In our Game Over, Man! series, we explore the history of video games that are based on movies, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure for the NES…
When it comes to big movies from the late 80’s, there’s few more quoted than 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Following up on his appearance in The Lost Boys, Alex Winter plays Bill S. Preston Esq., and (in a career launching role) Keanu Reeves is Theodore Logan, two airhead rockstar wannabes tasked with travelling through time in order to write an essay that will save them from breaking up their band, Wyld Stallyns.
The film’s was a hit, so it resulted in a handful of different video games released a couple of years after it hit cinemas, trying to capitalise on its success. Part 6 of our “Game Over, Man!” series takes a look at one of the worst of these tie-ins; 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure for the NES.
The game isn’t an adaptation of the film, but rather serves as a continuation of the movie’s story. This quasi-sequel sees players take control of Bill & Ted, who must rescue a group of historical figures who have been kidnapped by a band of time-space rebels and bring them back to their correct timelines, otherwise the boys will miss the concert that will launch the music career of Wyld Stallyns.
The game is set on a series of isometric maps containing houses, castles and buildings that players must explore. Talking to the people in each era is essential for finding clues, and outrunning mad locals can be remedied by using items that will distract them, satisfy them or just straight up make them disappear. In order to gain the trust of each historical figure, Bill & Ted must gather items known as “historical bait”.
The game’s story is set out extensively by a digitised Rufus, meeting the dudes from San Dimas in a nondescript park area. The portraits for the characters aren’t too bad, as they do an admirable job of showing off the emotional responses from each character – something that is sorely needed when you consider that the character sprites themselves are pretty boring and bland to begin with.
Actually starting the game is quite the task, as players are forced to jump through a series of infuriating hoops before any real gameplay is revealed. First of all, you must flick through a virtual phonebook to figure out which historical figure to help first, but the game leaves you in the dark as how to use any of the information that you unearth. Once you figure out that pressing the select button brings up a dialpad to enter a number into then that’s hurdle number one complete.
Then we reach the second obstacle to the gameplay; an infuriating puzzle. Players must guide a tiny spinning phonebooth through each number of the phone number that you just dialled. Sounds easy, right? Wrong!
Hitting these targets is a huge pain, as you’ll be firing the phonebooth all over the place (once you’ve figured out what is actually going on). The puzzle is seemingly pointless in this scenario though, as the phone booth eventually makes its way to the last number automatically, thus making this section not only a considerable waste of time, but a massive test of player’s patience. Not really a good thing to do before you’ve even got into the game’s first level.
Now that players are finally in the game, it’s time to look for clues and try to get Julius Caesar back to the correct point in history. Guiding Ted along isometric paths to look for key items should be a simple quest, but there’s a handful of things that make this way trickier than it should be.
First of all, the clues that players receive from NPC’s in the game are so vague, that they’re barely clues at all. Telling you to “look for something strange by a tree near the stable” should be a straightforward task, but the level loops around constantly and gives absolutely zero indication as to where the stable is, or shows anything visibly strange when you do reach this checkpoint.
In addition to these confusing level loops, the environment is also incredibly broken too. While the paths are absolutely fine to walk on, the grassy areas give absolutely zero indication as to whether they can be walked on, or immediately stop players in their tracks.
Then there’s the music. For a game that’s based on a movie about two wannabe rockstars, you would expect the soundtrack to be up to scratch (albeit in 8-bit MIDI format). Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure does this to a certain degree, with levels featuring admirable attempts at some era-appropriate music. Medieval World has the traditional ballad “Scarborough Fair”, Modern World contains the ragtime classic “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” and Ancient World plays… Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”?!.
This all sounds like something that you would come to expect from an NES game of this nature, but the main issue lies with one technical failure; once the music track finishes, it doesn’t loop, therefore leaving players with no music for the rest of the time in any particular level.
Interacting with the locals is also incredibly hit-or-miss as well, as it’s never too clear which characters are the ones that you need to talk to, and which ones that you should steer clear of. Then there’s the dialogue options. In terms of the writing, this is one of the game’s strongest areas, with much of the dialogue closely resembling some of the movie’s iconic lines.
What stops this from being a completely redeeming feature though is the game’s total inability to inform players of how to select a dialogue option. Players are likely to be stuck cycling through the same three answer options for ages before actually making any progress.
Overall, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is pretty much one of the worst NES games I have ever played, and is a contender for one of the worst games I’ve played on any console, period. There’s a huge laundry list of technical issues, and some incredibly poor decisions when it comes to the game’s design, that make it damn near impossible to play properly.
If there’s anything positive about this Bill & Ted outing, then it’s buried by so much terrible crap that it’s not really worth dredging out at all.
Be excellent to each other by completely avoiding this bogus game.
Have you played Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!