Throwback Thursday: Deja Vu

Many of us have played and enjoyed the games of The Uninvited and Shadowgate, whether it was for the original Apple Macintosh platform, or in most cases, the original NES format. However the third game, “Deja Vu”, always seemed to get the short end of the stick in the trilogy, even though a sequel was made (alas only for various computers, not until later would it see a portable version). So why does Deja Vu always get the shaft? Well, this reviewer doesn’t think so, and he’ll show you why…

Deja Vu takes place in 1941, in Chicago, on a late December day. You play the part of Theodore “Ace” Harding: A professional boxer (and rather successful at that), who has taken a complete 360 in his life and began working as a private investigator. (I know, not terribly original, but that’s quite alright.) The game starts with you waking up from unconsciousness, unsure of your exact whereabouts, in a lovely bathroom stall, which turns out to actually be at a place called Joe’s Bar. You make your selections of what you want to do, examine, or speak to, using a point and click system very similar to Maniac Mansion. (If you’ve played the other games in the MacVenture series, you know exactly how to play the game.) You realize that you have absolutely no clue who you are, or how you ended up in the bar, and it is up to you to put the pieces of the mental puzzle together, to discover your identity.

Later on in the game, you learn that you are going to be framed for a severe kidnapping and murder. You will also notice a puncture wound on your arm, and you come to the conclusion that your amnesia is actually caused by an inflicted drug inducement. As the game progresses, you will discover that your memory, mentality and health will get gradually much worse, so you will have to find some kind of antidote to get back on your feet. You’ll learn clues as you play that make you realize of you taking the heat for the murder, and your goal in the game is to find out various clues to unchain you from that link, as well as discover who the actual murderer is. You will do this by visiting various areas throughout the game. As you find pieces of evidence, you will find yourself having flashbacks, that can usually help you in the assistance of coming up with all of the necessary clues to get your name cleared. That is, if you even remember your name!


Throughout the game, you will see (in the typical 40s-style gangster movie manner), various people and characters. Very few of them you’d want to meet; Most of them you’re prefer not to. You’ll find muggers that want to rob you of your belongings, or even worse, want to kill you for no apparent reason at all. The police are always looking for you, at least until you are able to provide enough evidence that you were not actually the one responsible for the murder. Of course, there is the typical 40s style prostitute that is always looking out for her own good. Not to mention an old acquaintance that seems to really have it out for you. All the while, you are trying to avoid death by various ways such as falling down an open manhole (seriously), exploding cars, getting eaten by alligators, and of course, the drug that is present throughout your bloodstream. Add to that the various ways of getting arrested, such as shooting the mugger in self defense, or going to the police before you have gathered enough proof of your innocence.

You will find yourself going through the various parts of the bar and surrounding areas, including visiting the wine cellar, going through sewers, visiting various offices inside the building, and even finding a casino like element which will help you with things where you need cash, for example, taking a cab to other areas. (What, you thought the entire game all took place on the same block?) You’ll learn as the game goes on about the evidence of the plans to kill Joey Siegel, and kidnap Mrs. Sternwood. It is important that you have ALL evidence in your possession (and make sure you destroy other parts of evidence that would link you to the situations), before going to the feds. Otherwise, it’s game over.


The graphics for game were not bad for an NES game of this style, however, the computer based versions seemed to have better graphics, even on the original Macintosh platform. (And that’s even with the fact, that when the game was released, all Macintosh systems were monochrome.) The Windows version of the game also has a lot of fantastic graphics. I know that it isn’t fair comparing slightly modern computer graphics with the original NES, but the computer graphics just seemed to be a lot more crisp. Also, the consistent “typewriter” effect that the NES uses to display what the outcome is with every action you take, is slow and not required at all, while on the Macintosh and Windows platforms, everything that needs to be shown to you, is shown instantly. (If you are a fast reader like I am, this feature alone will make the game go by a lot easier.) The computer versions by default just all around run faster, and I think part of that is obviously the power of the systems when compared with the hardware of the original Nintendo console.
The music is another aspect of the game that is kind of interesting. You remember the old saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it?” Well, the computer platforms certainly agreed. While the NES music is very upbeat and mysterious at times, it gets quite repetitive, and VERY fast. It’s basically a continuous loop that lasts about 30 seconds, with the occasional change in beat and style when something bad is about to happen or be witnessed. The computer versions have for the most part, no music at all, just sound effects. You have to realize that back then, CD-ROM was not invented yet. (Even with the Windows 3.1 version, CD-ROM was just starting to become commonplace, but just not “quite”.) So simple music was still being made, and in the computer versions, they decided that background music was not necessary. Personally, I prefer it without the music. For the NES version, an option to turn the music off would have been a nice fixture.


Deja Vu was originally released in 1985 for the Macintosh, and was released for other systems as the years went on. (The NES version got released in 1990.) During the time that the game was originally created, old style gangster movies were a big rage. Scarface had been released a few years prior, the first two Godfather movies were still quite popular, especially since home video had taken off, even comedy spoofs of them such as Harlem Nights had been released shortly after the original game was released. So it was not surprising that a game based on the old time criminal pictures was in the works and eventually released. But it makes you wonder this: If a game based on those classic films was going to be made, you would think that the games would have been made so that you were the criminal and not the victim. (Remember, the original game was released for computers, not the NES, so there really wasn’t any kind of “family” or “moral” standards that had to be kept.) It’s really a thing that makes you go, “Hmmm”.

Deja Vu wasn’t like today’s gangster and underground world games like “Scarface” and “Grand Theft Auto” where the criminals are embraced. You would also think that a game based on what is basically action movies, would be an action platform game and not a point and click (and read a lot) format. But that is what I like about it. At the time that I first purchased the game, I was absolutely terrible at sidescrollers and action packed games. (I was probably the last person on my block to beat the original Super Mario Brothers, even with hints!) But games of this nature very much appealed to me, which is why the slower pace worked well for me. The game is a combination of detective skills and good creative thinking, as well as the occasional violent act, which is just flat out inevitable. While the other games in the MacVenture series are quite good, I feel that Deja Vu is the most realistic since all of the situations at hand could actually happen, and there were no ghosts or supernatural occurrences happening, so if you like the other games that used this engine (The Uninvited and Shadowgate), and want a little change of pace, give this title a try.





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