Vs. The Goonies (1986 Arcade Game Review)

The Goonies II is one of my favorite NES games. A genuine lost treasure, and one of the best games on the console. The “II” confuses some people. Is it implying the game is the sequel to the movie? No, actually there was a video game Goonies I, or just Goonies, or in the case of this: Vs. The Goonies. Made by Konami and promoted in arcades by Nintendo as part of their Vs. System line, the Goonies is a game that left me dumbfounded in 2020. I was constantly saying “wait, why am I enjoying this, again?” to myself. And not in a euphoric “I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW MUCH FUN I’M HAVING!” type of way like I did with Mario Odyssey, but “I can’t believe how much fun I’m having” type of way. The Goonies is so mediocre and abstract that it was stunning I was having any fun at all. I’d tried it before that session and didn’t like it. Having played it again just now, only this time the arcade version, I’m shaking my head and saying “yea, maybe it’s almost barely kinda sorta fun once.. if you use a guide.. and have nothing better to do.. and you’re recovering from dental surgery and the nitrous oxide hasn’t worn off yet.. but I was being VERY generous before.” Goonies is a bad game that quickly answers the question of why this never came out in North America for the NES.

This weird karate kick move is one of the most weak, unsatisfying attacks in video game history. It has no weight to it at all. The sequel would have a very satisfying yo-yo, and I wish they could ROM-hack this and add that in.

You play as Mikey, and the object is to collect keys and save the entrapped Goonies from the Blues Brothers. I know they’re supposed to be the Fratellis, but they’re in suits and ties and one literally shoots music notes at you. The entity you’re VERSUS in Vs. Goonies is clearly Joilet and Elwood Blues. You’re also versus-ing (Daniel Webster would roll in his grave) some of the cheapest enemy placement around, as baddies will spawn right on top of you, or respawn extra-quickly, or appear with minimum warning as you scroll the screen. And it’s not like Goonies has incredible combat to make up for that. Konami would later go on to make big strides in the field of OOMPH (for my new readers, that’s my pet term for any violence in video games feeling heavy or impactful), but for Goonies, the combat feels completely weightless. Your main attack is a kick. That kick is so weak-feeling and limited in range, and it just plain isn’t satisfying to use. It’s a combination of the sound design and the fact that enemies spawn via a puff of smoke and also die in a nearly identical puff of smoke. It’s bad combat. Some of the worst I’ve seen.

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Thankfully, there is one other option. The game occasionally allows you to find a slingshot loaded with fifty bullets. While it lasts, the Goonies doesn’t suck. It’s genuinely fun to shoot at things with a slingshot. I tried to explain to the police but they claimed that, be that as it may, it’s still assault when that thing is people on a double-decker bus (double the points if they’re senior citizens). In the Goonies, it’s mostly rats. Do you remember that part in the Goonies where they fought rats? Well, you’ll be fighting a lot of them here. They drop the bombs that you need to open the doors that hide the three keys and hidden Goonie you need to beat the stages. The bombs are instakills so you have to stand clear of them, and you can only carry one bomb at a time until you find the backpack. Which, of course, doesn’t show up until stage four, and that’s assuming you can even find it. Even though it’s not like getting bombs is hard, because they’re dropped by almost every rat whether you’re already carrying a bomb or not, it’s annoying that they don’t drop other things, like life-refills. White ones will drop crosses that make you invincible for a few seconds. Meanwhile, the Fratellis only take one kick to knock-out, but they do get back up. I wish the game was based around only them, since they’re almost like Bluto in Popeye: relentlessly shooting projectiles and constantly giving chase. They’re a great enemy! There’s a lot to like about The Goonies, arcade or Famicom.

Steven Spielberg is a hidden points item in the game. GO FIGURE the one thing in The Goonies that remotely resembles anything from The Goonies besides the title screen is a movie director who didn’t even direct the film the license is based on. He produced it and created the story for it, but Chris “I directed Home Alone” Columbus did the screenplay.

And yet, it’s still a frustrating game. For every positive, there’s a negative that negates their value. POSITIVE: The level design can be amazing. Awesome, sprawling levels that split into front-ends and back-ends (so THAT’S where the sequel got the idea!). AND, even better: the doors are randomized, so you can’t commit to memory which have keys, Goonies, or life refills. NEGATIVE: The timer is too strict and actively discourages exploring those awesome, sprawling levels. POSITIVE: There’s a wide variety of permanent upgrades you can find. Some of which are absurdly over-powered and grant you immunity from projectiles, falling debris, fire, and bullets. NEGATIVE: The way they’re hidden is absurdly random. They’re invisible, with no indication of where they are. If I hadn’t used a guide, I’d never found them by anything but accident. They’re just.. around. And the way you get them is even dumber. On odd-numbered levels, you have to press down plus the attack button. On even number levels, you have to press down and away plus the attack button. WHY? It’s too abstract. I might be able to look the other way if they were hidden in places like dead-ends or other logical locations, but they’re often just in arbitrary locations.

You don’t know what the items are, and it’s super weird how (and often where) they did it. Also note that I whiffed this kick, but it scored anyway.

POSITIVE: Uh.. I’m running out of things that I can admire about this game. I did, one time out of three, manage to have a teeny tiny bit of overall fun, even if I was screaming and cussing about cheap deaths or that damn timer. NEGATIVE: It’s a potentially great early 8-bit game that, through sheer determination, manages to become a bad game. This was the third time, and presumably the final time, that I’ve played through Goonies. The first time, I hated it. The second time, now with a guide and knowledge that there were things hidden in it, I barely enjoyed it. This third time, I was back to hating it AND now I was angry. Goonies is just plain not fun, and that pisses me off because the level design really is very good, and there’s SOMETHING here. This feels like one of those stepping stones that bridged the gap from the arcade style of action to modern adventure games. It’s on my top ten “WILL SOMEONE REMAKE THIS ALREADY?!” list, only replace the abstract stuff with treasure chests. Hey.. yea! Why aren’t there treasure chests? It’s a game about a movie about kids looking for treasure, and there IS treasure, but no treasure chests! It’d be like having a Silence of the Lambs game without cannibalism.

To beat each stage, you have to find three keys AND that stage’s trapped Goonie. If you don’t find all six, you’re sent back to World 1 to start over. You have to bomb the doors to reveal what’s behind them, and it’s randomized every time you play. Besides the keys and Goonies, they might have the bong pictured here that restores life, or they might have the valuable slingshot, which has fifty bullets.

I used to be under the impression that this started development as something besides Goonies, then they got the license and just made a few small modifications to turn it into this. I figured the NES Ninja Turtles was in the same boat, then I found out that’s not the case with it, so I’m guessing that wasn’t the case with Goonies, either. Still, unlike something like, say, Gremlins, Goonies lends itself to video games. They managed to make a genuine 8-bit masterpiece with Goonies II, but one thing that I’ve noticed is that neither game feels remotely like the movie. The characters aren’t really there. The villains don’t look like the villains in the movie. A pirate ship doesn’t appear until the final stage (though there are pirate ghosts JUST LIKE THE MOVIE! oh wait). Like so many licensed video games from this era, this could really be any property. Konami could easily resprite Goonies and have the title tune changed and release it as a generic adventure game, or hell, plug another IP into it. Even though I don’t like this at all, I sort of wish they would. I really wish they would with Goonies II. Ideally, they’d get a license for the film’s upcoming 40th anniversary, but if they did, I’d hope they’d make a special edition of the original that turns it into a good game. As it is now, Goonies Ain’t Good Enough.

Vs. The Goonies is not Chick-Approved.

The Goonies was developed by Konami

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