Sunsoft, NES, Fester's Quest, Addams Family

Looking Back at Fester’s Quest

 

“They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re altogether ooky, the Addams Family.” Charles Addams had no idea that this clan of affably ghoulish people would become as popular as they did, with the TV sitcom propelling them to worldwide renown. Risk-taking Gomez, macabre Morticia, creepy Wednesday, mischievous Pugsley, mystical Grandmama, stoic Lurch, sneaky Thing, incomprehensible Cousin Itt, and the star of the game we’re about to discuss, the delightfully demented Uncle Fester. In the show the Addamses are depicted as happy-go-lucky upperclass weirdos whom others have trouble dealing with due to their interests in dynamite, witchcraft, and sticking lightbulbs in their mouths. Well, those are mostly the hobbies of Uncle Fester, a connoisseur of all sorts of destructives tools. It’s hard to say whether Fester is the most popular of the Addams family but someone1 over at Sunsoft must have taken a liking to him, as he became the star of Fester’s Quest, the first of several Addams Family video games.

Fester's Quest, Nintendo, Sunsoft, PlayChoice-10

Both this PlayChoice-10 arcade marquee and the game’s title screen call it UNCLE Fester’s Quest, but the PlayChoice-10’s menu, NES packaging, and its creators call it Fester’s Quest.

While more words could be said about the Addams franchise at large, Fester’s Quest has almost nothing to do with the shows or the films or even the pinball machine. In fact, you could put any other character into Fester’s shoes for this one and it would hardly make a difference, but we’re jumping the gun. The game starts out with Fester relaxing on a lawn chair at night, possibly moonbathing to enhance his pale skin glow, when a giant UFO arrives and starts abducting people. A shocked Fester takes up self-appointed hero duties and marches out to quash the oncoming invasion. The game may seem reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda at a glance with its large inventory of gadgets and overhead viewpoint, but the in reality it’s a far more linear action game than any installment of that series.2 Not to mention that, instead of a sword, Fester totes a gun that looks more like a large red bullhorn. This is actually supposed to be his blunderbuss “Genevieve,” a running gag on the sitcom where Fester would threaten anyone who made him upset by grabbing the gun and threatening to “shoot ‘im in the back.” It’s an interesting nod that at least vaguely ties the game with any other piece of Addams media, but very few other connections of this sort exist.

 

Join the Sun Club today!

Join the Sun Club today!

The Addams Family almost feels like it would have been more fitting for an eccentric point-and-click adventure where they have to gather up items to help them prevent some evil lawyer from bankrupting them, but Sunsoft ended up being the first publisher to give the family the video game treatment, so they naturally created a Blaster Master-esque adventure where players must shoot unending hordes of  pulsating grape-like alien eggs and neon frogs. Later enemies include self-replicating slimes and large-mouthed spheres that eat through walls.3 Oh, let’s not forget the floating heads that generate flies when hit, and Fester’s speed is drastically reduced when bitten by one of those flies unless he has a vice handy to cure himself with.4 This game’s enemies are already weird enough, and the extra involvement of Fester and his arsenal just makes it stranger. This could have been any protagonist, which has made many think this game was originally intended to be something else entirely. But the truth is simply that the same team that made Blaster Master made Fester’s Quest and were given very little time to do so.5

 

Half the game is a linear sewer slog!

Half the game is a linear sewer slog!

At least the rest of the family appears to give Fester power-ups found at various houses throughout the journey, like Pugsley giving over dynamite and Wednesday giving him vices.. It’s impressive that the developers did a small bit of homework, but it’s like they only studied the extra credit questions. What do all these aliens have to do with the Addams Family anyway? There was an episode called “The Addams Family and the Spacemen,” but there were no aliens and the UFO sighting turned out to be Pugsley’s model rockets. Maybe the developers only watched the first five minutes of the episode and immediately thought GAME IDEA, but it’s just a bizarre premise that never really feels justified. The Addams weren’t even in vogue in 1989, three years before an animated series would be produced in 1992, and there was no particular fandom of the series in Japan.

 

Fester's Quest, NES, Sunsoft, Retro Ad

No kidding (click for source).

The straight report is that it’s not really that great a game, or at least not great at what it tries to do. As mentioned before, the map is actually quite linear aside from the occasional bend that leads to a dynamite providing family member. It’s not just the streets you have to travel through, however, a large chunk of the game is spent crawling through…sewers. Anyone who’s played enough games knows that sewer areas are invariably awful, full of repetitive corridors and drab environments.

 

Fester’s Quest is no exception, but an extra factor makes the sewers particularly infuriating. You have to keep using lightbulbs every time you enter one unless you want to wander through darkness, but that’s not even the worst part. The real pain is in how narrow the passageways are, as the walls make it really difficult for Fester to fire any ammunition more powerful than the default. Players will recognize Genvieve’s various projectiles from Blaster Master, but that game’s generally more open areas made the gun’s inability to fire through walls less of an issue. In Fester’s Quest, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed in these tighter areas if an enemy gets too close.

Lurch only shows up when players use the noose to kill every enemy, but gets a huge full color portrait. Thing actually pops up three times to provide various items. Gomez was too lazy to help out and only pops up at in the ending.

Lurch cameos when players use the noose to kill multiple enemies, but gets a full color portrait. Thing pops up three times to provide various items. Gomez was too lazy to help out and only shows up at the end.

Fester’s gun starts out shooting weak green little globs, but if he collects blue “GUN” power ups, he’ll shoot swaying waves, spiraling cannonballs, and fast needle-like projectiles. Almost all of these get stuck on the sewer walls and even sometimes between the trees above ground, which seems like a pretty a pretty fundamental design flaw in a game where the character’s main method of interacting with the world is by shooting everything.. You get the least spread out of the weapon at maximum, so the best you can do is grind up on those purple grape thingies that don’t move in the beginning of the game and collect seven blue “GUN” icons. Unfortunately if you pick up a red “GUN” by accident, it drops your power level by one and makes the opening item hunt even more tedious.

 

First person mazes precede each boss.

First person mazes precede each boss.

Fester does get a whip from Morticia later that only takes half as many power-ups to boost and does much more damage with less effort, but players are still stuck with that gun for far too long. Even later, Fester can meet Grandmama (known only as Mama in the game), who will give him an item that summons Lurch to wipe the screen of enemies, but again, this doesn’t happen until much further into the game. So you’ll have to keep grinding enemies to keep up a steady supply of light bulbs for the sewers and keys to get into family houses. You’ll also need those keys for the ominous white buildings scattered around the game, most of which contain a boss fight. These buildings consist of 3D first person mazes that get harder later on, and if you get confused and accidentally exit through the entrance, you’re down one key. That’s not so bad, or at least not as bad as dying and having to start the entire quest from the beginning no matter what.

 

Fester can only take two hits by default, and if he loses, all that continuing does it keep all the items he’s gathered but otherwise plops him at the very start of the game. Considering how aggressive some enemies can be and how much punishment they can sometimes take (a turbo controller is strongly recommended), this is extremely unfair. You can actually get two more life points for a max of four, and the game manual actually hints that a building you can access early on has no boss but contains a secret life point in the 3D maze.6 That’s nice of Sunsoft to mention, but the manual also erroneously states that this boosts Fester’s life to four. It only bumps it up to three, and the fourth life point is found through a hidden forest path late in the game which the manual says nothing about. Thing’s life-restoring and invisibility (more like invincibility) potions are both quite useful, and your items are fully replenished after beating each boss. So this isn’t necessarily the most brutal experience on the NES (that trophy is arguably held by Cobra Triangle), but its action and combat are full of frustrating issues that make it much less fun to play than many of the NES’ toughest games.

 

Fester's Quest, Sunsoft, NES, Retro

Several of the alien designs are out of this world.

The game’s biggest source of frustration is its boss fights, most of which are aliens three times taller than Fester that stick entirely to a single attack pattern. The first one’s actually quite easy to figure out and defeat, but the later bosses are more mobile with harder to avoid attacks, so your best bet is just to chug an invisibility potion and just mash away with your gun or whip until your blink time runs out, then slam down another potion and repeat, a war of attrition. Oh, if you miss any of those family members and their items on the way, you’re basically screwed in the long run, but nothing continuing from the very beginning of the game can’t fix.

 

The game’s bosses, weapons and enemies all make Fester’s Quest an unenjoyable game, but having to re-start it from the very beginning each time is not only its most immediately obvious flaw but also its most infamous. It was also a huge mistake! The game’s creators managed to collectively forget to implement any of the continue, level select, or save features that they were spoiled with during the creative process.7 What was the result of a rushed game released with minimal quality control became the focal point of marketing campaign with magazine ads and even TV commercials!8 All for a game very loosely based on a sitcom kids of the time had never heard of. Fortunately, hyping up the game’s difficulty worked wonders! Sunsoft sold just over a million copies Fester’s Quest‘s and cover artist Michael Mendheim’s transformation form cover artist to game designer was complete.9

 

The final level is also the least visually appealing!

The last area is also the ugliest!

Those dedicated enough to make it to the end will at least find something a little different in the endgame. The last level has Uncle Fester navigating the bizarre walkways of the alien mother ship on his way to the its nucleus. Unfortunately “different” doesn’t equate to “good,” and it’s a heinous organism that shoots bullets and obs at you. The only effective way to fight back is to stand off to the right of the screen so no projectiles can hit Fester and then spam the homing missiles which you hopefully got from Thing along the way. It’s awesome that a sentient severed hand has potions and missiles, but it’s pretty harsh that you can potentially miss a few of these family members throughout the game and find yourself screwed, forced into “continuing” from the very start..

 

This examination of Fester’s Quest turned out far more pessimistic than expected. It was actually one of those games that I played a lot back before I developed a sense taste. It became apparent the game was heavily flawed, but I thought at least one upside could be extracted from this review. Turns out the game sucks! The only really outstanding point is the music, where Sunsoft’s music man Naoki Kodaka had figured out how to squeeze the most out of the NES’ sound capabilities once again.10 There’s only a handful of tunes to be heard, but what’s there is great, with bonus points to the 3D maze music for sounding like something from a survival horror game. Still, infectious tunes does not a good game make, as Tim Follin could probably tell you.[quote]Many game’s featuring Tim Follin’s music are pretty bad…except for their outstanding music![/quote] After Sunsoft’s team put out a truly striking game with Blaster Master, Fester’s Quest feels like a big step back for their NES library, with thankfully two steps forward to come with Batman: The Video Game released in the same year.

The "clues" found on each boss show the UFO Fester alerady sees abducting everyone in the game's intro. Obviously time for a trip to the cemetery to be teleported to the final confrontation!

The “clues” found on each boss reaveal the UFO Fester already sees abducting everyone in the game’s intro. Obviously time for a trip to the cemetery to be teleported to the final confrontation!

I couldn’t even tell you why I wanted to re-examine Fester’s Quest. I’ve actually watched very little of the original sitcom, I can’t even recall if I’ve seen the nineties films, and I barely remember anything from the 1992 animated series. I dressed up as Cousin Itt for Halloween as a kid and it was a pain to see through all the hair, so maybe I just felt some innate connection with America’s favorite frightening family[ref8]. Fester’s Quest was what I most knew of The Addams Family, but it holds up poorly today and isn’t a game you’d see on anyone’s list of favorites.. I guess I just always found the arbitrary use of the Addams Family license for an alien invasion game to be strange and bemusing. It’s ironic that Sunsoft’s later game Journey to Silius was going to be based on The Terminator, but licensing complications forced them to give it a new identity. At least their Batman and Gremlins games got to be released with their film connections intact.[ref9] As for Fester’s Quest? Not much more than a pop culture curiosity that should be on no one’s lists of games to play.

 

On the other hand, if you have the European version, it might be worth a look after all. I don’t know who got the idea on Sunsoft’s European division to make it fair, but this localization actually allows Fester to shoot through the walls, making his gun usable on other power levels besides the minimum and maximum. It also reduces the amount of punishment enemies can take so you’re not breaking your thumbs trying to kill these every single one. Continuing still sucks and bosses are still boring attrition wars, but it feels less like Fester’s Quest hates you much less than original release. I still wouldn’t call it a must-play for the NES, but go for the European version if your urge to “shoot ‘im in the back” can’t be controlled for whatever reason.


 

  1. That someone was Richard Robbins, who gives a wonderful account of the game’s conception here.
  2. No really, check out StarFighters76’s maps, almost the entire game is a single path!
  3. These enemies impressively predate the publication of The Langoliers in Stephen King’s Four Past Midnight.
  4. Technically vice GRIPS in the game, an unexpected logistical detail accounting for portability.
  5. According to designer Michael Mendheim this lack of time was a result of the game being co-developed in the US and Japan.
  6. Pro tip: Most maze exits are at the northwest corner of each building.
  7. Interview: Fester’s Quest” (KidFenris, 11/2014)
  8. No really, “THIS IS ONE TOUGH VIDEO GAME!”
  9. Veteran Video Game Developer Michael Mendheim Dishes on “Def Jam Icon” and Murs’ New Hip-Hop Trivia App” (Ural Garre, Complex, 6/1/2014)

  10. Please listen to the soundtrack of any Sunsoft product featuring music by Naoki Kodaka and Naohisa Morota.
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Michael Plasket
Michael has been writing about games for several years, and most of his work can currently be found under the name Sotenga on Hardcore Gaming 101. He got really lazy and started just continued playing games without writing about them. This didn't help him escape his Podunk town confinement, so now he's back to writing, getting the gears turning and hoping for a prosperous career in virtual entertainment. That makes money, right?