Deja Vu I and II: The Casebooks of Ace Harding

Review by Orb

Deja Vu I and II are classic adventure games, long out of circulation and hard to find, originally developed for the Mac by the same team that created Shadowgate, another early Macintosh black-and-white classic updated successfully for Gameboy Color. This is a brilliant way to revive classic early adventure games that, based on sheer dated technology, are mostly unplayable and lost to the memory of the greater collective adventure game playing hive.

Was the color clean? Could all the action of an adventure game fit into that little screen cohesively? Did I have to wear my reading glasses? Is the Game Boy Color a viable adventure gaming platform? A resounding yes to all of the above.

As far as the stories go, both are classic mystery tales. The lead character is Ace Harding, and you play Ace from a first-person perspective, exploring locales and talking to many characters. Ace is a private detective of the Bogey variety. In Deja Vu I, Ace is tracking down who killed a barkeep and bookie known as Joey Segal (honestly, I can't think of a better name for a shady character than to name him after the infamous Bugsey, can you?). Ace has been framed for Segal's murder and must clear his own name while rediscovering his identity as he recovers from amnesia.

In Deja Vu II, after solving the first case (and there is, by the way, a well-done segue from one story to the next as you complete the first game), Ace is kidnaped by mobster Anthony Malone (was the writer reading True Detective magazine or what?), who tells him that there was $112,000 missing from dead man Segal's books, and it's Ace's job to find it or else!

The design of the game is simple and very straightforward, as it should be given the size of the GB Color screen. The best way to describe this current incarnation of Deja Vu I and II is 8-bit Color Noir. There are small animations throughout the games, trains moving in and out of a station, the sidewalks passing while driving in a taxi, which are amusing and add some depth to the design.

As far as puzzles go, both stories are fairly elaborate, so believe it or not, there's plenty of inventory to find and use. One thing really nice about the game is how well the designers did at setting up the inventory and actions done so the gameplay was incredibly smooth with them. Although there is a high learning curve at the beginning, once the player has it down, it's very easy to move around and use the inventory and solve puzzles. And the puzzles are very clever, mostly inventory-based. There's plenty to do, including playing games of blackjack and slots to gain money and navigating a large number of rooms and locations. The outcome of both games is definitely dependent on how well the player collects and uses the inventory in them.

There is music, albeit very simple but atmospheric loops, which does change based on what scenes the player is in, which I thought was pretty cool for such a small package.

Although the game is old-fashioned point-and-click, I must say a word about the design of this, how it was carried off. Movement occurs with the Game Boy buttons; for those of you not familiar with this, it is mostly just a pad that serves the same function as the four arrow keys on a computer keyboard, plus one button to execute the choice on the screen you've landed on (one of the console's buttons is not used for these games, which keeps gameplay simpler). To accomplish the usually complex gameplay of an adventure game, the designers cleverly put small action icons across the bottom of the screen to click on, which are pretty much the same thing as some earlier third-person LucasArts games such as Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Day of the Tentacle. These, however, are not labeled by name but by symbol to save space (a mouth for speaking, a wrench to signify using a chosen item—you get the idea). And while this does give the screen an incredibly clean look, it does also bring about the learning curve I mentioned above. Dialog is delivered as text on the screen when a character is encountered or storyline furthered or inventory described.

The game has some nice features built in. You cannot throw away something you'll need later. (I tried just to see and was chastised by the game.) If you die or get thrown in the pokey, the game offers the player the choice between quitting or starting just before the mistake, a game function I'm not ashamed to admit I made good use of. It also has three save game slots.

There's also a small map window on the right side of the screen that shows the player where all the doors/exits are in the room he/she's in, and the map can be used to navigate between screens rather than pixel hunting for an exit. This would be okay for me in any adventure game, but how this fits in on the screen while still maintaining the clarity of the locations visited is quite marvelous. And there is a wonderful two-click save function that keeps the game from losing any of the immersiveness it gains.

Infinite Ventures has a website with hints for the player done in a similar fashion to a UHS file.

This is basically the joy of playing a classic eighties-era game in the palm of your hand, and two full-sized adventure games for the price of one to boot. It is very addictive and made me stay up way past my bedtime. Plus I can take it with me anywhere I feel like gaming, and how many adventure games can you say that about? I'm happy to say that Game Boy Color is a more-than-viable platform for adventure games, especially if the games are done as cleverly as these. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Kemco and Infinite Ventures
Publisher: Vatical Entertainment
Release Date: 1999

Available for: Game Boy Color

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