The Addams Family Review
Posted by Jamie O'Neill
Morticia's marooned in a maniac mansion
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Manchester-based Ocean Software became synonymous with movie licensed games and established themselves as the go-to developer for Hollywood. They delivered their software on the home computers that were flourishing at the time and handled a huge list of movie licenses, with standout titles including Robocop, Batman: The Movie and Total Recall.
Ocean catered for multiple formats and began to develop for consoles in the early '90s. Therefore, when the license for the soon to be released movie of The Addams Family was acquired, they targeted development of their platform game to coincide with the 1992 release of the PAL SNES and shifted their design focus from Commodore's Amiga to Nintendo's 16-bit magic-machine.
With a remarkably quick four month development time, and limited access to the movie's assets, Ocean's single player game was very loosely based on the story from Barry Sonnenfeld's movie. You take control of a stubby but dapper Gomez as he scours every inch of the Addams' formidable mansion and surrounding ghoulish grounds in a desperate attempt to rescue five of his imprisoned family members and save the stolen family fortune. If you have trouble remembering the parts in the film where Wednesday was captured by a ghastly goblin, Pugsley held by a wacky scientist and Fester trapped by a witch (who is perplexingly based on the movie's Abigail Craven), then you will appreciate that Ocean let their imaginations run wild and did not let the limitations of a film's story thread stand in the way of a good boss battle.
Ocean's developers have noted that Super Mario World was an influence on The Addams Family and whilst head stomping, slip-slide ice levels and a golf ball power-up (which handles exactly like a fire flower) all feature, the freeform exploration-based gameplay shares elements of open-ended titles like Super Metroid and NES The Legend of Zelda. From the outset, Gomez is free to roam not only the mansion but a number of outdoor areas. As the size and scope of game on offer becomes apparent, it can be overwhelming for a gamer to decide exactly where they should explore first. Couple this with each area being inhabited by a mass gathering of beastly enemies, and early playthroughs amount to a repeatedly dead Gomez and a fiendish difficulty level.
You begin the game with five lives, plus two measly heart containers for an energy bar, and soon realise that mindless wandering does not assist your progression. Once you enter the mansion, the crux of the game is concentrated on its "Hall of Stairs" hub area, which includes the front mansion door and six separate doorways leading to long level pathways to discover either a family member or a much needed extra energy heart container. Once you have lost all five lives, you are gifted with infinite continues, but this does not curb the frustration when you have travelled deep into one door's route and press "continue," which rudely drops you back into the Hall of Stairs hub.
It becomes obvious that your mission is not only to rescue Gomez's family but to ensure your own survival by accumulating extra 1-Up lives and discovering three more heart containers to boost your energy bar, to be able to absorb five hits. The game features an abundance of secrets and bonus rooms from which you can collect extra lives and gather money, as $25 fills one of your empty heart containers and $100 earns you a 1-Up.
The game's challenge forces you to strategically tackle the mansion by focusing on repeatedly exploring selected areas until you master their layout and patiently learning the routes to a boss battle. After beating a boss, you are either rewarded with a heart container or a grateful family member, who then heads up to the Music Room to hear Lurch knock out a creepy tune on his piano. Most importantly, winning a boss battle unlocks a password, so that when you switch off your SNES you know that you will be able to continue with your adventure's progress and explore a new route.
There is one beneficial element to being sent back into the hub area, as a determined gamer who rummages around the lowest floor of the hall can uncover an invisible door to Pugsley's Den, which when thoroughly searched treats Gomez to money, 1-Ups and power-ups galore. This is not a spoiler; at best, you will find five extra lives, which will not make finding and conquering bosses much easier, but it is a small hint towards respite in such a menacingly vast game world. You may even find a power-up weapon like a sword, golf balls or shoes that boost Gomez's speed to more easily leap wide gaps, which otherwise would need a perfectly timed jump from the edge of the platform. All of these power-ups are hidden around the game's map and they can be carried by Gomez through doorways to other routes, with the exception of the fezi-copter hat, as its flying capabilities disappear if you enter a door.
Considering that the game has a number of platform sections that require pinpoint jumps to avoid spiked floors and ceilings, the controls are responsive and Gomez is easy to manoeuvre. The game is well paced, although he slides around the mansion's floors even when they are not icy and at times you may question its collision detection as a tiny penguin demolishes another heart from your meter.
Whilst the visuals do not contain the style and detail of later SNES games by Japanese powerhouses, they present a diverse set of colourful backdrops and its parallax scrolling is swift and smooth. The sprite design is a made up of stumpy, cute ghouls and a quirky variety of sprites that can fittingly be described as "kooky." The Gomez sprite was carried over from the game's early Amiga form, and the work that Ocean dedicated to the late '80s computers lends it an English design charm, which is similar to a good looking Atari ST or Amiga title. The audio was handled by Ocean's Jonathan Dunn and it is well implemented, with bass lines rolling the cutesy sprites through the levels, upbeat jaunty tunes and a clever weaving of the main Addams Family theme into his own compositions.
Many of Ocean's movie games were known for being difficult, as all three people who bought Robocop 2 on the Amstrad GX4000 will be able to attest to, but The Addams Family presents a different kind of challenge. It is not Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts hard, but the freedom to explore almost anywhere tricks you into thinking that you are making progress, and without defeating bosses and earning passwords, you will become frustrated when recurrent death drops you back into the main hall hub. There is a sense of accomplishment when you finally save just one family member, let alone finding Pugsley, Wednesday, Granny and Fester, although you cannot even attempt to rescue Morticia until the others are safe. Overall, this is one SNES game where depth and lastability are not a concern; it is massive, progress is workmanlike, and its design has aged well. You may even decide to approach it in a truly old-school fashion by mapping out its level's layouts and routes with a pen and paper.
By the time Ocean Software were developing The Addams Family as a single player platformer on the SNES in 1992, they were already a dab hand at delivering movie licences as games. They were confident enough to not hang around for a cohesive story adaptation and instead invested time into creating grisly bosses and building a vast mansion with surrounding graveyard and gardens. The game tricks you with both its cute stumpy characters, jaunty tunes and the freedom to explore, but hits hard when fiendish enemies demolish your five lives and you become overwhelmed by the open-ended gameplay. It continues to frustrate unless you strategically focus on mastering specific level routes to discover power-up weapons, gather extra lives and earn energy hearts to extend your life bar. The depth of it only begins to reward the player when they unlock passwords to stagger their hunt for Gomez's family members. This game is built for explorers and not for people in a hurry, or impatient gamers, and overall makes for a good gaming experience.