Title: Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties
Publisher: Kirin Entertainment
I love Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. It’s so bad.
The immobile stills where there should be FMV, the inane semi-pornographic plot, the lack of any real gameplay…even the box art is terrible. The clipart tie and plunger and the goofy smorgasbord of fonts scream poor graphic design. The tilted stills from the game only emphasis this. On the back is an ecstatic list of what the game has to offer (“He’s a plumber…she’s a daddy’s girl…only you can get them together…or tear them apart”), including the promise that it “plays like a game… feels like MOVIE!!” which is certainly an outright lie.
If you want a humorous and accurate review of the game, watch the Angry Video Game Nerd video for it. I’m not going to shit all over Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, though, but talk about it critically and about why I like it so much.
But really, it’s a bad game.
Liking the game is similar to liking Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Room. The best kind of “bad” art is sincerely bad. It’s free from irony and is truly convincingly bad. There’s something heartfelt and honest about truly bad art and there’s certainly something heartfelt and honest in Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. This makes the (unintentional) humor even stronger as well as give the game a weird morality.
After players open the box and actually play the game (which is probably not a lot of people, considering no one anyone knows owned the obscure 3DO), they’re met with an abysmal Microsoft Paint title screen, stock computer music, and obvious clipart. As the credits roll (the creators of this game seem pretty proud of themselves), an array of racing photos are shown for some reason, some with weird Photoshop filters. The text over the images is difficult to read because of the random nature of the colors chosen. Halfway through the credits, a race car driving animal image is pasted over the other images, ignoring all rules of perspective and scale. This then shifts into still images of a sleeping and shirtless (this is an adult game, remember) John. And the game starts. It’s an intense exercise in bad taste.
It’s actually hard to describe because it’s so surreal and unlike anything else that exists. A “scene” of still images plays out with voice acting (not unlike La Jetée, but with terrible writing), then the player is given two or three plot choices to make, most of which are “wrong” and force the player to return to a previous scene and try again.
It’s a mess.
There were other games before Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties that were an early attempt at interactive fiction (something we’re used to now, with Twine games always floating around) with video, most (or all) more successful than this. The AVGN video cites Wing Commander as a 3DO game that actually has full-motion video (Plumbers claims it does, but it only really has one), decent gameplay, and an actual production value. So, to claim Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties did something new or radical is a real stretch.
Instead, I like to think of the game as pure art, free of any pretensions. It’s like children’s art. Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties never feels like the lifeless shovelware of today, nor does ever turn into actual parody. It’s a heartfelt and goofy love letter to gaming on a console that (according to a dated IGN article) allowed pretty much anyone to develop games (hey, that sounds familiar).
Every detail of the game is so weird and there’s absolutely no continuity. There’s a scene where one of the several narrators kills one of the other narrators (they’re fighting over control of the story, the story that you’re supposed to be controlling) and it’s pure, unintentional dada. There is absolutely zero immersion or world building as the game constantly reminds its player that he is “playing” a game. I would relate the game to the COBRA art movement of the early fifties, which devoted itself to children’s art to avoid pretenses and the western tradition, but even COBRA was soaked in philosophy, ideas of purity and utopianism.
Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties has nothing to say, has no concerns. It just wants to be sexy and funny. It’s not really a game, nor is it a movie, but it is an interesting piece of new media, and a strange, pure form of fiction.
And it’s funny as hell.