Hello again, and welcome to Retro Review. Today’s article is tackling the long lost point-and-click adventures from publisher Kemco and a bit of their somewhat tumultuous history. If you owned an NES in the 80’s and 90’s, you probably popped in a Kemco game at some point. Whether it was Spy vs. Spy, a split-screen two-player game based on MAD magazine’s long-running comic strip, or Roger Rabbit, chances are you gained a bit of enjoyment from something Kemco. Kemco published a laundry list of great games, and were set to publish the infamous Daikatana that may go down as the all-time greatest indulgent-flameout-failure in gaming history…a footnote I’m sure Kemco isn’t as proud of. I doubt anyone blames Kemco for the failure of the game developers, but it probably didn’t help their position in the realm of console game publishing.
If you’ve read my past articles, you know I’m a huge fan of puzzle and adventure games, and no one was doing it better during this time than Kemco. I am a fan of the adventure/survival horror genre, and Silent Hill 2 is one of my all-time favorite games. But my imagination runs a bit wild, and because of this I am terrible at the genre. They creep me out, I get too immersed,…it’s stressful, okay! Nonetheless, the gems below stand the test of time in my opinion, and deserve an honorable place in gaming history. Give ’em a shot!
Deja Vu was first published on the Mac in 1985, with a later port on the NES where it gained the majority of it’s fame. The main character awakes to find himself in a stall, unable to remember his identity, and from there the mystery of who you are and why you’re here quickly ramps up. You realize with every move you make that you’ve been drugged, and that your condition is progressively getting worse. If you don’t figure the antidote to your memory loss within a certain number of moves, your game most certainly does end, so there is a bit of tension created from this inferred countdown to your doom that gives the game a bit of tension throughout. Once the player (who’s name is Ace) finds the antidote to the memory loss drug, recurring flashbacks occur and fill in the gaps to help more the plot forward. The player must discover clues and travel to a number of locations, somewhat reminiscent of Xbox 360’s L.A. Noire, including your work office to gather more elements and flesh out the story. In summary your mystery involves a kidnapping in which Ace has played some part, but his memory lacks important details. I enjoyed this game because like others in the genre, you’re forced to learn by trial-and-error. I imagine this to be frustrating to some of today’s gamers, but much like the infamous Dark Souls and the later Bloodborne on PS4, trial and error can be quite a bit of fun.
Unlike Deja Vu, the next two entries have quite a bit of supernatural elements in their stories. Besides having super-creepy box art, Uninvited has a pretty solid story. The “hero” of this game remains unnamed throughout, and awakes from a car crash to find your sister (or brother if you are playing the earlier PC version) missing. Your tasked with finding a way through an abandoned house in an effort to locate said sibling. Once you exit the car it explodes (saves you the cost of a tow!) and you proceed into the house, and after a bit of searching you realize this mansion is quite haunted…because of course it is. It’s not long before the player is greeted by the undead, as well as various monsters and demons that inhabit the mansion. The house has a couple levels to explore, as well as three backyard buildings pertinent to the conclusion of the game. The interesting thing about all of these Kemco adventure games is the unspoken time limit that you usually learn about the hard way, i.e. when you die because you weren’t aware it was a gameplay element. Often times, such as in Deja Vu, you can avoid this time limit issue by finding the antidote, and you no longer need worry about making only correct moves before your game ends abruptly. In Uninvited, it was a matter of dropping an item you picked up earlier, something merely hinted at earlier in the game but is truly a life-saving hint. If you don’t heed the warnings, you are eventually overcome by spirits of the house and become a zombie (a tale as old as time). I won’t lie, many of the puzzles in this game are illogical, utilizing magical themes that don’t abide by the rules of our world. So answering some of the problems can be a little frustrating. Nonetheless, with tense, creepy, polyphonic music sure to haunt your dreams, the Uninvited provides a deadly jaunt through a mansion in search a sibling that you might find…or the opportunity to repeatedly die in the process.
Shadowgate (March 1989) and Shadowgate 64: The Four Towers (May 1999)
Shadowgate was actually my first foray into this group, and is still my favorite of the bunch. This is the game that got me started playing point-and-click adventure games and fueled my interest in the genre. In Shadowgate, just as previous entries, the player must solve puzzles using lucky guesses as well as items gathered throughout the game. Unique to this particular entry was the priceless torch that must remain lit throughout your time in the castle. If at any point your torch was extinguished, the castle’s perilous nature would overcome you, and you died from a broken neck because you’re incompetent in the dark, apparently. A finite number of torches were available within the game, so effective use was imperative. Death in this game was fairly common even with a lit torch, varying from dragon encounters to being sucked into space by a mirror. One thing that always stood out to me in Shadowgate was the sarcastic message you get whenever you died explaining how dumb your death was, bringing a bit of levity to an otherwise creepy and dramatic game. It is not an especially long game, but if you were fortunate enough to complete the game, the events play directly into the sequel published 10 years later…
Shadowgate 64: The Four Towers (May 1999)
Because I was such a fan of the first entry, when Shadowgate 64 came out I had to play it. A decade had past since I played the original Shadowgate, and I was in college at this point…so my gaming tastes had changed a bit. Regardless, I took some time from dominating everyone in Goldeneye 64 to take a crack at the new Shadowgate 64: The Four Towers. I appreciated that this was a true sequel, set centuries after the first Shadowgate, where the player takes the role of a halfling who was captured by the bandits while traveling to castle Shadowgate. Del (your character) escapes prison, and embarks on a quest through the four towers of the castle. Unlike the prior entries, this game is rendered in 3D and allows the player greater ability to explore his surroundings. Many of the books and items can be searched or examined, and a relatively rich story can be garnered by uncovering all of these details. In-game death was met with sardonic quips, much like those you received in the original Shadowgate…which was nice. I enjoyed Shadowgate 64 quite a bit, but I never felt the same sense of tension and urgency the earlier NES games seemed to invoke. Perhaps it was the lack of an unspoken time-limit to figure out, and though Shadowgate 64′s music and atmosphere was a haunting it never approached the level of the other entries. Regardless, another quality feather in the cap of publisher Kemco and worth a trip down memory lane.
Well there you have it, another retro review and more games to go back and try your hand at. Most of these games can be found online and through emulators…give em a try!