Déjà Vu I & II: The Casebooks of Ace Harding review

The Good:
  • Well written descriptions
  • Intriguing first game
  • Logical line of thinking
The Bad:
  • Second game has some annoying puzzles
  • Poor music
  • Easy to die
  • Picky controls
Our Verdict: A relatively enjoyable series that is let down by a frustrating interface. Still, it's another title to add to the small library of GameBoy Color adventures.

The detective mystery genre is perfect for adventure games. All that investigation, searching for clues, and following leads provides ample material for any puzzle solving setting. So it makes sense to create a series of adventures starring detectives. On the PC, we've seen many examples over the years, from Tex Murphy to Nancy Drew. In Déjà Vu I & II on the GameBoy Color, we're cast in the role of Ace Harding – a role that proves engrossing at times, but infuriating at others.

Déjà Vu I & II were originally developed as separate games by ICOM, with the first released almost two decades ago on various platforms. The GameBoy Color version, subtitled The Casebooks of Ace Harding, is a relatively recent remake of two NES releases. Rather than have the two games on the cartridge separately, here the two have been combined together to make it one coherent adventure, and as the story of the second game takes place directly after the first, the intended effect works well. On the downside, it means that you can't just play the second game separately unless you keep a save slot available for this purpose. An option to play either game at any point would have been a nice touch.

The first game opens with you waking up confused, groggy, and with a headache set to rival that of an intensive dentist session. You find yourself inside a dingy, smelly restroom, completely disoriented and unsure of your surroundings. With your right hand covered in blood, it's clear that something strange has occurred, but are you a victim of foul play or a part of something far more sinister? Suffering from acute memory loss and having no idea why or how you ended up inside a toilet cubicle, the adventure becomes a quest for your identity as well as trying to piece together clues of another soon-to-be-apparent mystery. Who is the dead man found in the office of your building? Why is there a woman tied up in the boot of your car? And just who on earth is J.S.?

Déjà Vu II follows straight after completion of the first. This time, Ace Harding is in possession of all his faculties, but he has ended up on the wrong side of gangster boss Tony Malone. Two guys ruthlessly grab Ace, bundle him into the back of a car and before you know it, shove him yet again into a seedy bathroom, this time situated in a Las Vegas hotel. Without wishing to spoil the storyline too much, as it is linked with the previous game, thousands of dollars of the Mob's money has disappeared, and they suspect you of being part of the theft. Your job is to put on your thinking cap, find the stolen loot, and figure out who really took it before Ace ends up sleeping with the fishes.

According to the dictionary, "déjà vu" means "an illusory feeling of having already experienced a present situation." As video game titles go, Déjà Vu is perfectly suited to both games, as the first sees Ace Harding trying to find out why his surroundings are so familiar, while in the second, he is roaming familiar locations that played such a pivotal role in the original.

The interface for both games is a combination of text adventure with first-person images and icons. Using a cursor controlled with the D-Pad, you select the desired icon and then an object that you want to interact with on the main background. The icons include such familiar commands as look, use, pick up, and talk, as well as lesser used options like punch/push/hit and discard item. Each screen is made up of a background image with a text description of your surroundings that appears in the box underneath. This lower box also contains information on useful addresses you might collect along the way, your inventory, and any items that are inside an onscreen object such as a desk. A basic map made up of squares is also available, which is usually effective, if a little confusing at times to use. Unfortunately, interacting with the scenery and looking through your inventory is quite clumsy, proving far more frustrating than it ought to be.

The difficulty of the overall interface is that it's hard to differentiate between items that are just part of the scenery and those that can be interacted with in some way, short of clicking "look" on every single possible object. The game doesn't have any highlighters or a way of informing you what's available, so it's something that you have to work out for yourself. On a system that utilizes a mouse, this isn't such a problem, but when you are operating a handheld control system, it becomes cumbersome and fiddly. It's all too easy to miss relevant clues this way.

Continued on the next page...

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