Wednesday, February 15, 2012

At Random: Caesar's Palace (NES, 1992)

I like to think my gaming tastes are fairly eclectic, but there are a handful of genres that have never really appealed to me.  Gambling simulations are probably at the top of that list.  It's not so much the chance elements I dislike -- variety is the price of life -- but the fact there's no gameworthy way to respond to them; either the wheel spins your way or it doesn't, and the only decision left is whether to walk away or put more virtual money on the table.  Plus, my Dad has a tendency to sarcastically ask whether money comes out of the machine when you win -- referring to proper video games -- and this is one case where that feature might actually provide a valid reason to play; there's certainly little real-world satisfaction to be had from hitting the random number generator spot-on and racking up the digital bucks. 

So I wasn't tremendously excited when a blind reach into my unplayed game pile came up with a loose copy of Virgin Interactive's Caesar's Palace for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. (I picked this one up in a thrift store bag with a bunch of Game Boy cartridges I was actually interested in, if you're wondering.)  But it's a game I haven't played or written about, so here we go!

The most notable feature here is the Caesar's Palace license itself -- the generic gambling gameplay would work under any name, but the official tie-in to a popular Las Vegas casino may have boosted sales.  It must have turned a decent profit -- Caesar's Palace became a franchise spanning a number of different publishers, appearing on many platforms from the 8-bit NES up through the Playstation 2.  One can't help but imagine that a good chunk of the cartridge's 256K capacity went to keeping the licensor happy -- this title screen looks more like a PC game of the time than an NES cartridge:

Upon entering the casino, we are greeted by the same Vanna White impersonator who graces the box art.  She apparently doesn't see very well, as she offers $1000 in existing credit to anyone who stumbles in off the street.  I wonder whose money we're actually playing with?

The cashier's image is actually interesting from a technical standpoint.  The NES relied heavily on tiled graphics, and the same efficiency techniques that made Super Mario Bros. feasible had to be applied to any picture shown onscreen.  If you look carefully at our hostess's white blouse, you can see odd bits of repetition and sharp borders where there just weren't enough source tiles to go around, and the enterprising artist had to carefully make do with duplicate blocks.

The game's main interface screen represents the luxurious floor of Caesar's Palace -- minus the heavy cigarette smoke, as the NES' inability to handle transparency effects coincided nicely with Vegas PR.  While we see no bouncers security representatives or booze beverages on hand, the game does include restrooms for both genders.  We can't actually do much in there -- clicking on the restroom door just shows a closeup of the door while we hear white noise, apparently our avatar washing his or her hands -- but it's an odd inclusion.  We're also free to enter either of the restrooms as we see fit, implying that visiting the restrooms at Caesar's Palace may be a bit of a gamble in and of itself. (I thought this might be a clever way for the game to deduce the player's gender, but if it does make note of it it doesn't seem to come up in gameplay.)

Once we've visited the lovely cashier and the mysterious toilets, we're free to indulge in a number of simulated gambling games.  There are slot machines -- a whole slew of them, distinguished primarily by name and buy-in amount:

We can also check out the roulette wheels, a game of Keno, and video poker machines, all as random as the night is long:

At least there's a decent round of blackjack on offer-- a game that allows for a modicum of skill, or at least allows the player to consider the odds before making a decision.  But like all of the games featured in Caesar's Palace game, it's oddly impersonal -- there are no rival players, dealers, stoned hangers-on or shopworn prostitutes around, and we seem to have the casino entirely to ourselves.  It's enough to make one miss the shifty-eyed little dealer character from the old Intellivision Las Vegas Blackjack cartridge.

Here's more of that spacious 256K cartridge put to use --  when we finally get bored and cash in our chips, there's nothing left to do but go home.  Remember, everyone, Caesar's Palace is in Las Vegas!

Caesar's Palace does exactly what it claims to do, and I'm sure many players spent a lot of happy hours at its virtual casino.  But there's not really much of a game here, and I was happy to be on the virtual bus heading out of town.  Thanks for the chips, Vanna!

1 comment:

  1. Cool review; I didn't know there was a version of this game for the NES. I remember Super Caesar's Palace and Vegas Stakes for the SNES, so gambling sims didn't die with The NES. Even the 2600 and the Intellivision had some sort of Blackjack or slots game, but the last two console generations have left this game genre behind it seems.