It is 1983. Atari has just signed a deal with Universal and Amblin to secure the rights to E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial for the purposes of turning it into a video game. Atari has spent so much money on this deal that they’ve surpassed the “holy fucking shit are you for real” mark by about five million dollars and are now firmly in the realm of “you better not fuck this up because we had to take out a fourth mortgage on the house to pay for all this”. We all know how this story ends: in the desert with a dump truck, a steam roller, and a concrete mixer.
It is now 2001. It’s been nearly 20 years since the theatrical release of E.T. and the rights holders have decided they want to do something special for the occasion. The lovable alien gets a limited re-release in theaters with a special “enhanced” edition of the film. Most of these enhancements are in the form of CGI to help make things like the flying bicycle scene more believable… but this is also the cut of the movie that infamously replaced all of the firearms with walkie fucking talkies. This version of the movie has basically become a laughing stock for that reason so we’re not exactly off to a good start with this whole “20th Anniversary” thing.
Alongside the “re-imagining” of the film there was another E.T. video game that was released. After what happened the last time someone produced an E.T. game I’ve gotta say I respect the size of the balls on the person who thought the world was ready for another one. Or maybe they’re just stupid, I don’t really know. But when all was said and done and the I’s were crossed and the T’s were dotted, what kind of game was planned for E.T.’s big comeback? A personal organizer. Yes, you read that correctly; when it came time for E.T. to return to the digital arena he did so in a “video game” is that is only a video game by the loosest definition of the term.
This is E.T.: Digital Companion.
Upon starting Digital Companion for the first time E.T. welcomes you and proceeds to ask THREE DOZEN questions ranging from your name to your school and even to the first names of your parents. I’m not shitting you, E.T. literally asks you 36 goddamned questions the first time you turn the game on. I counted. For all the questions you’re asked you’d think maybe they would help tailor the experience of Digital Companion to your interests, but no. The only information ever recalled by the game is your first and last name as well as your phone number. These are shown when the game is booted up and serve the purpose of helping you get your game back in the event that the cartridge is lost… and the person who finds it just so happens to also own a Game Boy Color. Or you could put a sticker on the back of the game – any game, even – and write your name and phone number on that instead.
As you’re answering E.T.’s increasingly personal questions you might be inclined to turn the volume down on your Game Boy Color because the music that plays is a rather short 10 second loop that wears out its welcome by the third or fourth go around. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s about the only music in the game you’re ever going to hear with exceedingly few exceptions. This music plays on every clunky menu in the game no matter what you’re doing. All of the other music is restricted to the “minigames”. You will be hearing this same loop the entire time you have Digital Companion powered on.
Digital Companion is at its strongest visually. The game’s graphics are colorful and drawn well enough that you can make out what everything is for the most part. There’s a ton of art in this game, mostly in the form of little icons for things on the various menus, but I do have to commend the quality of the digitized stills from the film and its promotional materials that are used in Digital Companion. Pictures of E.T. and Elliot randomly cycle through as background images for the menus in the game and if you can stand the minigames long enough to score a ton of cumulative points you can look at these pictures on their own without a bunch of bullshit overlaid on top of them. If you have a Game Boy Printer and six AA batteries to spare you can even print them out. Objectively I think this is pretty neat but the ability to print out low-res pictures of E.T. is not enough to save this title. It is enough for me to decide to give it a 1 instead of a 0 for this category, however.
Aside from navigating the game’s menus, which is a challenge in and of itself due to how inexplicably laggy the game is, there’s nothing in Digital Companion that would apply to this category aside from its included minigames. Because of this the game’s “challenge” score will be based entirely around the five aforementioned diversions: Bicycle Race, Trivia Quiz, Tile Puzzle, Pair Up, and Word Scramble.
Bicycle Race is easily the best game of the bunch and don’t let that statement lead you to believe that this is a good game because it isn’t, it’s merely the least worst of the five. The objective here is to help Elliot race his bike down a city street while dodging obstacles and powering up E.T.’s abilities so you can eventually take off and fly over the remainder of the level. It’s playable, if a little rough around the edges, and that’s the best I can say about it. Collision detection seems to be kind of random when it comes to picking up items and the layouts of the later stages are pretty fucking stupid because there are things like turbo pads placed directly in front of walls. That aside, I had the most fun playing Bicycle Race but that’s like saying being shot in the head is better than being stabbed to death.
The remainder of the games all feel like afterthoughts or some kind of slap-dash affair that was programmed overnight. Next in line is Trivia Quiz where the objective is to answer ten questions about either the E.T. movie or outer space in general. If you’re a diehard E.T. fan you might do alright with the first category but to be honest I’m kind of indifferent toward the film so I fared a bit better with the latter. Questions range from piss easy pop science trivia to ones that are difficult by virtue of being worded very poorly. This entire game is purely menu navigation by the way, there is little to no “gameplay” here. I don’t know how many different questions there are but I can’t imagine there are a whole lot of them so the shelf life of this game likely isn’t very long and it’s probably only worth about a dozen or so plays.
Tile Puzzle is literally just one of those sliding piece picture puzzles. Depending on the difficulty you select you’ll either have the numbers 1-15 plastered onto the tiles or you won’t. If that’s your thing, go hog wild. I personally hate these fucking puzzles. Pair Up is a memory matching game and the tiles used are repurposed icons from elsewhere in the game. As you complete both of these games you’ll uncover one of the many digitized E.T. pictures but that doesn’t unlock them in the game’s photo album, you instead just get some points toward your cumulative total. There is no reason to play either of these. The final game, Word Scramble, is another hastily programmed mess that just grabs a random term out of the game’s dictionary of phrases and jumbles the letters up. It’s fair enough but there’s something really odd with how the letters are moved around as you play the game. For some reason you’ll end up inadvertently moving letters you didn’t mean to touch. Yeah I don’t know how you fuck up a word scramble game but the fine folks at Powerhead Games managed to.
Digital Companion also has a virtual pet called a “Flopglopple” but there’s nothing you can do with it that comes remotely close to being “a game” unless you consider the idea of a virtual pet a game in and of itself, and if you do this will still be a letdown because you can’t really interact with it. Personally I think the Flopglopple alien is fucking ugly and its design is stupid; it wriggles around like a worm… but it has three legs? So why doesn’t the thing just walk? I don’t get it. I don’t know where the Flopglopple is from (it’s not from the E.T. film, even the shitty re-cut version) but its inclusion as a virtual pet just comes off as one of the many random ideas that the creators of this thing felt compelled to cram into their ill-advised game. Also you can easily, and more likely accidentally, age your Flopglopple to 65536 days by tampering with the game’s date and time settings. It’s very easy to break Digital Companion, as you will soon find out.
Honestly I could just say “this game is utter shit” and move on to the next category but that would be a cop-out move and I’d fail to quantify just how spectacularly devoid of entertainment this game is. Since the previous sentence had the word “game” in it (and because I’ve been referring to Digital Companion as such for this entire article) I feel like I should expand upon that a little bit; Digital Companion is not a “game” in the traditional sense. It’s a personal organizer that just so happens to have minigames included as an aside. Judging it on the same criteria as a traditional video game is kind of unfair which is why the majority of this post so far has focused on just those five aforementioned minigames.
It is not the job of a personal organizer to entertain you, but that is not why I’ve decided to score this category a zero. In lieu of grading Digital Companion based upon its “entertainment factor” I’ve instead used this section to grade it on its ease of use and the convenience one would get out of using it for its intended purposes. And for that? Digital Companion gets a fucking zero.
Let’s just start with the home screen (also known as the “Start Screen”). There’s a to-do list you can access and this is probably the game’s high point as far as organization goes. If you really wanted to make a list of things to do and put up with navigating the menus and waiting the 15 or so seconds it takes for the game’s developer logos to play upon startup so you can check your list… well, you can. Or you could just write it down somewhere like a normal person. From here, the game fails on all counts in increasingly bizarre ways.
Digital Companion has a “Messages” feature but I don’t think this actually does anything. Aside from connecting to a printer this game offers no Link Cable support so you can’t “send” anyone a message despite there being an entire menu for things like “To” and “From” and “Subject”. Even if there was a link feature couldn’t you just look up at the person sitting two feet away from you and verbally tell them the message? This is somehow even stupider than the Generation Z trope of two people in the same room text messaging each other. My best guess is that you’re supposed to print these “messages” out and leave them in a place where the recipient would find them. Sure, okay. But there’s another problem: there isn’t a message body. The “Subject” line appears to actually be the message body and there’s room to display maybe like a dozen letters before the game truncates it into an ellipsis. If you open the subject line in the game’s text editor then you can read the whole thing but that defeats the point if you’re supposed to fucking print it out because as I mentioned earlier there’s no way to send it.
The Calendar option is perhaps the most useful feature on the cartridge but since I’ve already stated that the to-do list was the best thing you know there’s probably an issue here. You can add things to the calendar and print out reminders which can be helpful but the biggest gripe I have is the “at a glance” option from the main menu will list events and holidays taking place around today’s date but it won’t actually tell you what fucking day these events are on. You cannot just simply press A on one of the holidays to open up that day on the calendar. For holidays that happen on the same day each year this isn’t really an issue but if you wanted to quickly know when Mother’s Day was for example you’re fucked. The game will tell you that it’s either coming up or has passed but the only way I can figure out how to see exactly which day it is on is to skip the “at a glance” option, go to the main calendar application, and then just start checking all of the days that are marked in the month until you find out which one is the right one.
Alongside the calendar is a weekly planner for keeping track of your school schedule but attempting to set this up is even more of a pain in the ass because you have to set each class period for every single day of the week and for every month of the school year. It’s a hell of a lot easier to just walk into your school’s administration office and just ask the secretary if you can have a print out of your class schedule and the school’s calendar. There’s a stopwatch built into the game but just for shits and giggles I decided to test it against a proper stopwatch and determined that Digital Companion‘s is just slightly slower than accurate. It works fine if you want to time something that’s only a couple dozen seconds long but if for some stupid reason you wanted to legitimately time something you probably shouldn’t use this utility for reasons that I hope are obvious.
Perhaps most baffling is Digital Companion‘s “Dialer” function. When you’re entering your phone number at the start of the game there’s this option to “dial” the numbers you’ve entered and it causes the Game Boy Color to emit a string of horrifying tones. Turns out this is the game’s built-in phone dialer feature being temporarily repurposed to record your number but you can go back and access this thing at any time and play around with it. I believe what this is supposed to do is imitate the touch tones that correspond to the numerical keys on a telephone so that you can enter a number on Digital Companion, hold your Game Boy Color up to a telephone, activate the dialer, and presumably this would complete your phone call as if you had dialed it normally. It’s completely useless though, and it’s not because the game cannot store numbers and you have to manually enter them every single time you want to use the dialer which defeats the purpose (which is true by the way), but because the tones literally don’t fucking work. When I played the tones of my own phone number out loud I knew right away that it didn’t sound right. It was close, but it wasn’t correct. I decided to test out the dialer while refilling a prescription and when I was prompted to enter my prescription number I played it through the dialer. The system didn’t even recognize that I had done anything.
It’s obvious what the intended utility of Digital Companion was meant to be and it’s incredible how the program utterly fails in everything it tries to achieve.
I managed to unintentionally destroy this game’s internal memory and cause it to hard crash. Completely on accident, I kid you not. Throughout our stream of Digital Companion I was taking the piss out of the game and when it asked for my phone number I entered a bunch of nonsense which the game actually made an attempt to save. There was no sanity check in place to ensure that someone didn’t enter a phone number 50 digits long. Nobody thought to implement that. Because of this, Digital Companion did not save my phone information correctly. There were other spots in the game where you could mess with the data in ways that I’m certain nobody thought about. As I mentioned earlier I managed to age my Flopglopple up to 65,000+ days by doing nothing more than messing with the date and time settings. I also went to the end of the game’s calendar (December 31, 2027) and let the clock roll over to what would theoretically be the next day. Nothing happened. I think?
There’s a feature built into Digital Companion where you can set a PIN number that needs to be entered when the game starts up or else it’s unusable. Like a traditional PIN number this is meant to be four digits long, however for some stupid goddamned reason Digital Companion treats this as an INTEGER, not a VARIABLE. This means that it will attempt to remove trailing zeroes. For example, if you were to set your PIN as “0010” Digital Companion would interpret this as just “10” because the preceding zeroes are unnecessary. Any PIN that doesn’t start with a zero is fine but the moment you lead in with one suddenly the game doesn’t know what to do. So what happens when you enter a PIN that is comprised entirely of zeroes? Well…
I did something that upset this game. Immensely. I think it may have been setting my PIN to “0000” but I’m not fully sure. Tucked inside Digital Companion‘s options menu is a curious feature named “Memory”. There’s only a finite amount of space on the cartridge and as you save your friends’ information and religiously make your school schedule every month you’ll slowly use it up. There’s a feature on this memory option to “clean it up”, though the game stresses that it won’t actually delete anything. This laughs in the face of the definition of cleaning up stored content. I don’t exactly know what this option does, but after I messed with the PIN number my memory usage jumped from 7% to 100%. Completely full. Attempting to add new friends or messages resulted in the game creating entries filled with garbage data and when I attempted to use the “clean up” option Digital Companion crashed.
The game shipped this way. I’ve tried to replicate the effect I got but I’m not exactly sure how I did it so I haven’t been able to, but because the crash was streamed that means it was captured on tape so you know I’m not bullshitting you. This “game” is fucking broken and the person whose idea it was should’ve been shot in the head and buried with the rest of the E.T. games in the New Mexican desert.
Hard no. This game prompted a serious discussion as to whether or not these stupid reviews should incorporate a possible score of zero on our 1-10 scale. The reason I was initially opposed to including zero as an option is because having that as a possibility encourages hyperbole. It’s amusing to slap something with a big ol’ goose egg and say “fuck this piece of shit haha am I right guys by the way please subscribe”, but there are genuinely no redeeming factors whatsoever when it comes to Digital Companion. That said, I feel giving this game the initial lowest possible score of a “1” would give the implication that despite the low score there is at least still something of merit here. There is not, and the only way for me to make that point known is to give this game no points at all. Everything this organizer “does” can be out-classed by a fucking pencil and that’s ignoring the fact that I managed to destroy this game’s internal memory and cause it to hard crash by setting an invalid PIN number. On accident. Like I said it’s easy to throw zeroes around for the sake of laughs, but if you want a genuine example of what a real 0/10 looks like – no bullshit – this is it.