by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Let’s talk about some 8-Bit games on PC! Back when I was a much younger man, PC gaming was still very much in its infancy. A series of PC point-and-click games using the MacVenture engine came to the NES. They were “The Uninvited”, “Deja Vu” and “Shadowgate”. The games all kind of looked the same, as far as their UI went, because that’s just how things were at the time. Each game had a different mystery to solve and unfold, but I honestly felt it was kind of clunky on the Nintendo. And I didn’t have access to a PC until I was in High School (96~) and even then I seldom got to use it, I never got to play these as they were meant to be played. The MacVenture games were a four-part series, but Deja Vu II is not on this particular list. I recently acquired a Steam title, 8-Bit Anthology, Vol. 1. These were some of the most creative and challenging Nintendo games, and you never got to jump, use Warp Zones, or slice through evil demons with a katana.
These are perfect 1:1 ports of the original NES games in their entirety, with the thing they were missing due to being on console: Mouse Support! It’s beautiful. The only major complaint I had at the outset was maybe changing how the titles are selected from the main menu. That’s not a serious gripe, but it was a little annoying to mouse over. The graphics, despite being 8-Bit are clean, crisp, and the audio is wonderful. It really takes me back to being a kid and grumbling at the TV because I couldn’t solve some of these. I only had them for a limited time, so I learned that these were not games you rented. Some players could get annoyed that “all three games have the same UI”, but that’s just the engine from the time. I can see new players being very frustrated though because you have to click out every single thing you do. Stuck in a room/car? You have to click “open” first, then click the thing you’re trying to open. Moving from room to room? Click the “move” button, then click on the mini-map on where you want to go (if it has a circle that indicates you can). Each game has its own story, and you really have to put a lot of thought and time into what you do. I highly, highly recommend these titles. So I think I’ll round this out with a little blurb about each game.
1941, Chicago. This takes place shortly after Pearl Harbor’s dreadful attack. Unlike Dick Tracy on the NES, this mystery/whodunit actually makes sense! But the first step is to figure out who you are, which is challenging enough! Before you can figure out what’s wrong and set things right again, you have to also learn your own identity. This was one of the hardest games I played as a kid, and even as an adult, I feel like a Gamefaqs walkthrough is necessary. Use your creativity and wits to get to the end. It wraps up nice and neat when you finally see it through. Save often (especially when using the Slots. Please please please save) because damn, these games are unforgiving. There aren’t a lot of other characters to really interact with, it’s you, your wits, and a dangerous world. I love it. Especially after, again, playing Dick Tracy.
This was the last of the trilogy of games and is about on the same level as Shadowgate. I enjoyed their more occult stories far more than Deja Vu (though I love Deja Vu! Don’t get me wrong). If you are looking for amazing graphics and music, you’re really in the wrong place to start with. This game is all about the story. The puzzle quality varies from insanely easy to “OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS WALL EVEN MEAN!?” Imagine playing these in the 80s with no Internet! Only the smartest survived The Uninvited. A person leaves a car wreck (and subsequent explosion), only to find themselves in front of a foreboding mansion. There’s an envelope in the mailbox with a pendant and letter. The letter warns of dark powers, and once you put on the pendant, the door opens. Are you the Uninvited? Find out!
Each game has its own setting and theme, and Shadowgate’s no exception. This one is set in a darker medieval world. You are the descendant of great, powerful warriors and nobility. A powerful, sinister wizard is going to take over the world using the most powerful beast: The Behemoth. So how can you possibly stop him? You must enter the impenetrable “Shadowgate” fortress of course! There are puzzles, traps, and lots of deaths awaiting. I think I died more in Shadowgate than I did any of these. A helpful hint though: Get the torches! There are ~25 of them, and you’ll need them. This one had probably the most contrived story, but it’s still wonderful. It’s still a tale I enjoyed seeing through. If you do, say, or click the wrong thing, you can and will die in Shadowgate. This was the hardest of the three to me personally, so do save often.
Needs More Maniac Mansion: 4/5
Whether you’re an old man like me or not, these “item finding” games are a blast. The ability to change the filters of the game (Old TV, etc) is not game-changing, but they really do take me back to the good ol’ days, and that’s a good thing. The 8-Bit Anthology challenging, tell an interesting story, and require a considerable amount of creativity. However, they are infuriatingly difficult and they were not watered down from their PC/NES compatriots. The only other major downside is “no replay value”. Once you’ve beat these games, there’s not a lot to do left except play the next game. But for the price of this bundle, that’s honestly fair. I’m hoping more of these Anthologies come out because there were a few more games in the point-and-click universe on the NES/early PC to come out like, you know … Maniac Mansion. But these are pure, wonderful recreations of some of the hardest games to ever be developed. These are up there with the Ultima and Wizardry games in terms of challenge, if you don’t know what you’re doing.