Bible Buffet

Bible Buffet

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

NES Bible Buffet

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.

NES Bible Buffet

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.

Gameplay

NES 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.

NES Bible Buffet

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.

NES Bible Buffet

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.

Graphics

NES Bible Buffet

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.

Sound

NES Bible Buffet

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?

Originality

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.

 

King of Kings: The Early Years

Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

King_of_Kings

Wisdom Tree: A developer that produced unlicensed video game cartridges for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console, doing so without Nintendo’s authorization or now-infamous Seal Of Approval. They rather boldly did within the guise of publishing Jesus-themed games, even selling their carts in Christian bookstore-type outlets, with the shrewd knowledge that Nintendo would hesitate to threaten legal action against such an organization, since the resulting press would likely earn them some sort of Jesus-hating reputation and would then realistically hurt their sales.

King_of_Kings

The games themselves were of questionable quality, sporting some flaws in their mechanics despite what could be considered impressive execution at all, given their limited resources as a small-time development group. The notoriety followed them from their days as Color Dreams, however, and their titles under either brand are somewhat derided in the present era. Nonetheless, King of Kings can be considered one of Wisdom Tree’s finest efforts, even if still not quite a spectacular video game. Although such designation is unofficial, it is sometimes thought of as the sequel to Bible Adventures, considering the very similar visuals and nearly identical gameplay mechanics, especially in the Jesus and the Temple portions.

Gameplay

Interestingly enough, King of Kings is actually comprised of three different complete platformer games, all on one cartridge, each dealing with a different segment of the life of Jesus Christ, and selectable from the title screen: The Wise Men, Flight to Egypt, and Jesus and the Temple.

King_of_Kings

In The Wise Men, the player controls one of the three wise man, rotating every couple levels, as they journey across platform levels with Middle Eastern flavor, from barren desert to ornate palace. Realistically, the wise men ride camels rather than travel the whole way on foot; strangely, the character controls the camel directly, including their combative spit. Between spitting at enemies, consuming fruit to launch a more powerful one-time special attack depending on which sort is eaten, and leaping rather tall heights to tackle precision-jumping challenges, the player must eventually make it to the manger scene where infant Jesus awaits, even collecting gifts for the King along the way, in units of frankincense, myrrh, and gold.

In Flight to Egypt, the player controls Joseph, Mary, and infant Jesus atop a Donkey, as they trek up mountainous terrain, presumably somehow toward Egypt, upward and upward, following the Biblical narrative of trying to escape Herod’s edict to kill all infant males, in his misguided attempt to get rid of this “new king” baby he had heard of. Perhaps humorously, the player can attack with the B button as the donkey twists and kicks with his hind legs, the sole way to contend with wild attacking animals, even fierce beasts like lions. Falling boulders and trail gaps pose challenges as well as the family dangerously treks the seemingly endless route to Egyptian safety.

King_of_Kings

In Jesus and the Temple, the player actually controls characters on foot, alternating between Joseph and Mary per level. With gameplay mechanics most akin to the Bible Adventures game, precision-jumping challenges are back, including classic logs-on-a-waterfall bits, ala Super Mario Bros. 2. Once again, wild animals are on the prowl as well, even little frogs. The point is, Joseph and Mary are traversing through this levels in order to find twelve-year-old Jesus, who has gone missing; just as in the Biblical account, he has left his parents to go teach in the temple with great insight.

In all three games, the player has a health bar displayed in terms of scrolls, with each hit from an enemy element usually taking a half-scroll away. Scrolls of health can be regained, however, by way of answering Bible questions encountered when scroll icons are touched throughout the course of the levels. Thankfully, the questions and answers are completely displayed on-screen, rather than in Bible Buffet, another Wisdom Tree game, where multiple-choice answer options are offered, but the questions were contained in a separate book, making any relevant interaction impossible without the instruction manual.

King_of_Kings

Overall, these are fairly basic platformers, each representing a simple goal with little flair or extras to accompany the tedious action. One admirable angle may be the surprising challenge that each choice presents, though, as the difficulty level is actually decent; although these are Bible games, they are not the most kid-friendly, as most children would eventually get frustrated at trying to complete these, especially the latter two. Then again, that can also be construed as a weakness, so really, no matter how you slice it, this is a video game destined for the middle of the road in terms of its place of quality compared to the other titles in the NES canon.

Graphics
King_of_Kings
Admittedly, this game’s graphics are actually not too terrible. Its large, colorful sprites and weirdly impressive backgrounds (well, in certain spots), along with detailed level designs, put King of Kings far ahead of many other 8-bit titles on the NES. Whether this was due to the late-cycle release timing general mastery of the hardware tools, or specific development staff gaining familiarity with generating visuals after prior Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree titles, either way it is not bad. However, the actual animation is what brings the presentation down a notch; as unlicensed games are wont to do, at times the movement is somewhat choppy, stilted, and not as smooth as a player would want, even glitching out in crazy ways at times, such as firing the character forward at warp speed or juggling them around in arcane fashion. In addition, the animated icons, like the words flying around and the item tallies after each levels, are somewhat cool; but “somewhat cool” like a neat animated .gif, in the sense that it looks neat, but is really a cheap effect and nothing truly artistic.

Sound

Give those wacky non-license developers some credit for the unique elements inherent in their work. This is a distinctive NES game in terms of its soundtrack, in that it shows points of brilliance right alongside points of head-scratching oddity. Some of the effects are very enjoyable, like those rapid countdown shots to tally points and item collections after each level, in varying pitches and notes. Then there are the hymn-inspired tunes, that can come across as either annoying or amazing, depending on one’s tastes, it could be supposed. From Go Tell It On The Mountain to We Three Kings, a veritable Christian Christmas Carol is on full display; and decently composed, too, despite mostly sounding like they may have only been taking advantage of two wave-shapes from the NES sound channels rather than a full set. Nonetheless, at least there is a bass line beneath the recognizable melodies.

Originality

Judging the originality of a Bible game, what a proposition. Creating an 8-bit cartridge based on the early life of Jesus Christ was certainly a new idea, and nobody else was likely to touch it. In fact, even in the decades since, King of Kings may truly be the only such game. Even a few of the gameplay touches have strokes of innovation, from the camel-spit attacks to the flying icons on the tally screens to the Wisdom Tree trademark of answering Bible trivia for health boosts.

Yet, overall, undeniably, on the scale of NES platformers, this is a smack-dab center title on the spectrum. What is intact here is a beginning-to-end adventure, in three different flavors, each with their tweak difference in mechanic, and each posing a worthy challenge. That being said, this is noMega Man or Castlevania or Mario or Sonic or other legendary platform game of such stature. Jerky movements, unresponsive controls, and a premise that may make some gamers uncomfortable all add up to a game that, despite Wisdom Tree’s best efforts, still does not quite measure up to the greats, nailing (oops, bad pun choice?) two and a half stars out of five.