Video games based on board games rarely ever turn out well. The nature of board games is just too different from video games to make a direct transition, so often the video game ends up barely representing the board game it’s based on. Pictionary on NES – from the notorious LJN – is but another example of this.
Pictionary is a simple enough board game: one player draws, and the other player tries to guess what they’re drawing. Somehow, that simplicity was completely lost in the NES adaptation.
In the NES version of Pictionary, players are placed on a game board, with a roll of a six-sided die determining how far you move. The spaces come in different colors, with each color seemingly taking you to a different mini-game when you land on it (I say ‘seemingly’ because, though this seemed consistent for some playthroughs, the color of the spaces didn’t seem to coincide with the mini-games after some games went on for a while).
The mini-games are few, with each one serving as a means to reveal pieces of a picture, which you then must guess. It’s a little…overthought.
The most relatively engaging mini-game is one that places you in the role of an astronaut, who must collect blue orbs on a series of platforms (every orb unlocks a piece of a picture), all while avoiding two odd things that pop up and reduce your time when they make contact with you. A second mini-game sees the player trying to carry boxes from one side of the screen to the other (again, each box reveals a fragment of the picture when successfully delivered), all while avoiding more bouncing things (I honestly don’t know what they are), which eliminate your boxes and take away time. This mini-game quickly becomes infuriating, as you need to go to the left side of the screen, then hold left on the D-pad again to stack up on boxes, and then make your way to the right side of the screen to score each box, with the bouncing things being harder to avoid if your stack of boxes is too tall.
Sadly, the game only features two other mini-games, and they aren’t much better than the box-stacking one. A third mini-game features the player trying to catch people out of a burning building. As you probably guessed, every person that hits the trampoline completes a small part of the picture, and every missed person reducing time. Like the box game, the fire mini-game feels unfair, as oftentimes people are jumping from both opposite ends at the screen at once, making it literally impossible to get them both.
Finally, the last mini-game is like an inverse space invaders, with the player controlling a paint bucket at the top of the screen, and dropping paint on the weird enemies making their way upward. Every defeated enemy, you guessed it, reveals a part of a picture.
The fact that there are only a total of four mini-games means things grow stale incredibly quickly. And with unfair elements in the box and fire games, it really makes things unenjoyable.
Here’s where things really go off the rails. When you reveal a piece of a picture, it’s completely random which piece it is. What’s worse, in many cases, the drawing in question only takes up a portion of the frame, with the remainder consisting of pitch blackness. Some pictures are even more vague, with arrows pointing to a smaller portion of the picture (for example, if the answer is “small” the arrow may point to the smaller of two stick figures). But with the randomness of how the pictures are revealed, you’ll frequently only have a small amount of the drawing revealed before it’s time to guess, making the answer unknowable to the player.
Then, just to add insult to injury, typing the answer is as unpolished as anything. You control a pair of shoes who walk across the alphabet, with the controls being way too sensitive. It’s annoyingly slippery to control. And just for the hell of it, if you fail to guess the correct answer, said answer is never revealed, leaving you to ponder at its identity for all eternity.
When playing Pictionary, I was largely reminded of Win, Lose or Draw, also for the NES. Both games involve “drawing” and trying to guess what the drawings are. And both games fail to represent their source material (in the case of Win, Lose or Draw, the game show of the same name). Between the two, I’d say Pictionary is marginally better, since the mini-games – while lacking in depth and basic gaming competence – at least add some gameplay to the equation. But that’s not exactly saying much.
Honestly, Pictionary is just another entry in LJN’s library of unfinished NES blunders. A curious time-waster from a bygone era of gaming. Just stick with the board game.