Fester's Quest (Sunsoft, 1989)

When I was a little kid, I watched a lot of TV that was old. A lot of syndicated shows from the 1950s, 60s, onward. Nick at Nite, local stations, and The Family Channel all showed great TV from back then. Since I was also one of those gruesome little kids who loved monsters and horror, two shows really stood out for me: The Munsters, and (in my case) to a lesser extent… The Addams Family.

The two shows and their characters have continually ebbed and flowed in terms of retro-relevance and popularity since then, but The Addams Family has remained the more popular one overall. There were the films in the 90s, and if I recall, MC Hammer even wrote a hip hop song about them for one of those movies. A little before all that excitement, in 1989, Sunsoft produced a game with the license. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but Fester’s Quest was still a pretty cool game.  

The gruesomely cool box art. Really good likeness of Jackie Coogan. Drink it in, because it's the most detailed representation of him you'll see in the game.

The gruesomely cool box art. Really good likeness of Jackie Coogan. Drink it in, because it's the most detailed representation of him you'll see in the game.

Fester’s Quest is basically a re-skin of the overhead view portions from another game: Blaster Master (which I will cover at a later date on its own).  The game gets mixed reception, and is often cited as  difficult and a little clumsy, but it has its set of hardcore fans.  There’s a simple plot to the game, and it’s a bit left-field even for The Addams family; while moonbathing, Fester sees a UFO vacuum up the people of the city. He decides to take his gun and whip and put a stop to the alien invasion.

You know… because Fester was always carrying around a gun and a whip on the TV show.

The game plays a lot like you’d expect at first. Fester starts outside, and must wander about looking for powerups and keys while blasting little alien grunts. The keys open up buildings, most of which contain a boss. You have to do a sort of 3D-view walkthrough of a set of hallways in each one, but there are no enemies during that part; you just have to find the boss room and then survive the fight. Besides those buildings, Fester can also enter houses where another Addams Family member is waiting to give him a gift. There are also portions of the town that are separated from one another by barriers, and Fester must use the sewers (accessible by stairs, not manholes for some reason) to get from point A to point B. He must use collected light bulbs to illuminate these areas, or else it’s impossibly dark.

The manual's brief overview of the enemies in the game.

The manual's brief overview of the enemies in the game.

Most of the rank-and-file baddies aren’t terribly headache inducing;  they can be a hassle if they show up in large groups or somehow get the jump on you, but once your gun is powered up enough, the minor aliens are just obstacles to be bypassed. It’s the bosses who can really put a hurt on Fester, and each one has a unique set of attacks to look out for. Many of them require your whip to be at maximum power.

The powerups you find can increase the strength of your gun and whip, but the red versions of them decrease their power. I’ve always hated games that mix in debuff powerups; I think it’s a cheap and cheesy way to penalize a player, and it adds an unnecessary “trap” element to an already difficult game. Fester also collects light bulbs, which are used to light up the sewers. If you’re wondering why there’s money all over the place, it’s for hot dog stands. Apparently when the aliens sucked up all the people, they left the humble hot dog vendors alone. 5 money units get you a hot dog that replenishes health, so I guess it’s fortunate the aliens weren’t interested in a steaming hot frank.

The gaming community is pretty down-the-line with Fester’s Quest; there’s a serious minority of people who really love the game, while most people find it annoyingly hard and even kind of stupid. I fall somewhere in between. I think it’s got potential as a good NES title with its decent graphics and sound, but I agree that parts of the game really do seem deliberately set up to kick your ass until you cry. As far as graphical depth goes, there’s varying amounts of detail. Some of the cinematics and stills are pretty nice, and when an Addams character is shown, they’re given enough effort and love that they are recognizable. The graphics during normal overhead play are pretty unexceptional, but it’s cool that they tried to add a little primitive 3D leading up to the boss fights (although this is still like doing a maze puzzle from the worst angle ever). What really saves Fester’s Quest for me is the music. I couldn’t find info on the composer, but the few tracks are actually very rich, as you’d expect from a Sunsoft title. The aboveground music is really catchy, and the sewer music is appropriately creepy and ominous.

I’m going to start treating these articles more like actual reviews, and start giving these games actual star ratings. I’d grant Fester’s Quest 5 stars out of 10. It’s a cool game in a few regards, notably its audio and visual suite, but it really lacks solid gameplay despite a seemingly complex dynamic.

If you'd like to watch someone blow through the game in a little under an hour, you can watch here.

Here is the manual for the game, lovingly preserved for posterity.

See you at month's end, RetroManiacs!

See you at month's end, RetroManiacs!