Goonies II (Konami, 1987)
There are certain films that hold a nearly universal sway over 80s kids (and even some 90s kids) as pseudo-magical in their charm and nostalgic value. The 1985 film The Goonies stands upright upon the high peaks of this spiritual realm, having captured multiple generations' hearts through the magic of VHS/DVD media and network syndication. It's one of those hands-down classics that you'll watch again when you find it during channel-scrolling, even if you've seen it hundreds of times. I wasn't old enough when it originally debuted to really grasp it at all, but watching it now still reminds me of viewing it on crisp VHS and feeling those first tightening strings in my heart: not only for Kerri Green, but also for adventure. There's been a constant pinwheel of bullshit and speculation online for years about possible sequels, remakes, etc. but two things have always been surprisingly low-key concerning the Goonies intellectual property... merch and new media.
There have been video games, however. The first was released by Datasoft the same year as the film, for the C64, Atari 800, Apple II, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC. This limited its audience to people who owned a personal computer in 1985, and so it's not often mentioned in lucid detail. It was okay, but like most early computer games, there wasn't a ton to write home about in the end. In '86, Konami put out a Goonies game for its domestic market, but it could be glimpsed Stateside if you happened to run into a PlayChoice 10 arcade system at the right time. It was a ghost of things to come, but an entertaining ghost at that: you controlled Mikey as he traversed six linear (but sometimes complex) stages, rescuing a Goonie and unlocking a series of doors to move on each time. The game featured other things we'd see again more prominently, such as slingshots, certain visual themes, and even music that would sound familiar later.
Then we got our “sequel.” It's a game I have mixed feelings about, and I'm very sure I'm not alone.
Goonies II looks a lot like Konami's first swing at the franchise, but it's got a lot more detail. First off, “linear” factors nowhere into any appraisal of this game's layout. You're not going in a single straight line unless you fall into a crevasse. There will be backtracking, there will be wandering, and there will likely be some dying. See, you have to rescue your six fellow Goonies again... they're just not arranged for you in a stack like the first game. You not only have to find them within a staggeringly vast area, but they are hidden... in a series of doors and hallways you navigate from a first-person perspective and investigate using tools. This time Mikey plays both action hero and super sleuth. According to the closest thing to official lore I could find, this kid is 13 years old, barely 5 feet tall, and suffers from asthma. It's a damn good thing he's a fireplug. And that he has his lethal... yo-yo.
Thankfully, you're not expected to do this empty-handed, in the dark. Both in the corridors and in the game's more dangerous 2D environment, it's possible to find all kinds of useful tools. In fact, the sheer number of items you claim near the end of the process is enough to weigh down a full-grown adult. Some items can only be acquired through elder abuse, and I wish I were just making a tasteless joke. Sometimes you have to “interact” with people you find in the strange first-person rooms, not only for self-evident tips but also to get things like radios and candles. The classic example is how you have to strike an old man sitting on a mat five times with your fist to get the candle. It's like Simon's Quest meets the scene in True Romance where Christian Slater leaves Patricia Arquette alone to go get hamburgers, but with the visual gruesomeness dialed back. I just feel... unwholesome about it, I guess. It's a puzzle of violence.
You also discover, through the fundamentally useful but often cumbersome map you're given, that the game world has two “sides...” a front and a back. While this complicates things overall, it at least gives you more visual data to keep certain areas separated in your head. Learning how to find your way through Goonies II takes a while, but it's not impossible.
Konami has a thing for combining stupidly mean enemies with player knockback physics that make you want to steroid-ragequit, and nothing's any different in that regard here. You are constantly and aggressively assaulted not only by snakes and spiders, but by full-grown men with weapons, scorpions bigger than you are, skeletons (some of them have wings), armored knights, and flying metal skulls that steal your boomerang. Shit will fly at you while you're trying to carefully negotiate jumping hazards, move on slippery ice, or swim underwater. When you die (and you will), you're presented with Ma Fratelli's winsome image as she gives you the option to continue or not (but not before taunting you).
If you decline, you're given a password to resume the quest later, and if you have the balls to continue, you're just dropped near where you croaked with none of your extra health full and a little less of your use-based equipment like bombs. Oh yeah... you get bombs! Definitely something I'd trust a 13 year old with... spherical black cartoon bombs.
Okay... Knights and skeletons in the log cabin. Gill Man's shocking generosity. Trio del Godzilla in Lavaland. Finish it off with some Silence of the Lambs shit and you've got Goonies II.
So, let's say you make all this happen. Let's say you tough it out, rescue all your friends, and head toward the endgame. Well, the endgame involves rescuing Annie the Mermaid. You know, the lovable and memorable mermaid that was... not in the Goonies movie at all. As you unclasp the padlock holding her in her watery prison, she unclasps her hands (revealing her featureless void of a torso) and professes her love for a 13 year old child. Then we're treated to a stunning cinematic which, while I'm actually being sarcastic, is more than we get from most 1987 NES games.
The graphics are 1987 NES graphics, which are really neither good nor bad; there's nothing I can say either way about them except that you can usually tell what everything is. That's all I usually ask for in an 8 bit title. The sound is the same quality wise, but I must concede that the soundtrack is pretty sick. We not only get a rendition of the Cyndi Lauper song used in the movie and its promotion, we also get some well-written original tracks of the quality expected from Konami and their composers. The only tracks I find grating are the underwater and ice areas... it's not even that they're bad, it just that the loops are really short. Everything else is nice and busy without seeming cluttered, and there's good subtlety to the use of 8 channels, something you didn't always hear on earlier NES games.
Goonies II really is a mixed bag of pros and cons. I'll list these off below instead of dumping them into a trash bag of a paragraph.
The rudiments of the gameplay itself draw you in and keep you interested
very recognizable as a part of the intellectual property, in certain ways that really count
once you grasp the layers to the challenge before you, it can be very entertaining
fucking fantastic soundtrack (at least from a composition standpoint)
it's kind of like a Metroidvania before we were familiar with the concept of Metroidvanias
let's be honest, there are a lot of moments where you just have to soak the fuck out of some damage, and early on, that's pretty rough
a level of complexity to the problem solving process in some of the first-person areas that just ends up tedious
the classic platformer tactic of “let's make it stupid hard to jump in this one spot” is used a bit too frequently, compounded by the fact that Mikey jumps like he's never sure where he wants to land, on the moving platform or in the magical realm of shattered femurs
this may make me sound like a pussy but some of the later enemies have the resilience of a T-800 and are much more agile; weapon damage does not scale to meet them
there is only a mermaid in this fucking game because they needed one more thing for you to do
What saves this one from teetering on the brink of its own chasm is the nostalgic value, buffered considerably by the admitted pleasure I found in re-approaching it as an adult. I think Konami overestimated our attention spans and patience back in '87, but Goonies II actually fits pretty well as a game for the present tastes. I recommend it to predominantly “modern” gamers who want to taste some retro, as well as people who just got pissed off at it as kids but have focused their chi a little more strongly as adults. I give Goonies II a 7 out of 10.