I love Bill and Ted. This franchise has it all. Free-wheelin’ time-travelin’ excitement, damsels in distress, a phone booth, two completely different but equally cool glimpses of the future, air guitar, a trip to Hell complete with a demonic grandma, and of course, evil robot twins. Damned if I don’t ALWAYS love a good bunch of evil robot twins.
I loved their Excellent Adventure. I loved their Bogus Journey. I loved their cartoon series and can still belt out the chorus to its theme song. I even loved their crappy live action TV show (okay, that’s a lie). I wanted all of their action figures for Christmas. When I saw the elusive phone booth accessory in Toys “R” Us, I was ecstatic. It was the last one in the store and the box had clearly been taped back up after someone stole its antenna, but I begged for it until my mother gave in. I dreamed of saving enough money to send away for the mail-in exclusive concert versions of Bill and Ted because they came with mini-amplifiers that allowed any B&T figure to play real music! Alas, it was not to be.
For my birthday I received a Gameboy game featuring my loveable heroes. It was quite difficult and had little to do with Bill and Ted, but I played my little heart out. Finally, there were the times when I would be allowed to choose a Nintendo game from our local rental store. A game I would call my own for an entire weekend. Guess which one I always picked? That’s right, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” It was a great game. But occasionally, just for variety I’d rent Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure. Or more appropriately, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure would rent me.
When I was a kid I loved this game and just assumed that I could never get past the first level because I got frustrated and/or board very easily. Because of my intense devotion to the movies, the possibility that anything carrying the Bill and Ted brand name could be flawed (with the exception of that TV series) never entered my mind. As an adult, I realize how woefully wrong I was.
As our benevolent boss, The J Man, will tell you, gamers hate licensed games. When a company announces a game based on our favorite movie, TV, or comic book characters, we feel our stomach’s tighten because it’s better than even money that they’ll screw it up. E.T. for Atari, Total Recall for NES, and the recent Superman for the N64 have all proven this. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is difficult to review because it is a very rare exception to this rule. It fails at absolutely everything except the license.
It goes down like this: Rufus shows up and tells Bill and Ted that someone’s been messing around with the past. Historical figures have been plucked from their appropriate eras and stranded elsewhere in the time stream. It’s your job to use the phone booth to put everything right. Unfortunately Rufus can only leave a payphone, so unnecessary time hopping will cost you. For each level, you must dial the number of a famous individual, locate them, and lure them out of hiding with “historical bait” that you find in the level. Along the way you’ll run into townsfolk in period clothing that can either help or harm you. What you choose to say to them affects how forthcoming they are and how quickly you complete your mission. If you start pissing people off you’ll need to distract the angry villagers with tasty pudding, rock and roll music, exploding textbooks, and firecrackers. End up in jail and you’d better have a skeleton key to bust out, or it’s game over.
I don’t know about you, but if I were going to set up a Bill and Ted game, this is exactly how I’d do it. All the concepts you remember from the first film are here. The dialogue choices are written in perfect surfer-speak and surprisingly rife with clever references and B&T style humor. When asked to say something wise, Ted can choose to say “If you chew a wintergreen mint in the dark, you get these excellent sparks in your mouth.” To make friends with an Indian, Bill may remark “Dude, the way that we have treated Native Americans is most non-triumphant!” A little scan of Alex Winter or Keanu Reeves’ face even appears next to the lines when Bill or Ted speaks. And best of all, you actually get to meet yourself just like in the movie. What wisdom does your future self impart upon you? None. He’s too busy playing Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure II – The Sequel. Everything a hardcore B&T fan could want in terms of presentation is here. …But then you have to actually play it.
This, friends, is a tough game, and not in a “challenging” sort of way, but in a “this game sucks” sort of way. There are three kinds of villagers: those who stand around, those who walk calmly, and those who run through the streets like maniacs for no apparent reason. The standers will give you clues and items. After you finish talking with them they will have served their purpose and become walkers. The walkers will knock you over, blame you for it, and then demand you pay them a coin or be sent to jail. The runners are apparently not in it for the money. Seeing you go directly to jail is payment enough for them.
Ignoring the fact that this setup is entirely illogical, let me paint a scenario for you. Bill is skipping around the Old West, searching for Elvis, when he comes across a standing Indian. The Indian has an item for him, a shiny gold coin left by his friend Ted. Thanks, Mr. Indian. You’re swell. Upon finishing the conversation, the standing Indian becomes a walking Indian, plows straight into Bill and-apparently having no memory of what just happened-demands a coin for the inconvenience. While Bill tries to make sense of this pointless exchange, a lunatic in a ten-gallon hat comes careening down the planes and sideswipes him, sending him immediately to jail. Luckily, Bill has a trusty skeleton key! Wait, what’s that? He used them all up the last eight times this happened? Oh well, game over.
Luckily this is a ROM, so we have the save state feature! No problem, right? Wrong. Remember those “clues” the townsfolk give you when they’re not mowing you down? Vague isn’t even the word. You’ve got a square mile of area to cover and they’re saying things like “Something interesting can always be found near the three rocks.” That’d be great if there weren’t a BILLION rocks in the level, AND if just finding the right rock formation was enough rather than having to land on the exact hidden pixel intended by the designers, AND if finally finding the right spot actually gave you the bait you were looking for to complete the level rather than a couple packs of pudding. You can literally waste hours circling the wrong area.
This problem is compounded substantially by Bill and Ted’s limited movement. Apparently, the makers thought it would be too easy to avoid collisions with the populace if the boys could walk around freely. So, instead, your character can only travel along a set path. But when a maniac citizen is running toward you or you need to collect a hidden item, you must diverge from this path. Jumping off the path causes you to land hard in an area you can’t walk in. So you must jump through this area, falling ham-fistedly each time, until you make it back to another section of the path. This is annoying as hell and slows you down considerably while you wait for your character to shake his head and stand up again. Even worse, certain items can only be found by delving far into “ouchy” territory, and then clumsily making your way back.
If you actually manage to get inside a house/castle/pyramid/whatever, you’ll have the opportunity to pick the responses for Bill and Ted that will trick who you’re speaking with into giving up more nebulous info. Want to hear what the weapons dealer will say when you humorously tell him to give peace a chance? Better have the save state feature ready because he’ll get angry and kick you out of the store. This will cause the ENTIRE TOWN to become running maniacs and you’ll no doubt have to restart. If you’re lucky enough to stay in everyone’s good graces and get a straightforward clue like “Elvis is three doors down from the sheriff’s office,” you’re still in trouble because you have no idea where the sheriff’s office is since the whole damn place looks the same.
While we’re on the subject of graphics, I should mention that no one has a face in this game. As I said, you get little heads during dialogue, but otherwise nothing but a flat pink oval. Some of the worlds are colorful enough, but others are drab and depressing, with no detail whatsoever. Even the short level bumper scenes of Bill and Ted in concert as the Wyld Stallyns are unimpressive.
As for sound, the main theme is kinda catchy, but the level tunes are horribly repetitive especially considering how long you’ll have to sit through them if you actually try to beat this game. This is the only aspect of B&T not transferred properly to the game. The dudes love their rock, yet even the cassette tapes used to distract the villagers produce goofy midi grooves rather than Van Halen.
There’s more to tell. You can ride horses and canoes, and take shortcuts through the time stream to save coins, but none of this helps anything. You’re left with a great concept but no execution. Using an RPG style 3/4 view and moving away from platforms and fighting in favor of puzzle-solving were bold and wise moves, but the nonsensical movement restriction, and trial-and-error item hunts that resulted weren’t worth it. Bottom line, this should have been a good game. It had all the ingredients, yet fundamentally obvious problems that any gamer will catch in ten minutes make it an unplayable mess.
Nearly everything you love about Bill and Ted!
Nearly everything you hate about video games!