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Vegas Stakes

Year released: 1993
Company: Nintendo
Genre: Gambling

(My first use of my Snappy for the NES Lair! Woo hoo!)

I don't pretend to not like casino games. In fact, I love them. Not that I'm going to head out to Las Vegas the second I turn 21, just that the concept of Blackjack and Roulette - among other games - has always intrigued me. This is probably why I own 3 different casino cartridges for my video game systems - they allow players to enjoy all the same thrills of casino gambling without any actual cost (aside from the price of the catrtridge itself) and at slightly better odds.1 I have two gambling games for the Super NES, and this one probably comes out on top against Super Caesar's Palace because its small sacrifice it makes for game variety is more than compensated with the game's atmosphere.

Although casino adaptations characteristically don't lend themselves well to plots, the folks who desgined this game put one in anyway. You're driving to Las Vegas with a bunch of friends, and each of you are out to build up a fortune with just a $1,000 stake each. Whenever you're playing, you bring a counterpart with you to help give advice and root you on. This an interesting point - certain companions are better at certain games, thus it's possible to get better results if you use your partners efficiently. It does bring up a minor complaint, however: It might have been a better idea to actually pick which person you'd rather have represent you. Each person could be "luckier" in a particular game than others, while struggling in a certain game. Like Isabelle - people might be more likely to believe her bluffs at the poker table, but can't seem to find the same ability with the one-armed bandits.2

The presentation has its hits and misses. The graphics really add to the atmosphere, but more could have been done, I think. Apart from the "lobby" picture used as a backdrop for the main menus, there isn't a whole lot that separates one casino from another (there are 5 total), except for the different color schemes each one uses. The slot machines use the same symbols whereever you go, and the dealers and stewardesses all look about the same (that is, except for The 2020 - Someone's been watching a Borg episode of Star Trek). The music, although somewhat repetitive, is satisfactorily unintrusive. Most of the time, you'll be too busy contemplating the next bet than listening to the music.

The play control is about as intuitive as one could hope for. Most games use the same mechanics - press the A button to place a bet, press B to cancel it, and hit X when you're done. This makes it a lot easier to go from one game to another without having to retrain yourself every time you switch. Placing bets is infinitely easier than Super Caesar's Palace as well; instead of using chips to place bets, you actually get to numerically set the amount you want to wager. This makes this much less cumbersome, since it takes a mere 5 seconds rather than 30 to place a significant bet once your score reaches six digits.3

Arguably the best thing about Vegas Stakes, however, is the human interaction. While you're playing, one of the fellow customers might stop by and ask to watch you play, buy a diamond, place a bet at the sports book, etc. Sometimes, your faith in people pays off with a nice sum of money, other times, your naivete will cost you. Dearly.4 This adds that touch of realism to the game. While in most cases, the result is predictable5, it doesn't mean that the effect isn't lost. In fact, using the passersby is another way to build up a quick bankroll.

In terms of challenge, it all depends on how much you know about the strategy of each game. Obviously, if you know when to hit and when to stand on Blackjack, you'll have a better chance of winning than someone who blindly hits on 13.6 The slot machine is based on pure luck, so I won't go into that much. But each game has its own play structure, and once you get a hang of it, you should reach the goal of $10M without too much difficulty. There's a save feature as well, which allows you to take a break in the action when needed (and is an absolute boon if someone cleans out your wallet). Each casino has its own minimum and maximum bets, as well, so you should be able to stay in the game for quite a while until you go bust.

The only thing that truly hampers this title is the variety of games you have to choose from. With only 5 games (Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, Slots, and 7 card stud), there isn't as much variety as Super Caesar's Palace (which had Video Poker, Keno, Red Dog, and Off-track betting - plus an assortment of differently themed slot machines and those neat little scratchers), the play sessions won't last as long as they might with SCP. The ending also detracts a bit, with little more than the obligatory credit scroll. Still, if you're looking for a cartridge that offers more than just the games but a little ambiance as well, Vegas Stakes is the better choice.

1. Let's face it - Casinos don't rack up millions of dollars because of their high-quality buffets.

2. And while we're at it, let's add an item shop that sells trick Aces, loaded dice and other paraphernalia. And the ablilty to battle the dealers for Exp. points. And magic spells that stop the slot machine right on the triple 7s. See where I'm headed?

3. One of the main faults of Super Caesar's Palace was that its highest denomination chip was $500 - thus in order to wager $20,000 (chump change when you're a millionaire) you'd have to place 40 chips, one at a time. Plus, if at any time you paused in the chip-plunking, the dealer would assume you were done and start dealing out the cards.

4. Pray that you don't lose your wallet - that costs half your score, regardless of how much money you have. If you were worth $5M upon the theft, you'd plummet to $2.5M. That must be one big honkin' wallet if it can hold $2,500,000...

5. Words of advice: First, don't let any loser watch you play. You're begging to get your wallet stolen if you do that. Always let the attendants check the slot machine meters. Watches are safe buys, diamonds are not. The lottery and sports book are 50-50 bets, pretty much.

6. Son of Words of advice: Always assume the dealer's face-down card is a Ten. Thus, even if you only have 12, always stand if the dealer's up card is 6 or lower. If it is a Ten, she'd have to hit, potentially busting her. Of course, get as high of a score without running the risk of a bust before you chicken out. Also, always split Aces; never split Tens.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 15
Thrill: (Boring)
Aesthetic Score: 20
Overall Score: 83%