Once more for the folks in the back.
RELEASE DATE: September 1989
Far be it from me to criticize anyone’s choice of game, but the amount of praise I saw for Fester’s Quest in the comments section of my initial review blindsided me. Not even Crystalis– a game I liked, but didn’t love – had so many people asking me to give it a second chance.
Brandon Murray said, “This game, along with the Legend of Zelda and Mission Impossible, really helped expand my horizons beyond platformers. I know it’s clunky at times, but between the overworld/underground exploration, the 3D first person mazes and the upgrade system, it’s a kick ass game once you get into it. Please go back and give it another try! You owe it to yourself!”
John Lackey said, “Please re-review this game. I loved it as a kid and it is still fun today. It is one of my favorite nes games.”
Well, Brandon, John (and at least five other anonymous commenters), today’s your lucky day. Fester’s Quest has squeezed itself back into my NES, so I could give it one more shot.
A couple things to note. I’m assuming that most, if not all, of the people who expressed their love for Fester played it as kids. As a result, I didn’t consult any FAQs for help like I normally would (because FAQs didn’t exist in the early 90s, outside of the occasional Nintendo Power or off-beat strategy book), just the manual. Second, I didn’t use a turbo controller, which the manual itself recommends in the “Hints” section. The manual is correct: a turbo controller is crucial for maximum, er, “enjoyment” of the game. The enemies are too overpowered otherwise, but more on that later. Finally, I went into this run-through of Fester’s Quest as objectively as I could. To the best of my abilities, I didn’t let my previous time with it influence me in any way.
The story: Fester is tasked with saving the earth from an alien invasion. He has a gun and a whip, both of which can be upgraded by killing aliens. Aliens, once killed, also drop other useful things, like money (used to replenish health at the hot dog stand) and light bulbs (used to illuminate sewers and other dark places). The other members of the Addams Family are locked away in seven houses scattered across the map. It behooves you to find them all, since each member has different items useful for your quest – health potions, stronger weapons like TNT, etc. The goal is to enter into six buildings, defeat the alien overlord of each building, and move on to the next. As Mr. Murray said, there’s both overworld and underground exploration, “3D” mazes inside the buildings, and a weapon upgrade system. Sounds “unique,” “groundbreaking,” all that jazz, but most of Fester’s Quest involves keeping Fester alive and away from aliens. This proves to be time-consuming, tedious, and aggravating.
Behind every interesting design feature in Fester’s Quest lies a fatal flaw. Take the upgrade system. Sounded neat in the Sunsoft office, I’m sure, but within the game it’s terrible. The only way to upgrade your weapon is to kill aliens. But when your gun is anything three squares and below (out of a possible eight upgrade squares), it’ll take a dozen hits or more to kill the stronger aliens. Hence why the manual recommends a lousy turbo controller. But why couldn’t they have just made the weapons more powerful? Besides, why would anyone look at Fester’s Quest and think “Hmm, I should probably pick up a $30 turbo controller with this. I just might need it.” And anyways, the point of the game isn’t heavy firepower. It’s to explore, right? And how about “exploring.” God help you if you make it far into the game and die. You have two puny health squares and one life. Yes, you can continue at the beginning with all the stuff you collected from the previous playthrough. And yes, the manual does reveal a hidden location where you can find two extra squares of life (presumably life that stays with you, even after you inevitably die again – I never found the location). But the Fester’s Quest map isn’t like Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda where (almost) any dungeon is accessible from the outset, depending on which direction. No, you have to backtrack through sewers and places you’ve already been, every single time you die. No warps, no passwords, nothing. It’s enough to make a man question his sanity.
I questioned my sanity while I was playing, dear readers, but I don’t question yours. For I have come to the conclusion that you see something in Fester’s Quest that I do not. Perhaps the child within is awakened when you interact with Fester and his bulbous horn of a gun, or perhaps, after all these years, it’s a great game and I’m simply unable to recognize said greatness. But I know what I like, readers. Yes indeed… I know what I like.