This is my kinda family.
This is what happens when people under forty try to switch up the rules of Bingo.
PLAYERS: 1-4 alternating
DEVELOPER: Compile (!)
RELEASE DATE: 12/27/87 – (JP)
1988 – (US)
1989 – (EU)
The NES had plenty of “lounge lizard” software, like Championship Pool, Championship Bowling, and Magic Darts, but the Master System had, until this point, strayed away from this crushed velvet suit of a genre. No longer! Compared to the aforementioned NES equivalents and other family-oriented titles, Parlour Games delivered quite a bit of content for your 1988 dollar. To get several types of pool and darts and bingo in one cartridge was a bargain back when NES developers had the gall to shove one type of game on a cartridge, slap a forty dollar price tag on it, and call it good.
That’s some family fun right there.
Whether you’re shooting pool, throwing darts, or stamping a card, you need to know how to play in order to win – in the real world, at least. In virtual representations of these games, however, the mechanics play a large part in each game’s success. Bingo is the simplest game, and therefore the dullest. You place bets on a specific bingo card with a series of numbers, then spin a slot machine and hope the numbers that emerge from said machine are on your card. More so than the other games, bingo really requires you to have other people present to be the slightest bit entertaining. There’s no challenge or skill, only the luck of the slots.
Will this automatically become more interesting as I age?
Pool is a bit more rewarding, particularly because it offers several styles and top-notch mechanics. Straight pool (knock the balls into the pockets), Five Ball (two players only – one player knocks balls 1-4, then 5 to win, the other knock balls 6-9, then 5 to win), Nine Ball (hit balls 1-9 in succession in order to win), and Rotation (select a number of points, then hit to that number) are your options here. Once you start a game, you control the cursor to where you want to hit the ball, then kick off the power meter, represented by a cue stick. The further back the cue stick is in the meter, the more powerful the shot. Easy to learn, difficult to master, like pool itself.
The computer could afford to think a little quicker.
Darts, on the other hand, is just plain broken. There are several different types here, as well: 301 (get down from 301 to zero points in as few throws as possible), 501 (same as 301, but with more points), Round the Clock (throw your darts in numbered areas 1-10 sequence to win), and Double Down (“hit a series of numbered areas in sequence” – the instruction manual). I played a couple different games of 301 and managed to hit the dart board twice, thanks to the convoluted controls. Like pool, darts has a power meter. You hold down button 2 to build it up, then release the meter at maximum strength. Next, you have to watch a red arrow known as the “release point” move from right to left. When it’s at the appropriate mark, hit button 2 again and you’ll throw the dart. My problem was, when I’d let go of button 2 to release the power meter, my guy would automatically throw the dart without any consideration of the release point. I tried throwing the way the instruction manual gave and found my darts bouncing off the wall repeatedly. Either Sega’s manual writers are wrong or I’m too inept to input buttons in the proper order. I choose to believe the former.
“Quit play-ing games with my dart”
Of course, your appreciation of Parlour Games will come from your predilection (or lack thereof) for replications of games you can play in real life. I don’t particularly find pool, darts, or bingo that engaging to begin with, let alone while holding a controller, but I don’t believe I’m the target audience here. Who is the target audience, you ask? Octogenarians? Retired bar goers? Given the game’s original name, Sega seemed to think the audience in Japan would be families, but as far as an American target audience, I’m not so sure. Perhaps there was a certain novelty in 1988 of gathering the family around the Master System and letting each member take turns shooting Nine Ball, playing some 501, and letting grandma fumble with the controller to play Bingo. Laughs would have been produced, if nothing else. Whatever the case, such a pastime – enjoying one another’s company as a family, whether with video games or other entertainment – is long dead now. All hail the future, where each family member stares into their own separate world while communicating with one another as little as possible. At least they don’t have to pretend to care while Grandma tries to get five-in-a-row.