Amnesia Lane: Wisdom Tree

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With the came-out-of-nowhere news that Wisdom Tree has risen from its grave (is it the third day already?), is working on putting ports of its game library on Steam and launched a Kickstarter for a microconsole featuring most of those games (*paging Geoff*; this could be a fun one to watch), it’s time to write an Amnesia Lane I never expected to.

Though can we take a moment for semantic nonsense and unpack the name of that company? Because somebody named their pro-Christianity company after the thing that got Adam and Eve expelled from where they would always be true. Perhaps whoever was in charge of the company felt conflicted over the nature of the product and wanted to draw a direct comparison between video games and the Forbidden Fruit?

Though naming the company after the Life Tree would make even less sense, so there’s that.

WisdomeTreeCutscene

I am not a religious person. The short version of it is that I took a look around, decided nobody REALLY seems to know what they are talking about, and chose not to indulge myself. It’s not so bad. I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t have a go-to understanding of all the big-picture stuff.

That being said, I was raised a Christian. My family (from my father’s side) was Episcopalian. My family moved around a lot, so we often had to go to whatever church was handy in absence of an Episcopal church. My mom wasn’t that committed, but by dad was very into it.

After I had a NES, my parents would occasionally rent a game for me. I don’t know if it was supposed to be a reward for good behavior, or just to be nice when they happened to have a little extra money to burn. My parents aren’t the best at clear communication. Eventually, my father discovered that the local Bible Bookstore (the name of a chain of stores, in case you were unfamiliar) rented out Christian-themed bootleg NES games. I bet you can guess what started taking up an ever-increasing share of my game rental experience.

The majority of the Wisdom Tree library was on the NES (seven games), with four of those games getting poorly upgraded ports for the Sega Genesis. They also sold the somewhat-infamous Wolfenstein 3D clone Super Noah’s Arc 3D for the SNES. I’ll let that sink in a moment.

While many of the games have settings from Bible stories, the actual religious content mostly comes in quotations and quizzes scattered throughout each game. Some reward you with energy refills or life extensions. A few of the games also feature single-screen cutscenes like the above screenshot.

You might be surprised to hear that not all of these bootleg games were high-quality masterpieces. Shocked, even, to know that some were glitchy messes and others were no more ambitious than many of the so-called “Black Box” launch titles for the NES, despite being made five years later. But rather than make this a rehash of the Virtual Boy Retrospective, I’ll seriously consider these games.


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Let’s start with the glitchy messes, Bible Adventures and King of Kings. Both these games were three-in-one deals, but each sub-game was pretty short.

Bible Adventures is the Old Testament edition. All its games revolve around a core mechanic of picking things up and bringing them to a goal. The Kickstarter video describes the gameplay as reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA). That’s a grave disservice to a game to which the two carts are the dirt stuck to the bottom of the dirt stuck to the bottom of its shoes.

In the first of its three games, you’ll control Noah, who is on an endless fetch quest to gather animals and bring them back to the arc. Watch him awkwardly stack multiple animals above his head, flicker, then glitch through platforms at inopportune times.

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The second course put you in the sandals of Moses’ older sister, who races against time to save Moses from the Pharaoh’s men (and various animals just being dicks). You start the levels carrying Moses like Noah carries his animals. And if you are not careful, you can use those same controls to throw baby Moses. Usually into a water hazard. This part at least makes for great unintentional (if dark) comedy, as while that is a fail state, the game keeps going as though to ask “Now, what?” Getting hit by enemies can cause you to drop baby Moses as well, and any soldier who finds him on the ground will nonchalantly toss him into the river as ordered.

DavidandGoliath

Finally, in David and Goliath, you pick up animals scattered across the level and bring them to a goal area. If it sounds like Noah’s Arc, don’t be fooled! In the last level you get to throw a sling at Goliath. HUGE difference!

WiseMen

King of Kings delivers on those of you who desperately wanted a New Testament spin on Bible Adventures. Seeing as they both came out in 1991, you weren’t waiting long, anyway, but that also means the programmers hasn’t sharpened their skills much. Luckily, you aren’t picking things up and hauling them around anymore.

In The Wise Men, you play as a camel-mounted Magi collecting frankincense and spitting at random animals. This one has the most ambitious level design, with late stages being mazes. There are also alternate firing modes for your camel should it eat some fruit. Enjoy this one if you can, for its all downhill from here.

FlighttoEgypt

…and I mean that figuratively, because Flight to Egypt is all uphill. You’re a donkey carrying Peter, Paul and Mary, Joseph and Jesus up long, spiraling trails with no platforming other than doging the same few obstacles over and over until the level ends. After managing to program the main scrolling gimmick, the designer’s seemed to just call it a day on this one. They’ll throw in a pit here and there, or change the slope of the level a bit, but it feels like they’re really putting themselves out to make any changes whatsoever.

JesusandtheTemple

Pits and running water are bravely expanded upon for Jesus and the Temple, in which you do not play as Jesus. You also don’t play as a mount, so that’s at least different. In this final portion, you guide Joseph as he crosses the many, many waterfalls guarded by swarms of angry bees along the way to a temple. I’m sure I’ve played games with weirder premises but I’m having a hard time remembering them right now.


Next up are the pseudo-launch titles Exodus and Joshua.

These two games are a little less concerned with recreating Biblical history, unless the reason why the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years was because they had to wait for Moses to solve a whole bunch of moving-stone puzzles. Perhaps if he hadn’t been thrown into the river so many times as a kid in Bible Adventures, he would have gotten it done faster?

The perspective of these games are a little weird. It’s a top-down view, but it has side-view gravity. Removing dirt south of a rock will cause the rock to fall southward. Exodus certainly isn’t the origin of this set of mechanics, but I always found it offputting.

As action puzzles go, they’re no Lolo, but it competently gets the job done. As is usually the case with arcade-inspired puzzles, there’s more levels to each game than you would ever want to play. Joshua looks a little better than Exodus and has much more refined gameplay as sequels are wont to do.


Moving on to Bible Buffet is like a breath of fresh air because it’s legitimately OK to good. It’s also noteworthy for being a board game.

One theme wasn’t good enough for Bible Buffet; it goes overboard making sure everything in it is food-themed. Pairing that with the fact that it is a video board game, it’s hard not to think that it was inspired by Candy Land, but with greater variety in its menu.

Because the board game genre of video games is so rare outside of Japan, this was my favorite one until Fortune Street came around. Reading between the lines, this means I enjoy Bible Buffet more than all of the Mario Party games, Sonic Shuffle, Crash Bash and every video game adaptation of an existing board game and game show (perhaps with one exception…). I also like it better than the board game mode in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

Each turn you spin a virtual spinner, move spaces and enter an action zone wherever you land. The action zones are short — the largest might weigh in at four screens in length — but they’d really hang up the flow of turns if they were as long as, say, a 2D Mario level. The action zone is not predetermined by your space on the board; there’s about four different zones in each grocery-related section of the game’s map. You encounter enemies, scenery and obstacles that match each section, though, which helps vary the gameplay in lieu of the now customary wide selection of minigames.

The game isn’t without its problems, though. One possible outcome of the spinner is a pop quiz, which asks you three true/false questions about Bible stories. Thing is, the game only shows your answers; you have to look up the questions by number in the instruction booklet. As all of you who ever rented a game know, the instruction booklet for each game is still at the house of the first person who ever rented it. The ROM size would have exploded for actually typing in all the questions, as evident by their presence in all the other games. Though with the questions missing, it’s easy to realize that this game has nothing religious left in the game beyond half a phrase of the Hallelujah Chorus used as fanfare.


The only one of their seven-game NES lineup I never ended up renting was Sunday Funday, so I don’t have anything to say about that one. Let me know if I need to recite any Hail Marys or Our Fathers to atone for falling one short.

Those of you who enjoy counting things in your spare time will notice that Sunday Funday is only the six game in this post. That’s because you will have to wait for the seventh, because Overlooked/Underplayed has also risen. Take heed, it shall be upon you the next time I’m not attempting to review something from this year.

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