One of most appealing things about video games is the ability of the player to assume to role of something he is not, whether it's a secret agent or a lightning-fast hedgehog. There are not, however, many games in which you play the role of an insect. Perhaps human nature is the reason this theme is rare; we are likely guided by instinct to revile such creatures, not want to be them. Pulse Entertainment's 1996 PC/Mac release Bad Mojo uses our disgust to its advantage. In this game, you play the role of a man cursed to become a cockroach, an idea which suits its disturbing nature perfectly. It's a well-paced adventure combining a unique premise with engrossing atmosphere.
While Bad Mojo is a traditional graphic adventure, with gameplay revolving around puzzles and exploration, it's unusual in that it has neither an inventory nor a point and click interface. Cockroaches don't carry backpacks so puzzles involve knowing when and where to push objects with your body. Manipulating objects takes a little getting used to because the in-game controls are keyboard-only; the left and right arrow keys rotate your body while up and down move you forward and back. There's no native controller support, so if you want to use a control pad you will need to install an outside program like joy2key on your computer. There is less backtracking than in most adventure games as the objects needed to solve the problems are usually nearby. As a result of this, most puzzles are not extremely difficult. A lot of the game's challenge comes from figuring out where to go.
Finding your way through the world (in this case a dirty, old bar) can be confusing at times. The game's graphics are two-dimensional but given that you are climbing walls, and going underneath and inside surfaces, you have to picture your surroundings as three-dimensional space. You really do get the feeling of how big everything would seem from an cockroach's perspective as even tables take up multiple screens whereas in most games that use a human's viewpoint they take up only part of one.
Playing from the point of view of a cockroach isn't merely a gimmick, either; it gave the authors a vehicle for some dark atmosphere. Things like rotting food and dead rats are seen up close and large, enhancing their gruesome nature. The graphics are very detailed, and are a mix of pre-rendered CG, photographs, and hand drawn art. A lot of games from this era that use this visual style have aged poorly but Bad Mojo holds up quite well in this department. The most dated portions are the live-action FMV cinemas but, even there, the cheesy over-acting manages to suit the game's campy B-movie horror vibe. There are some CG cinemas as well, many of which tell riddles and give clues as to what to do next. These do a great job of keeping the player from getting too lost or frustrated, but without spoiling the puzzles. To keep the game interesting, new events occur frequently, revealing more pieces of the story of your character's past.
The music is more successful than the acting at imitating motion pictures; its eerie ambience changes depending on the situation, and contributes as much to the game's bleak atmosphere as the visuals. It should be noted that the quality of the in-game videos is improved in the 2004 re-release published by Got Game Entertainment called Bad Mojo: Redux. I recommend getting this version as comes with a nice bonus DVD with art galleries, hints, and a "making of" section. And, more importantly for owners of newer computers, Redux is compatible with Windows XP whereas the original was made for Windows 3.1 and 95.
Despite its re-release for a new generation, Bad Mojo seems cursed to remain in obscurity in the world of adventure games. This is unfortunate as it holds its own against the more mainstream LucasArts and Sierra classics, and deserves to be remembered alongside them. Its world can be a little overwhelming to navigate at first but, beyond that, it excels with its anomalous premise, gritty style, and some of the most clever design in the genre.