There have been few greater puzzlements on the NES than Taboo: The Sixth Sense.

One one hand, this was perhaps one of the first genuine “casual” games on the NES, as it dealt with dealing virtual tarot cards to divine fortunes.

On the other hand, it was one of the few NES games to deliver frontal nudity and images of Satan.

Bear in mind that this was before the ESRB, and Nintendo had its own self-censoring policies with dealt with profanity, religious imagery, and extreme violence. But it wasn’t perfect. Rambo said “Damn”. Crosses still snuck into a few games. One game would be healivy censored while another slipped past the radar. And then there was this title:

Rare developed this title, while my hometown’s Tradewest published this game. A game so “evil” that it came wrapped in a black cloth pouch, yet could be stored the same way as you would Top Gun or Balloon Fight. Curiously, the game promoted itself as being a “Time Machine”, though Doc Brown or the TARDIS never make an appearance. Yet this game exists, and I couldn’t tell you why.

If there are any “good” points to the game is that the iconography representing each card is very detailed: Foreboding Moons, exploding Towers, a quick (and one of the few) animation of the Hanged Man, the artwork looks decent enough. There’s even a trippy looking card shuffling screen, and a skull that randomly appears on one of the shuffled cards from time to time, though I couldn’t tell you why. I don’t know if there’s a purpose to it. Much like the game.

The real draw, however, is the music. A few developers could really work the NES sound processors. Capcom and Sunsoft were some of those companies. Rare was another, and the music for this title was haunting:

Seriously, the music for “The Devil” card is some jarring, disturbing music. “The Moon” wasn’t much better in easing tension.

There also was a poster that came with the game to describe the cards, and again, the illustrations were detailed.

The “bad” of this game is easier (and more confusing) to describe.

Again, it was baffling that this game even existed on the NES. Tradewest was known for releasing Double Dragon and Battletoads. And… this. The problems with this title (outside of “Why”) were bizarre, to say the least. I can’t even imagine how the thought process went down in thinking the kiddies who loved Super Mario Bros. 2 and Gradius were going to love this game.

Control is floaty, if minimal. Trying to enter a question to unlock the secrets of the universe was laborious at best, and the sentences aren’t even formatted properly to keep longer words together after a line break. My attention to detail could never accept it, and I would end up doing a lot of spacing to make words read correctly.

Again, outside of the card shuffling sequence, the “Hanged Man” card, and that cryptic skull flashing for no apparent reason, there’s no animation in the game. And seeing the cards more than once isn’t enough to hold anyone’s interest. The cutscenes of Ninja Gaiden this isn’t.

For a game developed in the United Kingdom, there is a astonishing amount of “Engrish” in the text (was this even released in Japan?). And this is from a system that talks about “Strongth” in Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins and “A winner is you” in Pro Wrestling. Taboo‘s translation is mess. A hot one, at that. The writing is so bad that card readings don’t even make sense, not that any of the new-age psychobabble this game tries to generate could be saved even with a perfect translation. Half the time, the card readings are nonsensical gibberish that don’t even seem to relate to the question asked. You could spout “Why is my butt purple” and get about the same sort of response if you actually tried to take the “Time Machine” seriously. It’s about as much of a “time machine” as a fortune cookie, and far less delicious.

The game even offers a lottery at the end of the reading that is also (surprise) botched. Players are given the option to select their state after their reading, and not all 50 states are available to choose from. How is that even possible? I never could understand why Texas (where Tradewest was based) was on of the omissions.

Simply put, Taboo fails as a “casual ” title. This was the age where there were no “value” titles, so all games roughly ran about $50 on average. Could you imagine saving your allowance to buy this? Or one of those precious birthday/Christmas games being squandered on this? An average game of Taboo lasts about 5 minutes, and 2 of it is spent on watching the card shuffling sequence that can’t be skipped.

And yet, I actually do own this title. Part of “hometown nostalgia”, part NES oddity, and part that it was .25 cents at Gamestop when I picked it up a few years back. I have a weird enjoyment of talking about it because it goes down as of the the greatest “What the” moments of the NES’ history. You kind of have to play it, knowing full well that it’s absolutely no good.

Given that Microsoft owns Rare, and Nintendo releases older titles at a snail’s pace, I don’t see this ever being released for the Virtual Console or XBLA. I don’t see anyone fighting for it, either. It’s bizarrely pretentious attitude in trying to take itself seriously makes it even funnier with all of the blatant mistakes made in the game. It’s like watching a self-proclaimed know it all completely fail in knowing what it is talking about, yet you laugh the whole time because it’s fun watching it make a fool of itself. That’s Taboo: The Sixth Sense. It’s an awful game, yet I like it for just being so bad.

You’ll never play another game like this. Be grateful for small miracles.

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