Back when I was a kid in the early ’90s, my Dad would take me to a video store down the street from our condo building to rent games for the weekend. The store (which I can’t remember the name of for the life of me) had a small collection of video games. I frequently bounced between Legend of Zelda: Adventure of Link, Metroid, Faxanadu, and a little game called Whomp ‘Em.
Whomp ‘Em was a platformer video game produced by Jaleco in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It featured a character, Soaring Eagle, who is on a quest to complete a series of elemental rituals to obtain magical items for his pouch – or at least that’s the instruction manual’s interpretation of the game. Interestingly enough, this game went through a series of title and character changes before it landed on Whomp ‘Em in the U.S.. Get ready for this next part because it completely baffled me when I went to do my research.
This game was actually a sequel to a Japanese game, Saiyuki World, that was never released in the U.S. In Saiyuki World the player controlled a character, Sun Wukong, who was freeing monks to bring the word of Buddha to China. Even crazier, Saiyuki World was an adaption of the arcade hit, Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Further down the rabbit hole, Saiyuki World was influenced by the novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Cue the sound of my brain exploding!
Whomp ‘Em was fairly simple. The player was given the choice to choose between 6 different stages in any order, defeat the boss to obtain its elemental ability, and to then wield it as their own in other levels. It was a very similar setup to Megaman, even in its level design.
Depending on the level, this game could be easy or relentless on the player. Some of the enemies are straight up unavoidable, while the bosses are sometimes too difficult to engage in battle. The game also has no qualms with sending the player all the way back to the beginning of the level if they died during a boss fight. This is why I have never actually beaten Whomp ‘Em.
The levels themselves are what are actually the draw to this game. Not only are they well designed, but they paint some pretty cool worlds. The Sacred Woods is a LSD trip full of flying pink elephants. The Ice Ritual has eyes frozen into the walls, staring at the player as Soaring Eagle descends further into its terrifying caverns. The music offers sprightly beats which invites the player to come back and try again, even though a boss just sent them back to the beginning of the level.
For whatever reason, Whomp ‘Em has stuck with me since I was a kid. The game doesn’t have a lot of depth to it, but it’s simple and offers hours of fun gameplay, even if it’s near impossible to beat.