What the heck was going on in the 1990s?
I don’t normally expect to learn profound truths about the world around me while playing video games. However, that happened to me while playing Xbox console exclusive High on Life, the new first-person shooter from Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. To be specific, I learned that Paul Walker (of Fast & Furious fame) was in a weird, horny teen comedy about a robotic dinosaur in 1994.
This shook me to my core, but it also endeared me to a game that I wasn’t sure was going to be for me. I’m not a big Rick & Morty guy and games centered around comedy often fall flat because timing can be so hard to nail. But High on Life has pizazz for days and, in particular, one hell of a gag involving a strange, forgotten ’90s movie.
Tammy and the what now?
Credit: Squanch Games
I’m a little ashamed to admit this as a Fast & Furious historian, but I had never heard of Tammy and the T-Rex until I played High on Life. It’s an early role for Walker as well as Denise Richards, and it’s bizarre. All you need to know is that Walker’s character (who also wears a sweet crop top) is mauled by mountain lions and has his brain implanted into a life-sized, robotic Tyrannosaurus rex.
Why does this happen? Let me ask a better question: Who cares?
Dino-Walker goes on a rampage, ultimately winds back up in a relationship with Richards, and ends the movie with his brain in a computer that short circuits because of a strip tease. It’s all very weird and stupid.
And the only reason I saw any of it was because it makes a surprise appearance in High on Life. Nominally a shooter about a kid from Earth who finds a talking gun and takes a bounty hunting job in outer space, this game is ultimately a delivery mechanism for what feels like dozens of jokes-per-minute. It’s full of cursing, random asides, and lots of Justin Roiland yelling at you.
More importantly, early on in the game, there’s a TV in a living room (which is the game’s central hub) playing Tammy and the T-Rex. The developers at Squanch Games actually licensed the whole damn movie and you can watch the entire thing, along with background chatter and music from the game. It’s not an ideal way to watch a movie, but it single-handedly sold me on High on Life.
When a gag makes a game work
As a game, High on Life is fine. The shooting is simple, dumb fun, and you get a variety of weapons and movement abilities to keep things fresh. Its alien worlds are colorful and vibrant, and the jokes never stop coming. It’s a little on the buggy side, but that’s alright. What recently released modern game isn’t?
Any shortcomings High on Life might have are immediately forgiven because the game includes the entirety of a crappy, semi-obscure Paul Walker and Denise Richards horror comedy from almost 30 years ago. It’s genius-level stuff.
First, the choice of movie is perfect. It’s the exact right mix of “I can’t believe this exists” and “I can’t believe anyone would go out of their way to license this for use in a video game.” I want access to the Squanch email threads where that deal took place.
Second, it feels like a loving tribute to one of my favorite pieces of video game trivia. In 2007, there was a shooter called The Darkness. It was based on a comic book I’ve never read and prominently featured Faith No More frontman Mike Patton saying mean things to you. More to the point, there’s a scene where someone is watching 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird on a TV.
And you can just…watch it. The whole thing. People have even uploaded it to YouTube. At the time, it was mind-blowing. Even now, it feels pretty audacious. For the folks at Squanch to (nearly) one-up it with a movie that’s several orders of magnitude worse, and thus more funny, is a towering achievement. They should be proud.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to make some popcorn, load up High on Life, and enjoy some “fine” cinema.