Wednesday, January 2, 2013

At Random: Bible Adventures (NES, 1991)

I've touched on Wisdom Tree's Bible Adventures in a video podcast a few years back, but I haven't written about it in any detail, so I was glad to see it come up as my latest random pick.  Color Dreams was an American pioneer of unlicensed NES gaming, publishing their own titles as well as those of the Christian publisher Wisdom Tree; both lines featured Color Dreams' distinctive blue plastic cartridges.  The Wisdom Tree games found a ready audience -- even though they were not distributed through official Nintendo channels, Christian families seemed to find them somehow. 

Wisdom Tree disappeared after a few forays into the 16-bit systems, as development costs rose and technical licensing barriers became harder to work around, but they kept selling these NES games long after the console was commercially dead.  Hundreds of thousands of copies were reportedly sold, and these games turn up fairly readily today.  Bible Adventures was published in 1991, toward the end of the NES' life cycle, and it presents a three-in-one gaming experience derived from the Torah / Old Testament:

All three of these games are similar platform adventures, using the same engine, which attempt to present popular Biblical stories in a more action-oriented format.  The games aren't great, and the in-game music is awful, devoting a single voice to a repetitive series of low-pitched beeps and bloops.  But there's more content crammed into this cartridge than I would have expected.

Noah's Ark challenges the player, as Noah, to collect two of a limited number of species and deliver them to the ark's loading door.  There's no time limit -- the only threat comes from a few notably hostile animals.  Coconut-throwing monkeys and poisonous snakes do Noah damage, which he can repair by picking up the Ten Commandments-style stone tablets scattered around the area; each presents a short bible verse or a game hint in the process.  Fortunately these animals are fairly portable, so Noah has no problem picking up a horse and delivering it to the ark (the horse's head is invisible in this screenshot due to sprite flicker):

The animals do have some different characteristics to liven up the simple action -- pigs are slippery and must be distracted with food, monkeys hop around quickly and are tricky to catch, and the cows and oxen are heavy and must be lifted up one tier at a time.  The game keeps track of Noah's progress with a handy checklist that pays little attention to the Bible's version of Noah's orders -- we only have one pair each of six species to track down (and I certainly hope one of those cows is male!):

The only really difficult bit is acquiring the snakes -- there are snakes crawling up and down trees in the woods, but these snakes are poisonous and simply damage Noah when he tries to pick them up.  A granite section to the left of the Ark can be accessed by careful jumping through the treetops, and here we find a small population of side-perspective snakes that can be grabbed in the standard fashion.  The last one resides at the very top of the granite mountain, and getting up there is a bit of a challenge.

I thought that we would be done after Noah confirms his inventory, but there's actually a second level, featuring more exotic livestock (like Racoons [sic]!):

The (American Bald) eagles are particularly troublesome, as they tend to pick Noah up and fly him off to random areas of the screen.  It was time to move on to see what Baby Moses is all about:

This one is nearly impossible for my aging reflexes to handle -- as Moses' Levite bio-mom in a sort-of prequel to the published story of Moses, we have to pick up Baby Moses and carry him through a dangerous pyramid obstacle course to deliver him to his wicker basket and destiny.  But the poor woman has no offensive capabilities, while enemy spiders and spear-carrying warriors have plenty.  Worse, if she gets knocked into the river Nile, she is instantly dead, and if any of the Egyptian enemies get hold of the baby, they toss him offscreen and she has to go all the way back to the beginning of the level to recover him.  It's meant to be a challenging platforming exercise, but it becomes a frustrating, repetitive chore long before it starts being fun.

Bible Adventures' third game, David and Goliath, reuses the Noah's Ark concept as David the shepherd must round up four sheep and deliver them to their pen, while avoiding attack by dangerous nut-flinging squirrels and squirrel-sized lions (who are often found sleeping, a-Wim-o-weh style):

Rounding up all four sheep earns the opportunity to... round up some more sheep in a more mountainous vertically-oriented layout, where angry rams head-butt David around and make it very difficult to pick up the sheep.  I suppose this is meant to be toughening him up for the battle against Goliath, someday, and that famous confrontation is reportedly included here a few levels down the road, but I didn't get anywhere close to picking up his stone sling.

Bible Adventures delivers what it promised -- some wholesome Bible adventures on the NES, and all of the games are substantial and relatively non-violent (at least, all of the cartoon violence is directed at our heroes.)  There are much better 8-bit platformers out there, but as Color Dreams and Wisdom Tree games go, this is one of the better ones and I imagine most purchasers felt they got their money's worth out of it.

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