STAFF REVIEW of 8-bit Adventure Anthology: Volume One (Xbox One)

Thursday, January 4, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

8-bit Adventure Anthology: Volume One Box art Nostalgia is a funny thing, as it usually makes us remember things better than they actually were. Case in point, I remember Shadowgate for NES being one of my favorite games for the console growing up. If I only knew how much money my parents spent on renting me that game over the years, it would have been much cheaper to just buy it outright. But that was 30 years ago, so while I’m showing my age, I have so many fond memories of my NES and a handful of the titles that went along with it.

8-bit Adventure Anthology: Volume One consists of three classic adventure titles that all released on NES, but also on the Mac beforehand: Déjà vu (1985), Uninvited (1986), and my personal favorite from the genre, Shadowgate (1987). The question is, does nostalgia make us remember these games in a way that is much better than they actually were? I probably haven’t played Shadowgate in at least 20 years, so I was excited to see how it, along with the other games, actually were now that I’m older versus how I remember them.

Starting with the oldest of the titles, Déjà Vu takes place in 1941 Chicago where you wake up in a bathroom with absolutely no memory of who you are or what has happened. You find a wallet, trench coat and a gun, and that’s before you stumble across a dead body. You’ll uncover a tale about kidnapping and blackmail, all wrapped in a Noir-like setting.

Next up, Uninvited tells a more supernatural tale, where you wake up alone after a car crash, unsure of where your sister is as she has mysteriously vanished. But not all is right, as the car explodes as you exit, leaving you stranded in front of a creepy mansion. Inside is a seemingly abandoned house, yet there looms a presence that leaves you uneasy. You’ll come across ghosts and ghouls while you search for clues of what has happened to your missing sister.

Lastly is Shadowgate. Here you’re placed in a fantasy setting as the ‘Seed of Prophesy’, aiming to stop an evil Warlock who wants to destroy the world. This castle backdrop is much broader in scope compared to the other two titles in this anthology, with mazes and mysteries that has death at nearly every wrong turn. What makes this one drastically different from the others is its forced time limit, represented with your torches. You can collect torches along your adventure, but should the flame go out, it’s game over.

Regardless of which game you begin with, they all have very similar UI’s, something that will take some getting used to as it’s very archaic and not user friendly by any means. Keep in mind these games were released more than three decades ago and game design was very different back then. The screen is divided into boxes, each of which has a different purpose. The largest main box is your character’s view and where you’ll interact with the world. The bottom houses a list of commands, such as examine (or look, depending on which game), open, speak, hit, drop, use, take, etc. These are the commands you’ll become very familiar with during your adventures and will have to be used for nearly any action, as even doors need to be clicked on with ‘open’ before being allowed to pass through.

Movement is done differently as well, as even though you play in first person, movement is controlled with the ‘move’ command, then either clicking on the door or passage you want, or by clicking the available exits listed for that specific room on the mini-map at the bottom. The inventory management becomes tiresome, as you need to flip through pages of items you’ve collected, move the cursor over the command you wish to use, then click on the play screen of what you want to interact with. It takes some getting used to, especially with flipping to your spell page or address book (based on which game you’re playing), but the template and gameplay generally stays the same throughout, across all three titles.

The common theme amongst all three titles is that at its heart, you’re solving a mystery, thus, the gameplay is to solve puzzles. If you can’t open a door, try any keys you’ve collected, if there’s a mysterious hole, try inserting any of the small items you have. Most of this gameplay is trial and error, usually more error that leads to death, but that’s part of its charm. Some solutions are more obtuse than others, especially in Shadowgate, but there’s also lots of extra items you can pick up and take that have no bearing on the main story, so not every item you come across will be useful.

You will die a lot, and in an odd choice for achievements, each of them are related to the different deaths you’ll come across. There’s no achievements for completing each game, just dying, which I found a very odd decision, though you’ll most likely find many of them natural as you play through each game if you’re not using a walkthrough. Some deaths make sense, like using the gun on yourself in Déjà Vu, while others are simply a lesson learned, like how stealing a pot of gold or smashing the wrong mirror in a roomful of them. These games came from a time with zero hand holding, so you made notes and adjusted for the next play through. Luckily game saves have been implemented in this anthology should you run out of time to play, and when you do die, you simply get reverted to the previous room before your untimely death.

It’s unfair to judge these games with how they look and sound compared to today’s standards, as these are more than 30 years old. During the time though, these were impressive. Sure, they don’t look good today, but there’s still an appreciation I have for 8-bit graphics and sounds, which is done wonderfully here. The soundtrack is also very rudimentary, with only small repeated music loops, but again, I was whisked right back to my childhood once I heard the music for Shadowgate start up. The music is very basic, and will surely grate on some peoples nerves, but I find it endearing to a gaming age long gone.

While these games are straight ports, there were a few small additions that allow for different TV settings to replicate old style TV’s, further enhancing your nostalgia. You can turn on CRT lines, play in black and white, even play with visuals like those old tube type of TV’s that had the rounded corners, among others. You can even choose different aspect ratios should you desire, but there’s no gameplay change or additions aside from the option to freely save.

Games like these really show how different gaming was back then, showcasing how far we’ve come across all facets, such as visuals, audio, user interface, and hand holding. Games back then were brutally difficult and completing games like these required patience and experimentation. These are faithful ports, even with their flaws intact, though I wish there was some extras or bonus material to unlock, or at least something other than combining the 3 game roms into one package and calling it a day.

8-bit Adventure Anthology: Volume One is simply a port of three classic games from the mid 80’s, and for just a few bucks ($7.99) CAD, it’s a great way to see what games were like three decades ago when kids my age were growing up, dealing with brutally difficult games and zero assistance (unless we were able to find a strategy guide or gaming magazine with hints and walkthroughs). Even though they don’t age well, they bring me back 30 years, sitting in front of my tube TV for hours on end. I can’t wait to see what games are included with Volume Two.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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