The secret weapon against Nintendo’s lawyers
Video games featuring Christian values have been a dream for a long time. Because, after all, what better way to jam God into the hearts of children than by having them do exactly what they do in other games, but with God at their side? For some reason, this never caught on. The most popular Christian video games usually just involve blowing up demons with a rocket launcher, but they cleverly skate around the existence of a God or a devil.
The most hilarious example of attempts at Christian games, however, came from Wisdom Tree. Hoo boy, what a story that is.
A lot of people regard Nintendo as the saviour of the video game market after the 1983 crash. Truthfully, in a lot of ways, they are. But they achieved this using a lot of anti-competitive and, as it would turn out, actually illegal tactics. If you wanted to produce for the NES, you needed a license, and that came with a lot of restrictions. Some companies, most notably Canadian publisher Camerica, said “screw that”. They reverse-engineered the NES lockout chip so they could make third-party games without paying a cent to Nintendo.
Nintendo countered this by telling retailers that if they wanted to sell NES games, they couldn’t sell unofficial cartridges. While Camerica was stomping Nintendo in courts, Color Dreams decided to take another route in selling their unlicensed cartridges. They changed their name to “Wisdom Tree” and began producing exclusively Christian-themed games.
The popular myth is that they did this because they figured Nintendo wouldn’t want to be seen as the heartless company that sued God. That might be part of it, but it’s not the entire story. Really, they saw another outlet for their games: Christian book stores. It was genius. Executives and lawyers can’t step onto consecrated ground. Wisdom Tree’s games would stand alone in these shops without any competition. Children would have the choice between Bible Adventures and Bible Buffet, and good parents are always willing to open their wallets to God.
Super 3-D Noah’s Ark was their only release on the SNES, and it was a weird one. It required you to lock-on an official SNES cart to bypass the lockout, but instead of being able to play as Knuckles in Sonic 2, you played as Noah in Wolfenstein 3D. The SNES cart goes for somewhere north of $200 these days, and I don’t own it. However, they re-released the game as an enhanced port for the PC, and it’s weirdly well put together.
I mentioned Wolfenstein 3D, since it was made on that engine. There’s another legend in gaming that id Software was so incensed by Nintendo’s censoring of the Wolf 3D SNES port, that they gave Wisdom Tree access to the engine, just to spite them. Funny, but probably untrue.
Although having Noah kill Nazis in a variety of bunkers would be pretty cool, Super 3-D Noah’s Ark is a total conversion that replaces Nazis with animals and brick walls with wood siding. The story involves the animals on the ark getting rowdy, so Noah has to put them to sleep by firing coconuts at them with slingshots. You’re supposed to be feeding them, but I feel a coconut projectile would be a bit more fatal than that.
The animals, in turn, spit at Noah. I mean, the smaller ones kick him, but most just hork at him from down the hall. Guy deserves it, flinging watermelons at goats. Good luck getting the smell of camel saliva out of your beard.
There are about 30 levels, and they go by pretty quickly. The music, however, will live on in your brain long after you see the credits roll. I’d describe it as jaunty. Not bad, not good, but definitely the sort of thing that digs into your ears and lives there for a while.
Wolfenstein 3D isn’t the best platform to teach the virtues of the Bible, so to educate young Christians, a variety of scrolls are littered through the maps in Super 3-D Noah’s Ark. They quiz you on Bible stuff, particularly about the story of Noah’s Ark. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to church and even longer since Bible camp, so I failed most that I encountered.
Aside from that, you’re just annihilating livestock. There are six episodes that are pretty short, each one caps off with a boss battle against, like, a monkey. Unfortunately, none of them wear robot suits.
To be honest, Super 3-D Noah’s Ark isn’t a bad game. Its concept is ludicrous, but it’s basically Wolfenstein 3D. It has all the problems of Wolf 3D, like flat, repetitive levels with nothing but 90-degree corners, but it provides the same dumb shooter gameplay. It’s just that instead of Nazis, you’re kill… er, putting animals to sleep.
It’s also not as ambitious as games like Blake Stone or Rise of the Triad. Those games shook up the Wolf formula, whereas Super 3-D Noah’s Ark is just a holier facsimile.
I played through the whole thing in about six hours, and aside from the music that’s playing on loop in my head, I don’t regret it. It’s like when I played so much of that alternate reality Wolfenstein 3D cabinet in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus that I forgot to actually complete the game. Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for 90-degree corners and repetitive textures.