For this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday, I’m going to be taking a look at a title that was released by Hal Laboratory in 1990. For some reason, there seemed to be an amazing number of games for the Nintendo Entertainment System that involved adult like activities, such as gambling and managing a stock portfolio. In all of these situations however, the primary character that you would play was still a kid, which is very strange when you think about it as an adult. Well, this title, “Vegas Dream”, took the concept of gambling, and made it into a complete experience instead of dumbing it down for kids to simulate. Today, we’ll be taking a look at this title, an NES exclusive.
Vegas Dream takes place at your standard casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can play your choice of four classic casino offerings: Blackjack, Roulette, Slot Machines and Keno. Just like any casino, you can change your game at any time if you are getting down on your luck in a specific game. And also like in a real casino, there are many times throughout the game where you will interact with other computer patrons, which can mean a wide variety of outcomes in the storyline. More on that later. For those that have never played these games, allow me to give everyone a quick lesson. Blackjack is a card game where your goal is to have a higher score than the dealer, without going over 21 points. Roulette is played by a small ball being rolled onto a numbered and colored wheel, where you place bets on where the ball will land at the end. Slot machines is another game of chance where you basically insert a coin into the machine, pull a lever, and when the reels stop spinning, if they land in a specific combination, will offer you a payout. Keno is very similar to playing the lottery, where you choose numbers and you win based on how many of the drawn numbers match your selections.
Now that we have that out-of-the-way, let’s talk about the cartridge itself. When you start the game, you are asked to sign in. This would be very similar these days to inserting your casino card in the slot of the machine or table you are about to play at. After that, you make your selection of what game you want to play. Basically, once you start playing, you enter the casino with a total of $700, in which your ultimate goal is to reach a total of $10,000,000. At any time throughout the game, you can request a password that will let you continue where you left off. (And of course, the password is a lot of entry of letters, numbers and symbols. Our favorite kinds!) Let’s take a look at every game in a little bit more detail.
When playing blackjack, you sit at a typical table, with yourself, up to three other players, and the dealer. All of the players will place their bets, and then the dealer will deal the cards out to all of the players, plus himself. A still photo will show the dealer in the upper left corner. Just like in the real thing, you will only see one card of the other players hands, while you can see both cards in your own hand. This game of blackjack offers all of the typical types of card draws, such as your typical hit, double down and split. After all of the players stand (that is, they are done adding more cards to their pile to avoid going over 21), the remaining cards in everyone’s hand will be shown, and money is awarded or deducted from the players bank. There’s really nothing much in terms of animation in this game, it’s just your basic game of blackjack.
If you’ve had enough of the cards, you next can go to the wheel of fortune of the Roulette table. The game starts by you placing your bets on all of the various combinations and possibilities that can occur on the wheel. You can bet on single numbers, a specific color, whether the number is odd or even, or even a range of numbers. Each bet you place has a various payout depending on how direct you are with the number that comes out on the wheel. (You’d earn a lot more money if you hit the number directly as opposed to picking a range of possible outcomes.) This game offers a little more animation than the previous game, in which you see a table video of the entire wheel when it starts to spin, and a closeup of the wheel as the ball begins to fall into the slot. After the ball lands, you see an individual list of the amount that you won and how you won the amount. Again, nothing special, just your typical game of roulette.
Next, we go over to the one arm bandits, the slot machines. You have a choice of various machines that each have a different amount that is charged to play. The cheapest one is a simple dollar slot, and they go as high as $100. There is literally nothing to this game at all. Just insert your coins, pull the lever, and hope for the best. You will see many different types of icons appear on the reels that are typical of what a traditional slot machine offered at the time. We have your bars, your bells, your lucky 7’s and of course, enough different types of fruit to make a hearty fruit salad. Payout is determined on what kind of combination the reels stop on, with bars and 7’s being worth a lot more than cherries and plums. There is also a special Jack Pot Bar machine which uses only bars on the reels, that offer a larger payout. The animation on this one is for the most part smooth, but suffers a lot of the speed, because you will frequently see a lot of black in the background that shouldn’t be there. This technical aspect will not be noticeable as the reels begin to slow down. It’s actually kind of disturbing when you play it. Once again, nothing fancy, you’re just playing slots.
Finally, we go to the Keno Bar, where you will be playing the ultimate game of luck, a variation of your typical hometown lottery drawing. To play this game, you are given a game board with the numbers 1 through 80. The amount of your bet will depend on how many numbers you pick, in which you can pick from as little as a single number, all the way to picking fifteen digits. As you pick the numbers, they change on the card from white to red. After you are done picking your numbers, the game will begin almost instantly. A random number generator will select 20 numbers out of the possible 80, and for each match that you have, you will win the amount of your placed bet in the odds that will be mentioned by the cashier at the start of the game. The animation is practically not existent in this game as well. All you see are numbers popping up on the screen at random, nothing else really. Once again, nothing to write home about, just your simple game of keno.
So you are probably asking yourself, what makes this casino game any better than the other ones that are out there for the NES? Well, the fine folks at Hal took the casino experience one step further, which makes this game incredibly unique. If you have ever been to a casino (and with the legality of them being practically nationwide anymore, it’s likely you have), you know that there is always some kind of interaction with strangers. If you’re playing a table game, it’s practically implied that you will be talking to people you don’t know. If you are playing the slot machines, let’s face it. If you’re going to be that close for a long people of time, you might as well make some kind of friendly conversation with your temporary neighbor. This game takes those exact experiences, and turns them into a sort of mini-game, where you’re decisions and actions will affect the final outcome of the situation.
For example, a thug looking character could come up to you, and say that he is down on his luck and needs some more cash, but he’s willing to sell you his watch. While this could be legit, there is a chance that the watch would be stolen merchandise, and then you’d be out the money. At another point, and older, rather distinguished man can approach you, and offer you a great deal on stocks. You can buy some of them, and wait for the outcome. A waitress could spill a drink on your jacket and offer to have it dry cleaned, but is she really a waitress? The best part, is that you could even get married at the typical Vegas “Chapel Of Love”! But is your new spouse (in which if it is a female, can look a little bit like Cyndi Lauper circa 1983), all that honest? There’s a few more other situations that can happen, but you get the general idea. You find out about the final outcomes of these situations though a closed circuit news program called “Las Vegas News”. The anchorman (who for some weird reason reminds me of Bob Uecker of Milwaukee Brewers and Mr. Belvedere fame), makes the announcement of what happened, as well as the full story behind the situation. No animation, just reading the story as if they were closed captions. (And if you are lucky to play the Japanese version of the title, you get treated to harsher language and nicotine usage! These situations were censored by Nintendo of America when it was released in the US.) It’s these kind of interactions makes this casino game the most unusual and unique that it could possibly be, and certainly an added twist!
As I said before, the game has very little animation. Other than the spinning of the slot machine reels (which was a little hard to watch) and the roulette wheel (which is a lot smoother), there really is no animation, just a lot of text. The sprites used for the dealers and those you interact with are okay for the time. They could have been better, but it’s not the worst that I’ve ever seen. The other major gripe with this title is the sound. The background music is not only repetitive, but extremely annoying after about 2 loops. The music changes depending on the game you are playing. The worst has to be the “upbeat” music played during the slot machine games. My advice is to just mute the sound and play your favorite tunes on the turntable. The only time that sound effects mean anything specific is during the news reports, in which upbeat music means a positive outcome and depressing music indicates a negative outcome.
Allow me to say, that for some reason, I love video games that are related to gambling. I really can’t explain it. I live 10 minutes from Atlantic City, and I would rather play with fictional money than my own hard-earned cash. If it wasn’t for the randomly generated situations from the strangers, I probably would not have given this game a second look. But those scenarios just make this game a lot of fun. So much so that you will be finding yourself just waiting for them to happen. If for some reason you just want to play the casino games without those interactions, you can turn them off, but in all honestly, why would you want to? The game was successful enough that a sequel to the game was released a few years later for the Super NES console, which preserved all of the greatness of the original. As long as you can get past the background music and lack of animation, you’ll have nothing to worry about. So if you like games that involve real life situations, or even if you are just a casino video game buff, this is one to try. You’ll be satisfied.