Venture is a classic arcade game released in 1981. This is a game I have never heard of or seen until I started exploring the emulation scene. I find that strange because I think this game has much more compelling gameplay than most seminal games we remember like Asteroids, Pacman and Galaga. Not to say those games aren’t good or don’t deserve credit, but Venture brings many new things to the table which are obviously under appreciated.
Venture has the player controlling the protagonist “Winky” as he tries to raise dungeons and steal the treasures while avoiding monsters. Windy wields a bow and arrow with unlimited arrows, although only a single arrow can be on screen at a time, and it travels pretty slowly so you need to pick your shots.
The game begins in a zoomed-out overworld and Winky is just a tiny red pixel (actually I think it’s 2×2 pixels). Each level contains five rooms which have doors Winky can enter. Also populating the overworld are the hall walkers, which looks like jellyfish and are completely immune to Winky’s weapons. They just kill you, so obviously you need to just avoid them by dipping into one of the rooms.
When you enter a room the game performs a pretty cool zoom-in transition and until Winky is normal sized and the room takes up the entire play area. Each room has a single treasure and monsters or other obstacles. The goal is to grab the treasure without dying and escape the room. If you mess around too long one of the killer jellyfish will break in and attack you, so time is of the essence. Shooting enemies will kill them, but their bodies will remain and decompose for what seems like forever. Often it seems better to just dodge them rather than kill them.
Once you collect a treasure from all five rooms the level is beaten and you move on to the next, with a fresh batch of rooms! I have personally been unable to get passed the second level although I often get close. From watching some plays on youtube I discovered that there are three unique levels and then the game loops back to a more difficult version of level two.
It is hard for a 1981 game to have bad graphics. They have a very stereotypical retro look and everything looks pretty charming and timeless. I would compare the graphics to Pacman the most. The background is black and all the gameplay elements are bright and colorful. The sound design in this game is absolutely hilarious. You get these small snippets of famous songs you can ALMOST put your finger on and music changes when you grab the treasure and attempt to escape the rooms which is nice. Considering most old games (Pacman, Mario Bros, Galaga) have no gameplay music at all, this is pretty awesome.
I find Venture very compelling because it taps into my sense of wonder. I really want to see what the next level or next room looks like. I am curious what monsters and music are waiting for me. Pacman and Galaga do not tap into that. The next level in those games are just the same thing but slightly harder. Venture keeps on bringing something new and interesting to the table. Getting good at venture is fun.
I also think it’s pretty great that this game has a narrative that makes sense. It’s basically the plot of Tomb Raider but in 1981. I can feel for Winky, I can be in the dungeon with him. The level and gameplay transitions are also very unique and give the game an extra layer of charm.