RELEASED: December 15, 1989
AVAILABLE ON: NES
Time to kick off this year's Monster Mash, and there simply ain't no game more suitable for the task than this little Japanese, Capcom-made curiosity considered the very first survival horror game ever made. In early 1989, Japanese film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa - no relation to Akira - made a horror film named Sweet Home. Later that year, he closely collaborated with Capcom, more specifically Ghosts 'n Goblins and Mega Man producer Tokuro Fujiwara to make a video game adaptation of the film. The game was considered ingenious and extremely innovative, no less than one of the best Famicom games made at that time, but a Western release of the game would've required some serious compromises regarding its brutality, which the designers were not willing to make. Sweet Home remained a cult title in Japan and received its first share of international fame seven years after its release, when Shinji Mikami - a huge fan of the game - designed a certain spiritual successor to the game, which went on to popularize survival horror all around the world. How could Sweet Home NOT boggle the interest of a lifelong Resident Evil fan? Well, it is written in Japanese... but of course, that's not much of an obstacle for modern technology. Let's go.
No place like home, huh?
|Come on man, it's just a legless zombie.|
The idea for Monster Mash started with Resident Evil. My whole infatuation with survival horror started with Resident Evil, way back when it was released in Europe. Well, since this time there ain't no Resident Evil game to pop into my mind for a review (I'm not that far into Resident Evil: Revelations and the sequel is coming soon anyway, so let's save it for a later date), let's set our sights on a Famicom game that has had its name all over every Internet publication ever made regarding the early history of Resident Evil. 'Til just a brief while back, the game was, and had always been exclusive to Japan. Nearly two years ago, this guy I know bought a highly expensive "redux" retail version of the game from a now-defunct American company that remade all sorts of NES and SNES games note by note, but their most important and popular products were, of course, translated versions of games previously released only in Japan; I got myself a fancy-ass redux of Final Fantasy III just before they closed their doors. Well, I'm not exactly in speaking terms with that guy right now, so I couldn't ask him to borrow the game, but I thought that if there's a translated retail version of Sweet Home out there, there's gotta be a ROM available on the net. I was quite right in my assumption; there is, and it's seamless, unlike many fan-made dejaps I've played thus far. I headed into this book of genesis with my hopes set far too high, and came out with the following conclusion: the user interface of Sweet Home may be severely outdated, but God DAYMNNN, the game has fantastic ideas. Had I "discovered" the game just a decade or so ago, it would've left an even better impression on me.
|I think I once saw these gals on Doctor Who.|
Back in its time, Sweet Home was probably one of the most complex games ever made - but someone who has played any sort of puzzle-oriented adventure games most of his life will find the basics very accessible, even if the game's obsolete interface is tough on the nerves. More on that later, let's go over the basics first. You play as five different characters, all with their special tools. None of them are considered the "main" character, 'cause absolutely any or all of them may die during the course of the game. A rare case of permadeath, that is; they won't be coming back, or their valuable tools. Not to worry, though; replacements for all tools are found scattered around the mansion, so basically the game cannot conclude in an unwinnable state. Also, anyone can use standard items such as Tonics, it's not prohibited to the "medic" although it looks like it at first; the medic is the only person who can heal status ailments, though, and if she dies, you'll need to find an endless supply of pills to replace her medical kit. Yes, this game was made in 1989. Think about that.
|This hallway's almost 1:1 with a certain Resident|
Evil hallway. Without dogs, though.
That's pretty much the game in a nutshell, so let's move on to the crummy interface and other stupidities you will most definitely come across. The good news is that Sweet Home has the quickest battles out of the short array of 8-bit RPG's - the loading times are unnoticeable, command response is extremely quick and provided you're properly equipped, meaning that you have at least SOMETHING equipped, your attacks actually have effect, and missing a hit is very rare. Groups of enemies are considered one, so it's also impossible to miss a hit due to attacking an already fallen enemy (so basically: fuck you, Final Fantasy). Field work, now that's tedious. You can't just pick up items by facing them and pressing a button, or there's not even a screen that comes up for a Yes / No choice like in the successor. Oh, no, in this one you need to face the item you want, very precisely at that, go to the menu and manually assign the item to a party member to a specific slot. If you choose the wrong one, you'll have to do it again. Any item you had there will take the new item's place on the field.
|Damn, man, you really got beat up by that lamp.|
Sweet Home's probably the earliest, and for many years, the only console game in which you could save your progress absolutely anywhere on the field. It takes away the usual guilt of using state saving, that makes it even more of a game which I think emulators were created for. And, behind all those annoyances, you'll find a challenging and rewarding game; there are five slightly differing endings, depending on how many of your party members survive the whole trip, but don't expect an "ending" if you fuck it all up besides a "Game Over"; this was 21 years before Heavy Rain. That's still a little hard to grasp; the game has such brilliant ideas behind all that uncomfortable execution that I'm amazed they didn't start working on a follow-up earlier. Well, better late than never; absolutely great, actually. I'm glad this game was made.
I'm extremely disappointed that I didn't familiarize myself with this game years earlier; by "years earlier" I mean the time I had already had some experience in both role-playing and puzzle-oriented adventuring, just not so much of it. I wouldn't have made heads or tails of this game back at the time of its non-release. Even so, I recognize Sweet Home as a curious game extremely recommendable to survival horror fanatics, filled to the brim with great ideas and even greater intentions, just a field interface that was obsolete on arrival and gets worse as years go by.
+ The origin of some fabulous ideas
+ Cheesy, but effective horror elements, a "few" steps forward from what we had in Castlevania
+ Combat is quick and fun, unlike in most 8-bit RPG's
+ You can save anywhere!
+ A cool plot, quite faithful to the movie; however, as far as presentation goes, the game doesn't feel like a licensed one at all, and unlike the movie, all members of the crew might survive. It just isn't very likely.
+ What we have here is indeed a truly challenging game...
- ...The real challenge in which is however overshadowed by an intolerable user interface; managing everything from the menu is not only hard, but extremely tedious
< 8.2 >