A common sight of this console generation has been HD remasters of older titles. These titles usually come from either the previous console generation, or perhaps the generation before that at a push, but it's extremely unusual for a remake to come from the cartridge era of games. This is what makes the 8-Bit Adventure Anthology: Volume I so unexpected. Originally developed for the Apple Macintosh in the mid-late 1980s, the four MacVenture point and click titles were eventually ported to other gaming platforms, including the NES. It is the NES version of three of these titles that has now been ported to the Xbox One courtesy of Abstraction Games.
The first of the three titles to be included is fantasy adventure Shadowgate from 1987. Players enter a ruined castle, home of the evil Warlock Lord. Being the last of a great line of hero-kings, it's up to you to defeat the Warlock and prevent him from summoning the demon Behemoth. The second title is The Uninvited, a horror from 1986. After your car crashes when you swerve to avoid a figure in the middle of the road, your sister mysteriously disappears. You need to investigate the nearby haunted mansion to find both your sister and some help. Finally, there's Déjà Vu from 1985. The detective romp places players in the year 1942 and they wake up in a bathroom stall with no idea who they are or how they got there. What is apparent is that whoever they are is being framed for murder and they need to find an antidote for their worsening amnesia before time runs out.
Upon reaching the main menu, players are able to pick any of the three titles and with no correlation between any of their stories, it makes little difference to the order you choose to play them. As there are separate save files for each title, you can also stop partway through a title to begin another. Meanwhile, Déjà Vu's sequel is the fourth MacVenture title that is missing from the collection and some will rue the lack of opportunity to try the title again, but there's always a chance it may be included if there's a Volume 2.
You really should get on with that
While the stories might not have anything in common, the gameplay certainly does. Each of the titles has a small window showing a scene from a first person perspective. To the right is a list of items in your inventory and your spells (list of destinations in Déjà Vu). Underneath is your command list and room map. While the order and wording of some of the commands changes, their purposes are the same. To do anything in the game, the player must pick a command and then choose where on the map they wish to perform that action, or choose an object from the inventory. Randomly clicking on an object in the window will do nothing. It's something that will be jarring to players who are used to the capabilities of more modern interfaces, but it soon becomes second nature.
The presentation seems so simplistic, but the gameplay is far from an easy ride. Point and clicks of this era didn't even know what "casual" meant and they certainly didn't hold your hand. The cursor never changes appearance to indicate an interesting area or an object to be found — the player has to seek that out themselves. There are rooms that don't have a purpose, scores of objects meant to distract, open maps that don't funnel you towards your next objective, and puzzles whose answers are often far from obvious. The titles don't suffer from obscure puzzles, where the answer often lies in a strange combination of objects; it's more a case of trying to locate the object needed to progress. In the days before guides were everywhere, it was common for players not to make it to the end credits. It is gameplay like this that many adventure fans feel is missing from more modern titles and is the reason why these ports are welcomed.
It may sound like nonsense, but that riddle does actually have a point
Unlike modern titles, players weren't encouraged to dawdle their way through the game. Take too long and it would often result in death. Uninvited has many puzzles that will result in death if you make too many actions before finding a solution. The player's mental state will gradually deteriorate in Déjà Vu if they can't find the antidote in time. The most obvious, though, is Shadowgate and its use of torches. Each torch has a set length of time to burn. If both of your torches go out before you are able to light another one, it's instant death. Luckily, the previously catchy chiptune soundtrack takes on a rather obnoxious tone until you light another torch just to shut it up. Nowadays a game's soundtrack rarely has a purpose other than to sound good in the background, but in these games you'll need to pay attention to that sound if you don't want to be caught off guard.
Running out of time isn't the only way to fail in these games; in fact, these games became known for the many ways in which a player could die. Some of these are obvious and can be avoided easily. Others may seem a bit cheap as they won't become apparent until you've made an action that had an unpredictable outcome. For instance, a trapdoor in the floor may lead downwards or it may just drop you to your death, and there's no indication as to which it may be until you try it. It's hard to stay upset with the game for long, though, because dying only puts players back to the room they were in before the one in which they died. There's also the ability to save anywhere and at any time in the game, something that's extremely handy if you're about to try a risky action.
You'll look like that really soon if you can't work out how to deal with her
The ports stay true to their NES form in gameplay, soundtracks and graphics. Sure, they've been adapted to work with the Xbox One controller, and there are some nice visual effects if you want to change from the default display (both in ratio and colour filters), but generally they work well on the latest generation of consoles. The only hiccup is in Uninvited when a moving creature or friendly NPC appears on the screen. At this point, the game visually chugs and the normally slow cursor is slowed down to a crawl, although the soundtrack remains unaffected in the background. It's the only issue with an otherwise solid port of three renowned adventure titles.
Finally, there's the achievements. Every single one of the game's 18 achievements is related to a method of dying, most of which will take some effort to reproduce or some luck with spawning situations, although these are all easy enough to find with the guides that are currently available. Although there are six different achievements for each of the three titles, be assured that there are many more ways to die that don't unlock achievements. You'll likely find most of them before you reach the end credits.
Summary8-Bit Adventure Anthology (Volume One) is a port of three renowned MacVenture point and click titles that manages to stay true to form on the latest generation of consoles, even if there are some slight technical issues in one of the games. This will please traditional adventure game fans who will relish the challenging puzzles and gameplay. On the other hand, the title will be a bit of a culture shock to those who are used to modern adventure titles of a more casual nature, where guidance is commonplace. These games won't hold your hand, won't let you take your time and will even try to kill you along the way. If this sounds like fun then you can't go wrong with this blast from the past.
- True to form port of three renowned titles
- Challenging gameplay
- Catchy and meaningful soundtrack
- Slight technical issues in Uninvited
EthicsThe reviewer spent eight hours being eaten by alligators, drowning in bathrooms and setting herself on fire, all in the name of game evaluation. She earned all of the game's 18 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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