Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure on the NES may very well be the worst video game I have ever played. It’s right up there with Wizard of Oz on SNES and Superman 64. It’s a game that’s so bad, that I can’t even begin to comprehend how anyone involved with it could have thought any of its aspects were anywhere near finished. It’s a broken, unplayable disaster.
The game serves as something of a sequel to the 1980s comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The film was not exactly a classic, but it’s a fondly remembered and pretty entertaining comedy about two idiots (Bill and Ted, obviously) who are about to fail their history exams, and go back in time to find historical figures to help out with said history exam.
It’s not the worst concept for a movie to be turned into a video game, but boy, the execution is nothing short of abysmal.
In this video game quasi-sequel, Bill and Ted are informed that space-time rebels have gone back in time and put historical figures in different time periods. Why they did this is anybody’s guess, but the grand crescendo of this crime is that it means Bill and Ted’s band, the Wyld Stallyns, will miss their big concert that will make them big stars in the future. Bill and Ted are then sent back in time to restore the historical figures to their proper time.
Here’s where things go completely off-the-rails. Like in the movie, Bill and Ted travel through time via phone booth, so there’s an in-game phonebook to flip through featuring the different historical figures and their phone numbers (don’t ask why Cleopatra would have a phone).
Now, you would think that this would work like a stage select screen. You’d call a number, and go to that level. But that’s asking for way too much from this game. You still have to go through the levels in a linear order (making the whole phonebook kind of pointless), with the only time period you can even travel to at any given time being the one with a blinking phone number under the normal phone number (making these phone numbers utterly pointless as well). What is the point of any of this?!
After you dial the number, you aren’t taken right into the level (of course you’re not). Instead, you go to some bizarre mini-game where the phone booth bounces around the place, and you have to try to navigate it to reach the numbers that match the phone number you just dialed! Again, I have to ask why this was even remotely necessary.
It is possible for this section to play itself if you wait long enough (again, pointless), but that takes away some of your coins, which are required to dial future numbers.
If you actually have the patience to make it into the stage, you are thrown into a somewhat isometric viewpoint, with the stages in a 45 degree slant. Words cannot describe how awful the controls are here. Walking on the pathways feels so incredibly awkward. Your character seems to walk around all over the place when you’re just trying to go in a single direction.
What’s worse is if you get off the pathways. Sometimes, you can walk just fine when going off the path. Other times, you are stuck in place, and have to continuously jump to get back on the path. But being off the path means your jumping distance is greatly reduced, and you fall flat on your ass whenever you land. It is an unnecessary hassle that defies all reason in the realm of video games.
So how do you find the historical figures? By luring them out with bait, which take the forms of different objects based on whatever figure you’re currently after. You find this “bait” by randomly jumping around the place. You can find it by jumping on the path, off the path, on a rock, on a tree, it doesn’t matter. You have no visual or audio cues as to where the objects are, you just keep jumping like a madman and hope to get lucky.
You can talk to passersby to get hints about where to find the bait, but the hints are as useless as anything else in this game. People will tell you to search in directions like north or south, which doesn’t help in the slightest as there’s no map or compass, and again, the stages are in 45 degree slants, so good luck figuring out which way’s which. They’ll also tell you things like “look around the four rocks” even if there are multiple quartets of rocks on the stage. It’s nothing short of atrocious that the developers would think any of these “hints” could possibly help the player.
To make matters even worse, you talk to people by running into them, but many of these people will also punish you for running into them by taking coins or throwing you in jail (which you can simply walk out of, but still). And of course there’s no variety between NPCs in a stage, so you just run into them hoping they’ll help out (not that they really help, anyway).
Even worse still, there are some NPCs that chase after you, and if they catch up, they’ll throw you in jail for the hell of it, which becomes a recurring nuisance. You can slow these grabby-hands down by throwing your coins, which distracts them, but again, you need the coins. Or you can temporarily send every NPC on the stage into a dance craze if you find a cassette tape and throw it on the ground.
On the subject of music, the game has an entirely forgettable soundtrack, and the music awkwardly stops after a single loop (though “escaping” from jail will lead to another loop). And to top it all off, it’s just a really ugly game to look at, with eyesore environments and indefinable characters.
I wish I could accurately describe just how truly horrible this game is. Every one of its aspects could be described as a crime against game design. It’s broken, cryptic, clunky, awkward, ugly, and it’s dumber than Bill and Ted ever were.
The only thing “excellent” about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is how excellently it out-sucks just about any other bad game I’ve ever played.