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Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure (NES) artwork

Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure (NES) review

"Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, better known by their respective monikers of Bill S. Preston, esq. and Ted Theodore Logan, have clearly been established in pop culture history as the spokesmen for an entire generation of drooling slackers and rock-addled dimwits. What do they stand for? Peace and harmony attained through stirring rock-and-roll ballads in the tradition of such greats as Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. What do they believe in? That's easy: they believe above all in being most excellent ..."

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, better known by their respective monikers of Bill S. Preston, esq. and Ted Theodore Logan, have clearly been established in pop culture history as the spokesmen for an entire generation of drooling slackers and rock-addled dimwits. What do they stand for? Peace and harmony attained through stirring rock-and-roll ballads in the tradition of such greats as Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. What do they believe in? That's easy: they believe above all in being most excellent to each other and offering the world a slice of joy in their revolutionary rock band, Wyld Stallynz. And most importantly, to those living in the distorted parallel reality of Hollywood, did they lend their names and licensing rights to a number of trivial and shoddy products? Sadly, yes. There was a short-lived and poorly animated cartoon on Fox Kids chronicling the duo's adventures, and the other day I found a Ted bobble-head doll on eBay for nine dollars - BUY IT NOW!, the link screamed at me. The vibrating cranium of this piece of plastic junk is only the tip of the licensing iceberg, though. Go beneath the surface where the penguins zip through the water as other birds do through the sky, and among the krill and kelp they shall fish out a gray plastic piece of trash that found its way into Antarctic waters by the powerful throwing hand of some frustrated gamer. By the label and the above description, it would have to be none other than Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure (LJN, 1989).

All is not well in the Californian suburb of San Dimas at the outset of the game, as we see in exchanges of dialogue between the boys and Rufus, their time-traveling liaison. Borrowing only the movie's characters and basic premise of time travel in a gussied-up phone booth for the purposes of slopping a game together, we learn that some criminal masterminds have gone through time and uprooted important historical figures out of their matching epochs. Rufus sends Bill and Ted through time to hunt the misplaced dudes down and fix these most heinous anachronisms. Therefore, if these icons of Generation X don't mind their P's and Q's and straighten out their BC's and AD's, they're going to wind up with F's in history and the world will be out of luck as far as the intergalactic harmony thing goes. With coins in pocket to operate the phone, you'll flip through the Directory of Time looking for the numbers that will send you to the people you want. Aficionados of the film, which is in fact a pretty good flick, will recognize that this plot is not very beholden to the movie in many respects. (There was universal harmony in their visit to the future - why should there be time-space rebels here? And I know it's just to push a game into the market for competition, but this is one pitiful attempt.) When you combine a threadbare story that barely holds up to even the sketchy logic of the movie with the game's other shortcomings, you come out with a poor product that is not, as Bill and Ted themselves would say, most triumphant.

Your first look at the phone book reveals two numbers for Rembrandt, so you dial the flashing latter number. Doing as the game says, you prepare to enter the circuits of time, where the phone number shows up in a linear sequence leading out to what eventually turns out to be the medieval land where the great painter is sheltered. Waiting to get to the end of the line will waste major coinage, so you can shoot out of a number in the direction you're facing by pressing A and catching it in a red circle that you move with the D-pad. Controlling the booth and getting it to the last digit in the phone number is not incredibly difficult - something that seems as though it may actually be setting you up for a fun experience. Finding yourself out of the circuits of time and in an empty medieval landscape, you start to walk around. Get used to it. A lot of this game encompasses walking around in circles following the contradictory directions the townsfolk offer up. You talk to them looking for simple advice and soon have several tidbits to examine:

''I saw Rembrandt in a house to the east.''
''I saw him heading north.''
''There was something strange out to the west.''
''Rembrandt is by the river.''
''Your friend Bill said to give you these cans of pudding.''
''Rembrandt went that way.''

And so on. I figured out how to use the pudding but then promptly forgot, and the firecrackers soon became fun to throw on the ground, and I was thrown in jail several times for running into people like a clumsy oaf. Under my power, Ted has landed on his butt in the grass more times than I care to count. I found a river like the people said, but I only succeeded in drowning in it a few times. Needless to say, I could probably have been doing more constructive things with the time I spent lollygagging around with this aimless wandering, like government homework.

After two hours of talking to unhelpful peasants and getting the run-around from nearly everybody, I only managed to accomplish two worthwhile things: 1) I got to ride a horse, and 2) I instead found Robin Hood, whom I had not intended to look for just yet but went ahead and enlisted his help in finding Rembrandt (the empty-headed dolt just kind of stood there after that). And I found myself in jail a few more times. Never have I endured such Sisyphean torture while playing a video game. You search the field for honest answers and end up getting palmed off on others in a horrid cycle that makes you not care that in 700 years we'll all be worshipping the Wyld Stallynz and partying on water slides while doing as Bill and Ted commanded us to by being excellent to each other. I find that this mantra of theirs is difficult to adhere to when you voluntarily torture yourself by playing this game.

Of course, spending two hours doing this signifies that I put forth a major effort to figure out just what on earth I was doing. Once I realized that there were maybe twenty or so other famous figures in the Directory of Time that needed transplanting back to their times and multiplied it by the frustration I was undergoing just looking for Rembrandt, my will to go any further crumbled like a sand castle during high tide. I came to the irrefutable conclusion that this game was a test of sanity that I was going to have to settle for failing. Any redeeming qualities this game had were dashed in a span of seconds, and I turned off the game and climbed into my sock drawer, where I affected the fetal position for the next few hours and sucked my thumb until it looked like a Sunmaid raisin.

If the gameplay made me vomit profusely, then the graphics only make me want to retch. The opening story setup starts out with acceptable animation and spot-on likenesses of the characters' faces in the dialogue boxes, a little elongated though they seem. Once the talking is over, everything is reduced to simplistic sprite movements, and the sprites themselves are lacking in detail. Generic designs are used for all of the characters' outfits (excluding Bill and Ted, but Bill wears the same clothes as Ted did in the movie ... how disappointing and awkward). Al Capone wears the snazzy Roaring Twenties suit you would expect him to wear, but in this light it's not so snazzy, and the scar on his face - where is it? For the sake of the NES, history and all its grand detail has been reduced to a pathetically low common denominator. Standard fare reigns among these people, and the landscapes are as bland as can be too. The isometric view won't alleviate the soreness in your retinas very much, so you might want to invest in some of those cozy-looking shades that Rufus has on to relax your eyes a bit. Everyone tires of looking at the same rocks and bushes for hours on end; you are no different. Just smile and nod as I try to divert you from the void this game will infect your heart with.

The sound is decent and upbeat .... at least at the beginning of the game where you hear it. Upon finding your way to the land of castles and peasants that laugh when you actually follow their directions, you will hear a tune that relates to the area and plays for about twenty seconds .... and then goes away! Like that, boom! It leaves you only to hear the sound of Ted landing on his butt on the grass and the jumping sound that precedes it. And then, when you exit a building, things start anew for another 20 seconds .... followed by silence. A weird dilemma, no? Do what the boys would have done: bring your Discman and rock out to some totally righteous Zeppelin! If you continue to allow yourself to listen to the sounds in this game, it may drive you up the wall and leave you longing for the medieval peasant babes of yore. Wishing one of them were in your lap as you play the game is a reasonable request when you put it next to wishing this game would get any better. Sound - no sound. Sound - no sound. How does a game company excuse gaps of silence like that???

If this game has one benefit that does not make it totally deserving of a bogus journey, it is the control. LJN thankfully did nothing to screw up the simple tasks of walking around and jumping, and they made mingling with the locals easy by only asking you, the Constant Gamer, to run into a person who is standing still (colliding with walking people can cause you to fork over a coin or spend time in jail). Even bouncing your phone booth around the circuits of time is not the travesty it could have been. Finding shortcuts around the numbers is a joy to execute on the NES's simple controller. If I got to dial more numbers than just Rembrandt's, though, I'd be happier than a winner in the Powerball lottery. There is nothing to do with the controls that is remotely productive, however. You spend all your time roaming around tracing the aforementioned 360-degree paths, which you can only do courtesy of the responsive control. There are a few objects you can use to defend yourself that are easy to wield with the B button, like cassette tapes and highly dangerous textbooks, but as far as the game goes these have little purpose and waste the potential for the usage of some of these off-the-wall items. There was one good part of this game, and they had to go and squander its glory. Feh.

I have about as much talent for this game as Mr. Reeves himself has for acting, and as much patience with it as Keanu's audience has for his slipshod cinema. I messily dug up my brain looking for Rembrandt and a purpose to my mad ravings, but all that was left was a bunch of holes in my frontal lobe where I searched in desperation. Alas, there is no future where this game is concerned, and it is best to treat it properly as a relic of bad gaming and leave it in the past where it belongs. Maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe I am an incompetent boob who is thinking so hard that he cannot grasp the simplicity sitting right under his nose. Considering my experience with it, though, this is a dubious proposition. This cartridge and the bits and circuits in it are the plastic and silicon equivalents of a mound of rhinoceros feces adorned with a garland of dead skunks. Why you would want to wander around looking for a Renaissance painter for hours on end, much less twenty other misplaced historical icons, is a death wish whose appealing aspects are lost on me.

Maybe we can drag Freud out of his time period someday. He could give us a good reason why somebody would want to subject themselves to this burden of mediocrity. He would probably agree that the graphics that were thrown together in mere hours, that the gameplay makes for a frustrating, pointless, and altogether unnecessary romp through the annals of history, and that the need one subsequently feels to impale themselves on a Styrofoam pool noodle is highly unhealthy for the psyche. I think I'll save this game, though - for a rainy day when I've been swamped by orders at work and want to come home and depress myself into bittersweet catatonia.

Hey, Man, That's Wyld
-- Control makes the game easy to play
-- Traveling through time is actually easy to get the hang of, which will cause many to emit sighs of relief
-- One thing I didn't mention in my ranting - the writers capture the spirit of the movie's genuinely-1980s dialogue perfectly

Most Heinous, Rufus Dude
-- Graphics are what a first grader draws in his playtime journal
-- Aimlessly meandering in circles will put you on the brink of committing yourself
-- Sound only plays for a few seconds and then drops out
-- Character likenesses are marginally acceptable, but mostly either too fat (Rufus) or a bit stretched out (Bill)
-- Bores a tiny but visible hole into your brain that you should plug up, lest your sanity slowly leak out and inexplicably escape you like the name of the girl you just met

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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