Lock ‘n Load, Little Lizard: Why Gex Deserves To Make His Grand Return

In the pecking order of classic 3D platformers, the Gex series often ranks quite low. It’s not considered to be as fun or nostalgic as Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot, and it’s often overlooked in discussions about reboots and remasters. With Crash Bandicoot finally receiving an HD remaster in the form of the upcoming N. Sane Trilogy, chatter about what other games deserve the same treatment is at an all-time high. I’m here to make the case that not only is Gex just as good as its fellow platformers, but it’s more relevant and more deserving of a return than some of its peers.

While the Gex series eventually became a series of brilliant 3D platformers, the series started life as a side-scrolling platform, featuring unique, sarcastic humour and gorgeous 3D graphics that were ahead of its time. Despite the series move towards fully rendered 3D, much of the original elements of the first game were kept in – with Gex collecting television remotes and flies, and retaining his wall crawling, jumping and tail flicking abilities. Originally released for the 3DO, Gex was soon ported to the Sega Saturn and PlayStation, where it received further acclaim. Much of the game’s success came from its humour and biting commentary, with Gex often passing comment on the pop culture idols and trends of the time. The game itself is structured as a satire of pop culture, with Gex travelling through a variety of worlds within the Media Dimension.

While you would think that a game starring a talking kung-fu gecko would be filled with balls-out ridiculousness, the series is surprisingly grounded and features a heart-breaking tale couched in metaphor and double speak. The game begins with Gex receiving news of his father’s death. It’s not the most auspicious start to a game, but it’s this that kick-starts the action of the game. Depressed, Gex turns to the television to find solace, and finds himself absorbed by the world behind the screen. Then, one day while watching TV, he accidentally swallows a transmitter and is abducted into the world of the TV by media overlord Rez. Gex must go on a journey through the various worlds of television and movies including worlds of horror films, animation, adventure and martial arts films. I’m not going to say that the journey parallels Gex’s own struggles to move on from his father’s death, but if one were to suggest such a thing, it could be said that each of these worlds represents a different stage of the grieving process.

Not only that, but series villain, Rez, who controls the Media Dimension, is a representation of all of the evils of television and its controlling influence over Gex’s life. The game ends in a climactic confrontation with Rez in Rezopolis, the capital of the Media Dimension and root of all evil. It’s here that Gex finally comes to terms with his father’s death, and destroys Rez… only to return to the real world and flick the television on once again with the words, “Hey, cool. I wonder what’s on HBO?” Ultimately, Gex remains in denial, with the game making a powerful statement about the influence of television and the grieving process, all hiding behind the technicolour charm of a video game for children. These adult themes are explored more fully in subsequent sequels, which expand the franchise into fully realised 3D worlds and see Gex continuing his battles against Rez within the media dimension.

The initial follow-up, Gex: Enter the Gecko presents a biting satire of celebrity culture, with Gex having gained celebrity status after his widely publicised defeat of Rez in the media dimension. Gex becomes the only person alive able to combat Rez when he makes his grand return, with the government sending agents to collect him. The glorification of celebrity culture and the irreverence with which Gex is treated highlights the absurdity of celebrity in nineties society and Enter the Gecko layers on the irony thick. Gex, whose only credentials are that of a one-time television star, suddenly becomes the most talented, powerful spy in government, and must save the world with all his wits (or lack thereof).

Battling through the world of pop culture once more, Gex finds himself facing off against Rez, with ultimate victory coming when Gex finally shuts off the TV, destroying Rez forever. Until the sequel, that is. References to Rick James, Mike Tyson and Playboy Mansion went over the heads of most of us as children, but given context now the humour of Gex is that much more hilarious and biting. The major problem that the Gex games face in the current climate is that a lot of the references within the franchises are either no longer relevant, or no longer funny. Given a new entry, Gex’s sarcastic humour could shine through, with any number of new pop culture trends for the series to send up.

Gex: Deep Cover Gecko continues the parody of television and pop culture through a variety of new levels sending up Christmas movies, sci-fi and fantasy films, as well as the newly emerging superhero genre. With a turtle butler named Alfred, and a batcave-like main hub, Gex repeatedly satirises the seriousness of the Batman franchise. While some satire can be heavy-handed and dull, Gex is subtle in its comedy, providing hints and winks for its audience, but never being so graceless as to spell things out. It’s this balance that marks out the franchise as unique, and what excites me most about a potential return.

References to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson could easily be substituted for jokes at the expense of Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert. Gex wasn’t afraid to leave any topic untouched, with everyone from David Bowie to Jane Fonda getting a shout-out. Since the mid-nineties, the saturation of pop culture has grown considerably, and Gex could be the very hero we need to point out the absurdity of the current culture climate. References to pop blockbusters like Games of Thrones, Star Wars or Harry Potter could easily be made with the signature wit of series, with an even more powerful message to be drawn about the rise of pop culture through the nineties and early 2000s.

Think of a Gex who’s been retired for years, growing more frustrated with society’s reliance on pop culture. Think of a Rez who returns, buoyed by the increase in television media and more powerful than ever. I mean, we could probably do without the odd romance that was Gex and live-action Agent Xtra (played by Playboy model Marliece Andrada), but underneath the layers interspecies weirdness lies a series with something important to say, and one that’s more relevant than ever.

Several months ago, rumours began surfing that a new Gex game was coming, and excitement built for a new franchise entry. With Eidos, the original publisher of the series now defunct, Square Enix had announced they would allow new developers to pitch ideas on their long-dead franchises such as Gex, Fear Effect and Anachronox. Naturally, this is what kick-started the sequel rumours, but almost a year later, no further news has surfaced. With the stratospheric rise of nostalgia gaming and the return of Crash and Spyro in one form or the other, and given the immense support that Gex sequel rumours generated, it’s clear that now is the perfect time to strike with a Gex return. Whether that should be in the form of a reboot, remaster or sequel I’ve yet to decide, but one thing that’s for sure is that the series could make waves with a well-planned return.

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