Reporting Jason Iannone
Most franchised games completely bite. This is basically a law of nature at this point. But you can usually get one or two decent-enough titles out of a license. Except for one eternal victim of game developer with zero clue about how to make it playable: Bill & Ted.
That reveal was probably spoiled by the title, wasn’t it? Do us a favor; just pretend like you didn’t read the title, and now act completely surprised. Yup, good. Just like that. Did you know Bill & Ted just got the Blu-Ray treatment? That seems a little after-the-fact. And yet even with a third film in the works for 2014, they can’t get a decent video game…despite a premise loaded with exotic locations, recognizable characters, a rocking soundtrack, and medieval babes.
Poor Bill and Ted have gotten the game treatment four times, and each attempt has failed to do anything but make the world a little bit gloomier. There has to be a reason, right? Well, let’s find out, by delving into every one of them, and deduce exactly what keeps going wrong.
Oh and, for the record, there will be absolutely no “Bill-and-Ted Speak” when discussing these things. After almost 25 years, joking about Bill and Ted by talking like Bill and Ted has become cliché overload. We’re better than that and if, at any point, we stop being better than that, we’ve authorized an office intern to shock us with a 2500-volt cattle prod, in order to bring us back on track.
On the surface, it seems downright impossible to turn Bill & Ted into a MOST EXCELLENT (*BZZT* AAACK)…good game. It’s two morons who travel in time to collect historical figures and pass a history report. And there’s no consistent villain throughout, because the King Of England is just too damn lazy to follow the guys through past, present, and future. Not much of a game plot, right? Well, tell that to:
Was something wrong with the Commodore? We weren’t exactly expecting PS3 graphics, or even PS1, but this game came out in 1990. By that point, Nintendo and Sega had long proven that games could both look and sound good. So why did the first-ever Bill & Ted game feature primitive and grainy graphics, not to mention enough beeps in the music to seduce the Road Runner? There is no reason for Ted to look like anything other than Ted, much less some terrible rendition of a pro wrestler with a giant phallic symbol slapped across his chest.
But never mind that; the problem here is that they attempted to do a game with the EXACT SAME PLOT as the movie, right down to word-for-word recreations of speeches they got from Rufus and their history teacher. Also, bear in mind there’s no consistent bad-guy, and the plot itself is fairly silly at the end of the day. So translating all that to a video game went about as well as you could have hoped. Walk around, gather clues, kidnap Beethoven. At least when you did that with Carmen Sandiego, you had a main villain to chase, and an ultimate goal to keep in mind. Here? It just came off as BOGUS (*BZZT* GYARRRGH)…dumb.
Every dumb section of the movie is here, even the part where they Bill’s stepmom/high school crush forces all the historical figures to complete chores before they get a ride to the mall. There’s really no need to do this. A good movie-to-game port does not have to follow the film’s plot note-for-note. Otherwise, you literally could make a game out of everything. Anyone fancy a round of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion? We hear the part where you control Janeane Garolofo awkwardly making out with some random dude, is MOST TUBULAR (*BZZZZZZT* AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIYAAA)…hot.
This game was also re-done as a DOS port, and the graphics and music were about a zillion times better. This could well be because someone there knew it was the ’90s, and games were no longer allowed to look like they were drawn by a bored six-year-old who got paid in candy. But 90% of it is still “Remember that movie you watched a hundred times? Now you get to flick your thumbs and tell the exact same story, only with nothing but ugliness and sadness abound. Now shut up and enjoy it!” The whole thing just reeks of no creativity, minimal effort, and a blatant love of easy money. And that is TOTALLY NOT OKAY DUDE (*BZZZZZT* AHHHHHHHHHHhhhh)…bad.
We’re starting to think this intern enjoys his job a bit too much.
By 1991, it was clear that the whole “play through the exact same thing you just sat through” angle wasn’t working. So doing the same thing with Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey would be stupid. So, Plan B: make your own sequels! That’s a step in the right direction: take these iconic characters, and create something new based around their personalities and the fact that they time travel.
Of course, it’s recommended you make your new plot good, which is shockingly difficult no matter what game you write for. No wonder the guy who created the Atari Lynx version just went with the first thought he pooped out of his head and called it a day. That approach means less time working and more time eating. Not to mention more time wiping any leftover poop residue that had dribbled down his neck.
In this case, they had Death kidnap the Medieval Babes, just to be mean it seems. It is not humanly possible for this to make sense. Bill and Ted won over Death, and they all became big buddies by the end of the film. So why does he turn around and put his friend’s girlfriends in grave danger? They weren’t ready to die, so Death can’t fall back on the I’m-Just-Doing-My-Job excuse. So why betray your new-found bros? Maybe he was still angry over losing at Twister…and Clue…and Battleship…and Truth or Dare (unrated Director’s Cut only).
OK fine, so Death kidnaps the Princesses. The premise is bad, but maybe the delivery was good? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but HELL NO. The adventure was brutally pointless: walk around and collect musical notes that somehow allow you to keep bouncing between time periods, following Death throughout history until you locate him and save the Babes. Also, there are beetles. So, so many beetles.
So wait, Death can suddenly travel through time? WHOA (*BZZT* AAAAAACCCKKKK)…that’s silly. Why didn’t he just do that in the movie? He was forced to become Bill and Ted’s servant after losing all those board games; why didn’t he travel back to the past and stop that from happening? Clearly, he has the power to do that. Unless he’s a rookie Reaper who forgot how to manipulate time until his supervisor sat him down for re-training, then the guy’s got no excuse.
And if he’s going to use time travel to pick up chicks, why not find a single girl or two? Lizzie Borden’s available, and the two of them would have so much in common.
Also in 1991, you had a Game Boy version of Bill & Ted, in what was basically a sequel to Bogus Journey. Quick hint to whoever’s writing the actual sequel: do not use this story, unless your goal is to end up ankrupt.
So DeNomolos, the bad guy from Bogus Journey has returned, and he still wants to kill Bill and Ted. To do so, he has scattered things called Time Orbs all throughout history, and our heroes need to find them and save the future. And, in an added twist, the Game Boy people had obviously learned from the Lynx’s mistake, and gave a REASON why Death is still chasing you: DeNomolos brainwashed him! And he brainwashed all the other historical figures too, so you need to fight the all on your quest to save the future utopia brought on by the Wyld Stallyns’ watered-down Nelson rock.
Well, that’s not bad! It’s certainly an improvement anyways. So what of the actual game then?
…that’s the game? NO WAY (*BZZZZZZTTTT* G’YACCCKKKKKKKK)…why? We get it’s the Game Boy and all, but that system was capable of far more than this. And did anybody involved in the artwork even look at how their intro depicted Bill and Ted? Is this supposed to be a “they’re-high” joke? Because they don’t even look like convincing stoners. They look like what would happen if you took Cletus from The Simpsons, stuck him in oversized flannel, and told him to air guitar while talking like Michelangelo the Turtle.
And that’s just the intro! As you can see, all the gameplay was contained on one single screen, and all you do is jump up and collect coins. It’s a “puzzle game,” though the puzzle seems no more difficult than one of those giant four-piece deals you give a 1-year-old to boost their confidence with. “Aww, you made Curious George!” “Aww, you evaded Evil Joan Of Arc!”
This is accompanied by graphics so primitive that, if you had slipped the game into another box, we would have had no clue we were supposed to be controlling Bill or Ted. We’ll overlook the multiple Abraham Lincolns, since DeNomolos is well-known for creating evil robot doubles of everybody. So that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how, if not for the hat, we’d have no clue that even WAS Abraham Lincoln. The sprite’s so basic it could easily have been Socrates or Billy The Kid. Seriously, how are we supposed to PARTY ON DUDES (*BZZZT BZZZT BZZZT* NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO)…have fun, when this is the best you have to offer?
We weren’t kidding: the Game Boy version was the “best” of the bunch. Because then you had the MOST HEINOUS (*BZZT* AHHHHHHGH)…worst offender of them all: the NES version. This one actually had the audacity to call itself Bill & Ted’s Excellent Videogame Adventure, like there weren’t already three of them. But it gets so much worse from there.
Evil time-lords (the worst kind of time-lord, really) have stolen famous people, and you have to get them back. How do you do this? The same way anyone would: walk around aimlessly, follow clues that mean nothing, literally jump onto everything off the beaten path (seriously, you can’t walk off the road; you have to butt-jump,) and pray that you stumble across the one random item needed to lure Marilyn Monroe back to her rightful time. And there’s a good chance that what Marilyn wants is not what you would expect. For one, Nintendo probably balked at the idea of placing a giant bag of pills in Ancient Greece. But also, the game is out to intentionally confuse you, hoping you mistake that feeling of utter helplessness as “challenging gameplay.”
That in itself is pointless enough, but everybody in every time period wants you in jail. This is understandable; you’re in the past but dressed like it’s still 1988. They probably think you’re an alien. But why do they all have the power to put you there? Seriously, any person, in any time period, can stick your ass in jail simply by running into you. And if you don’t have a key, you’re stuck there forever and the game is over. That’s quite the justice system: walk around, go to jail. If you can unlock the cell door, you’re all set. If not? Life sentence.
This game is so bad that a guy like the Angry Video Game Nerd, who makes his living playing awful games and ranting about them, has not covered this abomination. It’s too painful. And it killed any hopes of making a truly good Bill & Ted game; over 20 years later, nobody has bothered trying again, even though a generation of people grew up on the movies, still play games, and would love the chance to actually enjoy playing as the guys for once.
So why not give it another whirl? The timing is perfect: the new movie is nigh, and the Blu-Ray re-release is here. We’ll even provide a sample plot because, if we didn’t, you know some yo-yo would just make some damned Rock Band ripoff, where you get to help the guys slowly become better musicians. “Achievement Unlocked: Waste $60 On This Turd & Weep Over Empty Bank Account.”
A Better Idea:
Games like Portal have proven that you don’t need to kill enemies to make a good game. So there’s no need to magically invent random baddies, just for the sake of filling the screen. But you still need a good game, so should stumbling around like a lost puppy, jumping ass-first onto fences, and collecting musical notes cut it? NO WAY (*bzzt* YAHHHHHHHHH)…nope.
How about this instead: have the time-lords kidnap the guys, take control of their phone booth, and forcibly send them to the most violent periods of world history: Rome burning, Gettysburg, Custer’s Last Stand, Black Friday at Wal-Mart, and the like. There, they would be forced to use their wits and skills to stealthily evade the hostile masses, all of which would be quite eager to kill the weird-looking guys in jeans and hoodies tied to their waist.
Remember, these guys may act dumb most of the time, but they clearly have something rattling inside their little pea-brains; when it came time to present their history report, they were as lucid and intelligent as could be. And besides, a lot of people perform quite well under extreme stress and duress. So don’t tell us they couldn’t come up with innovative ways to escape the Boston Massacre with all their limbs intact.
Make it back to the phone booth, and the time-lords will send you somewhere else in another attempt to have you killed. But each time you do, you gain a little bit more control of your phone booth, until finally you take it back completely, and the final battle begins. Like with the rest of the game, you wouldn’t fight with guns, but with your brains. Find ways to lure the time-lords into the phone booth, lock the door, and send them to the worst possible time period of all: 4 billion years ago, when the Earth was nothing more than an overly volcanic ball of molten lava. CATCH YA LATER, UGLY TIME-LORD DUDES (*BZZT* *BZZT* *BZZT* *BZZT *BZZT* ZYAHHHHHHHHHHHRRRRGGGH)
OK…we’re done now…we need to lie down anyway…it burns so much…this article would have been a lot easier to write if we actually learned from our mistakes.