Look, I’m not a complicated man (although “man” is strong, lately I’ve been trying to discover a sense of gender identity inside me that really rings true, and wondering if in fact I’m one who doesn’t feel gendered at all, in the conventional sense, and what the appropriate pronouns might be for someone in that boat). Simple. I only operate in two modes: fucking and upsetting. Perusing all the topics I soon plan to force down your eye-gullets to harvest the sweet foie gras of your pop-culture-ruined livers, I was struck by the fact that every single one falls into one of those two buckets, and indeed at least eight of them qualify for both, like some impossible dream-shape able to fall into two buckets at once. And while I don’t apologize for my two-track mind, I do apologize for it. It’s a sorry not sorry situation. Let’s play a cockroach game now! Do you get to fuck it? Only if you choose the correct romance options throughout!
Bad Mojo came out in 1994 and was a way for Pulse Entertainment, founded by Bill Woodward and Young Harvill, to show off some of their proprietary animation tools. It’s the only game they ever made, as they instead went on to make stuff that makes the Internet work, like embedded web video and publishing tools. In short, boring. So who’s idea was it, I wonder, to try and sell their new tech to a bunch of other software developers by making a game where the art assets include a dead rat filled with razor blades?
My money’s on Harvill, because he has a more interesting name. Incidentally, that’s the same reason I know Sirhan Sirhan is guilty but have my doubts about John Booth. The official description of this game starts with the sentence “Roger was about to do something bad. Unfortunately, he can’t remember what it was because he has been transformed into a cockroach.” It’s so bad he can’t remember what it was, you guys. This game posits that being turned into a sentient cockroach was the preferred alternative to whatever it was “Roger did bad.”
It also calls itself “Kafkaesque,” but they mean it only in the sense that Kafka has a story about a cockroach, which is kind of like calling the O.J. Simpson trial Kafkaesque because it’s a trial. You’re not wrong, you’re just introducing eight-year-old Swaim to concepts like karmic reincarnation and what it is to be eaten alive. Bad Mojo opens with a monologue from a disaffected loser who sounds like a cross between the new Riddler and an incel Tim McVeigh complete with a mysterious truck on its way to a state building in the pounding rain.
Oops! Did we just zoom in past a CG window to reveal some full-motion video shit? I think we did! This is some Night Trap Tully Bodine Sewer Sharks shit right here, bitches! I urge you to comprehend the fact that this game was made to prove the tech for taking real photographs and putting them into games as discrete objects that could respond to game logic. It’s similar to how games like Mortal Kombat and Pit Fighter operated at the time. So these guys were trying to show off their amazing video-gaming-hybrid technology, and their second thought was “we should take some pictures of dead rats and stuff, I bet that’s cheap.” Their first thought, of course, was “hybrid? Why, that reminds me of a story about a man turned into a cockroach I once imagined and definitely jerked off to!”
Bill and Young immediately reveal their true colors as our anti-hero Roger pauses both his plan to rob a bar and desperate need for a different haircut to pick up a cat and look at it very sternly while his inner monologue says “Now I was in control.” We get it, killing animals gets you off! Us too but you’re not supposed to talk about it!” is what I imagine you saying. The collective you, as well as the specific person reading this sentence now. Hello.
After Roger straight-up fondles his stolen money…
…he’s quite predictably struck by purple lightning from a magic locket his mother gave him that’s carved to look like a cockroach.
You, as him, ew, then wake up metamorphosed into a roach and transported to the little system of tunnels with Bioshock valves but cockroach-sized that we all keep under the floorboards of our house. Seriously, who is that for? Even in Bad Mojo, cockroaches can’t use valves.
The music is, incidentally, so heavy on the bass that YT autocaption thought it was people applauding. That’s how you know this roach fucks. Speaking of which, it’s time for Romance the Roach Question #1! Please keep your own score and tally at the end.
What’s a legit okay pickup line for a cockroach?
A. “It’s a miracle I’m not up in those spiracles.”
B. “Is your eye compound? Because I just came. Pound?”
C. “I’m like Andy Cercus, cuz I’ll gollum that pussy. Cercus is spelled c-E.”
D. “I am a cockroach with sentience and who can speak. Hello.”
E. “My coxa ‘bout to get up in your labial palp.”
So since you can’t use valves, you must instead set off on a quest through a series of levels that, I cannot stress enough, are collages of photographs of dirt and grime and the death and decay we all must someday face. You encounter awesome stuff like rusty drains, cigarette butts and bottle caps. Do you want to buy our FMV backend games production software now?
As if that wasn’t upsetting enough, every time you talk to an NPC roach you’re treated to a closeup shot of a real cockroach.
All the roaches are mystical and speak in cryptic rhymes and snatches of visions, like Rafiki if he helped you do stuff like start the pilot light on a stove and trick a rat into a mousetrap.
Ah yes, “Music,” that’ll help this go down easy. Speaking of the Lion King, here’s Bad Mojo’s equivalent of Pride Rock.
“Behold, my son. Soon you will hold dominion over all the adhesive touches.”
OH SHIT IT WASN’T DEAD IT WASN’T DEAD! Yes, unlike almost all other games of this nature, Bad Mojo featured a limited number of lives and tons of ways to get killed, all of which were both designed as jump scares and to give young Swaim as disturbing a nightmare as possible. Fun Fact: my mom took Night Trap away from us because she heard it had scantily clad ladies being abducted by men in it, which is not untrue. Bad Mojo is the video game standing beside me at Night Trap’s grave to whom I whisper “She took the wrong one.”
Here’s a rat skeleton being used as a bridge, which is a great example of basic meat-and-rat-skeleton puzzle design. You also traverse a roach motel by using the still-struggling bodies of your fellow roaches as death-bridges, which I believe is either the fourth or fifth circle of Hell. I forget, but it’s the circle with all the advertising executives.
Through a series of flashbacks unlocked by interacting with certain objects, you come to develop empathy for your landlord, which is a feat that was apparently fanciful even at that time. The first of these memories is when his wife died in childbirth. Okay, grim, but that can be shown a lot of different ways. What do you think, twitching rubber baby with surgery being done on it? I do, I do think that.
This flashback also reveals that your landlord’s name is fucking Mr. Potato and that he overacts just as hard as Roger, something they can now bond over.
You also find out more about Roger through found objects and learn both how scuzzy he is and that, deep down, he’s not such a bad guy. You know, story.
But who gives a shit about that? Here is a real photograph of a dead cockroach in some mashed potatoes.
NOW do you want to buy our FMV game software?!
No? But you wanna answer another question to hopefully get you closer to banging this cockroach? Deal!
How do you tempt a roach?
A. “Hey kid, want to eat a dead body?”
B. With a pile of shit, just human shit.
C. By opening your wings up and pumping that tergal gland, G.
D. I don’t know, probably the last one because I can tell from context that the tergal gland is something.
E. Yeah, D.
No, you’re all wrong, the answer is to roofie your landlord’s beer and listen to him say the saddest thing anyone’s ever said out loud in a room alone.
This causes him to spill his loose change when he passes out, see, which lets you use a coin to form a circuit to make a radio work so the ghost of his dead wife can tell you that flesh is only a shell, a pale reflection of the abyss within.
Things get extremely Kafkaesque when three discarded wedding rings form a Triforce of bitter regret and open a magical portal to the back of a refrigerator.
That naturally segues into watching a decapitated fish spew cockroaches where its blood should be, but there is also blood as well.
The dead wife appears once more to reveal that you ARE the son that killed her just before you were going to try to murder your landlord/father by staging a gas leak, and hits us with the moral of the story: “Love can flourish even in the soil of death, and this is the key to life eternal.” You know, like Kafka might posit.
Which of these things is the least Kafkaesque?
A. You wake up and you’re a swan.
B. You wake up and you’re a human but you were a swan before.
C. You go on trial for metamorphosing a stranger.
D. I think Stranger was Camus, actually.
E. Michael, you should try harder than this.
I could spend all day pulling horrors out of the Bad Mojo sack like Satan Clause and dispersing them to the children, but I don’t want to gild the urinal cake. Suffice to say the rest of the game is a cavalcade of mystical nonsense, suicide, disgust, and a talking plate-clock haunted by your mom.
In the end, instead of blowing up the bar and killing your sleeping Dad, you turn off the gas and are rewarded by being made human again so you can make up for lost time. Just kidding! You let the old bastard burn, get arrested, plead insanity and spend the rest of your days in a straitjacket trying to kill yourself but you can’t even do that because the walls are padded and they feed you with a funnel.
Okay, last chance, NOW do you want to buy our software? Maybe I’m being overly grim. There is a good ending you can get, in which the roach bravely sacrifices his life to warn the landlord of impending danger. Of course, since he and his money are destroyed in the explosion, the landlord never finds out about his son and ends up homeless because of the debt incurred in trying to rebuild.
There’s another ending where they find out they’re father and son and escape to Belize together with the money, but that one also reveals that the kid’s full name is “Hitler Potato,” so I don’t think we’re moving a lotta units here on this software deal.
That’s just my opinion as a comedy writer commenting on its successful conclusion twenty-nine years after the fact.
Now let’s tally up those scores!
0 – 2 – BAD MOJO: You remain a cockroach and Will Smith steps on you to taunt an alien.
3 – 4 – MEDIUM MOJO: You got more points than the quiz implies are available. Good job!
5 – 6 – GOOD MOJO: You wonder how it’s possible to tally up scores when it was never revealed which answers are correct or how many points each answer is worth. You lose.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Thomas Cavazos, who answered all of Swaim’s sexual roach questions correctly and has earned a terrible prize.