Despite the fact that Bill S. Preston and Ted Logan are supposed to be in a rock band, LJN and developer Rocket Science failed to put any rock music into their "excellent video game adventure". But maybe that's okay, since they also failed to put an "excellent adventure" in it, and only just barely got in an actual video game.
Storywise, the game is a sequel to the sleeper hit 80's movie, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. As you might already know, the basic premise of the movie is that a teen slacker duo travels through time in a futuristic phone booth to prevent themselves from failing history class, which could cause the breakup of their band. As Rufus, a man from the future played by George Carlin informs them, the band needs to stay together because their music will eventually bring about world peace. Along their journey, Bill and Ted meet many historical figureheads, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Sigmund Freud, Socrates, and Ludwig van Beethoven. The teens are lovably dimwitted, so things don't always go quite as expected, which is the main source of the film's humor.
Are you ready for this?
The game takes place shortly after the events of the movie. A group of rebels have kidnapped various historical "dudes" and misplaced them all throughout time. Rufus (though he looks less like George Carlin now) is once again the messenger. He tells the duo that it will somehow prevent them from ever forming Wyld Stallyns if things aren't put back to normal. How taking Marilyn Monroe from the 50's and putting her in Ancient Egypt could affect Bill and Ted's future is never explained. Also never explained is who the rebels are, nor are they ever seen.
Most unfortunate is that you also won't meet any of the same historical people that were in the movie. Instead of Abraham Lincoln, Billy the Kid, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc, we have George Washington, Jesse James, Confucious, and Cleopatra. I can understand if the developers wanted to add a few of "their own" to the pot, but one or two crossovers would have been nice.
Upon arriving in a world, it will be either Bill or Ted's task (they alternate turns each world, but are identical in abilities) to find the historical "dude" and return him/her to its proper time period. The way you go about this is by finding an "historical bait" hidden somewhere in the world. Possession of the right bait will cause the figurehead to suddenly appear in one of the empty houses scattered around the level. So, there's no active reason the figureheads can't return with you right away, it's just that they're all greedy jerks.
There are four historical baits scattered around each level, but only one of them will be what the current figurehead wants. However, since you'll have no idea where the right one is hidden, you'll have to search everywhere until you find it. And how do you find the baits?
You find any random background object.
And launch yourself 40 feet in the air.
Then slam your ass onto it in hopes the bait will be stored there.
I kid you not. This entire game consists almost entirely of launching yourself and slamming your ass onto rocks, trees, fences, bushes, and cacti. Since every world is insanely large (spanning multiple screens high and wide) and contains about a centillion background objects, be prepared to slam your ass for many hours to come.
Sure, the villagers sometimes give you clues as to where the baits are hidden. This will inevitably help you find one or two. But the clues for the remaining baits are either vague, misleading, or nonexistant, which means you'll still have to slam your ass onto every object you come across. In one example, I was told to "check the last fence". Well, there are about 2 dozen fences in this world. Which one is "the last"? Then I got that same clue in the next world, and that world didn't even have any fences! Even worse, sometimes you'll slam into the correct object, but if you don't land exactly right, you won't find the bait. So, you might accidentally skip a bait because you tried searching that rock and it didn't work, which leads to hours of endless wandering around.
I'll confess that although I managed to struggle through the first few worlds on my own, I eventually started resorting to a FAQ for the later ones. I have to wonder though - if a game doesn't play by its own rules, how much should I really be expected to?
While you're busy butt-slamming your way around the monotonous environments, you'll be constantly harassed by enemies that either steal your items or send you to jail. Getting out of jail requires that you have a jail key in reserve, or else it's game over. Getting rid of enemies requires that you use expendable items that become progressively more difficult to replenish the farther you get in the game. Villagers that throw you in jail on contact become faster and more plentiful with each new stage, and the damn things never stop chasing you. You will inevitably run out of items trying to deal with them and be left in what I call "Sitting Duck Gameplay" - game design that gives you no default method of attack.
But wait! There's a way to escape the jailers even without weapons. The enemies can only walk on set paths, but you can leap off the normal trails and into the background areas (just like you would when searching for the baits.) The problem is that once you're off the beaten path, you can't walk anymore. You have to get around by jumping. So, that means (you guessed it!) even more butt-slamming action! By the time I got to the last two stages (both of which require you to do three worlds in a row with no item refills in between), my ass was feeling sore just from watching this spectacle.
If there's any way in which the game tried to be faithful to the movie, it's in the dialogue, which is based on the teen "surfer dude" or "pothead" slang that was further popularized by similar 80's and 90's outlets like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wayne's World, and Beavis & Butt-head.
While I did find it slightly amusing at first, I only got enjoyment from it out of the first few levels. After that, I found that if you didn't answer people's conversations exactly as the game wants you to, you get thrown in jail. Since Bill and Ted have a limited vocabulary and even more limited thought capacity, most of their answers are similar, making it impossible to figure out which one is "right". The tedium of having to walk all the way across the world again after being sent back to jail or having to start the stage all over again from running out of jail keys far outweighed the entertainment the dialogue provided. It's also regrettable that since they operate in separate levels, Bill and Ted never interact with each other, which robs you of one of the finer aspects of the film.
While the movie is not something you'd watch for the plot, the game's story lacks any value besides serving as the basic setup for its atrocious gameplay. I was slightly disappointed that the historical celebrities didn't have more involvement in Zoda's Revenge, but Bill & Ted is a million times worse in this regard. You go to a world. You find a person. You take them home. That's it. Um, why not have a real adventure? With dungeons, platforms, battles, bosses, puzzles, and the historical dudes taking an active role in it? Instead of just basing each stage on a time period, why not also center the action around a particular event in that era?
Due to the way the game randomly chooses characters at the start of the stage, you sometimes rescue someone from a time period it seems like they belong in (Cleopatra from Ancient Egypt, Sitting Bull from the Old West, King Arthur from the Medieval World). The random select feature also means you'll end up rescuing the same person more than once. I swear I got Julius Caeser four or five times, but never once Christopher Columbus or Thomas Edison.
The only thing that might seem impressive about Bill & Ted is that the isometric graphics are rather nice...until you realize that every stage looks almost exactly the same. The Modern, Colonial, and Medieval worlds all use nearly identical sprites, while the Old West and Ancient Egypt look so similar that the first time I landed in the latter, I didn't realize I wasn't still in the former. The mazes change slightly, but the path layouts are the same, and the enemies all act the same, to the point that it becomes painfully clear that the developers came up with an idea for one level, and then copy-pasted that idea to each consecutive level so they could put together something that resembles a video game with as little effort as possible. Either that, or they were trying to redefine monotony.
I think if nothing else proves that the makers of Bill & Ted's VG Adventure didn't understand how to make a good game, it's that they didn't even understand the system they were working for. The fact that Bill and Ted's big stage number sounds like dinky circus music might lead you to believe that rock music is not possible on the NES, or at least the developers didn't think it was. The game's ending is equally dreadful, and is not much of a step up from a "game over" screen (in fact, it even says "Game Over" right on it).
I suppose every concern I have about Bill & Ted's VG Adventure could easily be answered with, "Games based on licensed properties are usually little more than Get Rich Quick schemes". I guess it should also be no surprise that a game in which you spend most of your time falling on your ass should land squarely on its, too. Thankfully, the Bill & Ted movie got a proper sequel to cleanse the territory stolen by this forgettable outing, which is more of a "bogus journey" than the real sequel claimed itself to be.
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