Monday, January 6, 2014

NES Replay: Gumshoe

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1986
One of the reasons that Nintendo has been successful for so long is because they’re not afraid to think outside the box. Take the NES Zapper. Most developers looked at the gun-shaped peripheral and decided that they should make a game that uses it as a gun. It's the most obvious idea.

Nintendo didn't go the obvious route. Oh, sure, Nintendo made some shooting games at first, but it didn’t take long for them to ask the question, “OK, what else can this do? I mean, there were light-gun games before video games existed. Can we do something with the Zapper that you wouldn’t have been able to do before video games?”

The answer could be found, oddly enough, in a minigame buried in Hogan’s Alley. If you’ll recall, there was a minigame called Trick Shot in Hogan's Alley, where you shot at tin cans to make them bounce in the air. The goal was to make those cans land on platforms on the opposite side of the screen.

Trick Shot ended up being a glorified tech demo, since they took that idea and built an entire game around it. The result was Gumshoe.
In Gumshoe, you play a detective who has to find five gems in order to rescue his daughter. He walks to the right automatically, and you shoot him in order to make him jump. If he touches one of the several balloons scattered around the world, he'll get extra bullets. If he falls in a pit or gets hit by an enemy, he loses a life.

Gumshoe is definitely a well-built game. You would think that it would be hard to hit your player while he's moving, but they made a choice that makes it easy: He's almost always going to be on the left side of the screen. That means that you're usually aiming on two axes: X and Y.

See, you'll either be aiming up and down to move your player, or left and right to destroy enemies during the first part. Over time, enemies will come at you from diagonal angles, or from above, but aiming is easy because you're mostly not expected to shoot all over the screen, at least at the outset.

However, Gumshoe is still pretty difficult because enemies come at you fast. The first enemy flies at the player and is almost unavoidable for a novice player. You'll lose your three lives almost as quickly as you get them. That difficulty isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when you're teaching an entirely new play dynamic, you need to give the player a bit of time to settle in.

Plus, there's really no difficulty curve to speak of. The same basic enemies you face in the first level are mostly the same enemies you face at the end. There are a few additional ones that will move at you from behind, but mostly you'll be handling the same ones over and over.

The level design is pretty bland. Oh, sure, there's a level progression where you'll go to desert lands, temples, and forests, but no matter where you are the levels are the same. You'll still be jumping from platform to platform, avoiding holes in the ground, and moving left-to-right, no matter what the scenery.

Those flaws are what keep Gumshoe from really succeeding like it could. What was a really, really cool idea ends up being a bit of a slog. That being said, Nintendo was demonstrating that it could find opportunities where other developers only saw the status quo, even if they didn't quite come together.

Final Rating:

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