The other day, I took a few minutes of my evening to play a video game adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby.
For those of you who breezed by that opening sentence, let me put it this way: somebody out there–San Francisco native Charlie Hoey, to be exact–took the time to turn one of the most revered novels ever into a video game. At four stages long, it takes all of 20 minutes to play. It resembles an NES (Nintendo) game from the 1980s, so it should not frighten those who are possessed of a certain phobia of “3D” games and complicated control schemes.
In other words, it’s brief and easy to play, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a look. You won’t regret it.
That said, you might want to refresh yourself on the book a bit before playing. I found that one can’t really get a sense of the plot through the game–and I should know, because I remember almost nothing about the novel, except that I didn’t hate it (check Wikipedia, if nothing else). Nevertheless, I found the effort to translate classic literature into a side-scrolling platformer pretty charming. As protagonist Nick Carraway, you smack stuffy waiters and mob henchmen with a pork-pie hat that flies like a boomerang. There are enemies that guzzle down hooch and throw the empty bottle at you like they’re lobbing a grenade. There are enemies that dance like flappers across the game screen.
Martinis replenish your health (as they should).
Aside from the cover art (see image above), there are two aspects of this game extraordinarily “true” to the novel. The first is the opening stage, which, if you are so inclined to imagine Gatsby as a video game, is punctuated by the giant rooms, bookshelves and chandeliers you’d expect to see. The second is the delightful collection of cutscenes between stages. These resemble the famous between-stage scenes in the NES classic Ninja Gaiden, and are no less dramatic: you see the green light across the docks, and you see Daisy hopped up behind the wheel. You witness Wilson shoot Gatsby in his swimming pool.
Playing The Great Gatsby led me to do two things. First, I drew the above cartoon, having so sadly realized that outside of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Of Mice and Men, I remember almost nothing of the novels I had to read in high school. It seems that the hundreds of pages I consumed in a handful of days blew out the back of my head, unable to dislodge the lust and the internal monologues that resided there.
Second, I pondered whether there ever existed any official NES adaptations of novels–classic or otherwise. After looking through a few lists, I found the answer to be an almost complete “no.” There was a video game adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a review of which you can watch on Youtube. Outside of this kid-friendly choice, however, it seems that only Frankenstein’s monster and Bram Stoker’s Dracula made it to 8-bit, cartridge form–and even then, their appearances were either completely out of context or tied to a then-current movie release.
It is little wonder, though, that there weren’t more adaptations. Games were, even in their adolescent years, wildly creative habitats for creativity and expression, yet translating something like an existential, conversation-heavy storyline would’ve proved difficult for the makers and audience of the 8-bit era. Video games were largely regarded as kid’s playthings at the time, and as such they were made and marketed to age no less incessantly than the Saturday Morning cartoons and big-budget action films of the day (First Blood was adapted for the NES, for instance, as was Batman, Back to the Future, The Addams Family, and, of course, The Last Starfighter).
Not even Stephen King made it to the NES, which is kind of a shame, for however macabre most of his tales were and are, Stand by Me or any of the first three tomes of the Dark Tower series could have been great game material. If the pixellated enemies of the original Final Fantasy linger with me like a myth, pervading my dreams to this day, then it’s possible that a 1980s NES adaptation of Gatsby could have led me to recall the moment when Daisy runs down Mertyl in that yellow roadster. If the bridges of Shadowgate and the broken pillars scattered about the temple in Ninja Gaiden served as habitats for my young imagination, then maybe an 8-bit Odyssey would help me to remember the verbal exchange between its epic hero and the Cyclops a little more clearly.
Can you picture the scene–an island of blocky rocks, and our long-haired protagonist stoic before the monster? A victory, via a multiple-choice bit of text that reads,
“MY NAME IS …
* ODYSSEUS * JOE * NOMAN”?
It could (have) work(ed).