Taboo: The Sixth Sense
Nintendo Entertainment System
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.