Nothing says “SNES classic” like a high-stakes trip to a menagerie of Las Vegas casinos. You’re invited to bust open the bank account for a night of potentially irresponsible entertainment as you hop from game to gambling game with your crew of potentially irresponsible friends. Even if a 1993 rendition of Vegas-style wagering doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you might be surprised to find out just how well Vegas Stakes stands up today. The concept is basic, but the execution is impressive — and little bit charming to boot.
A lot of that charm comes from the hammy, one-note story that sets you off on this quest for riches. You and a gaggle of friends arrive at Las Vegas itself after a long road trip, flush with anticipation and speaking to one another in stilted phrases of excited dialogue. The game shoots for photorealism and uses a detailed palette of browns to achieve a likeable uncanny valley that sets it apart from the usual fare of the day. A menu-based navigation system requests that you sign in before crashing at your hotel room, where you can call up any of your buddies and hit the town with $1,000 to win your fortune. The day is won should you rake in a million dollars, but running fresh out of cash is a game over.
Five casinos are at your disposal, ranging from a classless joint called The Hideaway to an establishment so exclusive that you need to unlock $100,000 just to walk through its doors. Each one has a minimum and maximum betting amount, so heading to the wrong place can make you play for chump change or immediately eat your pocketbook alive. Although they all have a distinct visual design and predictable background music to match, you’ll find the same five games everywhere you go.
Blackjack, Slots, Roulette, Craps, and Poker are all at your disposal. Meticulously drawn boards and tables pull off a convincing simulation, but the sheer number of oddly shaped boxes and foreign words could easily scare off the uninitiated. The more complicated games usually have a list of rules to pour over, but sometimes there’s no choice but to manually select one piece of the playing space at a time to hear descriptions. Asking your current friend for advice can be mildly helpful or entirely dangerous depending on who you pick and what you’re playing, so don’t hand the reigns of success over to your well-meaning pals every time.
Adding another element of chance to the mix are strangers who could waltz up at any moment and propose a dubious exchange of money. For example, purchasing a diamond or giving someone enough cash for one more go at the roulette wheel could turn a profit or, alternatively, leave you feeling conned.
If you get the shorter stick in some of these encounters, consider inviting some real-life friends over to steal someone else’s virtual dollars for a change. All of the games are available for up to four players (besides poker, what with the ability to cheat on a single screen), which can be a lot more fun than going it alone. Getting a few people to gather around a video game console may lack the same amount of glamour and social interaction of a legitimate trip to Las Vegas, but it’s way cheaper.
Vegas Stakes blends into the deluge of old-fashioned shovelware like a chameleon with bad taste, but it doesn’t belong there. Well-crafted and — at the time of release — notably elaborate, what we have here is a quality handful of tried-and-true casino games tied together with the decent gimmick of being on holiday with fiscally challenged compatriots. You can probably find its equal free of charge online given enough time, but as a solid SNES title with personality, it might be worth a gamble.