A special blog/review to coincide with a global “holiday”? Never! We can’t take credit because as you know we’re crap at these things. But, relative AA newcomer Andy (UKNESBoy) is actually pretty good at planning and has reentered the pit of pain that is Fester’s Quest for your entertainment and we’re bloody thankful we have him on board…
Hallowe’en can be argued to be one of the most underrated times of year. Yes, supermarkets and stores start stacking pumpkins and scary costumes and sweets to resemble ghoulish things, but in the UK it doesn’t feel as important as it does in the US. Often overlooked by more traditional holiday periods such as Easter or Christmas, if you’re not one for going out trick or treating and getting eggs thrown at you, then there is a whole plethora of films and video games that would scare even the most hardened of people, reducing them to quivering wrecks. When people think of spooky retro games, some may look to a game that makes hardened gamers turn into quivering wrecks, steeped deep in nostalgia and criticised for various reasons to this very day. The game? Fester’s Quest on NES. So reviewing this now after nearly 30 years, is it really as notorious as others make it out to be? Will the game drive you “batty” and be a trick or could it surprise and be a treat?
Fester’s Quest, or otherwise known as Uncle Fester’s Quest was released on the NES system in Europe in 1990 and takes the guise of an adventure game. The story, which is conveniently played out in the introduction demo shows Uncle Fester sitting back enjoying the moonlight when aliens come down and invade the area. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to save the city from those pesky aliens and be free of their control by killing anything and everything in your way. Fairly standard stuff but is a plausible enough premise and not just a question of saving a princess repeatedly, or racking up the highest score but “not-being-able-to-save-it-therefore-making-the-high-score-somewhat-redundant” kind of game. The game derived from the television series The Addams Family and if you were a fan of that program you may appreciate along the way encountering members of the family, who assist by providing different weapons and items.
Upon popping this sucker into your machine, you’re greeted with the intro sequence which graphically looks impressive. The city looks detailed and the music becomes ominous when the UFO approaches over the city. Fester looks shocked, raises his sunglasses and looks you dead in the eyes at you, the player, as though it is your responsibility to save the city…oh wait, you’re controlling Fester so I guess yes it is your job to help – lucky you! The music plays which does sound upbeat and jovial, but upon starting the game, you start to appreciate how nice the introduction was and how you wish you could go back to that. Primarily the game is shown above on a top-down view in a large overworld setting and in some ways looks remarkably similar to Master Blaster – both games made by Sunsoft and some assets used again in Fester’s Quest were used in Master Blaster. The way the characters move, the screen scrolling, the background is reminiscent of that. But anyway, you start the game with a basic gun and along the way can get different guns (some are completely useless and inadvertently miss the target your supposed to hit) and alongside that when you kill an enemy they may drop “power-ups” or “power-downs” which either improve or worsen your weapon. It is frustrating when you have a good weapon, kill an enemy who drops a power-down and in error you collect it, or it changes the weapon completely. It’s not the worst feature of the game however, the rate in which these items drops is frequent and you find yourself collecting them in error more than intentionally and curse like a sailor (bit like our Rob then? – Ed).
Playing through the game you’ll notice some things pretty much straight away when you start, and some things you’ll pick up the further into the game you go. For a start you’ll notice you only have two health bars which wouldn’t be a problem because, let’s face it, games like Super Mario Bros 2 had only two health bars. But the enemies, my word the enemies not only take away one bit of health should you get touched by them, but also re-spawn when you are off-screen. Yes it’s that level of idiocy that early on will induce rage. You try and shoot everything, clearing the screen of enemies for you to inadvertently walk back on yourself and finding the enemies have re-spawned. Hit twice and you’re dead. Dead as a can of spam. So walking around on the overworld map, killing random enemies but not certain on where to go or how to proceed, time would pass more quickly and more enjoyably with decent music and sound effects right? Well Fester’s Quest doesn’t have you covered on this front – barring the introduction music and the game over screen (which you’ll encounter a lot), the music in-game is bland, tinny and monotonous.
The sound effects are grinding thuds and nondescript which makes you want to be listening to the Chipmunks singing death metal. It isn’t pleasant in the slightest.
So if you cannot count on the music, or the gameplay, then the graphics should tide you over and appease any rage right? Well….not quite. Yes, the introduction demo screen looks lovely and indeed sounds good. But again, in-game the overhead overworld portion of the game looks bland, though to be fair it does look bold in places with stark contrasts of the grey pavements to the blue water that can intertwine through the level surrounding you. However don’t stare too long at one spot as the design of the bricks on the floor or tiles of water can be headache-inducing so do yourself a favour, keep shooting and don’t look back. What the game did try to do though was introduce some kind of pseudo-3D part where you enter a house and need to navigate an indoor maze of corridors. You will encounter dead ends and trick doors a plenty, where the door leads you to the entrance of the house. These parts are again headache-inducing and confusing. It was ambitious what the developers were trying to do but even the best games aren’t fun if the graphics on screen cause nausea. If they weren’t a vital part of the game I’d suggest steering clear but alas like salmonella from undercooked chicken, it is an unnecessary evil.
Back in May 2019, some devilishly handsome and somewhat dishy chap (oo er missus! – Ed) curated a top ten list of notoriously difficult NES games (found here), of which Fester’s Quest ranked number 6. Having played the game again for this review, the reason for the games inclusion on the list is apparent and justified. Put simply, the game isn’t difficult for traditional reasons, but because of its nauseating graphics, unfair powerups/power-down items and when you die which trust me you will do a lot, you go right back to the start of the game. A game should be a challenge that through the course of progression and through learning new skills and techniques that make the game enjoyable and rewarding and worthwhile to complete. Fester’s Quest missed the point of this and is such a shame, as given the right due care and attention, could have complimented the television series well. Instead it goes down in the annals of gaming history as a difficult disappointment, and no one wants difficult disappointments over Hallowe’en. So do yourself a favour, steer clear of any uncle named Fester and dress up as a spooky skeleton to get sweets and candy from the doors of random strangers. It’ll be more worthwhile plus you might not get a punch in the face so that’s a win-win if ever there was one – happy Hallowe’en all!
All screenshots taken from Moby Games