Hi, everyone. So, I lied. The next game up under the Anatomy lens isn’t Super Mario Bros. 2… because what I have in mind for that is going to take some more prep work. Instead, let’s finish up the second half of that Anatomy of Goonies series I started this spring, eh? I mean, I changed my Twitter avatar in honor of Annie the Mermaid and never bothered writing about the game she’s in. And, honestly, I’d kind of like for my public persona to no longer be presented as a prepubescent mermaid.
But first, a recap. The Goonies, as you may recall, transformed the Richard Donner film into a six-stage platformer with an interesting element of exploration. It also relied heavily on trial-and-error with unspoken rules to uncover hidden secrets that were effectively required for progression. In short, The Goonies went down in history as a thoughtful platformer with some solid mechanics and respectable designed ultimately undermined by the bad habits of its era.
For The Goonies II, Konami used a larger cartridge ROM and applied their growing NES expertise to produce something considerably more balanced. The Goonies II has issues, as we’ll see, but it was kind of insanely ambitious for its time. To put it into context: It launched in Japan a mere eight months after Metroid made its debut, and six months after Konami came into its own as a third party with Castlevania. It debuted nearly a year before Mega Man, and a mere two months after Zelda II (which enjoyed the perks of being on Famicom Disk System, whose advantages over the base NES hardware were still relevant at the time).
Yes, The Goonies II has issues, but it broke new ground on the NES.
Like The Goonies, this adventure sets you on your way in the ramshackle abandoned restaurant the Fratelli gang uses as its hideout. Yet right away we see two significant differences over the first game: One, the platforms divide the screen into two levels rather than three, and the overall level design appears considerably less convoluted and dense. The Goonies II removes the element of time as a game factor, and as such its layouts can afford to sprawl and play out in a more relaxed fashion.
Secondly, when Mikey attacks, he’s no longer using stubby little judo kicks. Instead, he wields a… hmm, Yo-Yo® is trademarked. Let’s call it an “Island Star.” Yeah.
So Mikey’s attacks have more range, and the environment feels less claustrophobic. These provide a tangible reflection of the change in game design philosophy behind this sequel. But in case these design cues don’t make the change in this adventure’s nature immediately obvious…
…you’ll quickly figure things out when you reach a door on the upper level a mere three screens into the restaurant area.
Unlike the doors in The Goonies, this doesn’t simply take you to another portion of the level. Instead, you enter an adventure-game-inspired first-person maze in which you control Mikey indirectly through menu selections.
Weird, right? But also very much a zeitgeist kind of thing for a Japanese Famicom developer to do in 1987, when PC-derived adventure and role-playing games were all the rage over there. Konami saw the success other studios had enjoyed with the likes of The Portopia Serial Murder Case and Famicom Tantei Club and wanted to take a bite of that. But they also wanted to jump on the free-exploration platform action trend. So they combined the two genres into one.
It’s a strange and sometimes awkward pairing, but it does work at times. Here in the first door, you’ll find nothing more than a dead end and an essential tool for the rest of the game, the Hammer. It’s worth noting here that Konami’s designers could have given you the Hammer from outset, as they did with the, uh, Island Star. However, they took a cue from Metroid, making the collection of this item a key to advancement that, at the same time, offers guidance on how players go about advancing.
This room, most likely the first you’ll enter in the game, contains nothing but the hammer. So you can deduce that the “adventure scenes” (as the game calls the first-person sequences) involve collecting items. How you use the Hammer isn’t evident here — there’s no use for the Hammer in this screen — but at least you know you need to look for tools now.
Once you back out of this adventure scene, you’ll return to the platforming portions, where you’ll quickly find a second door. Here, the game expands on the complexity of its design mechanics. The next item you find is a Keyring, which gives Mikey the ability to carry up to two keys at a time (these will now appear as random drops from defeated enemies). The Keyring appears next to a wooden double door leading to a second room, relaying your ability to navigate through adventure scenes; in the second room you’ll find a safe, which you are very obviously meant to unlock with one of your newly acquired keys.
Inside the safe, the game provides material guidance in the form of a text hint: FIND THE GOONIES WITH THE MAGIC LOCATOR DEVICE. So now you know (1) how to go about fulfilling the game’s main objective of tracking down the captive Goonies — it’s no longer as simple as finding one in each stage — and what, precisely the Magic Locator Devices you’ll begin collecting before long are for.
This second room also contains one more element: A hole in the ceiling. You don’t have the means to interact with the hole above, but the message is clear. You’ll need to come back later to complete your tasks in this adventure scene.
Some things remain consistent, at least. Before you reach the end of the first screen of the Fratelli hideout, one of the brothers comes along and starts shooting at you. As ever, you can stun (though not entirely remove from play) the Fratellis. The only way forward is down; you advance by climbing the ladder to the next area, not by passing through a one-way gate. There are no points of no return in The Goonies II, as you’ll soon discover.