Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
The 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was a red-hot consumer item throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, with its most popular games selling millions of copies. Part of its spectacular success was because, among a few other significant reasons, unlike its predecessor the Atari 2600, Nintendo did not allow third-party developers to release titles as easily. Every cartridge made for the system had to be officially licensed by Nintendo, and there was a lock-out chip in the unit to prevent terrible carts from being sold to an unsuspecting market, thus preventing another home video game market crash as had happened in the previous generation of gaming.
However, a select few organizations had the knowledge, resources, audacity, and diligence to successfully produce and sell unlicensed NES cartridges. Among these businesses was Color Dreams, which crafted a few sub-par games, and along with examples like Tengen underwent litigation from Nintendo. Then Color Dreams had a brilliant, bold idea: They changed their branding name to Wisdom Tree, and made video games based on the Bible. That way, any attempt by Nintendo to sue them would result in negative press; after all, what would a white-bread public think of a video game company “attacking” a seemingly Christian organization? Nintendo, amazingly, indeed did stay away, so Wisdom Tree put out a handful of quirky games on the NES console, including Bible Buffet.
Bible Buffet is a hybrid game that forms a juxtaposition between the board game category and the overhead adventure games as well. With up to four human players (someone can even play alone if they wish to undergo the quest solo), each person sets out across a board with a rather lengthy track, over 100 spaces. A six-sided die is rolled to determine how far a player moves their token on their turn, with certain spots enabling a shortcut forward several spaces, a bonus roll, or even losing a turn.
The twist is that regular segments of the board have a food theme, such as Dessert Land, Potato Land, Freezer Land, etc., with twelve realms in total, each having between eight and twelve spaces to their designation. Whenever the player lands on a space in one of the Lands, they then undergo the overhead adventure portions, controlling a character that must destroy anthropomorphic food enemies (pizza slices with faces and hands and feet, ice cream cones that zoom across the screen, etc.) while collecting items and searching for the exit. There is a health bar that begins with three hearts, exactly like the classic Legend of Zelda game, and a way of updating the character’s attack throughout the adventure, with an increased spoon count lending to firing more shots on a single screen, and collecting forks making the shots go farther.
Whoever gets to the last space wins and, considering the length of the board yet most of the time spent in the overhead portions, it can actually take a considerable amount of time for a four-player game to finish. Also, certain spaces bring up a Bible-related quiz (the sole Bible-related aspect of the game), yet without access to the instruction booklet, the player is just left randomly selecting “True” or “False” for the three question-number choices on screen. Why they could not simply print the questions on-screen, as they even did for other titles like King of Kings, is a reasonable question.
The visuals of this game are somewhat crude. The board itself is especially so, though perhaps it is by necessity since the screen has to accommodate all the spaces, land descriptions, and the lower part for roll interaction. Even then, the bland palette sudden switches and the simple toy-man tokens lend this a “cheap” look. The top-down action areas look alright, and some of the enemy designs are inventive, but overall it still definitely looks like a video game that lacked Nintendo’s seal of quality.
Another intriguing aspect of this game is the sound. Despite the lack of background music except for short ditties for certain board-game happenings, and very plain-sounding effects, this cartridge boasts among the best voice-synth effects of any NES games, with the announcer’s exuberant cry of “ALL RIGHT!” ranking as perhaps the highlight. This is an appropriate mark of how far developers had come in taking advantage of the NES limits by 1993, yet begs the question: Why is the rest of the game not up to then-current standards?
For a title that is often derided as “Just one of those stupid Wisdom Tree games,” Bible Buffet is truly unique at least, and among the few NES games to support four-player play, even if not simultaneously. The respective portions of Buffet (that is, the board and adventure parts) may be below-average, but combining them creates something slightly more than a board game and something that is not quite a generic top-down quest.
Among the Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree games there are certainly some that are better than others, yet as arguably one of the best, Bible Buffet is by no means an all-around great game. For a not-quite-complete design, for the bizarre choice to not have on-screen questions in the quiz portion, and the lack of atmosphere in the overhead portions (despite an overwhelming theme), this quirky Buffet eats two and a half stars out of five.