TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘Déjà Vu’ is a lost detective game NES fans should uncover
The term “hidden gem” is something that was once reserved for items of interest in all forms of entertainment that were actually something special, something different for the consumer. However, nowadays it seems like it’s two words that are tossed around all too frequently.
As in all uses of the term, it’s all a matter of opinion really, but I truly believe, before the emergence of the Internet, when we as gamers found a game that very few of our friends in the cafeteria or the playground knew about, we really did find something special, which, at least in this writer’s opinion, includes the following game.
Today we’re going to take a look at “Déjà Vu,” an NES point-and-click game from the same people at Kemco who brought you the far more popular “Shadowgate” and the even more obscure “Uninvited,” both for the NES as well.
So, what makes this game so special? What makes it a hidden gem to me? Let’s fire up our trusty NES console and find out!
“Déjà Vu” (NES)
“Déjà Vu” takes place in post WWII Chicago, where mobsters were running rampant and crime was at an all-time high, or so the setting would suggest, and you’re instantly greeted with music that could be found in any film noir flick, any detective story of the time. The music is very mysterious, and yet very gritty and fitting for the era; there’s so many great tunes to choose from, from the title screen, to the music playing in the bar, to the music you hear when you first start the game and find yourself in a bathroom stall.
The sound effects are sparse, as only the sounds of your fist hitting a bad guy or your gun being fired are actually heard at all. There’s also no audio for your character or any of those you encounter. It’s evident that all these point-and-click games were kind of like those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, where it was more about your imagination and what you thought something would sound like, rather than creating a set sound of its own.
The game has the action taking place in one box, and then a right section and bottom section for your goods and actions you can perform as you go about the game, so there’s not a lot of room for quality graphics, but what is there does a fine job of telling a story and creating a setting. The colors aren’t dull for the most part, and you really do feel like you’re in these places. I will say that the items you encounter aren’t terribly defined, but again, with this being a point-and-click game, you can click on an item and get a text description of what you just picked up, which helps, while yet again having the gamer rely on his or her imagination rather than flat out telling them, which I think is a bit of a lost art, not just in gaming, but in a lot of forms of entertainment.
In “Déjà Vu,” you play the role of detective Ace Harding, framed for a murder, drugged up seemingly beyond repair, trying to figure out your identity and then trying to solve the case and clear your name. This game is very much like reading a story. It’s slow, plodding, but also a lot of fun. There’s danger at seemingly every turn, from exploding cars, muggers of all sizes, kidnapped people in the trunks of cars, sewers with everything from mini casinos to alligators in them, and even the incident when trying to figure out what happened to you where you – oops – take the wrong drug and end up passing out!
You travel through the game in old taxis (I guess Ace isn’t cleared by doctors to drive his own car), and as you go through the game picking up clues, while the picture of what happened becomes clearer, the challenge of clearing your name becomes that much more difficult. In fact, the final portions of the game are the most frustrating, trying to piece together the right sequence of tasks to clear your name so that when you show up at the police station, ready to share your testimony, it’s not you they’re hauling off in handcuffs!
As a gamer, or even a retro video game collector, it’s easy to overlook a game like “Déjà Vu.” It’s not a “Super Mario” or “Zelda” game, it’s not something Nintendo told you to buy as a kid – it was something that really slipped under a lot of radars, but in truth, Kemco made a lot of games that were originally on old Mac computers and ported them to the NES with some solid results.
Yes, the idea of clicking on a button to make something happen can become very repetitive and quite tedious, and there’s always that danger of putting the cursor too close to a button you didn’t want to click. That being said, the adventure in this game, the sense of danger and suspense, the telling of a quality story, is something not found in many games, past or present, and I’ve always appreciated this game for leaving so much up to your own imagination.
Since its NES debut in 1990, only one follow-up console game was ever made, combining this story and a whole new one called “Déjà Vu I & II: The Casebooks of Ace Harding” for the Game Boy Color in 1999. With the success of a game like “L.A. Noire,” I’m still holding out hope that someday “Déjà Vu” will get a reboot worthy of its hidden gem status.
Join us next week, as we take another stroll down memory lane in the world of video games. Until then, remember that blowing into a cartridge may not do anything in getting it to work, but it’s still more fun than dealing with a scratched disc.
Note: All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.