Developer(s) – Bethesda Softworks
Publisher(s) – THQ
Designer(s) – Paul Coletta & Randy Linden
PEGI – Not rated (Suitable for children)
Released in 1991 late into the NES’s shelf life by Elder Scrolls developers Bethesda, Where’s Wally is a puzzle game based on the puzzle books written by Martin Handford whereby players must find or guide Wally across 8 different stages within varying time limits depending on the difficulty setting. Released to overwhelming critical vitriol, it’s most definitely one of the worst games on the system, as well as being one of the worst games I’ve played based on a pre-existing license.
Graphics – 1/10
For a development company that would later go on to set new standards in visual quality with games like Skyrim and Oblivion, it’s shocking to see how much this game lacks in graphical quality, both on the technical and conceptual level. Especially considering this game was released after the Super NES, and there were developers pushing the boundaries of what the original NES could do at the time, this game perpetuates many of the limitations of the consoles in a way that many classic games released before this overcame those limits. The lackluster use of the NES’s color palette is the most visible flaw this game has. The only nice-looking part of the game is the ending, whereby Wally lands on the Moon. The moon’s surface is actually quite well-detailed, but that is literally the only positive thing it has going for it. To think that players have to beat the game in order to see one good example of 8-BIT visuals will seem like an insult.
Gameplay – 1/10
Again, Where’s Wally is a puzzle title that follows the mantra of the books; the player must find Wally on 6 different screens, which expand depending on difficulty. The time limit is 10 minutes on easy mode, 7 minutes on medium mode, and 5 minutes on hard mode. There are also 2 additional levels that mix up the gameplay a little,c but not to a great extent. But because of the poor graphical quality, it makes it almost impossible to identify Wally without the aid of a strategy guide. There have been worse games released throughout the years that have been inadvertently rendered unplayable due to either graphical errors or fatal glitches, but especially given how late into the console’s cycle this game came out, and how so many other developers were able to release classics on the system, there was no excuse for the developers at Bethesda to have screwed this up as much as they did.
Controls – 4/10
The control scheme in its basic premise is simple enough, but it comes with many different issues; those being most evident on hard mode. In order to increase the difficulty, the developers made the cursor the player uses to pick out Wally smaller, but the problem is that the control’s sensitivity is quite high, so it creates an unnecessary complication for when the player ends up finding Wally on hard mode.
Lifespan – 1/10
Where’s Wally can be made to last a total of 10 minutes per playthrough; again depending on what difficulty setting it’s on. But to be honest, I’d be surprised if there would be many players willing to go through even one playthrough. There’s no further incentive for beating the game on the harder difficulty settings either, as the same thing happens at the end regardless of which. There would’ve been plenty of things the developers could’ve added to give players an incentive to do this, but because they offered players hardly anything, it certainly doesn’t warrant even one full playthrough, let alone three.
Storyline – 0/10
The game involves nothing but Wally being led across a series of areas in order to reach a launchpad to get to the Moon. The game’s story, as with many titles of that era, exists in its basic premise, but with many other classics, they at least offered whole mythologies for players to indulge in; but it’s even more surprising how little the developers paid attention to the source material, despite the fact that there was a fair bit of that at the point of this game’s development.
Originality – 5/10
The game is original to an extent, in that there weren’t many video games like it at the time, but it seems more bland than unique given how little the developers did with it compared to what they could’ve potentially done with what was one of the most beloved children’s book series of that era. It’s a bad example of how to develop a licensed game, since not only is it poorly designed and not fun to play at all, but because it doesn’t celebrate the license in the same meaningful ways that games like Batman: Arkham Asylum or even Rugrats: Search for Reptar did.
In summation, Where’s Wally is a game to be avoided at all costs. It’s a game with a number of flaws, is almost unplayable, and has since become a black mark on a development company that would later become one of the powerhouses of gaming. All I’ll say is that it just didn’t seem to get off to the greatest of starts at Bethesda with games like this.