THE ASTONISHING ROLES OF THE INCREDIBLE CHARACTERS OF WILD 9!!!!!
So "Wild 9" was a video game put out by Shiny entertainment in 1998, and it was advertised on the basis of having NINE, count'em, NINE totally extreme main characters! Wow, look at those guys! The game was hyped up even more by its official website, which offered practically a novella's worth of lore spread across extensive character profiles for not only all nine heroes but a slew of creatively odd and gritty villains!
Often mistakenly credited to Earthworm Jim's original creator - who had long left Shiny Entertainment by that time - the game took place in an artificial network of "stolen" planets, ripped from their original solar systems and integrated into a collective under the tyrannical rule of a god-like entity, Karn, with a childishly ignorant and rage-fueled mind. Fighting back against this monstrosity and his vast empire are, of course, the rebel freedom fighters known as the Wild 9, a band of misfits and weirdos from every corner of their chaotic, patched-together galaxy.
The game itself wasn't too bad, ultimately. You began as Wex, a teenage boy who was, for some unknown reason, the only person capable of operating a superweapon called "The Rig." The core mechanic of the game, this weapon functioned as a portable tractor beam that allowed you to grab, pull, swing and throw things around with bolts of crackling energy. It was a tad disappointing when it became evident that you would continue controlling only Wex, but we were assured that we could find and recruit the remaining members of the Wild 9 over the course of gameplay, whose unique powers would be CRITICAL in helping our progress.
Still sounds like it has a lot of potential, doesn't it? So just who are all these characters, and just what are all those unique powers we make use of in the game? How about the villains, too?
CLICK MOST ART for their original, high-resolution official uploads!
WEX & B'ANGUS
OFFICIAL BIO: "The charming and quick-witted leader of the Wild 9, Wex Major uses both of these assets to hold his ragtag team together. He possesses the Rig' weapon system, and much to his amazement, he is the only person capable of operating this powerful weapon. As a result, Wex Major is rumored to be The Great Champion"; the mystical folk hero believed to lead the oppressed people of the Andromeda Galaxy to defeat Karn and his forces. Wex Major has reluctantly agreed to lead this motley crew upon the condition that once he finds his kidnapped parents in this enormous galaxy, he will leave to return back to Earth."
B'Angus (With a Silent "B"): "B'Angus is the pesky critter that permanently resides in Wex's Rig. B'Angus is a refugee of sorts; hiding for dear life from his arch-nemesis, The Black Sheep', in the only indestructible container in the entire galaxy...the Rig. His loyalty to Wex and the Wild 9 is second to none...too bad his cowardice is greater."
So, regrettably, Wex is our main character for the duration of Wild 9. This means you get to use the rig weapon, and its mechanics are pretty fun for a while, but it also means you hear Wex saying "WEXCELLENT!" every time you grab a power-up. He's by far the least interesting thing anyone came up with for this setting and reeks of Marketing Executives who felt Wex should be a white, 17 year old male because "that's who buys our games." I've heard there was a point at which he was going to be a girl, and another point at which he was going to be a robot or an alien. Even just the human girl would have been a little less typical for games of the time. Fortunately, many of our other characters will be a lot more fun to talk about.
As for B'angus, he's alright as a "funny critter" mascot character, sort of a sugar glider with bushbaby eyeballs in a weirdly squashed-looking head. His old website bio went into a lot more detail, but those bios were unfortunately never collected in working order by the internet archive. What I do remember is that B'angus isn't just hiding from that arch-nemesis, but from a princess of his species that wants to marry him. B'angus's only in-game role, however...
...Is appearing as an icon in sporadic dialog boxes, providing a little exposition and gameplay tips. He didn't really have any reason to exist, at the end of the day...so what about the rest of his friends?
OFFICIAL BIO: "The final piece of the wild trio' (composed of Wex Major, Stagg. and Mac), Volstagg is the strong man of the Wild 9. Volstagg was once a normal-looking prince and heir to an entire kingdom. A young man in search of adventure, Stagg left his castle one day only to be kidnapped by a group of Karn bio-geneticists. Their experiments left Volstagg in the physical shape he is now, with the strength of three silverback gorillas and the agility of a gazelle. He returned back to his home to find it in ruins, destroyed by Karn's army. He's big. He's bad. And now he's got a major bone to pick with Karn."
I'd imagine Volstagg here would have been a fan favorite had Wild 9 really taken off as a franchise. He's a big mutant ape with antlers, but he supposedly has this chivalrous princely personality and a tragic "cursed beast" angle. Little does he realize just how many furries are out there for him.
IN-GAME ROLE: in the very first stage, you'll find Volstagg hanging from some chains. Once you free him, he'll help you push an obstacle out of the way on the very next screen, demonstrating how handy his strength should come in!
And then he leaves.
No, really. You let him down, he pushes one thing a few feet to your right, and then he teleports away. This is the very last you will ever see of him. You can't proceed without freeing him, but you can't miss him anyway. He's right there, exactly where your path has been blocked, and with one button press he will fix that for you, just the once.
So, okay, this game might have suffered from a little crunch time or something. They won't all be like this, right? Haha. Right? lol. Oh my god.
OFFICIAL BIO: "He's a lunatic. He's insane. He's a Karn experiment in multiple personalities: 167 to be exact. HE'S THE CAPTAIN OF THE WILD 9 SHIP!?!?!?! Often found in the corner holding loud and obnoxious conversations with himself, Pilfer pilots the hunk-of-junk that is the Wild 9's mobile home base. His support staff is Henry and Pokkit, the latter of which, he incessantly badgers..mostly for fun. Pilfer has a pet gecko lizard whom he fervently believes is the most brilliant psychiatric mind in the universe; "Dr. Rasponovich". Truth is, is that this poor lizard is just a lizard, and is often terrified by Pilfer, who randomly snags the lizard and holds him against his ear, awaiting brilliant psychiatric advice. For the most part, Pilfer is bound in his straightjacket (things tend to go missing when his hands are free) with a huge padlock on the back. Oh, and he has a '9' carved into his forehead...now THATS team spirit!"
Why was the 90's so in love with the concept of "INSANE" characters? It was played up by so, so many cartoons and comics. Suddenly, it was like being mentally ill was the hippest thing you could possibly be as long as you were a cartoon whose mental illness made you entertainingly rambunctious and not a real person whose symptoms might make someone sad.
Still, there are some merits to the idea of Pilfer. Having a violently chaotic little creature as the starship captain isn't something I've ever seen done before, like if you had to rely on the Tazmanian Devil to fly a plane and somehow it always just worked out in the end. His design is okay, a simplified hairless, noseless, earless humanoid of unknown species. Unfortunately...
Pilfer is not in the game.
OFFICIAL BIO: "Seeking to destroy the Wild 9, Karn forced his bio-engineers to create the most destructive being in all of the Andromeda Cluster. Poor Nitro is the result of that experiment. Encased within a protective suit, Nitro is sealed off from everything in his environment. Why? Because he is allergic to everything. Cat hair. Cotton wear. Cotton fibers. Cotton candy. Cantaloupes. Antelopes. Rainwater. Salt water. Salt water taffy. Moonlight. Gaslight. Neon Freon. Whole milk. Low fat milk. Non fat milk. Raw vegetables. Cooked vegetables. Any food that starts with the letter "c" (except for chocolate. He's really really allergic to that! Q: How do Nitro's allergies manifest themselves? A: HE EXPLODES!!! Hmmmmm...could be a powerful weapon, if you were smart enough."
I always liked the idea of characters who explode as a superpower, and then they're okay again. They're usually presented as being fairly cool and intimidating, though, whereas Nitro is this tiny, frail, sickly, absolutely pitiful looking little man giving us puppy-dog eyes from his oversized biohazard suit.
IN-GAME ROLE: for once, a character sticks with you for an extended portion of a stage, but that's the most exciting thing about our encounter with poor Nitro. He doesn't even walk on his own, he just wobbles in place until you use the Rig to move him, and since he's "allergic" to the rig, moving him starts the countdown to his next explosion, and seconds later he'll regenerate. You'll use this to blow open obstacles when you're not just awkwardly lugging him around.
OFFICIAL BIO: "Mac can often be found hitting on Boomer or boldly posturing about his prowess in just about any activity. "Careful? Careful's my middle name!" Mac acts as a 'living' battery system, complete with hundreds of possible attachments, enabling him to transform into anything the team needs at the time; radar dish, vehicle or even a huge gattling gun for Volstagg to use. (Mac doesn't dig that last one all that much, even though he and Stagg are great buddies.) This highly self-assured mechanical teen can be likened to a 16-year-old who just received his driver's license...and a brand new Ferrari!"
You can tell these bios were written as part of a "series bible," to drum up intrigue to audiences and investors alike for the possibility of more Wild 9 content. This is written precisely like the character summary of a cartoon show pitch. Mac is kind of interesting; he's a stereotypically handsome human face attached to a collection of rusty metal spheres and other gizmos taking a roughly humanoid shape. His lost website bio delved deeper into the fact that, despite his goofball personality, he was the end result of especially grotesque and torturous experimentation by Karn's scientists. Even being another 90's Radical Teenage Boy, I think Mac would have been a much better main character. The Rig could have just been one of his arms, and he could have had all manner of other abilities. But alas...
IN-GAME ROLE: okay, sit down for this one. In one stage, you'll find Mac in a prison cell. Above his cell is a lever, and blocking you from going any farther is a door. You've encountered these levers and doors throughout the stage, but if you try to pull this one...it breaks off! Don't worry though, when you open Mac's cell, which is the only thing you can do, he will jump up and transform into a replacement lever! Then you can open the door! Then Mac leaves! It's exactly the same thing as pulling a regular lever that doesn't break, but this one takes twice as long! Thanks, Mac!
OFFICIAL BIO: " Pure living crystalline. Crystal is, by far, the team's most intelligent member, and something of a science geek. She is the tactical and analytical support for her leader Wex Major. She has absolutely no evidence of emotion on her physical body, but there is something much more unique about her...she has a head of living hair! The hair is boisterous, and basically is the outlet that expresses all of Crystal's emotions. In a fight, Crystal moves with unerring accuracy, while her hair belts out wild Bruce Lee-ish battle cries. But mostly the hair just pigs out and snores and drools, um...eats and sleeps. Crystal is solar powered through the gem she houses in her midsection. When removed from the light source for too long, she crystallizes and becomes immobile."
One of only two female characters in Wild 9 is the same skinny, long haired, youngish woman the 90's considered the absolute epitome of sexiness, just with a giant diamond in her stomach and shiny, glassy skin. It'd be a largely forgettable design if not for the "living hair," flowing into the shape of a snarling mouth, which raises interesting questions about Crystal's biology, if she has any other than "solar powered." All we know is that she was yet another science experiment.
IN-GAME ROLE: one stage takes place on a darkened, smoggy planet, so you'll have to switch various sun lamps on and off to keep Crystal moving forward. Slowly, very slowly moving forward, and insulting you in a "valley girl" voice every time she freezes again. You spend the longest amount of time with this character, mostly because her mechanics are to make an entire stage take three times the usual time.
OFFICIAL BIO: "If Pokkit went to High School, the caption under his yearbook photo would read: "Most Likely to Die Sad and Alone." This pitiful little guy so desperately wants to be accepted by his teammates. The big- hearted Pokkit even goes to such lengths as to tie a bike flag to his 34" body, so that his presence can be noticed at even 6'. Pokkit is an experiment in 'bio-warping' technology. He wears a jacket covered in pockets, from which he ideally can produce any object he needs. Too bad it doesn't work out that way. When they need to get out of a jam, Pokkit will reach in and produce a doughnut. And when the 9 are starving in a desert, you can be certain that Pokkit will produce a bazooka. Now can you see WHY Karn got rid of this experiment?! This walking junkdrawer is Pilfer's whipping boy. The usually sour hair of Crystal has the biggest of crushes on Pokkit. And the rest, well they just normally don't even notice him."
Dude. You really went straight for this little guy's throat one sentence in. What in the world did he do wrong?! They really emphasized Pokkit as being miserably sad and lonely. In fact, if you count B'Angus, there are actually ten members of the Wild 9, and some parts of the game's manual DO count B'Angus, so there might have been an intentional joke that their very team name overlooks Pokkit's presence. Cold. His design is ironically one of the more memorable, a tiny blue man whose moppy hair covers all but his nose and his mouthful of big, blocky teeth, wearing his signature pouch-covered jacket and his little bike flag. At least Crystal's hair apparently likes him??? :'(
The idea of Pokkit being a failed experiment is interesting, working like a totally unreliable Bag of Holding. You could have gotten a lot of interesting game mechanics out of that, I'm sure, but I think you know the drill by now.
IN-GAME ROLE: when you find Pokkit in one stage, he'll jump on your back and successfully pull out a bazooka, so, you'll have access to a gun for a while. It's just like if you found a regular gun lying around, and then you had it for a while.
OFFICIAL BIO: "Henry is the least human in form, yet the most human in spirit. The actual character of Henry is a body of morphing water encased in a very awkwardly constructed eco-suit. He has a curious and awestruck outlook on life, and humans in general; Henry can't get over the fact that we have thumbs! He has a short attention span, and will often change thoughts mid- sentence. He interfaces with the ship and acts as the team's chief science officer and mobile recon unit. He formerly manned a bio-genetic ship for Karn."
This is my favorite of the Wild 9 themselves, for obvious reasons. A liquid being inhabiting a hi-tech suit resembling a huge, round water tank with a pair of stumpy legs! Unfortunately, Henry is the one character whose official artwork was never uploaded in high resolution, and despite having a character bio in the instruction manual, the website forgot to ever put his up at all, so we know precious little else about "least human in form, yet the most human in spirit" of our main characters.
IN-GAME ROLE: a boat for a few moments.
OFFICIAL BIO: "This spunky, Scottish redhead of the Wild 9 is no stranger to action. This seemingly innocent young lady is the daughter of the now-deceased, famed Scottish superhero, The Tartan Spartan'. Boomer now carries her father's tartan superhero outfit in a sling on her belt. When things get harried, look out! In one fell swoop. Boomer throws the tartan, enabling her to possess the superhuman strength that was once her father's. Her devotion to the Wild 9's cause is absolute...provided she doesn't kill B'Angus first."
So our other female character is also just a human from Earth, like Wex, which of course defaults her to being his main love interest. She's also supposed to have superhuman strength, but only because she was the daughter of a dead superhero and can channel his spirit. Is it just me, or does it feel like this character is in the wrong game? Her story and gimmicks don't tie in to the setting of Wild 9 in any way, and don't even suit a science fiction motif! She couldn't simply have superhuman strength from another biotech experiment? Why do we even need to know it was really the superhuman strength of a character that only existed prior to this story? Boomer kind of feels like a leftover from another project, or from a period when Wild 9 was going to be even more "random" and ecclectic with its themes. Not terrible, though, in fact, shortly before this game came out, I knew a couple people who thought she was the most interesting character for whatever reason, and couldn't wait to see what she would do.
IN-GAME ROLE: Ha ha ha. Hahahahaha. Oh god. This one ties in to another character, and we're gonna get to that one last. We're all done with the heroes, so now it's time for the JUICY stuff. That's right!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!NOW IT'S THE VILLAINS!!!!!!!!!!!!While the internet archive failed to preserve the original, in-depth website profiles for any of the Wild 9 themselves, it oddly enough held on to the character page for every antagonist, so you'll see just how detailed some of these profiles originally got, beginning with...
OFFICIAL BIO: "Another member of the Bounty Hunter And Assassins Guild, Filbert has the single worst disposition. Filbert is hooked up to a huge wet-cell battery, which delivers voltage powering his body. By increasing the voltage, he can increase his physical abilities, providing him with incredible strength and remarkable leaping ability.
When the cables are disconnected, or the battery runs out of juice, Filbert shrinks into a normal, and somewhat confused, frog. Ribbit! This can be real liability in battle. And it's one The Wild Nines are more than happy to exploit.
Filbert is cunning and evil, yet he has this unfortunate tendency to be distracted by the various tasty insects that fly around at the worst possible moments ("Surrender, mammal! Resistance is futil —- Oooo, fruitfly!"). When Filbert is especially hungry, even the Insectoid Shocktroopers start looking tasty. Halfway through our series, about the time Henry goes bad and defects to Karn's side, Filbert decides to quit being a Bounty Hunter, and joins The Wild Nines. Filbert allies himself with his former enemies in the hopes that they can help him find a way to retain his massive form without the need of that cumbersome battery. Thus the roster changes while our number Nine remains intact.
A slobbering, slurping, belching amphibian, Filbert lacks even the most remedial social graces. He and Boomer fight like Han Solo and Princess Leia -— only without the underlying affection. These two only bicker. Also, he has this habit of trying to stick his head into Pokkit's pockets looking for beetle-grubs or a succulent cock-a-roach-ah! When he does this, Crystal's hair tends to want to take a chunk out of him, making him snap back at "in self defense". He's not a pretty picture.
In fact, Filbert likes to push everybody's buttons, annoying and challenging people a la X-Men's Wolverine. But he's a good fighter, and the cunning he provides is a huge asset to the team. The Nines are willing to put up with him... for now."
...Okay whoaaa, whoa, whoa, hold up, what? "Mid way through our series?" Henry switches sides? This villain replaces him? Good lord did they get ahead of themselves! This and the rest of the villain profiles really demonstrate just how many ideas the creative team exchanged, how excited they were about these characters and their obvious hope of a long-running new franchise, already talking as if they had a 50 episode television show in the pipeline.
So Filbert is a mutant frog guy powered by electricity, and when his power runs out he turns into just a regular frog. Cute concept! He seems to have been a favorite of the dev team, since they planned to give him a little bit of a redemption arc here, and he's even featured on the game's cover. Naturally, he gets his own boss battle, so you obviously exploit his weakness by waiting for his battery to drain, yeah?
IN-GAME ROLE: walks around on stilts and drops grenades on you.
THE BLACK SHEEP
OFFICIAL BIO: "The Black Sheep is predictable only in his propensity toward violence, and in his unrelenting hatred of B'Angus. Yet another member of the Bounty Hunter and Assassin's Guild, the Black Sheep differs from his Comrades-In-Mayhem in two very fundamental ways:
The first distinguishing factor is his power. The Black Sheep's biowarp-enveloping DNA-matrix enables him to reach into his fur and produce anything. A chainsaw. A thermonuclear warhead. A tube of Brillcream. Anything. Unlike Pokkit, the Black Sheep always pulls out exactly what he wants. And trust me, ain't nothing scarier than a pissed-off sheep wielding a chainsaw.
The second thing that sets him apart from the normal (yeah, right) Bounty Hunters is his Raison d'Guerre — we will ultimately learn that they have not been hired to hunt down Wex and The Nines... but B'Angus! And the person who hired them? His jilted fiancee. And the reason that the Black Sheep is working so hard to fulfill this contract? Not money, folks. Love.
The Black Sheep is deeply in love with the fair Phfilamina Of The Bodoni Plains. And he is jealous to the point of rage that she is so in love with B'Angus that she is willing to put such a price on his head. Oh, when will someone feel such passion for him?"
This is another one that feels like it came from a "sillier" iteration of Wild 9, a cartoonish, grouchy sheep that's apparently also a killer twisted cycle path. Shouldn't he be Pokkit's rival, though? He's the perfected version of the same experimental tech! You could get some pretty funny story antics out of a villain obsessing over a character every other character keeps forgetting exists.
There was so much concept artwork of the Black Sheep on the old website, it was definitely another of their favorite concepts. But...
The Black Sheep is not in the game.
OFFICIAL BIO: "Charter Member of the Bounty Hunter And Assassins Guild, Ramzig is by far the most articulate of the bunch. He is a renegade from Volstagg's homeworld. They were both friends, each from a different kingdom. But after a falling out they became mortal enemies. His hatred for Volstagg is so absolute that, even when he has B'Angus well within his sights, Ramzig will drop everything to go after his former friend.
When Volstagg returns to his homeworld, to the civil wars tearing apart its people and the responsibilities he left behind, Ramzig is there to sow the seeds of distrust and fan the flames of war.
There isn't a nice bone in his body. And his whole goal, aside from collecting the price on B'Angus's head, is to break every bone in Volstagg's body."
I really love how nasty and wretched this guy is, sort of like a scuzzy, bipedal donkey but significantly more terrifying than that description should entail. For whatever reason, I remember this one the most readily as a "main" villain of Wild 9. What's most interesting about his design however is that there's a little tiny "rider" on his back, some sort of humanoid whose stubby arms and legs stick out from a backpack-like saddle Ramzig wears at all times. Other, lost bio information did mention that this figure regularly digs its little spurred boots into Ramzig, but never explained who or what this being really was.
IN-GAME ROLE: this game has multiple "racing" levels, pitting Wex against a single enemy racer. In one of these levels, the character status icon lets you know that the enemy racer is supposed to be Ramzig actually. Wow. Epic.
OFFICIAL BIO: "Colonel Kragg is walking bundle of manic energy, a windup toy wound too tight for its tortured mainspring. He's like the Drill Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket... on a gallon of high octane Espresso. When Wex is first stranded on the Cluster, Colonel Kragg captures him and detains him in Prison Trawler 0009. When Wex and the other Nines "liberate" the Trawler, taking it as their own mobile HQ, Kragg is stranded without a command, humiliated beyond belief, and left in utter disgrace. He has but two choices: either report back to Karn and face Karn's single punishment for failure, or... reacquire the Trawler, all of its former prisoners (who now rank among the Wild Nines) and most of all, Wex, who led the revolt and who left him so entirely disgraced."
And if he succeeds, he will also be able to return to Karn bearing the mightiest weapon in all of the Cluster... Wex's all-powerful Rig and Glove. Left without his command, Colonel Kragg is completely AWOL, operating entirely without orders or any decent restraint. He is traveling alone, with but a single companion... Tank!
This is the one I'm always forgetting about. He's just a short, angry, cybernetic military man. His only story purpose seems to be just one more scary jerk to chase after the heroes, this time because they stole his ship. I feel like poor Kragg was just one villain too many, and that we didn't really need one to tie directly into the good guy's car.
IN-GAME ROLE: another racing level has Wex riding on a dinosaur-like monster while Kragg races against you on foot.
OFFICIAL BIO: "Tank is Kragg's Geigeresque attack dog, a snarling mass of metallic muscle that serves as Kragg's chief enforcer on the Prison Trawler. Now Tank is all that remains of Kragg's lost command. Whenever Kragg ambushes our guys, he does so with Tank by his side. The scary part is: between the two of them, Tank has the sunnier disposition!
A guided missile with titanium teeth, Tank is known for running right through redwood trees, boulders, and steel walls rather than going around them. He is unstoppable and entirely mindless, answering only to Kragg. Whatever you do, don't offer him a biscuit."
Kragg's giant, eyeless, exoskeletal puppy is much more fun than Kragg himself, and a design I really liked back in the day. It looks more like a biomechanical black lizard, and I thought it looked cool that its thin sharp teeth were almost completely enclosed by translucent blue gums. It's a neat little effect.
Tank is not in the game.
DARWIN & THE BIRD
OFFICIAL BIO: "Darwin and The Bird are yet another experiment-gone-wrong from Karn's bio-engineering department. The Bird is a supergenius whose head is aswirl with the most brilliant and creative concepts in creature design. Darwin is a bizarre lizard-like creature with the unique ability to project bio-genetically enhancing plasma and mutate the creatures around him. Karn got the idea that by fusing these two together he would have the ultimate organic creature manufacturer at his disposal.
It worked. Sort of.
The problem is that Darwin and the Bird each have massive egos and are the most uncooperative creative team in the galaxy. Each is absolutely convinced that the other is not only wrong, but completely unnecessary to the process. They can agree on nothing. The result is a harrowing series of "creatures by committee": Fire-breathing, umbrella-headed platypuses with thirteen legs, nine noses and no eyes. Oh, and peacock's plumage. Don't forget the peacock's plumage.
Darwin and the Bird's creatures only succeeded in destroying Karn's Insectoid Shocktroopers and wrecking havoc on his Cyber Lab. Naturally, each blamed the other for their continuing failures. It didn't take long for Karn to send these two to the furthest outpost of the Cluster. What drives these two is ego and the stubborn insistence that they can "get it right". Just give them one more chance. Thus Darwin and the Bird are most dangerous when they try to help our heroes. Having come from Karn's labs, they have information on the last known whereabouts of Wex's parents. Knowing that they have this information, and actually being able to extract it, are two entirely different things, as Wex and The Wild Nines soon discover..."
TOP quality concept, here. A fused-together duo that create their own creatures on the fly, but can't settle on what any of those creatures should do or what they should look like is an endless recipe for any grotesque hilarity you can imagine, and I love that they're also a bird attached by the foot to the head of a bipedal crocodilian, a cute reference to the alleged (if sadly disproven) symbiotic relationship between real crocodilians and small tooth-cleaning birds. Had we gotten to see more of this setting and its storytelling, we already know from this profile that these two aren't even always on the villain side!
DARWIN AND THE BIRD ARE NOT IN THE GAME.
"Don't ask, just run.
Don't look behind you, he's still there.
For pity sake, man, just keep running!"
...I can't explain why if you weren't there, but a ghoulish looking, murderous hulk with a cracked yellow smiley face mask is just about the most 1990's character design that could ever possibly exist, and boy were they fond of it. This same artwork of the enigmatic "Happy" was all over promotional magazine spots, web articles, strategy guides and more, something they must have felt was uniquely striking enough to really sell the game.
HAPPY IS NOT IN THE GAME.
These little guys, surprisingly enough, never had an official bio in either the manual or on the website, even though they were seemingly the game's main mascots and even central to the whole storyline, as these "Little Evil Green Men" were apparently Karn's final ultimate weapon and "perfected" minions. Tiny, roughly humanoid globs of green slime with singular, huge yellow eyeballs and the power to explode, kind of like Nitro, but only once, which is just how B'Angus describes in the manual's opening story. The crew loved these so much, they produced a MASSIVE amount of artwork featuring the LEGM in all sorts of comical situations and outfits, using many of these images as the game's loading screens.
IN-GAME ROLE: LEGM appear as small, bouncing sprite-based enemies that damage Wex and burst when they run into him. A little underwhelming, though there are some robotic walker-type enemies that appear to be "piloted" by LEGM, and the final stage of the game takes place on a planet with a bright green, glowing sea of slime that LEGM are constantly leaping from. While almost harmless individually, a nearly planetwide mass of rambunctious little creatures is a pretty formidable thing for a villain to control.
OFFICIAL BIO: "Mantis is the massive wall of muscle and viciousness serving as Field commander in Karn's Insectoid Strike Force. His main goal is to prove himself truly worthy of Karn. For all of his hulking strength and muscles, his main asset is his mind. And that's because...
Mantis is really nothing but a glob of amorphous matter, a puddle of malevolent goo that has been placed inside a tremendous exoskeleton-insectoid frame. Karn provides Mantis with this body because of the leadership ability he provides Karn's Insectoid Strike Force. Mantis knows that as long as he continues to prove his worthiness to Karn, Karn will continue providing him with continually improved, more powerful bodies. No matter how different each new body is, his head and face always remain the same.
Mantis's body is frequently destroyed in battle. When Mantis goes, the skirmishing Insectoids are left without anyone to follow, resulting in death-of-the-queen-bee chaos. This means a solid victory for The Wild Nines. But for Mantis, it means that his gooey life-force must once again slime its way free from its smoldering exo-shell, squish its way back to Karn, and beg His Grand Malevolence to provide him with another (or perhaps even a better..?) shell. Mantis's pleading for a new body, as opposed to, say, utter annihilation for yet another failure, will be a continuing source of humor during our series. Yet we will be careful not to undercut Karn or Mantis. They are the centers of all evil in this program, and will remain eerie and outright scary throughout. Thus these scenes will play darkly funny.
The single scariest thing about Mantis is that, for all of his commanding stature and frightening presence, he still bows before the dark majesty that is Karn. It is through the huge and terrifying Mantis that we get our sense of scale on Karn, showing us just how powerful and menacing our central villain truly is. I mean, if even Mantis bows before him... "
At this point, they were fully presenting Wild 9 as a television pitch, and this is obviously my favorite concept in the setting. Mantis is a big, dark, menacing insectoid who's actually, secretly, just a pitiful glob of flesh with one eyeball, a mouth and spindly little arms, definitely channeling a bit of Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A scary looking beast actually controlled by a degenerated little critter is probably one of my top favorite creature design tropes, but you don't see it too often. Mantis is the other character I most often remember, and I feel like this single piece of artwork was pretty inspiring to me back when I first saw it. There may very well be a little dash of Mantis still bleeding into the spirit of my Mortasheen setting, or even some characters in my webcomic, Awful Hospital.
IN-GAME ROLE: seriously for real just another racing level. God damn, man. Couldn't even be another actual battle, like Filbert? Filbert wound up being the ONLY one we properly fight with?! Just one villain left, now...
OFFICIAL BIO: "Karn is the uncontested ruler of The Cluster. He has the power of a god... and the temper of four year-old. Karn was created countless millennia ago when an ancient race sought to banish all aggression and evil from their society. Combining magic and technology, they were able to project these base inclinations into the deep recesses of space. The unforeseen result of this experiment was the creation an evil cloud swirling in the vastness of space. Over eons, it congealed and became self-aware, evolving into the being called Karn. Boiling with unbridled malice, Karn returned to his homeworld to exact vengeance upon his creators. When they tried to confront him, they did so without any hatred, aggression, or evil... it was all within Karn. Facing naked hate with love -— they fell like wobbly tenpins.
Karn destroyed his creators and seized their planet as his homeworld. But no single world could sate the hunger of such a ravenous god; he wanted more. He began using his planet as the center of a galactic gravitational pool, pulling inhabited plants from nearby star systems, collecting them into a gigantic mass. When the nearby worlds were absorbed, Karn began opening wormholes in space to collect distant worlds from all over the galaxy. Over thousands of years, he cultivated this mass into a vast sphere, worlds upon worlds, all connected by crisscrossing, intertwining bridges, each remaining whole while being absorbed onto Karn's boundless collection. And thus was born The Andromeda Cluster!
But still he was not satisfied.
A roiling cloud of hatred and evil, Karn still had no physical form. His sole desire was for a body to house his immortal soul. But not just any body. Karn sought the most powerful body in the known universe. Toward that end he concocted (or had concocted for him) all manner of strange hybrids: people made from machines, pure muscle, crystal, amalgamations of animals and humans... just to see which warrior-body will have the greatest capacity for survival under the harshest of circumstances.
While driven by this evil desire, Karn has no scientific knowledge of his own. He has thus collected all of the great scientific minds from throughout the Cluster, holding them in a vast suspended animation chamber called THE THINK TANK. Karn probes the minds of the Think Tank for all the stored knowledge in the universe, then puts it to use in his immense CYBER-LAB -- a nightmarish amalgam of endless waldoes, servos, cyber probes, circuitry and bio-mechanics spanning many levels high, many football fields long. The machinery grinds along like a thousand thousand Q's (James Bond's Q, not Captain Picard's), all working full steam to implement Karn's latest bio-engineered masterpieces.
Having filled The Cluster with such diverse beings, Karn now seeks to use it as his own Darwinian Proving Grounds upon which he can determine which beings have the greatest survival potential. He is thus inciting wars and conflicts, so that only the strongest will survive. And from this endless firestorm, the ultimate lifeform will emerge. And when it does, Karn will at last possess that for which he has longed throughout his entire existence... a worthy body. At that point he will not only be all-powerful... but also, finally truly alive!
Until such a worthy host can be discovered, Karn will remain invulnerable, if maddeningly incorporeal. Karn is like the ultimate vampire. To replenish his ravenous life-force, Karn is destroying the planets within The Cluster that have outlived their usefulness. Vaporizing them, he is converting their matter into energy and using this energy to sustain his own life.
The epitome of evil, Karn fears nothing and no one -- with one possible exception. As Karn discovers, Wex's Rig and Glove are the sole remaining relic of the ancient civilization that created him. Within it may lie the key to accomplishments of science and sorcery entirely unknown to even the collective genius of the Think Tank. The key to Karn's eternal life -- or perhaps his ultimate destruction. And the truly maddening part for Karn -- for reasons unknown, a puny Earthling named Wex is the only being in existence with the ability to access this weapon."
Did you actually read ALL of that? I completely understand if you didn't. It's a lot, and some entire paragraphs could have been summarized with the words "mean guy." The idea of a being created from the discarded mental flaws of another intelligent force is cool enough, though. It certainly explains why this bad guy is just plain "bad" with no deeper motivation, and the idea of this being behaving more like a spoiled, temperamental kid is an entertaining enough twist that actually makes him a lot more frightening. The metallic insignia where he ought to have a mouth even kind of reads like a pacifier!
It's also a pretty creepy and creative concept that instead of actually employing a fleet of evil scientists, Karn keeps a bunch of scientists in stasis and reads their minds as needed. I'm surprised I haven't seen that concept more frequently, and I really like that it ties together almost every other character as a by-product of his quest for the perfect physical body. I, too, would be just as indecisive if I could potentially be anything.
And now, the moment you're really waiting for:
IN-GAME ROLE: the final battle of the game has Wex running from Karn, who is for whatever reason only roughly as tall as a giraffe in this scenario and attempting to step on Wex with big, robotic shoes. Clutched in Karn's left fist, in her first and last role in any form of media, is Boomer, who cries "help me, Wex!" every few seconds until you have hit Karn enough to end the game.
Nonetheless, it's easy to see just how much love and optimism these writers and artists had for their creations. You can practically hear the late-night studio meetings where the flow of ideas must have bounced around a table most likely occupied by the occassional pizza box, rounds of giggling as someone, maybe I daresay a little high at the time - even on as little as too much coffee or not enough sleep - suggests that Crystal's hair should be in love with Pokkit, or the kind of mess Darwin and Bird might make.
Nothing panned out the way any of them would have hoped, and very few people now remember Wild 9 at all, but even after I finished its underwhelming final boss...I actually still liked it, and I like it to this day. Yes, it has a central hero as exciting as wet cardboard, its only two heroines are the "girl power" kind most would rather forget, half of its villains appear as only pixel avatars and the graphics by today's standards also resemble wet cardboard, but the setting, style, soundtrack and intentions were fantastic. I, too, had some hope that maybe I'd get to see more of these wacky heroes and villains some day, in some other form of media, and though that obviously never happened, many of the things we've just gone over have somehow remained pretty fresh in my mind for my entire life since 1998, and I kind of wonder if anyone involved with the project still thinks about any of them as well.
As much excess, unused content as we've just seen, there certainly must have been mountains more still, evidenced at the very least by some of the other conceptual art still floating around the internet. I've gathered a selection of that here, which also gives some additional insights into characters we've already met, but several of these images come with no known context at all. A little peek into something once understood by a small circle of coworkers, maybe friends for just a few months out of their lives, who I like to think had so much fun sharing ideas with each other, it didn't really matter how many of those ideas ever left the room. Not the most thrilling video game of the 90's, but certainly one of my favorite creative brainstorms that I ever had the chance to peek in on.