Retro Video Game Review: The Three Stooges (Nes)

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Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars

Please, allow me to break formality for a moment. Rather than deliver this review in perfect third-person voice, Associated Press-approved style, and flawless organization, I am going to give a first-person account of my experience with this “video game” called Three Stooges, as programmed by Beam Software (uh oh, they have Software in their title, indicating a company that has its background in old computer games and has not yet embraced the idea of producing video games, thus guaranteeing a poor product) and published in 1989 by Activistion.

So I start this little cartridge up and, after informing me that this is indeed a Nintendo-approved game and not one of those gosh-darn shady Tengen or Wisdom Tree titles, the title card for Ghostbusters II is on screen. I admit, I was genuinely confused for a second, until the three stooges (Moe, Larry, and Curly) walk on-screen and have a conversation about being in the wrong game.

This is a cute little moment, and it is a shame that it is repeated every single time the game is turned on, since it can no longer be funny after the first instance or two. Anyway, after that oh-so-amusing interlude, there is a brief cutscene depicting some drunken loser guy leaving a ramschackle shack house with a sign that says “MA’S ORPHANAGE” and several children hanging around one depressed-looking woman. The Stooges are like “HEY LADY WHAT’S WRONG?” and she says something like boo hoo this house needs repairs and if we don’t pay the rent in 30 days we lose it all or something like that, and the Three Stooges say don’t worry lady, we’ll make the dough!

… that’s so weird. I mean, first of all, why are the Three Stooges randomly walking down some dusty road in the middle of nowhere in matching overalls and happen to pass by this disheveled place? Then, what is their motivation to help this lady out? Are they really that altruistic? Is assisting her in raising money now all of a sudden much more important than whatever the reason was that they had embarked on this epic cross-country walking journey?

Anyway, over-examination aside, the game begins. The three stooges are standing near the bottom of the screen, in two and a half dimensions (you know, like the Double Dragon games), while this six-paneled roulette bar in the middle of the screen has various colorful icons on it. A hand, while making a sound effect, is somewhat randomly selecting between different tiles on the bar of panels every half-second or so.

I tried to wait to discern a pattern, but after a few seconds the hand stopped and hit the mousetrap icon, which pinched the hand. That is slapstick comedy, I suppose. Then the selection process continued and I hit the A button, landing on the “HELP WANTED WAITERS” icon.

Oh boy, I get to make money, right? It’s like a job, correct? Well, after a weird cutscene and a static image where you read a letter over the stooges’ shoulders, you find out that you earn money by serving the pies to customers, double the money for serving all pies.

An image opens inside a restaurant, divided into two sides: On the left is some rich-lookin’ folk sitting at a table with pies. On the right side, facing them, are the stooges, at their own table with pies. The rick people say they wants pies, then the boys say you heard ’em let ’em have it or whatever. Then the rich people start throwing pies. I tried throwing back, but I just kept making various stooges duck. Sometimes they got hit in the face with a pie and I could not control anything for a moment. The pies look like bananas as they fly through the air. I got Moe to extend his arm once, toward a pie, but never throw it. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. No explanation was ever given, after all. I wish I had the instruction booklet.

Suddenly, it was over, and I assumed I had done horribly, only to find flashing dollar signs and apparent signs of success with the image of a paycheck. I made five bucks? What? How did I possibly succeed at that minigame? I have never, in my life, been so thoroughly confused by a gaming experience. It is one thing to be “stuck” and be unsure of how to proceed, but to be completely unable to grasp the control scheme yet apparently win anyway? Huh. Weird. Perhaps this game had hope, in a twisted way, like I could accidentally beat it.

Okay, back to the Random Hand Selection Dial Minigame Selector Thingy. It picks a question mark. The boys show up at a security place. Another letter, this one from an evil banker saying they’ll never raise enough money. What a jerk.

Back to the Selector Thingy. I get the BOXING tile. Okay, sweet, maybe a little action in this game. I have to knock out Killer Kluff (alright, I am definitely not remembering that correctly) in six rounds. I can do this. I like Punch-Out, and this cannot be more difficult.

So it starts out with a truly, genuinely, deeply bizarre somewhat static cutscene with an up-close shot of Larry holding a broken violin. He is against a black background, and three sets of purple angled geometrical shape thingies are appearing and disappearing around his head. This is the most confusing game ever. I have no idea what’s going on. What just happened?

Then the minigame starts and we have a three-way split screen, with the top-left depicting the Killer boxer waiting in the ring, occasionally taking punches from a giant boxing glove. Odd. The upper-right segment depicts a watch counting down the time in each round. Wait, what? The fight’s started already?! That does not make any sense.

But the bottom portion is the one I can control, and shows Larry walking down the street in a two-and-a-half dimensions side-scroller. Okay, I can do this. I can totally walk down a street. Except that this game has a wacky sense of momentum, where if you tap the right button on the directional pad, Larry begins accelerating until he hits a rapid top speed. Then, he begins crashing into things. Everything. Ladders, bricks, boxes, homeless people lying in the street (I really, really wish I was making that up), everything. Oh, apparently the A button jumps. Great. But there is some rather pixel-perfect precision needed here, and I’m trying to move quickly, and he keeps running into stuff and tripping over stuff and this is terrible. I mean, I get it: I’m supposed to get to the boxing ring in time to fight. Great. Whatever.

But then I get to a certain part and the game makes me start heading in the other direction. What? Excuse me? This is extraordinarily counterintuitive. So, there was no end point? No goal? I have to figure out which of the many doors I just passed will enter the boxing ring? Well we are already, apparently, in the fifth round, so I know my time is running out. I run around, too quickly, trip over some stuff, and the sixth round ends, and I earn no money.

Even as a long-time NES fan who absolutely cherishes these video games and is rather fond of some obscure ones, and willing to defend some that others find atrocious, and can appreciate an obscure gem, I find this Three Stooges “game” fairly crappy. Even as someone who can enjoy slogging through a difficult game, even a “Nintendo Hard” title, or something confusing, or that requires clues, or a long attention span, or strategy, or innovation, or cleverness, or whatever, I do not enjoy this.

I stopped playing.

It looks interesting, with the cutscenes and the pixelated close-ups that, at least, look better than the Barbie title screen. The music is pretty good, very era-appropriate in its stylings, though it does sound like too much sophistication squeezed through too simple of an audio device, resulting in an overproduced, slightly distorted, discordant sound. And the premise definitely has promise, with three classic comical characters engaging in minigames in order to raise a set amount of money within a time constraint.

But it sucks.

It is confusing, it is counterintuitive, the play control is terribly executed, it is not fun, it goes against many basic gaming principles (go ahead, try and convince me that this makes the game brilliant rather than horrible), it has these slow vignettes between chapters that bog down the experience, it tries to incorporate jokes yet fails to acknowledge that with repeat play they will only become stale then annoying, and it generally just does not make a real effort to be a viable video game. The soft-hearted part of me wants to find a shred of goodness in this game; but, realistically, if I were to play 15 more minutes of this, then play 15 minutes of Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros. 3, Little Samson, Startropics, or dozens upon dozens of other great or sentimental favorite titles, I would only balk as how much worse Three Stooges seems. One star out of five for a bad video game.

Oh, and the weird part? The digitized voices at the very beginning, when the fellas discuss their belief that they may be in the wrong game, are among the best ever heard on the NES. Right up there with the guy in Bible Buffet. Go figure.

For other NES video game reviews, both good and bad, refer to NintendoLegend.com.

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