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Rare made a Beetlejuice game and it wasn’t great

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On Beetlejuice’s 30th anniversary, a quick look at Rare’s NES adaptation

Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice with his arms outstretched

Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice turns 30 years old today and The Ringer has a fantastic story about the origins of the horror-comedy film, including some surprising details like a scrapped ending that would have seen Lydia, Winona Ryder’s character, die in a fire and Burton’s original casting choice for Betelgeuse: Sammy Davis, Jr.

The anniversary of Beetlejuice reminded me of another quirk about the movie: Developer Rare — of Banjo-Kazooie and Sea of Thieves fame — was behind the NES video game adaptation of the film. It’s definitely not Rare’s best work, but that was par for the course when it came to licensed video games of the 8-bit era. And Rare was busy; the studio pumped out at least nine games in 1991, including Battletoads, the year the Beetlejuice video game was released. (It trailed the movie by more than three years.)

Unlike the other Beetlejuice video games, which were based more on the Beetlejuice animated series, Rare’s NES platformer-adventure drew primarily from the film’s visuals. The game puts the player in the role of Betelgeuse as he explores locations like the Maitlands’ house, the sandworm-infested deserts of Saturn and the Afterlife.

Beetlejuice for NES borrows many of the movie’s visuals, including a Betelgeuse who looks kind of like the character played by Michael Keaton. The explorer with the shrunken head from Beetlejuice the movie serves as the game’s shopkeeper, and you’ll fight sandworms and a dead football player that look like their film counterparts.

Beetlejuice doesn’t play very well. It’s a fairly rote platformer some of the time, and a fetch-questy, top-down view exploration game the rest of the time. The game has a button dedicated solely to stomping on beetles — presumably to extract their juice? Perhaps its most interesting gameplay conceit is that Betelgeuse can purchase and use “scares,” basically different forms for “the ghost with the most” with special abilities. There’s also a spooky door that relentlessly pursues Betelgeuse at one point.

You can watch a full playthrough of Beetlejuice below, which only takes about 40 minutes and ends quite unceremoniously, in the video below from NintendoComplete. It’s not great a great game, but the playthrough is cathartic for those of us who struggled to finish the NES game. Or just watch Beetlejuice again. That’s a good movie.