Vegas Dream, Analyzed

I mentioned my fascination with casino games a while ago. While they’re often cast aside as cheap distractions, many gambling-themed titles hide cool little details and charming splashes of character beneath their typical spreads of blackjack and poker. At the time I discussed Casino Kid and Casino Games, and yet I think my favorite overall might be Vegas Dream for the NES. 

At a glance Vegas Dream is a respectable yet unadventurous casino crawl from HAL Laboratory, the creators of Lolo, Trax, and, in good time, the Kirby series. You’ll enter your name as a Mr. or Ms. and then gamble away your money at blackjack, keno, the roulette wheel, or a slot machine. It’s what happens in between that makes Vegas Dream a delight.

As you play you’re interrupted by all sorts of casino-goers: waitstaff, fellow gamblers, fast-talking weirdos, hard-luck cases, potential dates, drinking buddies, insider traders, and more. Each of them has a little story to tell and a little wager for you to make. Is that tipster letting you in on a hot stock deal, or is it a dud? Does that young woman really have a sick mother whose illness has led the family to sell a valuable watch, or is it all a scam? Will that cocktail waitress swipe your wallet when she spills a drink on your coat and takes it away for cleaning, or will she be honest and let the casino comp you a few bucks for the trouble? Will that phone call be from a lawyer telling you about a big inheritance, or will you trip on the way to answering it and get stuck with a huge hospital bill?

Not every meeting is as simple as a coin flip. Strangers challenge you to gambling duels, and a reoccurring Ms. Sophie or Mr. James will go on just a few dates with you before proposing marriage. And then you’ll find out if it’s true love, with a nice wedding gift from the casino, or if you’re just another victim of the nationwide epidemic of marriage fraud.

It all livens up the straightforward tone and repetition of Vegas Dream’s casino diversions and soundtrack. The random encounters also repeat themselves, of course, but each time it’s a toss up as to whether you’ll profit or lose money. Seeing the same people over and over is amusing, since there’s no limit on how often you’ll meet any given character. 

Nor is there a rule against you marrying Sophie or James as many times as they propose, as though you’re caught in a bizarre and troubled relationship with them, never knowing if this time they’ll wed you in earnest or just steal your cash. And it all goes on while the same bartender looks on grimly, having seen this depressing charade so many times before. At least the HAL Palace is only too happy to give you money for the publicity over and over. 

The amount you might lose also seems to stay consistent no matter how much cash you have, so a duplicitous paramour might go through the trouble of marrying you and your $381,900 casino account just to steal two hundred bucks. It’s also nice that many of these events make the Las Vegas News, which apparently airs a nightly feature chronicling the windfalls and embarrassments of one particular casino patron.

Vegas Dream looks fairly simple in its routine attractions, but HAL put a surprising amount of work into the clientele. While they might not impress by modern standards, those familiar with the restrictions of NES-era graphics might note the small touches, such as each dancer in a show at the hotel (where you might win a prize or get injured) having a different face. Even the smaller portraits are appealing, and they mix anime stylings with ‘80s fashion and the occasional celebrity lookalike.

HAL put the same ideas to work in Vegas Stakes for the Game Boy and Super NES. You’ll see more locations, enjoy more casino games, and bring a friend along (or several in the Super NES title), but again you’ll be accosted by gamblers, hustlers, crooks, stockbrokers, racing insiders, unfortunates, and weirdos.

Both versions of Vegas Stakes are more elaborate and refined games than Vegas Dream, and yet there’s something absent. Even with the sequels' more animated characters, I prefer the cartoonish look of the Vegas Dream cast to the more realistic style of Vegas Stakes. Nor do these follow-ups seem to have as many cutaways or as much newscaster narration as Vegas Dream. And after hours of playing Vegas Stakes, I haven’t run into anyone trying to marry me. 

One more good thing about Vegas Dream and Vegas Stakes: they’re cheap. All of them. Collectors will grumble about the ever-rising prices of old video games, and they’ll be right most of the time, but for under ten bucks you can nab Vegas Dream or one of its successors. That’s a steal for such an unexpectedly entertaining title from the lesser-known NES ranks. It’s also strangely fitting for a game that encourages you to take risks with your money.

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