Beetlejuice – NES
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Date (NA): May, 1991
Nerd Rating: 3.5 out of 10
Play it once, play it twice, third time’s the harm, and remember…
(If you get this slightly altered reference, you are indeed a Beetlejuice fan.)
So…Beetlejuice. For the Nintendo Entertainment System. This is a game that you will not want to mention three times.
Right off the bat you see this is an LJN game. But wait…I like some LJN games. I genuinely do. I actually enjoy this game, truth be told. But the fact that I like Beetlejuice for the NES doesn’t mean it’s good. At all. And I am fully capable of removing my rose-colored glasses for a few moments to write an honest review of this…very…hmm…
Not good game.
Let’s talk about appearances for a moment. Now I have a soft spot for shitty-looking NES games. I tend to find that all 8-bit displays are beautiful in their own right and I’m sure many of you folks who are bold enough to brand yourselves as retro gamers would probably agree. But all that aside, some games do a lot with the limitations of the NES hardware and some don’t. This game don’t.
The only thing that looks decent in this Beetlejuice cash-in is the close-up rendering of the titular character’s likeness (based off the movie poster) that you see during the several poor excuses for cutscenes. The rest looks cheap and is doused in brightly bland colors. The title protagonist only resembles himself in the same way that Bob Hoskins resembles Mario. Backgrounds are fairly lifeless and empty. Some enemies, I’ll admit, are actually pretty cartoony and well-designed, but the plethora of insects you are to encounter will surely make up for those rare instances where shittiness might be in shorter supply.
The “ghost with the most” is reduced to the “deceased with the least” in this sad rendition of Beetlejuice. The game plays horribly! Beetlejuice has one default attack and that’s to stomp. It’s only good for crushing the completely benign insects that jump out of holes in the ground; outside of that it’s useless – unless you feel like emulating this action on the cartridge in question. The only other option you have is a stable of scares you may purchase using help vouchers (i.e. points you earn from killing enemies and such).
Each scare acts…well, pretty much the same. They’re just vague bolts hurled from your ever-changing form. As far as I can tell the only differences between these scares are found in the monstrous shapes Beetlejuice assumes and of course the number of projectiles you have, which is pretty limited even at its best. Also, I think the better the scare the more times you can get hit, though I’m not sure. This game is too much of a mess for me to bother over such trifles.
The thing that’s really scary about Beetlejuice is how he controls. My god, the controls. Okay, let’s get started now because this is a big problem.
The handling is, how should I say this..? Loosey goosey. And not the good kind of loosey goosey. Your jump is loose, floaty, and bouncy, which is a terrible thing for a platformer. And for some reason your default attack other than that pitiful stomp is to jump on your enemies, much like many standard Mario knock-offs. This doesn’t work well here because you’re liable to bounce yourself right off an enemy and into the perils of a pitfall or into another enemy. It takes a real pro to skillfully guide Beetlejuice safely onto a platform.
Falling off platforms is easier than turning off this game and watching the movie instead. If you think you’re safe running to the wall of a cliff, you’re wrong! If you try to enter a hole in the ground but are not directly over said hole, you’ll
jump plummet right through. Entering these hopeless pits are often times not even worth it. Sure, you will gain plenty of help vouchers, but after losing more lives than points you’ll feel it was a wasted effort. And once you’re in you’ll have to kill all the enemies to get out. This is where the jumping mechanic will really fuck you.
And here’s a real bug up my ass…
If you fall off the screen you die. Doesn’t matter if the ground is tucked right underneath the screen’s field of vision; if it’s not there, it doesn’t exist. What sense does that make? None. Just the game being a prick. So be careful jumping down platforms. You have to wait for the screen to re-adjust so that you can see where you’re landing, otherwise you’re death for the dead.
This game is hard. But not the good kind of hard where the layouts are complex, enemy placement is precise, and some thinking is involved. No, this is the kind of difficulty that comes from inherent flaws in the game’s overall design. You’ll run out of lives faster than you can say Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice. Sure, you have plenty of stock, and continues to boot, but it’s not enough. On the plus side you do pick up right from the spot where you last died. Otherwise this would be entirely unplayable. Even still there aren’t enough continues; once you run out it’s game over. How unforgiving can you get?
Somehow on my last play through I made it to the third (?) stage, which is an isometric view. It’s nice that they at least tried to add some variety to the experience, even though from a bird’s-eye view Beetlejuice looks worse than before – if that’s even possible. I think the second half of the game is in this style but I’m not sure and I’m not attempting to get any further. Twenty years playing this miserable cart and all I can manage is the third level? No thank you.
Objectives are vague and unclear. Part of the reason it took me so long to get anywhere is due to the fact that this NES title is not easy to figure out. I dunno, maybe it gives you more hints in the instructions? Who reads those anyway.
The music. Let’s address the music. I am fond of LJN music. It has a distinct sound that you often find in their NES games. And like many of their other titles, I highly enjoy the tracks here. However, there is nothing from the movie or TV show to be found, unless it’s like Back to the Future and some tunes are just screwed-up altered versions of melodies from the movie.
Still, I really enjoy the auditory portion of this game. And on top of that it feels like Beetlejuice music to me. Now here is where I really can’t tell if it’s because I played this game at a young age or if it does carry that Danny Elfman sound. I mean, you listen to the first level theme and it’s got that twisted, upbeat quality found in the movie’s score. Some of the instrumentation sounds a bit like the peppy violin notes heard throughout the film. But I’ll let you be the judge on that one.
In fact, nothing about the game rings true to the movie. There are some loose elements here and there but overall there’s little to distinguish this as a Beetlejuice game.
They painfully force The Handbook for the Recently Deceased into a stage in a desperate attempt to add relevance, but as far as I can tell it doesn’t do anything. Even the continue screen is reminiscent of the cartoon despite everything else aiming to recapture the movie.
This game is a mess. But despite that I still enjoy it and have fun playing, only because I don’t take it seriously. And the buckets of nostalgia surrounding me while doing so. You take away my history with this port and my love for the movie and you’ve got a game that plays horribly and is otherwise just plain bland.
Maybe if I say Beetlejuice three times this game will go away. Let me try…
Nope. Still here.
**Disclaimer** If you missed some of my references, go watch the movie again. It’s a really good flick!
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