Overall Rating: 0.5/5 Stars
Before this review even begins, let me spoil the ending for you: This game sucks.
Beetlejuice was a movie license made into a video game for the NES, published by LJN (responsible for other film-related garbage like the horrendous Friday the 13th) in 1991. Keep in mind that, in 1991, the Nintendo Entertainment System had seen dozens of high-quality cartridges come and go, along with the usual tripe as well. Amazingly, some of the programming for this turd of a title was done by Rare, who would later make masterpieces like Goldeneye.
But Beetlejuice the video game was no masterpiece. Let us do this quickly and get it over with.
The player controls protagonist Beetlejuice, an undead (yet has a life count) scary dude who wants to marry this living chick named Lydia and get a family out of a house and some other bits of plot that ultimately do not matter and are not made very clear. The B button stomps, the A button jumps, and this NES cartridge was not fully developed, as there are several places in the game where common sense would dictate something looks like a solid surface, but it is not, and you walk right through it and die.
Stomping is only good for little beetles, which pop out of beetle holes scattered throughout this sordid little adventure. Stomping them gives you health and money, the money which can be used to buy scares. A “scare” is a temporary metamorphosis into an alternate form that breathes fireballs, used to defeat bosses and clear certain obstacles. The scares are super lame and incredible disappointing, with hardly any true differences between them besides appearance, length of activation, and one lets you jump a little higher.
You cannot kill most enemies, and the environment is hostile, so you spend the majority of the game hopping around like a maniac trying not to die (even though you are undead already, remember?). This would be fine, except for two major flaws in this video game’s design: The control is terrible, making accurate jumps a process you need to learn by trial-and-error rather than intuitive gamer instincts; and the game has this one nightmarish feature, where the levels often scroll left and right, and up and down, but at many, many points, if the level scrolls up, you cannot go down. In other words, if you jump from one platform to a slightly higher one, and the previous platform disappears beneath the screen, you cannot jump back down to it. You die when you hit the bottom of the screen. Apparently, the developers wanted this “video game” to be as frustrating and difficult as possible. Supposedly, this is a platform game, but half the platforms are more hurtful than helpful.
This game looks okay. There are some still frames that look like characters from the movie, and one particularly creepy face shot of Beetlejuice that is reused every time something happens. But the actual gameplay graphics are not indicative of a producer that cared about its product, as the insect enemies look a little worse than generic and even the bosses are uninspired and bare-minimum. The highlight may be the infamous “snake” villain, which is truly frightening; though, this could just be because it is impossible to kill.
The music throughout is oddly upbeat, like those annoying background tunes in the Bugs Bunny games or what you would expect from a Capcom-developed Disney title. Bubbly, relatively high-pitched, and at a fast tempo, the music does not fit the on-screen visuals at all. Perhaps that was intentional, but whatever effect was being hoped for is clearly not achieved. The sound effects are dull and not worth mentioning further.
The idea of collecting scares that lead to temporary transformations is the best thing this game has going for it, yet it is executed horribly and does not meet its potential. It is like gathering the best ingredients for a fantastic meal, only to throw them against a wall and scrape off what sticks. Sure, it is better than the worst options out there, but it really could have been put to better use. The transformations could have been more powerful, made Beetlejuice a different size, had an effect other than breathing fire (seriously, why the heck do most of them have the exact same effect yet cost varied amounts to buy from those stupid stores manned by the shrunken head guy?), or something, anything, other than the plain-vanilla, brief, underwhelming benefits we see.
The Beetlejuice NES game is bizarrely random and randomly bizarre, and this may be its final, lasting flaw. Certain parts faithfully recreate elements from the Tim Burton film, while others deviate whimsically. Some enemies can be killed, but others cannot. Sometimes you have to find a key or flip a switch to open a door, other times you just wander aimlessly hoping you find an exit. It is a haphazard, lazily developed, uninspired, completely below-par waste of time video game. Do you remember sorting through the discount bin at your local rental place as a child and finding those NES cartridges that were like 50 cents or cheaper, even when almost brand-new, and the labels were faded or missing or torn or written on? This is the definitive bargain bin game, the prototypical example of an attempt to quickly capitalize on a movie license without truly caring about the end result. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, go to the hereafter and stay there this time with your half star out of five.