Deja Vu

Deja Vu
4
Game Name: Deja Vu
Platforms: NES
Publisher(s): Kemco/Seika
Developer(s): ICOM
Genre(s): Adventure
Release Date: Dec, 1990

Another PC adventure port from your friends at ICOM, the same group behind Uninvited, Deja Vu casts you as – ready for this? – an enigmatic hero who has lost his memory! What originality! I say it in jest though, because the game actually isn’t half bad. I intentionally won’t give away much of anything about the plot in this review, as the entire point of the game is to piece it together yourself, bit by bit. Just know that you can expect a treacherous romp through Chicago, with danger, double-crosses, murder, blackmail, hookers and the long arm of the Law around every corner. Not too bad for the same “family” console where a pudgy plumber whacks mushrooms with his ass.

I give points to Deja Vu’s execution of its opening scene/act. It actually reminds me of one of the more interesting movies I’ve seen recently, Dark City, as both you and the protagonist of that film awake in a bathroom with no memory, and signs that you have been injected with something. Laying with you is a coat full of potential clues to your identity, a gun missing three bullets, and a mirror allowing you to get a look at yourself and “realize with horror that you can’t remember who you are!!!”

From here you begin your quest to unravel your rather shady identity, and almost just as importantly, figure out what you were doing in the hours before you lost your memory. You may have forgotten, but the rest of the world certainly hasn’t, and there are dangerous possibilities that need to be answered. For instance, who would want you dead, and why? Did someone inject with you drugs, or did you do it to yourself – if so, why? Even more disturbing is that fact that you may have killed a man, and that time for you, inexplicably, seems to be running out.

This looks bad for you.

Deja Vu wants to be a graphic novel or noir film, and it does a very respectable job of transferring the tension and emotions of the genre to a personal video game experience. The designers are very good about showing the story instead of telling it directly to you, and generally avoid suggesting, or saying flat-out, how you should be feeling. An excellent example is in the first few minutes of the game; You’ll come across a corpse, conveniently holding three bullets within him, and the game text merely says that you feel as if you should know this man, and mentions nothing about horror at the possibility that you shot him, or remorse, concern, whatever. You bring your own opinions about the situation, and the game’s descriptions are general enough to back them up. They strike a perfect balance between having you play as a defined character in the gameworld, and also play as yourself. It’s a very excellent and masterful storytelling decision.

The game’s interface and graphics engine is identical to Uninvited. You view the world through a small window showing still picture screens. The graphics here are quite sharp, although static, and you can tell right away what everything is supposed to be. The D-pad controls a cursor used to “click” on items within this window, and to select the actions you will take from a list of buttons at the lower part of the screen. The active button dictates what action your click will perform. Along the right side of the screen is your inventory, showing objects on your person and available objects in the gameworld. A neat touch here is that many items act as containers themselves, so clicking on the pocket of a coat will reveal a wallet, and opening the wallet reveals more items within. It adds a bit to the realism, and also helps to keep your inventory more organized.

Organization is certainly something you will need in this game, as there are tons and tons of items that can be picked up, and only half of those are actually useful. You’ll need to think ahead about what could possibly be needed before you pick it up, or else you’ll start cluttering up your inventory slots. Fortunately, and quite unlike Uninvited, the game is grounded in reality, so you won’t encounter overly obscure puzzles or off the wall solutions (a cookie to distract a monster comes immediately to mind…)

Deja Vu is also full of details, so it’s a very good idea to check every object you come across for helpful clues – for example, you come across some personal effects that might belong to you, but by trying on an article of clothing included with them, you find it’s too big to fit. Could it mean that you aren’t this person after all? You wouldn’t have this clue if you didn’t really examine things, and this is just one example of a policy kept up through the whole game. Examination is well rewarded. Check and try everything, and wacky, humorous combinations can be found that produce easter egg messages in the game. You can even shoot everyone you come across, or go as far as to Hemmingway yourself, if you so choose (though that is not a recommended method to win the game).

The problems here are relatively few, but quite apparent. First and most obvious is the control and interface system. It’s about as painless as a PC-to-console conversion can be, and the cursor will snap to commands so you don’t have to spend your time trying to properly line up your clicks. But it is still a case of trying to point and click without a mouse, which is tedious, and will drive some gamers to dismiss the game immediately. Next is the extreme ease of dying. The game is often the very definition of “trial and error,” as far too many simple actions result in your instant death. You should be prepared to save, and save often. Finally, and one of the most troublesome and confusing little quirks, is that the game masterfully sets up clues that you are one person, then perhaps another, and can often truly convince you that you are an entirely different character than you actually are. Its perfectly fitting, and exactly what the point of the game is. However, when you die in one of the many insta-death scenes, you’re shown a gravestone with your character’s real name engraved on it. Half the fun of the game ends right there, and totally unnecessarily so. If you want to keep the mystery going, avert your eyes when you die.

Aside from these few problems, Deja Vu expertly does exactly what it sets out to do. If you’re looking for an engaging mystery, with a quality story, that really will – no advertising bullshit here – keep you guessing, then you’ll do well to check out this game.

 

The Good

Great little details in the gameworld, excellent story that will keep you in suspense.

The Bad

Point and click interface with an NES controller, some repetitive music themes.

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