A Quick Look At James & Watch: Tooth Cracker

In 2015, RetroGaming Roundup's Ben Lancaster released a new homebrew game for the Dreamcast modelled after the popular Nintendo Game & Watch LCD units of the 1980s. James & Watch: Arm was a fairly simple game that tasked players with throwing and catching a small child, and was inspired by true events that involved some bored brothers, a broken arm and a little bit of sibling bribery. If that sounds even remotely intriguing, you should have a look at our previous feature and all will be made clear.
Fast forward to 2016 and Ben has been back to the drawing (developing?) board and come up with the second entrant in the James & Watch saga, the brilliantly titled Tooth Cracker. As with the first in the series, Tooth Cracker is inspired by true events but rather than being based on brotherly 'love,' it is based on the wince inducing tale of a few beverages of the alcoholic persuasion, an errant elbow and the resulting smashed incisors.

As the name suggests, Tooth Cracker is once again based on the Nintendo Game & Watch and so features some fairly rudimentary graphics and sound effects. This shouldn't put you off though, as what worked in the 1980s still holds true today in this age of HD graphics and complex narratives - addictive gameplay and high scores are what made the Game & Watch a winner, and Tooth Cracker nails the formula with aplomb.

Before I continue, I really want to emphasise that Tooth Cracker (and indeed the earlier Arm) is the work of a small team of hobbyists who are creating software for the Dreamcast in their spare time. More importantly, they are doing so mainly for their own amusement and the subject matter for these games is testament to that. If you approach either of the James & Watch games expecting anything more than a very simple, 15 minute diversion of an experience then you will be left disappointed. That said, these games never try to be anything more than that and so any negativity levelled at either of these titles is (in my opinion at least) unwarranted. Now that's out of the way - on to the game itself.
After being treated to some genuinely humorous intro soundbites and a brilliant intro screen sending up the Boddingtons brand (for those who don't know, Boddingtons is a popular British ale originally brewed in the Strangeways district of Manchester, and was known as the 'Cream of Manchester' before the brewery closed and production moved elsewhere). The knowingly titled Doggingtons takes the place of Boddies and it is with these familiar yellow-hued cans of beer that the player must attempt to score points by cracking teeth.
Gameplay is simple in the extreme - the cans move randomly along the line of teeth at the top of the screen, and when the moving fist below the can lines up you need to hit the action button. Line them up perfectly and you crack a tooth; miss and you lose a life. Each tooth takes three accurate hits with the can of Doggingtons' finest before shattering and if you get all of the teeth smashed you'll receive an extra life. As you get better at hitting the A button as the fist and the can line up, you'll be knocking teeth out for fun; but be aware that the game tempo speeds up as you progress meaning you're in for some pretty frantic reaction-based gameplay. There are two games modes (titled A and B), and the second mode introduces rotten black teeth that only require one direct hit to reduce them to putrid piles of black dust. Which is lovely.
To be honest, there's not much else to Tooth Cracker than lining up the fist and the cans and hitting the action button at the right time, but for pure novelty value it can't be faulted. It perfectly recreates the simplistic nature of the Game & Watch and harks to an era where the only draw a game needed was the lure of beating a high score. Not only that, but it really does test your reactions as you progress and when you're down to your last life it makes for a pretty nerve-wracking experience.

Tooth Cracker isn't yet available to purchase, and this copy is a special promo version made especially for The Dreamcast Junkyard (way to make us feel special!), but Ben has informed us that the game will be available at some point in the near future and may possibly form part of a double pack bundled with James & Watch: Arm. The fun back story (well, fun for those not having their teeth cracked), VGA support, engaging twitch-based gameplay and wry sense of humour come together to make Tooth Cracker a worthy addition to the Dreamcast's already bursting library of homebrew releases and just goes to show that even the most simplistic of ideas has a fun game premise to be gleaned from it. 

For more information on the release of James & Watch: Tooth Cracker, keep an eye on the RetroGaming Roundup page dedicated to the game; and thanks to Ben Lancaster for the special promotional copy of the game. Follow Ben on Twitter here and RetroGaming Roundup here for regular updates on Tooth Cracker's release.

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