Retrospective Monday: The Addams Family

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Title: The Addams Family
Platform: NES
Year: 1992
Publisher: Ocean Software
Developer: Ocean Software

I guess Ocean Software was known for their licensed games in the early ‘90s. They had a handful of Rambo games, a Jurassic Park game with very strange spatial relationships, a game based on Cool World with Brad Pitt (remember that?), some Batman games, and a ton of games based on the Addams Family. According to Wikipedia, in 1988, Ocean was a runner-up for best 8-bit “software house” at the Golden Joystick Awards. Huh.

Based on the 1991 film, The Addams Family had several different versions, including a SNES/Amiga enhanced remake (it’s not the same game at all), and an inferior Game Boy game, which is notable for making Gomez’s sprite look like Hitler and for having a dense, irritating and droning 2-bit soundtrack. The Game Boy version also seems to be inspired by the Monster Boy series and has a surprising amount of weapons and skills for the lack of actual gameplay depth.

When I was young, my family used to buy a lot of NES games. I always found it interesting that with each generation of gaming, we would amass less and less games (NES>SNES>N64/PS1>Gamecube/PS2>Wii/PS3). I guess it had to do with the amount of information available for these games, more reviews and videos.

Back in the NES days, all there was was Nintendo Power, which made every game seem rad and extreme. Needless to say, we ended up with a lot of mediocre titles for the NES and SNES. I guess by the time we got an N64, we were older, wiser, and had access to more gaming magazines. Sometimes all you had to go by was the license, and I guess my older brother really liked the Addams Family (there are a lot of Addams Family games in my house).

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Growing up, we would play this game in short bursts, never actually beating it to my knowledge. It’s not the toughest game, but some of the puzzles are obscure, and some of the platforming is absolutely awful, but let’s back up a second. I really like this one.

The Addams Family is easily one of the most bombastic, garish NES games I’ve ever played. It has a churning, crunchy soundtrack that is mostly an 8-bit version of the Addams Family theme song, with a plethora of prickly sound effects (upon taking damage, this fiery buzzing sounds, and because the hit detection is lawless at best, will usually continue to chortle until Gomez dies).

Every screen is so busy, too busy, and features a vomited assortment of flat colors and inane NES patterns, some humorous detail or nonsensical visual, and contains unavoidable enemies dangling, hopping, or crawling around erratically. Every section of the game, even the outdoor areas, feels incredibly claustrophobic and maze-like, and the Addams’ mansion, where most of the game takes place, is full of flicking traps, falling swords and chandeliers, a polar bear, evil toys, evil bars of soap, a balcony where dollar bills fall from the sky for no apparent reason, secret passageways, and a huge, ornate ballroom.

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The game is sort of like a combination of Super Mario Bros. and Maniac Mansion (1987) gameplay-wise, but the Addams aesthetic, translated into NES graphics, recalls the Halloween 8-bit gibberish of Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985) and the Monster in My Pocket (1992) NES game and even the kitsch brutishness of Space Funeral (2010). There’s bones, tombstones, spikes coming out of walls, dead trees, cobwebs, random graves, and even a jeering skull wall tile set used in an area called “The Bone Room.” After exploring countless secret alcoves full of bags with money signs on them, I realized I was inside a Gary Panteresque labyrinth of 8-bit horror and I loved it.

The toy room and the bathroom, two of the most frustrating screens in the game, are also two of my favorite rooms. The toy room features a series of bipolar floating platforms which eject Gomez off of them if he steps on them while they’re frowning, plunging him to his death by giant club-wielding indistinguishable stuffed animal. It’s such a berserk little moment. The bathroom (which is so beautifully and wildly colored, like a Fauve painting) forces Gomez to ascend shelves where slippery bars of soap move back and forth. If Gomez touches the soap, he falls to the ground head first. Again, it’s a small moment, but the idea of it is just completely kooky and goofy, visual comedy.

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Players control Gomez as he meanders through the Addams’ property, collecting items (usually keys) and rescuing his family members, which culminates in a battle against the antagonist from the film and saving the ever seductive Morticia. The majority of the game consists of getting the key from the crypt to get into the mansion, saving Wednesday from the freezer and putting her in the boiler to thaw, collecting the necessary ingredients to make a shrinking potion for Pugsley, who is stuck in a window, having Lurch play a screechy version of “The Blue Danube Waltz” in order to make a ghastly couple move out of the way of the entrance to the woods area, and collecting over a million dollars. It’s a pretty wild series of events.

Everything is pretty funny and mildly engaging, except for the money collecting, which makes the game a little more tedious. Players do not need to pick up every single dollar bill or money sign bag they see, but they need to pick up most of them. Gomez has a decent amount of health, but it depletes quickly because he receives no frames of invincibility when being hit. His health bar is pretty meaningless in general, as some dangers (the enemy in the toy room) do so much damage, and half of the game’s dangers are practically unavoidable. In the attic, for instance, jumping to dodge enemies in the tight spaces results in moving to the above platforms, meaning players must retrace their steps (or have to restart the attic area all over again). Or, for no reason at all, Gomez will take some damage upon respawning, jumping, landing, or just walking. It’s the Wild West of hit boxes.

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The game grants players a decent amount of lives and continues (continues do the same things as lives, start players at the beginning of the area, which makes them sort of meaningless), but the damage inflicted in each area adds up and is pretty severe. The game’s not impossible, especially for an NES side scroller with adventure elements, but it takes some skill and trial and error. The platforming in the freezer and boiler are too specific, and most players will waste lives in these areas on the same jump over and over.

There’s also a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) -styled underwater area, and as we all know, any connection to that game is definitely bad news. While not as excruciatingly frustrating as the aforementioned water level, this one is still pretty bad and requires some practice. Which would be fine if players already haven’t used up all their lives elsewhere. The game is not long, and can be beaten in under an hour if players know what to do.

A small detail that I do like about the game’s controls are the stair controls, which requires players to tap the up or down button with each step to move either up or down. As a kid, it felt unintuitive, but in retrospect, the awkwardness adds a chunky quality to the exploration, disallowing quick movement. It’s oddly appropriate.

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If the game did not have the Addams Family license, it could easily have been as itchy and ghoulish as the infamous and excellent Monster Party (1989), but the license explains away some of the gruesome mystery. The game does not suffer from the license, though, as the Addams charm absolutely shows through and those 8-bit portraits of all the characters are great. Gomez himself, while not particular interesting looking or well animated, is expressive and goofy, which is perfect.

While not a great game by any means, it is a solid effort from Ocean at a licensed game and I would argue that it is an example of a “good licensed game.” It’s my favorite of all the games based on the 1991 movie and my second favorite Addams Family game in general, after the deeply depressing and suffocating Adams Family Values (1995), another Ocean title. As far as Addams Family games, also notable is Puglsey’s Scavenger Hunt (1993), the SNES version, which has a fantastic jazzy soundtrack and absolutely dire level design.

– nilson carroll

  1. Weirdly I used to love those Ocean’s “shovelware” games… The NES Addams Family is amongst my favorite, alongside that Jurassic Park you mentioned and Robocop 2. 🙂

    • They have a strange charm to them, especially considering they’re “just licensed titles.” Thanks for the comment by the way! It’s a rare thing to bring up something like the Addams Family NES game and have someone be like “oh, yeah” ; )

      • So true… I guess in the 80s “licensed titles” usually meant interesting titles–to say the least. 🙂

        You’re welcome, I’m the one happy to find someone talking about it. 😉

  2. Wow, those graphics really take me back to when I first started playing games.

      • It’s hard to pick one, but I have fond memories of playing Duke Nukem 1 and then 2. Chips Challenge was also pretty awesome. And Hugo 3 lol…

      • Chip’s Challenge has the best name for a game…

  3. Misty said:

    Até porque, esse artigo faz parte de um novo treinamento que vou lançar justamente pra quem não sabe nada de internet e menos de computador.

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