Before the rise and global domination of prestige television, TV used to be an ocean of forgettable, weird syndicated procedurals. The all but forgotten mad dream of the creators of Baywatch, one show ran for a single season before fading into the dusty halls of ignominy. A show starring former wrestling superstar and future Gawker foe Hulk Hogan and Hollywood legacy Chris Lemmon. The show was called Thunder in Paradise. The Deadshirt series—wherein Max Robinson and Jake Arant discuss the scant episodes we can find on the internet —is called Boat Dinks.
Max: Deadshirt’s time in the sun may be fading but Jake and I — call it insanity, call it obsession — have just one more Boat Dinks column in us and brother is it a doozy. You all know Thunder in Paradise: The TV Show but did you know about Thunder in Paradise……The Video Game? Released in 1995 for the Philips CD-i(?!), “Thunder in Paradise Interactive” is an artistic tour de force that makes the player question identity and the nature of humanity. Or, wait, no that’s untrue this game is actually extremely dumb. Regardless, Jake and I watched this YouTube video playthrough seen below:
Jake: It’s excruciatingly dumb. A little background: The Philips CD-i was an extremely-ill fated video game console venture that lost the company something like a billion dollars and is basically known for being a terrible humiliating failure that had a couple of terrible Zelda games licensed by Nintendo. Like the similarly ill-fated Sega CD, the CD-i had a lot of “games” that amounted to little more than weird minigames crammed into FMV cutscenes. Thunder in Paradise is a particularly offensive example, actually. Max, this was easily my most bizarre and dumb outing with this property yet. What did you think?
Max: Jake….I loved it. Here’s the thing: In trying to adapt a regular episode of Thunder in Paradise (in this case, “The M.A.J.O.R. and the Minor”) to a home console video game, the people behind the show accidentally made something insanely interesting. This is a game that opens with Chris Lemmon and Hulk Hogan talking to YOU, the player, after the wrapping of an episode. It’s like we’re right there, waiting for Hulk to excuse himself so he can snort some crushed up diet pills in his trailer!
Jake: From the get-go, this whole thing has a surreal head injury/bad trip feeling that proceeds to mercilessly confound you. You play as Hulk Hogan’s nephew, a cargo-shorted teen with 1997 Dexter Holland hair and a way-too-big shirt. The narrative in this thing is fractured at best, and the story proper opens with a sequence where Hulk apparently attempts to link minds with a brainless Terminator sort of figure called The Major? I didn’t have a clue what was happening, but I WAS immediately cackling like an idiot at the sight of Hulk Hogan wearing that dollar store mental uplink device like some sort of ‘roided up tight jeans Lobot.
Max: A thing that fascinates me about this is that we OPEN on Hulk Hogan as a volunteer donating his brain waves or w/e to a cyborg floating in a big tank. Like oh yeah sure, normal Florida stuff. The Major gets too racist from Hulk’s brainwaves (OR WHATEVER) and walks out of the lab like a guy who just got dumped at a public pool. Oh yeah and Chris Lemmon tries to fight The M.A.J.O.R. and immediately gets his ass handed to him in front of like five people.
Jake: I wanna pause for one second, because what I’m about to say is a notion that I return to every time I watch this show. I don’t wanna be over-critical and I’m sure he’s a super nice guy, but holy crap Chris Lemmon is absolutely awful in this. It sure ain’t for lack of effort, but he’s got some lines in this that would be punishable by death in some countries. I’m gonna blame the script for his sake and move on. Max, can we talk about how Hulk and Chris agree to let his dipshit nephew tag along because he’s… Good at computers, I guess? The kid has a gun that… I guess it disintegrates people? There are multiple levels of this game where you play as the kid shooting armed mercenaries. And that doesn’t even show up until after level one, where the kid neurally interlinks with Hulk’s weird Optimus Prime-voice speedboat and shoots down fighter planes while Chris Lemmon yells at him. Florida stuff.
Max: I’d say this all breaks the suspension of disbelief but Thunder in Paradise is a TV show that asks us to accept that Hulk Hogan can go more than five minutes without dropping some kind of racist/gendered slur. So the “video game” is basically just little mini games broken up by footage from the episode that incorporates Hulk Hogan’s be-cargo shortsed nephew sniper no-scoping henchmen. SPEAKING OF, we haven’t even gotten to the actual villain of the episode, DARIUS RAMPIKE. Darius! Rampike!
Jake: God is real and he loves me because Hulk Hogan says “Darius Rampike” a bunch of times in this thing. DARIUS RAMPIKE looks for all the world exactly like a character that didn’t make it into the final cut of Mortal Kombat II and he is right up there with Sting’s villain from whatever previous episode. This guy and his weird Mad Max deal alone are worth the price of admission, and are a nice counterbalance to the overlong levels where the kid appears to shoot his way through the courtyard of a mid-level resort. The sudden changes in tone and pacing are very strange in this, actually. Remember how there’s an entire portion of the game built around… Reading computer files? Like a Fallout game, except all you’re reading about here is how many missiles your Knight Rider speedboat has.
Max: 1) Darius Rampike, a character with a name so good it has no business being associated with Thunder in Paradise, looks like if Kano from Mortal Kombat had an even dirtbaggier older brother who constantly needed rides to his job at the mall. They never really explain his whole deal??
2) I’ll be honest I was playing Breath of the Wild when the video would hit looooong scroll through sections of this game. The only gameplay element this thing needed was an inexplicable stealth section where Cargo Shorts snaps a bunch of ninjas’ necks while waiting for internet porn to become a thing. Did I hear correctly that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. can access a fucking missle from a nuclear sub??
Jake: I believe you’re correct, yes. If this show had gone on long enough, we would’ve seen that boat get hijacked and used to wipe out the eastern seaboard or something. This whole thing is just so relentlessly weird. At certain unexpected junctures, you’re subjected to long cutscenes of bikini babes frolicking together in a location that initially appears to be MILES away from any of the action occurring elsewhere onscreen. What’s fascinating about this game is that if it had been made a couple years sooner or later, it would’ve very likely been a completely different beast. These FMV games were a fairly short-lived enterprise that often feel more like tech demos than actual, y’know, games. The entire thing is basically just the Hulkster and Chris Lemmon yelling directly into the camera about plot beats the game couldn’t be bothered to set up. The concept of these two battle-hardened mercenaries sending a teenager out with some sort of laser rifle on his own is wild enough on its own, but their periodic and disorienting commentary on your murder prowess is truly incredible to behold.
Max: They just keep YELLING at us. I can’t help but extrapolate that, despite the creators’ intentions, the Thunder in Paradise video game raises uncomfortable questions about our own culpability as viewing participants in on-screen violent spectacle. The game alternates between the player’s game-assigned murder uncles praising/admonishing you for your killing prowess. Even the game’s choice of assigned avatar, a dorky white kid with a laser gun, feels almost like its mocking you. Thunder in Paradise: The Game is Hell and we are forced to become its keeper.
Jake: I can’t help but feel that this was truly the destination of our Boat Dinks journey from the start. The further we dove into this thing, the easier it became for me to imagine you and I knocking back terrible margaritas at a beach bar and then cruising out to sea in our big stupid speedboat and blowing people up with missiles. This game is, for now, the closest that you and I will come to truly living out our Thunder in Paradise fantasies, at least until our ongoing lawsuit against over the “drywall screw in the Count Chocula” incident nets us enough money to buy the world’s bullshittiest speedboat and move to Florida. And Max, buddy, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner through this entire spectacle. I’d say we’ve earned ourselves a couple of boat drinks.
Max: Jake, my brother from another mother, thank you for riding arms clasped between two jetskis with me into the mouth of an unthinkable beach drinks monster from the depths. Thunder in Paradise may have ended its run decades ago but boat drinks….boat drinks are forever.