Click here to visit the Deja Vu (NES) description page for walkthroughs, saves, and more information.
~Review by tankMage (February 2020)
Here’s a short breakdown of Deja Vu’s strengths and weaknesses, scroll down if you wish to read the full review.
-Original story and setting for a video game.
-Music sets the mood perfectly.
-Plenty of things to see and do.
-The puzzle aspect of the game is neither too difficult nor too easy.
-Nicely thought out details.
-User interface is very slow.
-The adventure is very short if you know what you are doing.
-Sometimes the game kills you without warning.
-It’s possible to become permanently stuck in some situations.
-The graphics are hit or miss.
The game that made punching prostitutes cool.
Deja Vu and I go way back. So far back that I could barely read when I first played it and spent much of my time playing it dying to random thugs or falling into construction pits. In fact, I found this game so baffling (along with King’s Quest, but we won’t talk about that) that I avoided point and click adventure games for many years. So it’s only fitting that I start exploring the genre with Deja Vu, which started it all.
Deja Vu first started life on the Macintosh computer way back in 1985. Over the years it was ported to a wide variety of platforms, but this review concerns itself with the NES port. As a point and click adventure, Deja Vu requires players to gather clues and key items by using a cursor to interact with the environment. Players can move from screen to screen, using commands like “Examine” to get descriptions of objects in the world and “Take” to add them into their inventory. Some items are required to solve simple puzzles, while others are used to do things like unlock doors. It’s also possible to interact with NPCs in a variety of ways that range from conversing with them to punching them in the face. While the premise is simple, it takes deductive thinking, careful exploration, and some good old fashioned trial and error to complete this game.
More often than not, NES ports were inferior to their arcade or PC counterparts, but in this case, the NES port is arguably superior to the Macintosh original. This is thanks to the fact that the NES has color graphics and sound. That said, it has less detail than the Mac version and the UI isn’t smooth due to the fact that players must use a controller instead of a mouse. Ports to other platforms like the Amiga are also better looking than this one, but when all is said and done, the NES version isn’t bad. In many ways, Deja Vu seems perfectly suited to the NES with its simple graphics and music that set the mood almost perfectly.
It’s hard to review this game without spoiling the story, because almost everything you do is tied to the story (which I suppose is a trait of point and click adventures), but I’ll try my best. The game starts with you waking up in a bathroom stall with bloody hands and a nasty case of amnesia. From there it’s up to you to explore the mean streets of Chicago, looking for clues to the mystery of who you are and what happened to you. As you may have guessed, Deja Vu is very much a noir detective story. The sense of confusion and loneliness in this game is almost palpable thanks to detailed descriptions that scroll every time you enter an area, examine an object, or talk to someone. A soundtrack that sounds like something from an old detective film also helps set the tone of the adventure.
As far as the actual story goes, well it’s about what you would expect from a detective novel or film, but the mere fact that it’s in video game format makes it quite original. Interacting with the world also brings the adventure to life and I spent a lot of time pondering clues. Most of the things you have to do to solve the mystery are a matter of logical thinking and a bit of trial and error, so it’s not super difficult. That said, it’s easy to miss something if you are not thorough and the developers threw more than a few red herrings into the mix to make things more complicated.
While Deja Vu is entertaining, it has a few minor problems that become increasingly irritating as the game progresses. First off, the player is always shown a bit of text that is typed out as if by an old fashioned typewriter. Nice touch, right? Sadly, the text becomes annoying after a while, because it is displayed every time you enter an area. It’s possible to skip past the text, but it’s still a bit irksome, because it takes a second or two for the text to cancel. Then there’s the user interface. Players are given a cursor they can use to click onto objects in the world or in their inventory as well as a list of commands. While the system works pretty well, all things considered, (imagine trying to cram the functionality of a keyboard and mouse into a handful of buttons) the cursor moves painfully slowly. This makes performing actions a bit tedious.
Deja Vu can also be a vicious troll at times. There were a few instances where the game decided to kill me just because it could. While this was a bit unfair, I didn’t mind too much, since life is kind of like that and at least the game was pretty generous with saves and checkpoints. What’s worse is the very real possibility of getting stuck and failing the game completely for overlooking something very simple. This aspect of the game was rather frustrating, though it is a good case study in why one should always have a backup save.
After shying away from point and click adventures for decades, I’m happy I played this game. Is it the best of the genre? Probably not, but it’s a rewarding game if you have the patience and acumen to figure it out. It also seems to have been an important part of the evolution of point and click adventures, which I assume are the descendants of text based adventure games. At any rate, I look forward to playing the sequel and some of the other Mac Adventure games like ShadowGate.
Deja Vu is a great introductory point and click adventure and one of the few that appear on the NES, so give it a shot if you like the genre or want to try it for the first time.
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