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Jan 27 2010

Christian Video Games Part 2: Wisdom Tree’s roots

When I left off yesterday, I’d given you an overview of Wisdom Tree’s more horrible offerings. But of course, I’m not done yet — not while they still exist. And they do still exist, you know. And their idea of taking existing video game concepts and grafting Bible quizzes on them is now practically a time-honored tradition in Christian video games today, so you can’t say they weren’t influential.

In case you missed it, Part One is right here.

Sadly, not to be discouraged by the lack of success of their NES platform game three-in-ones, Wisdom Tree just kept churning out the crap. They took two games formerly released by Color Dreams, both of which being actually half-decent games (though again, glitch and flicker prone), and dunked them in Jesus Juice repeatedly. Prior to its conversion, Menace Beach was already infamous for the girlfriend-slash-damsel-in-distress’ clothing slowly degrading to the point where she’s wearing nothing but underwear (implying, I guess, the kidnappers were taking their time in very VERY slowly undressing her, or that she was being kept in a moth factory). After conversion, the game was retitled Sunday Funday: The Ride, the cutscenes and story were replaced with pictures of the hero’s Sunday School teacher, and the skateboarder hero’s main goal was to make it to Sunday School safely. No, the teacher’s clothing doesn’t degrade over the course of the game.

The second game given this kind of unholy baptism was the Boulder Dash clone called Crystal Mines. The original starred a robot trying to dig its way through dirt using its handy laser on a newly discovered planet to collect diamonds — and the remake stars Moses collecting jars of manna, shooting little glowing W’s (standing for the Word of God) at the same dirt and boulders as in the original, only the in-game help menu calls them, and I shit you not on this one, “Murmurings of Israel”, “Doubting God”, and “Obstacles to Faith”. I’m sorry, but renaming dirt to “Doubting God” doesn’t make this religious at all, guys. (I suppose the cheesily tacked-on Bible quizzes at the end of each level does, though.) Video of this game is right here.

They later made some slight improvements on the engine and repackaged the game again as Joshua, replacing Moses’ “flying W’s” with flying musical notes, ostensibly from his God-imbued supertrumpet. It hardly merits its own paragraph, though, so just go check out the video and judge for yourself whether renaming dirt to “Israelite Discontent” is enough of a conversion to call it anything other than it is — another squeeze of the consumer rock in an attempt to get a bit more money out of their existing assets.

Capitalizing on the game engine of their only half-decent game Spiritual Warfare (mentioned yesterday — that’s the Zelda clone), Wisdom Tree made what might be the very first party-oriented console “board game” in Bible Buffet. The game plays like a food-themed Candyland, with short two-screen mini-games to clear at the end of each move. The company even took a much different tack with the quiz aspect — the game itself contains absolutely no references to Christianity outside of the title. The cart came with a large booklet of quizzes, and every time you hit a quiz space or hit the quiz icon on your spin, you’d get a multiple-choice question that merely directs you to read the appropriate questions and answers from the book. Also, getting them right or wrong apparently has no effect on game flow whatsoever. You could theoretically play the game the whole way through, guessing C on every question, and avoid the religious part of the game altogether. I’m not sure why you’d want to, when you could just play the real Candyland, but there you have it.

Wisdom Tree also has the distinction of being the manufacturer of the only unlicensed Super Nintendo game ever. Their lockout-bypassing technology was slightly less ingenius in that it acted much like the Game Genie, where you plugged a licensed cart into their extension dongle then insert the whole contraption into the console. The lockout chip on the licensed game then allows their unlicensed cart to boot. And what a storied game this one was! Legend has it, iD Software gave the Wolfenstein 3D code to Wisdom Tree after their own SNES port was gutted of all references to Nazis; and in giving it to Wisdom Tree with the knowledge that they’d create an unlicensed Bible-based game out of it, they’d be thumbing their noses at Nintendo’s historically strict licensing rules. It turns out Wisdom Tree just licensed the code as other companies have done in the past, with no malice on iD’s part, though I don’t happen to think licensing the code and harboring a grudge are at all mutually exclusive.

And with the Wolfenstein 3D code, they created Super 3D Noah’s Ark. Instead of Nazis, you’re shooting the animals aboard the ark. And instead of guns, you’re using slingshots to fire various types of fruit at them. In order to feed them at range, and at high velocities. To put them to sleep, rather than kill them. Oh, and everything else about the game is totally identical to Wolfenstein, from level layouts to enemy AI.

I am 100% serious about that last paragraph.

As I’ve alluded to earlier, the company is still alive, converting most of their library to work with Windows, churning out new games sporadically, but they’ll likely never reclaim their glory days now that the “counterculture” feel is gone since they don’t have to hack the PC to get it to play their games. The fact that their NES games are playable online on their site is a tacit admission of this fact.

Don’t miss the One Nation Under God game, that teaches children that America’s founders were Christians!

There will be another post tomorrow about the various Christian DOS games that exist, and it may intersect slightly with Wisdom Tree, but I’ll try to keep the focus off them as much as possible, because I’m sure you’re as tired of them as I am at this point.

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