Overall Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
Although the video game publisher Kemco released several games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, it may be most famous for its point-and-click adventures for that system, produced by developer ICOM and based on earlier Mac computer games. Although two of them, Uninvited and Shadowgate, revolved around fantasy plotlines that involved the supernatural, their third title would be based in a gritty 1940’s Chicago, thick with classic hardboiled P.I. flavor.
This was Deja Vu, put out onto the market in 1990 for the NES. Following the efforts of protagonist Ace in his efforts to clear his name from a murder for which he was framed (or was he?), it was a cartridge many saw as a step up from Kemco’s other two point-and-click quests; since it had no basis in supernaturalism, its problem-solving was of a much more linear form, requiring more lateral thinking and less mysticism. But was it fun?
Like other point-and-click adventures, Deja Vu takes place in a world expressed through a series of static images. The player directly interacts with these images using a cursor controlled by the directional pad: “Clicking” on a door may travel through it, or on a phone may use it, or on a drawer may open it. There is also the traditional menu below the graphical screen, representing options to decide what sort of action would be taken upon each click, such as Examine, Hit, Open, Take, Speak, etc.
Throughout the game, Ace will discover areas in Joe’s Bar and the surrounding neighborhood, while picking up an inventory and skillfully putting together clues to clear his name. Incorporated throughout are a series of unlockable flashbacks that offer valuable clues, and a thank-the-Lord save feature to load where a player left off, a necessary convention for a mystery adventure that was absorb many enjoyable hours.
Although it lacks the fast-moving, sprite-based animations of most other NES titles, Deja Vu still holds its own in terms of its appearance. The still frames were obviously handled with care; and necessarily so, considering that gameplay takes place right atop them. Rarely is there a moment when a needed detail is indiscernible or insurmountable. The end result is a presentation that is impressive, if not in the flashy, blow-you-away sort of fashion.
Since the action is not exactly fast-paced, there is not a strong presence of typical sound effects. However, the background music plays a starring role, and very effectively sets an appropriate, time-period mood for every given situation.
Creativity and Innovation
One of the more enjoyable aspects of this game, and one that can make or break a point-and-click attempt, is the clever writing. Whether it is shown for different scenes, to express Ace’s thoughts, or as a result of the player trying silly combinations of actions (at one point the player must combine two elements then eat them in order to cure a malady, but the trial-and-error nature of the task will likely lead to many humorous failed attempts), Deja Vu is truly a well-written game and makes the entire experience more enjoyable.
This is a cart that was largely ignored, simply because point-and-click adventures represented a minority genre that few gamers truly, intentionally sought. That is, perhaps, an undeserved treatment, since Deja Vu is a fully fledged, fun-filled game in its own right, deservedly earning three and three-quarters stars out of five.
Other classic NES video game reviews can be found at NintendoLegend.com.