Game/Movie: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
System: Nintendo Game Boy (via Super Game Boy)
Year of Release: 1991
All Praise to the Super Game Boy
I had, up to this point, avoided any and all movie-licensed games on the Nintendo Game Boy. This had absolutely nothing to do with any kind of personal aversion to the system. As a kid, the Game Boy proved invaluable to me during the seemingly endless road trips our family would take each summer. The reason for my reluctance to cover movie games on the Game Boy was rooted in a screen-shot-related conundrum. My current procedure for obtaining screen shots involves running whatever system I’m using through a DVD recorder and grabbing frames from the subsequent DVD. I was convinced that if I covered a Game Boy title, I would have to use stills from the internet and therefore have no specific images for the references I make.
It was then that a buddy of mine reminded me of a handy little relic known as the Super Game Boy. My memory primed, I came upon vague recollections of this device, but as I never owned one myself it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I’m sure none of you need any sort of explanation, but essentially the Super Game Boy fits into the Super Nintendo like a regular SNES cartridge with a smaller port on top to house the svelte Game Boy cartridges; thus allowing the miniscule visual limitations of the Game Boy to be massively blown the hell up to the size of your living room TV. One quick trip to Game Over Videogames, Austin’s premier purveyor of classic games of all eras for all systems and an absolute God-send for lovers of archaic consoles, and we secured ourselves this magical object.
One of the best parts of the Super Game Boy, in addition to allowing me to see 8-bit Ted “Theodore” Logan in staggering inch-tall glory, was it’s ability to retrofit the Game Boy games with color. Whereas the Game Boy screen really only offered one color in various shades, games projected via Super Game Boy offer a slightly more diverse color palette. Oh yes, we were now in business.
Graphics and Mechanics
So many of the movie games we’ve explored thus far have been standard platformers with some manner of boss or bosses who must be bested in order to advance within/win the game. With the exception of Alien on Atari, which is a mere patchwork of other games with no conceivable measure of finality, each of the games covered thus far have fallen under this classic banner.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is of a different breed. It is more or less a puzzle-solving game that requires the player to collect artifacts from various corners of the screen to reveal the location of a flashing phone booth that serves as the gateway to the next level where the task is repeated. So technically you are still graduating up the numerical organization of levels, but the method by which you beat the last level of the game is the same as the method used to beat the first. This game has garnered comparisons to Manic Miner, which was released for, among others, the Commodore 64. But that comparison is primarily based on the flimsy coincidence that they are almost entirely the same game.
Mechanically, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a little clumsy. Neither Bill nor Ted seemed destined for fruitful careers as Olympic long-jumpers as they bound from ledge to ledge apparently hampered by tiny, invisible cinderblocks attached to their heels. This proves especially non-triumphant in levels that offer frighteningly narrow footholds...
...and therefore demand jumping accuracy and range. There is also the annoying tendency for the characters to immediately ascend any climbing element they approach regardless of whether the player pressed up on the directional pad. Precise timing is so pivotal for succeeding in this game and nothing hinders the pursuit of that precise timing like your character dashing up a vine when you needed to run in front of it before an enemy changed course and headed back your direction. It was maddening, but I wonder how much of that was part and parcel with playing a Game Boy game using a Super Nintendo controller. Sure, the button layouts aren’t monumentally different, but I am willing to lend the game a little benefit of the doubt.
The graphics at work in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure are adequately designed but admittedly quite simple. The landmarks and structural aspects of each level are largely stationary with the occasional moving or disappearing beam. The movements of the enemies is largely confined to a back-and-forth pacing with the infrequent object-tossing or flying baddie thrown into the mix to keep it fresh. The backgrounds change from world to world, which this game designates as “adventures” with sublevels categorized as “quests,” but remain completely divorced from the action of the foreground to the point that they appear as a bizarre form of wallpaper. The character sprites are not overwhelmingly detailed and even certain well-known historical figures making appearances in the game would be impossible to identify if the gamer had no foreknowledge of the film.
But what I really enjoy about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on Game Boy is the music. The high-energy mono orchestration of the main theme seemed as if it could have been written by the Wyld Stallyns themselves. It turns out my fondness for this 8-bit theme was most advantageous to my mental stability as it is played on loop through every single level. So while the theme itself is quite radical, the lack of variety in the music did border on the bogus.
Playing Before Instructions
The basic premise of this game, the demand it makes of the gamer, starts off painfully self-evident. The completion of the first level sets a fairly explicit precedent. But as the game progresses, as is to be expected, the task of obtaining all the time particles necessary to advance becomes exponentially more complicated. Suddenly it isn’t enough to merely collect them as you see them as structural elements of the level can be altered or removed by the acquisition of a given particle.
So now you have to deduce the exact order in which they must be obtained as well. And then, just to throw further flies into the ointment, Super-Mario-esque question mark boxes appear harboring level-specific tools that must be used at just that right moment to ensure victory. By the end, a goodly amount of trial-and-error is necessary to ascertain the correct course to follow to complete each level. Luckily, the Bill & Ted Game Boy game defaults to eight lives, three continues, and employs a rather clever password system that prevents the detrimental loss of all forward progress. This proves vital to the gamer’s sanity as there are ten adventures each boasting five quests for a grand total of fifty levels. Whoa!
Thanks to this very generous cache of second chances, and by tag-teaming this leviathan of a game with my good friend Luke, Bill & Ted did in fact get to complete their most excellent adventure. It took roughly three days of extended sessions and a great deal of cursing which ended up settling upon the living room like a black cloud of failure, but damn it we were victorious. I have since discovered that gathering all the time particles only to be killed by Abraham Lincoln as you make your way to the time-traveling telephone booth...
...that is your exit portal is officially the single greatest risk factor for aneurisms on the planet.
Faithful to its Source?
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is quite extraordinary in this regard. On the one hand, it does follow the film very closely. In fact the first four levels of temporal locales follows an identical progression of the movie’s plot; going from Austria in 1805 wherein they first encounter Napoleon to 1870s New Mexico, to ancient Greece, and then to 15th Century England...
...wherein they lock eyes on the princess babes. The fifth and sixth levels take place at one million B.C. and the San Dimas shopping mall respectively which were both also featured in the first film. The enemies occupying the various levels are the long-dead historical figures who also star in the movie: Lincoln, Napoleon, Joan of Arc...
...Billy the Kid, Alex Winter’s career, etc.
The game features interludes in which the faces of animated versions of Bill and Ted flash onto the screen to bat surfer lingo back and forth to one another before commencing the next adventure. I also enjoyed that hitting the pause button caused an 8-bit rendition of Bill & Ted’s seminal air guitar riff to sound. There is also that clever password function I mentioned that is probably the game’s single greatest adherence to the film. When you move on to a new world (adventure) you are given the phone number for that time period which then serves as your password. Should you exhaust your continues, you may enter this number into the Circuits of Time Directory...
...and be transported to that era. Seriously, throw in one George Carlin desperate to make just one dirty joke and you’ve got yourself the movie! So again, in many ways it’s very faithful to the film in a pretty traditional sense. But then, it goes a bit rogue.
When I purchased this title from Game Over, it did not contain the original box and I took but a cursory glance at the label before determining that my life would be infinitely improved by its purchase. It wasn’t until I had been playing it for a while that two previously discarded facets of the game came to light. There is a level called Paradise...
...and a level called The Abyss, the former featuring malevolent angels careening through the air hell-bent on taking your destruction and the latter being actual hell...
...and the opening exposition moments mentioned a character named De Nomolos.
That’s right, the Bill & Ted Game Boy game is actually a hybrid of Excellent Adventure and its much-maligned sequel Bogus Journey. This explains why the guys venture to heaven and hell, why death is a roving enemy from time to time, and why at one point a demonic Easter Bunny shows up to chuck eggs at you. Despite it’s titular favoring of the first film, upon closer examination of the tiny cartridge, this crossover was indeed no accident. Under the words Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
is a separate text box adding…A Bogus Journey. This is accompanied by awkwardly shoehorned bubbles containing scenes from the sequel besmirching the poster art for the first film that comprises the games’ cover.
It seems the only way that God-awful second film would ever realize videogame adaptation, and thus immortality, was to piggyback onto the game of its genius-by-comparison predecessor. The one thing I do enjoy about this covert doubling-up of titles is that it provides something necessary for any videogame that is completely absent in the first film: a villain. Without the inclusion of De Nomolos, we’d be left only to contend with Bill & Ted’s greatest threat from the first film: Bill & Ted.
Despite its divergence from the standard platformer format and the twisted, rage- engendering complexity of some of its later levels...
...Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for Game Boy lives up to its presumptuous name. This game is a boatload of fun and the replay value is unreal. It got me thinking about other films that could benefit from this non-traditional, puzzle-based design for their inevitable videogame adaptations. Who wouldn’t want to play the Memento Memory game? Or how about Rain Man’s Counting Quest? Or why not truly test your mental acumen with the A Beautiful Mind Sudoku Challenge?
Licensed to Sell
I remember many cartoon spinoffs of popular 80s films from the periphery of my youth; Teen Wolf, Back to the Future, Beetlejuice. None of these shows lasted very long due in large part to their insurance that the film’s welcome would be thoroughly worn out with small children within nanoseconds. I will tip my most outstanding figurative hat to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures for two reasons. First, counter to the vast majority of cartoon series based on 80s films, they managed to snag both Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter to voice their respective characters for an entire season; thirteen of the show’s twenty-one episodes.
After that heinous Day the Earth Stood Still remake, I’m betting they could get Keanu to reteam with Alex to do a reunion cartoon if they wanted. And I’m sorry, it’s cheesy as all hell, but I can’t help but love that unfortunate theme song. I wouldn’t recommend watching it in its entirety, but Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures is available on streaming Netflix. Party on, dudes!