Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars
In 1883, a board game called Reversi was invented. It involved a green board with eight columns and eight rows of selectable spots for round tiles that were black on one side and white on the other. With a starting formation of two white pieces and two black in the middle of the board at opposing corners of the center 2×2 square, two players alternated in placing one piece per turn of their color. The goal was to “trap” opposing pieces between your piece already on the board and the new piece you placed, thus flipping the opponents’ pieces in-between to your color. These sandwiches would be made until the board was full of tiles or one player was unable to move any further, and whoever had the most tiles of their color showing on the board won.
Over one hundred years later, in 1988, video game developer Acclaim released an 8-bit version of Reversi on the Nintendo Entertainment System under one of the alternate names it had been marketed under prior: Othello. Supporting one-player mode against a computer opponent or two-player gameplay, it virtually recreated the play of Reversi.
Playing Othello was fairly simple. After navigating the title screen, to an options screen that determined the amount of human players, the difficulty of the A.I. if necessary, and both the existence and length of time limits per turn, play began with each controller using the directional pad to move the cursor and the A button to place pieces on the board. Play continued following the Reversi rules until a game concluded, at which point the players involved could play another if they wished.
This is an average-looking screen. It looks like a board game. The menus are legible. Unlike a version of battle chess or an original video board game like Anticipation, the NES version of Othello makes no attempt at any spectacular leaps of presentation or graphical flair, other than the animated flipping of the tiles. When a board-game piece flipping over is your video game’s graphical highlight, you can rest assured that this is not among the most prominently visual titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The title and menu screens have a simple background chiptune track, but during gameplay, the music is conspicuously absent. This creates a stale, nearly silent atmosphere, interrupted only by the sound effects, which are actually pretty good; strong buzzes, beeps, and flips. Granted, we are talking about game pieces here, so the opportunities for spectacular sound are limited, but the quality is somewhat there nonetheless, even if not fleshed out to the extent of, say, Spot The Video Game.
The NES had its own chess simulator or two, a version of Monopoly, and some interesting innovative takes like the aforementioned Spot and Anticipation titles, when it came to video board games. Otherwise, though, the genre was not exactly represented in an enormous selection, so you would think every title to hit the console would have a visionary leap or two, but such vision seems absent in Othello. It is, purely and simply, a simulation of the Reversi/Othello board game.
Interestingly enough, while potentially fun for two players, the one-player mode is notoriously difficult, no matter which of the four available difficulties you choose to play. Apparently the A.I. was hard to rein in for skill level, and only a true Reversi strategy master will stand a chance. Challenge level issues aside, it struggles with some of the same obstacles every board-turned-video game will have, along with its status as a mere representation of its subject matter. For settling for the minimalist experience, Othello on the NES receives one and a half stars out of five as one of the lower rungs on the video board game ladder.