Adapt And Die

Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit!

Grunt Of The Litter

Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! is a Tim Allen grunt in video game form.

By Steve Heisler • November 7, 2012

Adapt And Die is an ongoing look at how seminal (or at the very least semi-interesting) works of film and television have crashed and burned in the gaming world.

Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! (1994)

The legacy of Home Improvement, an ABC sitcom that lasted for eight seasons in the ’90s, is not an episode, or even a scene. It’s a grunt. “Ro ro ro ro ro,” snarled Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor at all-too-frequent intervals, likely imitating the sound when you pull the string of a lawnmower, but with the rhythm of a Tom Waits Santa Claus. Perfect for any occasion! Wife nagging Tim about doing chores? Three sons requiring a pep talk of testosterone shock treatment? A counter to the wet blanket Al Borland, Tim’s Tool Time cohost? “Ro ro ro ro ro.” It was the show’s catchphrase (more of a catchsound, really), a primal chant honoring comedian Tim Allen’s whole M.O.: He is man. Hear him roar.

According to leading Home Improvement anthropologists (me), this guttural yelp represents a misguided celebration of manhood, an assessment that equally applies to the show and its 1994 Super Nintendo homage, Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! The game is a collage of manly tropes. Tools shall have more power, decrees virtual Tim Allen. They shall conquer dinosaurs and robots alike, and neither the stern warnings of his three sons nor the Zen-like calm of Richard Karn’s beard will stand between him and his beloved Binfords. It’s a heightened version of the penile pageantry exhibited by the show on a weekly basis. Only in this venue, where the show’s mythos is forced to manufacture a situation in which Tim Taylor is showered with nuts and bolts, is it clear that Home Improvement’s steroid regimen has stunted its growth.

Home Improvement and Tim Allen’s grunt weren’t manly, of course. They were manchildish, a boy’s vision what it means to be a man. But where Home Improvement was a family show, Power Tool Pursuit! was just for the kids, so its pastiche is painted in broader strokes. Tim Taylor is about to unveil his own line of Binford tools on the air, only to discover they’ve been mysteriously misplaced. So, like most high-functioning adults, he throws a tantrum, storming off his set and onto other soundstages where his precious new toys have been spotted. He is armed with a grappling hook, which is also a jackhammer, which is also a sparkly hammer to bat down bad guys. In my spare time, I work with a group that teaches children creative writing and then performs the stories they write. I cannot tell you how many times elementary school boys give their characters these sorts of literal deus ex machina.

And that is not enough. There are staple guns and flame throwers to find, chainsaws that shoot waves of shocks, and endless bundles of dynamite to hurl. (I’m sure Acme Corp. is handing out bonus checks left and right.) And they are used to take down beasts that would only set foot on the actual Home Improvement in a dream sequence: dinosaurs, ghosts, robots, and other large, flashy things to capture little boys’ imaginations. How is this possible? Power Tool Pursuit! explains away the presence of such fantastical creatures by fitting them into another show filming on another soundstage. Dinosaur Safari is the first, followed by one that looks like the inside of a pyramid in ancient Egypt. Tim Taylor can finally shoot alien robots with lasers on a space station, as it was foretold.

Tim’s plight is a harrowing one, made possible by A) Binford-brand tools, and B) overwhelming masochism for masochism’s sake. See, being a man is hard, yes? So the testosterone centrifuge running Power Tool Pursuit! ensures nothing is easy. Boxes containing Tim’s precious new tools are illogically scattered throughout each world. Enemies routinely breathe fire or shoot small, pesky bugs that are sometimes impossible to see in the cluttered screen. And because the game resembles Sonic The Hedgehog, one hit reduces Tim’s stockpile of nuts and bolts to zero, and another blow ends his run. There is little room for error, yet even that first dinosaur level is overrun with menacing creatures. Pterodactyls with exploding eggs give way to giant dragonflies that split into smaller dragonflies. It’s hardly ever fair. Sometimes the enemies are entirely off camera. Sometimes you hit them, and they decide to hit you back even though they’re already dead.

When Tim loses a life, the game fades to black. Tim’s three sons rush into the screen, picking him up, spraying him with water, and generally just motivating him to keep up his noble voyage. Tim is supposed to be the pinnacle of manhood, or at the very least setting an example for his children. Instead, they are the ones egging him on into perilous territory—maybe they love their dad less than they let on—and Tim’s lost the ability to have any sort of perspective, which is kind of the prerequisite for being an adult. He wants his toys, and he wants them now.

Before Judd Apatow was the go-to reference when describing man-children—men who exist in a state of arrested development out of a fear of BEING AN ADULT, all caps—there was Home Improvement, a show about a guy struggling to maintain his kaleidoscopic vision of manhood. Sure, Home Improvement was sappy, but there appeared to be a beating heart behind the botched construction projects and the nosy neighbor who never showed his face. If Tim Taylor allowed himself to be occasionally humbled, he’d slowly realize that being an adult wasn’t such a scary prospect, that there was just as much room for his toys as there was for his family.

If Power Tool Pursuit! is a magnified version of that thesis, then to directly quote the final moments of the game, “Psych!” Home Improvement, through the eyes of its companion game, is shallow and childish—a terrifying image of what adulthood would be like if every man were Tom Hanks’ character from Big. The show might have something important to say; the game is nothing but the grunting.

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49 Responses to “Grunt Of The Litter”

  1. Citric says:

    I was in a bar around hallowe’en with some friends, dressed normally for a weekend, and someone asked me if I was supposed to be Al from Home Improvement. I didn’t quite know how to react.

    On the subject of the actual game, the conceit is that they are filming different shows on different stages. So Tim is blowing up a very expensive dinosaur prop? I don’t think that’s a good idea.

  2. STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

    AAUUUUUUUEEEEHHHHHHHH!?
    stupid as Home Improvement was, I can’t help but have nostalgia for it since I remember watching it with my grandparents when they were little, it makes me think of spending time in their nice, warm house, a house I have not been in since 2000 because they’re both dead

    damn it nostalgia, why can you make even stupid shit palatable? 

    • Girard says:

       Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

      In Eastern Germany, there’s a noted phenomenon of “Ostalgie” (“East-algia,” literally), which is the nostalgic romanticizing of the trapping of the crappy Eastern-Bloc life that contemporary young adults associate with their childhoods. So you have, like, food companies using ‘retro’ packaging evoking the design of state-supplied foodstuffs and so on. The movie Good-Bye Lenin!, in addition to being kind of a fun comedy, also functioned as an Ostalgic indulgence for a certain generation of Germans who similarly wanted to revisit the trappings of their childhood, only, you know, without all of that totalitarian stuff.

      • Moonside_Malcontent says:

        At least Ampelmännchen never made irritating grunting noises.

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

        Nostalgia really is a powerful drug, it’s like my Prozac

        I don’t mean to get melodramatic, but thinking of the “good old days” really is a big part of what keeps me going these days

    • lokimotive says:

      You watched it with your grandparents when they were little? What bizarre time traveling magic is going on here?

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

        I’m not even gonna edit that, that’s a fucking hilarious mistake

        don’t I WISH I was a time traveler 

      • Dr. Jacoby says:

        @STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM:disqus ‘s grandparents were just very small in stature, it’s not actually a typo. 

  3. Girard says:

    This game was GREAT!

    …PSYCHE! No, it wasn’t! I kind of like how they had the credits scroll on the actual screen and the in-game monitor simultaneously. It shows a wonderfully misplaced attention to detail in a game where the final boss fight apparently has no music.

  4. doyourealize says:

    My whole family got together and watched this whenever it aired. That grunt could be heard in our house regularly, especially from my dad, who works in construction (though his true passion is music). We stopped doing this before the end of the show’s run, but I remember watching a late episode randomly at one point. The youngest kid (Mark, I think), went all goth and made a video for a school project about being ignored by his family. It was a little darker than I remembered. Was this the trend for the show’s later years or just an episode?

    I did not, however, have any idea this game existed.

    • I never heard of this game, and I subscribed to Nintendo Power at the time.

    • Citric says:

      There was definitely an ongoing storyline about Mark going goth. I remember it because I used to like the show – I was 8, it often had shiny cars, of course I liked it – but the whole goth storyline turned me off completely.

    • Girard says:

       I remember the youngest brother went goth, the oldest brother got a “controversial” haircut that was shaved on the sides and pulled into a ponytail, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas retained his typical 90s teen heartthrob sartorial style throughout the series.

      • doyourealize says:

        Didn’t JTT get famous and not have any time for the show anymore? The solution was to send him to “college”.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          He was filming a movie at the time of the final episode, so he didn’t show up for it, either.  And then he showed up for the Entertainment Weekly reunion photoshoot? Bad form!

          This was disturbing news among GhaleonQ Dads ages 30 to 60!

  5. Man, Tim and Jill from “Home Improvement” were frighteningly similar to my parents. Career-driven mother? Check. Saturday nights with Dad in the ER? Check!

  6. lokimotive says:

    The screen capture at the top of this article looks astonishingly like a Fate of Atlantis era SCUMM adventure game. That would actually be a much more appropriate medium for a Home Improvement adaptation. It seems like a bit of a lost opportunity that more adaptations didn’t take the adventure game route, instead opting for the side scrollers, a genre that never fit very well for any of them. The illogical milieux in this adaptation seem to speak to that: “So Tim loses his tools, how does he get them back?” “Well, he could go around town speaking to people and searching for clues as to their whereabouts. As he does that, he would have to go on side quests, to fix various things. In the game these would be presented as combination puzzles.” “Holy crap! Screw that, just make it a side-scroller where he fights dinosaurs or some shit.”

    • GhaleonQ says:

      And the font is a straight-up Konami ripoff.

      But, more relevantly, this is made by Imagineering, the people who did the A Boy And His Blob series, a few bad The Simpsons games, and the closest match to this, the Home Alone games.

      http://www.gamefaqs.com/features/company/75414.html

      Like, David Crane, the creator of Pitfall, has this as his last design credit, apparently.  If you’re shopping around for easy money, that pedigree’s not bad.

      (As an aside, I would personally get more from these if they were couched in designer history, not just the artifact.)

      • lokimotive says:

        You know, it’s funny that you mentioned Home Alone because I was thinking about that game being at least a somewhat less than reprehensible adaptation of a movie. However, I was thinking of the PC version of the game, rather than the Imagineering versions which were developed for the SNES and Gameboy. 

        Manley and Associates developed the PC version. Apart from having a name that sounds like a law firm, they developed a small amount of adaptations and forgetable games for the PC and Amiga (http://www.gamefaqs.com/features/company/75848.html). The only reason I remember Home Alone is because I got it for Christmas when I was probably eleven, and spent a fair amount of time completely failing. Rather than a rote side scroller (which the SNES and Gameboy versions seem to be), it had you set up traps around the house and then attempt to evade the Wet Bandits for a few minutes while simultaneously not setting off the traps yourself. It was a slightly novel approach, but one that mirrored the central conflict of the movie very well, I thought.

        Oddly, Ice Pick Lodge (makers of Pathologic, The Void, and the completely bizarre Cargo!) is making a new game that sort of resembles that old Home Alone adaptation: Knock Knock. Indeed, they even cite it as a resemblance. 

        • GhaleonQ says:

          Oooooooooooooooohhhh.  I learned something new today!  Both of those bits of knowledge are phenomenal, and I really want to play that Home Alone.  There was a PC game a little while ago with ghosts, I think, which was 1 of the last dungeon keeper games in a modern environment.  I hope it’s like that.

        • KevinDougherty says:

          I had an (unsuccessful) pitch meeting at Absolute Entertainment a year or so before they released this game. They told me they were excited about the future because they were getting some Disney licenses. A few months later they were less excited when they told me it was for Home Improvement.

      • Girard says:

         The only HUMAN who makes video games is Shigeru Miyamoto. And maybe Tim Schafer. All other video games emerge, fully-formed, from the aether (or from gestalt entities with names like “CAPCOM”). This is what I have come to understand from a lifetime of reading video game journalism.

        • Citric says:

          What about Human Entertainment?

          They closed up shop in 1999? Aw nuts.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          @Citric:disqus And came back as Spike!

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus I think that you are forgetting KOJIMA-SAN, who made so many teenagers weep anime tears.

          Really, though, you’re not wrong.  Wouldn’t it be weird if things were publicized as “the latest by Penguin,” or “Focus Features, the distributor who brought you…”  We should go back to 1990s arcade aliases and give whole teams 3 initials and no more.  It would sure make credits scroll faster.

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

        they also made the TOYS game

        HOO-HAH! HOO-HAH!

    • Mike_From_Chicago says:

      Probably because of my age, I still think those 16 bit sprites are surprisingly elegant. Sometimes they tried to put too much detail into the characters’ faces, making a hazy mess, and often the walk cycles were odd looking, but there’s still a pleasingly abstract look to them.

  7. HobbesMkii says:

    Tim Allen is one of those people who I’ve never understood how they were ever a comedian, mainly because what’s funny about them?

    The best part of that show was Wilson.

    • Oh no, I’ve killed Wilson! Looks like it’s back to jail for me.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Cocaine is a powerful match-maker down there in Californy, Hobbes. As a pusher himself, Allen probably created his entire career by remembering everyone he had ever supplied.
      It’s the only way I can imagine it.
      Mind you, once you’re willing to remake old Chevy Chase movies with Kirstey Alley that probably takes on a life of its own.

    • doyourealize says:

      I read his book, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man when Home Improvement was one of my favorite shows. I think that was when I started to realize how unfunny he actually was. I just remember a lot of dick jokes.

    • I was over a friend’s house once, who happened to be showing the first season of Home Improvement. I have no idea why.

      Guys… HOLY SHIT. I can’t even begin to describe how offensive, wholly misogynistic it was. Tim was always right; his wife was was always wrong and stupid. And I don’t mean that in a hippie-liberal way – the shit was cruel.

      You know why it became sappier and Tim became more manchild than manly in the later seasons? Probably in reaction to how egregiously cringe-worthy those first few episodes were.  Even the creative/executive folks new they had to curb that stuff down.

    • Electric Dragon says:

       You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.

  8. Effigy_Power says:

    And yet nobody could invent a tool to give a single cast member a decent haircut. Just the thought of the sons’ hair makes me want to brain someone with a Binford Crowbar.

    EDIT: The Super Deforester? That’s the last invention he builds? The jumping mech was a hero of the environmentalists and Tim Allen killed it with electroshocks, probably under considerable drug influence. Booh!

    • Girard says:

      Hair up? Or hair down?

      Considering how eco-friendly kid culture was (at least, nominally) in the 90s, it seems really weird and incongruous to have the last treasure/tool you acquire be the “super deforester.” What would Captain Planet think? Will I have to turn back in my “Big Help” t-shirt?

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

        *looks at haircuts*

        ARGH! IT BURNS! GET IT AWAY!

        those hairstyles are the real “super deforesters”

  9. Justin Leeper says:

    When in-game Tim Taylor jumps, he farts for extra height. Just watch the above videos with the sound up. I don’t know if that canon, as I don’t remember him jumping and/or farting on the TV show.

    By the way, I kinda loathe that Tim Allen is getting so much voiceover work in commercials these days. 

    • Citric says:

      I’ll give Tim Allen’s voice a lifetime pass because he’s Buzz Fucking Lightyear. 

      The rest of Tim Allen, ehhhh, not so much, even if Galaxy Quest was pretty great.

  10. Idran says:

    You left out one of the dumbest/most fitting parts of this game!  The manual was a normal-length SNES manual, but it was entirely blank (outside the normal warnings) except for the first page, which just said “Real men don’t need manuals.”

  11. TreeRol says:

    Wasn’t the grunt supposed to be apelike? That was always what I thought. If it really was supposed to mimic the sound of some kind of power tool, well, I guess I’d… uhh… be wrong.

  12. DeepthroatGhoul says:

    Even though Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit isn’t great, it’s much better than the following crappy SNES titles:

    Ultraman
    Pit-Fighter
    James Bond Jr.
    Captain Novolin
    Harley’s Humongous Adventure
    Wayne’s World
    Bubsy in: Claws Encounter of the Furred Kind
    Bubsy 2
    The Wizard of Oz
    Last Action Hero
    Terminator 2: Judgement Day
    Lester the Unlikely
    Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon
    Bebe’s Kids
    Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder
    Space Ace
    Snow White in Happily Ever After
    Shaq Fu
    Ballz 3D
    HammerLock Wrestling
    Rise of the Robots
    Rap Jam Vol. 1
    Time Cop
    Batman Forever

    Also, I think the game’s lack of an instruction manual and only a Binford slip telling you that “real men don’t need instructions” is a rather nice nod to the TV show where Tim would go forth with a project without proper instructions as well as wave off any warnings from Al, only to screw up the project with some wacky accident.

    Finally, for all those people out there who complaining about not knowing the controls, here’s what they are:

    X = Grappling Hook
    B = Jump
    A = Weapon (Staple Gun, Flamethrower, Chainsaw, etc.)
    Down + X = Jackhammer
    Left/Right + X = Axe

    In conclusion, yes, Tim Allen fighting dinosaurs, giant scorpions, and ghosts IS stupid, but if you can look past that, Power Tool Pursuit is a pretty fun SNES game if you like a challenge. It’s not Super Ghouls & Ghosts hard, but it’s still difficult.