Adventures of Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet – PC
Developer: Riedel Software Productions
Publisher: Hi Tech Expressions
Release Date (NA): 1990
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
I’ve never been the biggest fan of PC games.
For those few who have not exited the review after reading such an ignominious statement, I grew up with an old computer. Not sure who made it, but it ran on Windows 3.1. It lacked a CD-ROM, but instead had a 5 1/4-inch
floppy drive in addition to the 3 1/2-inch drive. Alongside my library of NES and Sega Genesis games, I had a number of DOS titles I frequently played throughout my youth. As such, I hope Action Zero will forgive me for this encroachment, but considering Halloween is upon us and the only games I’d feel comfortable emulating for a review are those for the PC, I decided it’s time to explore an obscure DOS game from my childhood: Adventures of Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet.
I think at this point it goes without saying that Beetlejuice is one of my favorite movies.
What? You mean you haven’t read my Beetlejuice review for NES? Well, what are you waiting for? Read it now. Don’t worry about me, I’ll wait.
Okay? Good? Good.
So, Adventures of Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet is a fairly simple game. You run around on wavy, checkerboard platforms taking out skeletons so Lydia can vacuum them up. If Lydia is touched by one of these spooky closet-dwellers, she will be trapped in a cage. In order to free her, you must pick up a lightning icon from a downed skeleton.
Once you and Lydia purge a board of all skeletons, you move on to the next. You do this, for, oh, I dunno…well over 100 levels. I’ve never beaten this game, but if I remember correctly, I think I made it past level 120 back in the day. Part of me wonders if there is, in fact, an ending, so if anyone can confirm this in the comments, please let me know!
You start off with this dreadful loogie attack. You can only spit out one at a time, but the good news is you have three weapon upgrades: a rapid-fire spit, “explosion,” and the “head” power-up.
The rapid-fire isn’t as fun as it sounds. You cannot hold down the button to unleash a steady stream of green spit; instead, you can fire up to four at a time. Exciting.
The “explosion,” as it is called, causes BJ’s head to spin, shooting slime in all directions. Not much of an “explosion,” but…
The head power-up is, in my opinion, the best weapon. It allows you to…well, throw your head. It glides gracefully across the screen, returning to its owner like a boomerang.
One other fun trick you can pull is the “Head Full of Worms,” which scares the skeletons frozen for a few moments. The icon for this attack will appear just as the other power-ups.
Aiming is really difficult with the introductory weapon. It’s not so much the controls as it is the isometric perspective. The slime moves dreadfully slow, and the skeletons are constantly and unpredictably changing paths. Your best bet in this circumstance is to attack while they are coasting along the top, bottom, or sides.
The “explosion” power-up is actually pretty decent, and some might prefer it to the boomerang head, though I find the latter to be more efficient. Not only does the head ability offer more control, but the “explosion” will sometimes randomly decide to not fire in all directions – and it’s often the directions you need most to down opponents.
White skeletons only require one shot to knock down, making them easy targets. As you progress, you start seeing blue and purple skeletons. This doesn’t matter if you have the head or “explosion” power-ups, as they both stun enemies with one hit; however, if you’re stuck with the green slime, blue skeletons take two hits and purples take three.
The skeletons drift about in a seemingly non-threatening manner. In fact, it’s not so much them you have to worry about – it’s your “buddies,” Jacques LaLean, Ginger, and The Monster Across the Street. Now, I can’t possibly fathom why they are trying to stop you, considering how badly they want you to get rid of those skeletons!
When they move at a reasonably slow pace they are harmless, but without warning, they will begin running around the map in an erratic fashion. If you touch ‘em when they are moving quickly, you’re dead. Shooting your neighbors with a projectile will calm them the fuck down, though I wouldn’t advise being near them, as you never know when they will get pissed off again and start hunting you down.
Really, I think they ought to leave Beetlejuice alone to handle the job. Last time I checked, killing someone is not exactly helpful.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention – if you stand around too long, a sandworm comes out to say “hi.”
So, let’s recap: You’ve got skeletons haunting your… “closet,” your asshole neighbors trying to kill you, your one true friend Lydia rambling about, and sandworms breaking through the ground at regular intervals in an attempt to eat you (which, oddly enough, is a total non-threat to everyone but you). You’re pretty much constantly on the move. There’s a lot going on in this game, and it can get tricky after a while.
Though the difficulty curve takes some time to build, I will say this game is legitimately stressful.
Half the struggle is in getting Lydia to cooperate. She will have you cursing the great A.I. gods every time she obliviously goes for the skeletons you killed first versus the ones closest to her, often resulting in multiple skeleton resurrections and her own incarceration.
What’s really tricky in later levels is how Lydia is constantly caged by skeletons. The downed enemies will typically yield the lightning icon that will break her bonds, but frequently you’ll be trolled with a downgraded power. So if you’re rocking the head ability and need to free Lydia, you’ll always want to approach a downed enemy with caution, as to not accidentally “lose your head,” so to speak.
This is a game where if you die once, you die a lot. Losing the head power-up makes Adventures of Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet significantly more grating. Having to revert to that pitiful green loogie is a real headache, and making progress in later levels can feel like something along the lines of pulling teeth. But just keep trucking! Once you regain your head ability, you can breathe a small sigh of relief.
With so much adversity, our “Ghost with the Most” could certainly use some help!
Beetlejuice has a proclivity for eating bugs, so of course they worked this angle into the game. Eating insects often gives you a letter (It also leaves you susceptible to hostiles who will put an end to your spring cleaning, so be cautious when going for one of these tasty morsels). Collecting all five letters spells out “TRUTH,” which downs all skeletons and frees Lydia (if she is incarcerated). When this happens, you’re in the clear – just so long as you can avoid Beetlejuice’s neighbors and sandworms. You can manage that, right?
I dunno about you, but the whole “TRUTH” thing kinda creeps me out. Like, what does it mean? Is the truth out there? Is this game trying to tell us something? Is this a secret anti-smoking campaign? It’s a kid’s game based on a cartoon for Christ’s sake.
And that startling alarm sound squawking through the internal speakers while all this is happening certainly doesn’t help.
Now let’s talk about the graphics.
Beetlejuice does look like an asshole, but otherwise I’d say this looks pretty standard for a DOS game, graphically-speaking. The backgrounds, however, are inspired, drawing influence from the cartoon’s aesthetic. The wavy platforms vary in their curvature, and each backdrop is abstract, bright, and colorful. They are almost like something out of a Dalí painting with their distorted, warped forms.
Something that must be understood, for those who were not fortunate enough to experience the wonders of DOS, is that these games had a certain quality unlike anything found in their console contemporaries. The colors, the sprites, the sounds…all completely distinct from other systems of the time. DOS games are unmistakable. The same thing can be said for the sound effects and music.
Speaking of which…
To quote my good friend, Harry McNutsack, who watched me play this game, “this sounds obnoxious.”
That pretty much sums up the soundscape you’re to encounter while playing Adventures of Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet. Either you love it or you hate it. If you grew up playing these sorts of games, it will definitely jolt your nostalgic nerve. If not, well, good news is you can mute the game.
There is no music throughout the levels. The only tunes you’ll hear are played briefly during the opening and game over screens, and a very short jingle when you die. I will admit, hearing the dated internal speakers butcher the Beetlejuice theme is always fun.
So what’s the verdict? I loved this game as a kid, but if you know me, you know that means jack when it comes to a review. Overall, I’d say it’s a repetitive and monotonous, yet oddly fun and addictive game. The difficulty builds at a solid pace, so the otherwise recurring elements don’t feel too dry and repetitive. It’s fun and colorful, making for a good diversionary game. It has a password system and is not impossibly hard, so you can make it pretty far. It’s a bit of a curiosity that I would say is definitely worth playing – especially considering it’s abandonware and can be played for free here.
Until next time…
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