Saturday, 15 March 2014

Retro Review - The Goonies (NES)

Goonies Never Say Die

Everyone has a favourite childhood movie. For me it was the 1985 Spielberg flick, The Goonies, a kids adventure that saw a group of friends search for a pirate's gold after discovering an old map in their parent's attic. Cue the rounding up of a bunch of oddballs - some far less keen to go on said quest than others - a group of comical yet cruel bad guys on the hunt for the same treasure, and an underground cave system fraught with peril. It was perfect escapism for the younger me, and I still enjoy it to this day. On paper, the premise of The Goonies sounds like perfect videogame material, and obviously Konami thought so too, producing an NES adaptation of the movie a year later. 

Taking control of the film's lead character, Mikey, you must navigate a series of 2D sidescrolling stages (Well, what did you expect?) locating keys and rescuing missing kids. There's the usual assortment of pits to leap across and ladders to climb, as well as enemies that patrol the platforms, causing you damage should they come into contact with you. So far, so standard, but there are some simple, yet interesting mechanics employed that make things considerably more interesting. At the end of each stage is a locked gate which requires three or more keys to open. These keys are hidden behind large sealed doors scattered throughout the stage and can only be obtained by using a bomb to blow open the door. Where do you find the required explosives? Why, by vanquishing one of the enemies with a well placed kick of course! Once you have a bomb in your possession (of which only one can be carried at a time), you drop it next to the door and stay out of the blast radius. Once the dust has settled there will be either a key, a small child (one of The Goonies) or an elixir which tops up your health bar. Freeing your friends from captivity isn't required to leave the stage, but if you miss even one, then you cannot access the final pirate ship stage, instead being tossed unceremoniously back to the first level. 

It's this hunt for the keys and kids, and the necessary engaging of enemies to acquire bombs, that keep the gameplay both interesting and addictive. This is helped by the reasonably large stages that have multiple branches via large open skull mouths that work as portals / doors to other areas. There are also hidden diamonds that appear when you touch certain areas, with eight granting you an extra life. The items behind the doors are randomised each time you play, meaning you can't just memorise the doors which hold the keys and children for the next attempt. The Goonies was introducing Roguelike elements to the platformer genre before anyone had even heard of SpelunkyA game adaptation of The Goonies was always going to need a sense of exploration to be true to the movie, and thanks to these elements it succeeds. 

It also provides a stiff challenge, not only due to the fact that you get no continues (lose all your lives and it's back to the title screen for you), but thanks to the wide array and enemies and hazards that stand in your way, from instant death pits, jets of flames and gas pipes, to bats, skeletons and flying ghost pirates. The Goonies main villains, the Fratelli brothers, also make an appearance via a suited hoodlum who patrols the stages, shooting at you on sight, and can only be stunned for a short time using your kick or the slingshot you can obtain on your travels. There is also an amusing nod to Jake Fratelli's terrible singing voice in the movie, whereby the pixellated ne'er-do-well will stop and sing, launching harmful musical notes in multiple directions. It also loops back to the start once you beat the game, with more enemies that patrol the stages far quicker, giving the game an extra score attack element that will really put your platforming skills to the test.

It's weird how Konami can reference small things such as this, yet produce a game which, overall, has little to do with the movie other than the basic premise. Just like their 1989 arcade adaptation of the movie, Aliens, the game takes a lot of liberties with the source material - I certainly don't remember a scene in The Goonies where Mikey must kick giant rats to death in order to obtain bombs. But it doesn't matter one bit, as the game retains the spirit of the movie and is great fun to play, keeping you hooked until you master it enough to make your way through the relatively small number of stages unscathed. The visuals may be fairly primitive (being an early NES title, after all) but they are charming in their own way and still manage to convey a mysterious atmosphere. The chiptune music is exceptionally catchy and raises a smile, especially the rendition of Cyndi Lauper's The Goonies R Good Enough, which, surprisingly, never gets irritating. 

Bizarrely, The Goonies was only released on NES (Famicom) and Famicom Disk System in Japan - a truly bizarre state of affairs given the popularity of the movie in the West - though it did make it into our arcades as part of Nintendo's Playchoice-10 system, which was how I first encountered the game. I found it captivating and addictive all those years ago in the smokey beach-side cafe that I discovered it in, and it has retained those qualities to this day. 

Title : The Goonies
Developer : Konami
Year : 1986
System : NES / Famicom Disk System
Genre : Platformer