Dabble If You Dare – Nintendo Entertainment System – Taboo: The Sixth Sense – 1989

Taboo Title
Taboo: The Sixth Sense
Nintendo Entertainment System
Rare/Tradewest
Genre: Simulation
1989

Do you believe in the spiritual and the supernatural?  What if there is some kind of force that guides your fate?  The nature of the mystical and magical has permeated the history of the world for as long as the written record has existed and then some.  Whether you believe in it or not, it’s difficult to avoid those that feel there is something “more”- and that there are those who can sense those elements through some kind of attunement to them.

Taboo: The Sixth Sense isn’t a game in the classical sense, though it is meant strictly for entertainment purposes.  Much like arcade novelties like love testers and penny presses, the game is more of an experience than anything else, and it takes about five minutes or so to make a run through.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really much else to write about Taboo without taking away from the rest of what I have to write as a result- so on with the show!

Plot

Taboo Scroll

The world is your very vague oyster!

While you can make up some kind of scenario, this game doesn’t have anything in the way of plot.  Turning on Taboo: The Sixth Sense is like sitting down to a Tarot reading.  This simulation covers two elements after asking a few questions including your name and your birthdate.  You will then be asked to enter a question

The first phase concerns drawing cards and putting them into a formation.  Drawing one card at a time, the “reader” will then tell you what each card means which, much like actual Tarot readings, is open to the interpretation you put into it.  Once that’s done, you are asked to enter your state and lottery ramifications- how many numbers to choose and in what range- and the game will give you your “Lucky Numbers”.

That’s it.  That’s the whole game.

Once you return to the title screen, you can run through the same process again.

As an interesting fact (that doesn’t quite fit anywhere, so it’s going here), the instruction manual for the game does explain the formation that the cards are placed down in and a bit about the history of Tarot and the meanings behind cards.

Mechanics

Taboo Numbers

Here are my lucky numbers.  If you win money with these, I just ask that you buy me a coffee.

Amazingly in line with the rest of the simulation, there isn’t much to do but sit and be told what your fortune is.  You’re given some input prompts to offer your information and your question to be answered, but beyond that, you are reading cards as they are supplied for you.

The buttons are a bit strange, so the mechanics aren’t super intuitive without having instructions to refer to.  If you finish an input incorrectly- as I did with my birth year by adding the ’19’ to the beginning of it- there’s no way to go back to that prompt without resetting the game.  You have to use a combination of all of the buttons on your controller to navigate the Lucky Numbers menu, as well.  ‘Select’ shifts through one of the menus while pressing B moves along a long list of state abbreviations.

There’s very little mechanically to do, but it’s weirdly unintuitive regardless.

The Good, The Bad and…

Well, if you find Tarot readings interesting and you want to learn more about them, Taboo could be a good time.  Even sitting around with some friends to goof around with it could be a good time, if you plan it right.  This ‘game’ is an interesting experiment and while I can’t imagine paying the full retail price for this experience, coming across it for five bucks at a reseller feels like a much more sufficient trade-off.

Taboo Wands

I- But I- What?

Honestly, though, everything Taboo does, it does pretty poorly.  Half of the card descriptions are muddled and not necessarily in a ‘take the meaning as you would like’ way.  Simple inputs are tough to navigate, and the game is just too short to justify much elucidation on.  Even the most devoted Tarot addict would find this simulation tough to trek through more than a few times with any earnest sense.

Plot Analysis and Therefore Spoilers

Well, my reading said that while I may find myself at odds with some people from my past, my courage and perseverance along with my desire to improve will lead me to a successful future with some financial gain in my future.

I think.  While I’ve dabbled a little in Tarot meanings myself, the game wasn’t super clear with every card and I pretty much picked up the things I wanted to.

Wait, this isn’t much different from how lots of other Tarot readings have gone.  Maybe Taboo got more right than I thought.

Presentation

 

Since I have some extra notes on the visuals of this game, let’s start with the soundtrack.  It’s not great, and a lot of it can be grating.  There are some tracks that could possibly be better than Taboo gives them credit for, but they are clipped together so awkwardly that everything sounds like a mess.  Aural cues seem to go off when different types of cards are pulled, so if you’re hoping for some great samples of chiptunes here, you may need to hunt down longer versions of them to judge.  In the game, they are the equivalent to a game of 52 Card Pick Up- which probably sounds more apt and clever than it really should be.

Taboo Shuffle

“Your future is in the cards- and fairly disoriented.”

Visually, the game is simple but the images are probably the best part of Taboo.  Each card is presented with an image represented on a small card ‘stage’, and while they aren’t detailed, they are pleasant and serviceable.  The input screens are initially played as scrawling on a scroll with calligraphy, playing up the mystical edge that the game is working to achieve.  The visual you’ll most likely remember, though, is when the ‘reader’ shuffles the cards.  This happens over a brightly colored checkerboard background that shifts perpetually until the reading starts.  It’s offensive and almost nauseating.

The visuals, however, are something worth discussing.  Unlike other Nintendo games of the time, Taboo has both nudity (if the Lovers card is pulled, you see their figures from behind and a couple of the major Arcana have topless women) and religious iconography.  This caused some controversy since Nintendo as a company was pretty fervent about not having either of those in their media at the time.  Why this passed through the censorship of the time is a mystery to me, but the game was billed as being appropriate for ‘ages 14 and up’.  Maybe they felt that was enough.

Conclusion

Taboo: The Sixth Sense is not a game really.  It was meant to be entertainment for adults at a party, and while Rare would go on to do some incredible work on many titles, even on the NES, this is not an example of that work.  Honestly, the game is more notable for bucking the censorship of Nintendo than it is for anything it achieves in its actual ‘simulation’.  If I have to recommend this for anything, it would just be to see what could have been an interesting experiment- but it has so many failures along the way that it may just be worth keeping on the shelf for your parties to come.

 

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6 thoughts on “Dabble If You Dare – Nintendo Entertainment System – Taboo: The Sixth Sense – 1989

  1. I find it interesting how when it comes to certain titles, we get that semantical debate about whether or not they can be classified as games. A lot of people think it’s a new trend, but in reality, it’s been a thing for about as long as the medium has been around, and Taboo: The Sixth Sense is proof of that. On some level, the developers deserve some credit for innovation, but I know if I bought this back in the day, I would’ve felt ripped off. Even now, there’s not much point in revisiting it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Exactly. It definitely makes me wonder what the thought process was in releasing this. There were apparently a couple of other Tarot reader games that came out as Japan-only releases on the Genesis and Super Nintendo. I don’t particularly see what the appeal was in the market at the time, but yeah- the game was not worth more than five or ten dollars content-wise.

    It’s rare that I say something can’t be classified as a game but- this stretches even my generous definition. I need to figure out some more of these, just to investigate and document them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s difficult to say; maybe the idea of having an electronic fortune teller seemed like a good idea at the time? Or perhaps the they had the idea that a game could be more than a game? Either way, I feel selling this game as a game was slightly disingenuous. It would be fine as a five-dollar app as you say, but the idea that someone could have bought it for $60, expecting it to be provide actual gameplay is a distressing one. Seems like it would be far more economical just to check your horoscope.

      And totally, I’ve played plenty of games that probably wouldn’t be classified as games in the classical sense of the term (e.g. OneShot and any visual novel I’ve experienced), but Taboo: The Sixth Sense stretches that notion a bit too far, I feel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed. At the very least, visual novels and games like OneShot and others like it have narrative which make them just as much games at this point than anything else.

        For the price this was sold for, you could probably just sit with a psychic for an hour.

        Still, I feel the need to research this more. Maybe it’s masochism, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a utility, a piece of software using the NES as a computer, more than a traditional ‘game’. It’s an interested well that developers have gone back to plenty of times over. There was that cookbook on the DS, Nintendo’s brain-training games, Wii Music, Mario Paint, all sorts of language learning programs on various consoles, etc.

        I do wonder at the marketing behind those kinds of experiences. It does seem like there’d be something there, but in doing so you’re trying to target a group of people dedicated enough to a specific hobby to have bought an expensive piece of equipment to facilitate it but you’re delivering something other than that hobby. So going after a secondary market to those consoles. Something akin to Nintendo’s Blue Ocean strategy with the Wii, but in smaller scale and targeting players who were already there rather than necessarily drawing out new ones. Feels like a bit of a hard sell, as is, and possibly why none of these experiences ever seem to reach any sort of long-term groundswell.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I agree that there’s some audience for this. Honestly, if there was a bit more meat to the experience, it would make sense. I feel like most of the examples you gave are solid outliers in the ‘this is a game’ category, but I imagine even the cookbook had enough material for people to come back to. I imagine for Taboo, the manual was probably more of an experience than the game. At that point, why not just buy a tarot deck?

        What made Mario Paint amazing, though, was the wealth of experiences you could have: art, music, that fly swatter game; at no surprise to anyone I’d guess, Nintendo knew that the experience needed more to just an MS Paint experience to keep folks interested (and in fairness, Sega did too with Art Alive but without directly sourcing their mascot, it died a little faster).

        You make a great point, though- targeting a very specific group makes things very difficult regarding the longevity of a game’s lifespan. I had forgotten about half of those examples you gave and I love learning how to cook and languages. Just as personal examples, obviously.

        It’s probably more strange to me that this was Rare who made this than anything. I really want to try to find something about the development or thought process on this project.

        Liked by 1 person

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