stages are for the most part pretty lame and forgettable in terms of level design, despite having nice aesthetics. It makes you wish the teams that made the toon and horror levels could do a whole game all by themselves.
One thing I like a lot is how collectibles are handled. Much like in Mario 64, you get a silver remote for obtaining 120 items in a stage (which vary from stage to stage), but there are far more than 120 to pick up. The way it works is kinda weird to: you collect thirty of one item (say, skulls), which gives you a 1-Up and changes all the pickups into something else (say, tombstones), that you have to get forty of. After that, another 1-Up, another item change, and fifty more gives you the silver remote. These carry over after death as well, so getting enough is never a problem. In the sequel they changed this so that there are exactly 100 fly coins in each stage, and they only save at checkpoints. This is a huge step back considering the level design isn’t often conducive to exploring every nook and cranny in one life.
The main problem with Enter the Gecko is how unfair it becomes towards the end. Many of the later stages are stuffed full of bottomless pits, and while checkpoint TVs exist in this game, they only show up in a scant few levels, usually when you don’t even really need them. On stages where checkpoints would be actually useful, they’re usually nowhere to be found. The space levels are the worst. Besides most of the level being a bottomless pit, you also have a dumb air mechanic to worry about. This makes you rush to get to the next air refresh, which makes it all the more likely that you’ll fall in a pit and die.
Like I said at the outset, Gex: Enter the Gecko isn’t really a good game, but it’s not terrible either. There’s no need to finish it 100% (unless you just really like listening to Dana Gould), but it’s worth checking out for the novelty alone (as is Deep Cover Gecko). Some of those quotes (“It’s tail time!”) are permanently burned into my brain, which I guess means they were doing something right. Square-Enix owns the rights now and has been talking about maybe rebooting the franchise, so who knows? It’s possible we haven’t seen the last of Gex and the Media Dimension. I’m excited about that prospect, even if I’m the only one.