Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Violinist of Hameln (SNES)

Hameln no Violin Hiki title screen
Today I'm taking a look at Hameln no Violin Hiki, a Super Famicom game based on the manga/anime series of the same name: ハーメルンのバイオリン弾き aka. The Violinist of Hameln. Or at least that's what wikipedia claims; I can't read Japanese, so for all I know it's lying to me to make me look stupid on the internet.

I realise there's an English fan translation out there, but I don't play them. Not because I don't think they're awesome, I just feel that if I'm going to be showing screenshots, I should be showing the game as it was sold, not a modified version. Plus I'm sure I'll be able to figure out the basics without all those words telling me what to do.

The intro begins with an image of these crocodile head monsters harassing innocent townsfolk. I can't understand the narration text, but fortunately 'monsters are being dicks' is the kind of thing you don't really have to explain.

But from the rooftops a mysterious stranger appears! I'm guessing he must be the actual Violinist of Hameln, even though he actually seems to be wielding a shoulder mounted double bass. Anyway the magic power of music seems to be causing the creatures to dance uncontrollably, tears streaming from their eyes!

I just hope the citizens are willing to pay him for this service, as I don't remember the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin having a happy ending for the stingy townsfolk.

That's a pretty prominent cross there for a Nintendo game, if this had ever gotten a US release I imagine they'd have changed it to... I dunno, an ice cream or something.

Man, look at those faces in the background on the right, they look they've just realised they've wandered into an anime styled game by mistake.

Okay this is the game proper now. It seems that I'm playing as the violinist, but the pink hat girl from the intro is following close behind as my sidekick, as is a little black bird. Also there's classical music playing in the background and it's driving me crazy. I'm absolutely certain that I've heard it before a thousand times, but I just can't remember where or what it is.

I'm not going to continue until I figure this out, but neither google nor youtube are giving me any answers, and that's the only way I know how to learn things anymore! Oh right, maybe I can try one of those music identification sites on it.


MUCH MUCH LATER.


It turns out that the town music is a cover of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by Bach (youtube link). Can't say that I ever would've gotten that by myself.

Anyway, now that ordeal is over with I can finally play the game. And look, it has a proper world map, the kind that actually lets me choose to replay old levels. It is much appreciated. I'm less appreciative of how it seems to have started me off in another forest level though.

Well there's a single tree here and there's a forest in the background, but you'd struggle to find a place in a typical fantasy Europeland without a forest in the background, so I'm going to let them off this once. Until I start having to jump on tree branches that is.

Wait, are those floating coins casting a shadow on the sky? Oh crap, I just noticed that while I'm sitting here capturing idle animations and staring at coins, my timer has been ticking down! No more waiting, cancel the waiting.

I may not be able to read Japanese, but even I can figure out what 'Y' means when there's a cannon ball is sitting next to a weak wall.

Whoa, I wasn't expecting the whole thing to explode into pebbles. Man I hope the villagers didn't set up this trap to keep the monsters out, because those rocks up there just fell down to fill the spike pit, letting me walk right across.

Hang on, what happened to that sidekick of mine? I think I must have accidentally told her to wait behind back when we were at the start of the level. I hope she's quick on her feet, as that was 30 seconds ago and I don't have time to wait around.

Pink Hat found her way back to me by herself, which is cool. She can even climb ladders by herself. This oversized violin is pretty handy too, though it seems my hero has gotten bored of playing the song of dancing. Now he plays the melody of annihilation; obliterating enemies with sparkly pastel quavers. I'd make a joke about the game's music being so terrible that exposure to just two consecutive notes is enough to kill a man, but it's not actually bad, so I can't.

This route seems to be a dead end, wasting my damn time, though there is a duck head icon over there that I think I'll grab. I have no idea what it does, I just want it.

Crap, I guess that green strip of plants is part of the background then. Okay then, I'm going to need a alternative plan to get across. Maybe I can convince my tiny bird sidekick to hover a little lower so I can climb on and we can fly across the spikes.

The sign says something about changing clothes, which isn't much help seeing as I forgot to bring my spike-proof boots. I might as well try pushing all the buttons on the controller one by one anyway though I suppose.

Aha, a flashy 'kigurumi select' screen, with a silhouette of Pink Hat turning into that duck I collected earlier (which is actually an ostrich I guess). That is actually a really nice morphing effect, I wonder if there's any real-time calculation going on or if it was animated by hand for every animal.

Kigurumi is apparently the Japanese word for 'mascot costume' or 'fursuit' by the way, so she's not literally morphing into animals. Though she is literally about to dress up as an ostrich.

Did you know that ostriches can walk across spikes? I thought she'd actually transformed into the creature for a second, until I noticed her face peering out from a hole in the chest, tears streaming from her furious eyes.

In this, uh, form she just carries on walking in the same direction indefinitely, unless she hits a wall and turns around, or I jump on her back and turn her facing the other way myself. She's just a walking platform though, so it's easy to fall off if I'm not careful.


STAGE TWO.


Alright, stage two is getting a little more foresty now, but still no leaping from tree to tree. there's a lot of floating blocks around though. And this floating gold note that I can't jump high enough to reach. The violinist has a pretty lame jump really, it never really reaches as high as I expect him to, and he drops like a rock afterwards.

Come on Pink Hat, climb up on those pink blocks on your right and jump up here already will you? She just keeps pacing underneath me, like she has virtually no path-finding ability whatsoever. You know, I'm not sure she even can jump now that I think about it. Well that's a bummer.

Hold on, I think I have an idea. If I can throw cannon balls, maybe I can throw Pink Hat as well, Donkey Kong Country style.

Cheer up Pink Hat, the procedure was a total success! I didn't have to do anything special to utilise Pink Hat's inhuman strength to use her as a makeshift platform, I simply leaped onto her head, then jumped up to grab the note. We make a great team.

  
STAGE THREE.


You know, this is the third stage now and I haven't seen that world map again yet. Replaying levels gets to be a whole lot less fun when you have to do three in a row.

Hang on, there's no cannonball here. How am I supposed to break this wall down if I've got nothing... to... throw... Oh.

Hey Pink Hat, come over here for a second, I want to try something. I hope that hat of yours is more solid than it looks, as it might have to double as a crash helmet for this...


LATER.


Collecting all the stars on this set of stages got me a bonus level, set in an abstract world of endless brick walls and giant floating instruments. Also floating coins, can't forget them.

Fortunately collecting floating coins is easy when you've got a frog suit! Oh cheer up Pink Hat, Mario never whined about having to wear a frog costume. Though I suppose Mario didn't have Luigi riding on his back either.


LEVEL THREE - STAGE TWO.


Uh, there's another blue destructible wall blocking my path. Fortunately there's only one solution to these walls so this particular puzzle is a no-brainer really. Hey Pink Hat, come back down for a second, I want to throw you somewhere.


11 SECONDS LATER.


Come on, stop crying and flap your arms or something! You only need just a little more height. Damn, even her portrait is in tears right now. Oh, that must be because her life bar has ran out. Weirdly enough Pink Hat does have her own health, which drains if she touches enemies, but it doesn't seem to make one bit of difference to gameplay if she runs out. Not that I'm complaining, the game would be impossible without her around, it's just confusing. I guess I get a point bonus if I get her to the exit unkilled.

Of course right now I'd be lucky to get her to the exit at all, as my violent violinist can't even throw a grown woman more than four meters straight up. Oh no, I think I've just figured this out and if I'm right, then the solution is horrible.

Look at this crap. Sure the blue wall disappearing off screen to the right should've been a clue that the answer was over that direction, but equally the solid looking wall blocking my path was a clue that I couldn't just walk directly over there. But nope, there's a secret passage behind the wall leading to exposed blue bricks and a music activated switch.

I'm not even going to allow my mind drift to dwell on mysteries like 'why does this monster's castle have music activated switches' or 'what's the deal with all these exploding bricks built into the walls'.

Pink Hat really hates being useful it seems. All I did this time was tell her to hang around with her foot on a switch for five seconds!

Speaking of mysteries, the biggest one I've found so far is 'why are there Pink Hat bricks placed around that only she can walk through?' The best theory I've got so far is that it's actually her castle and the monsters invaded and took it over. Either that or she's part of a clan of pink hat wearing agents working for the royal family who have free access through restricted areas when wearing their identifying headwear.

Now she's angry because I'm totally failing to push this pillar? Fine then, I won't try to get into the secret passage! Whatever makes you happy.

The exit door's locked? Well that's kind of a shame seeing as I didn't come across even a hint of a key along the way, and I only have 9 seconds left. LIFE LOST.

Back to the start of the stage again then.


68 SECONDS LATER.


Of course what I was supposed to do was throw Pink Hat at the orb above the pillar. You see, the clue was that the bricks it was resting on were the same colour blue as the destructible walls. Oh watever, I'm just grabbing my key and getting out of here before I run out of time again.

Interestingly I can return back to town between levels to spend my hard won gold coins on trash like hourglass pick ups and shield power ups. Actually they both seem like they'd be really useful so I'll grab both of them. I can walk up and down town talking to all the characters in the background too, though sadly (for me) they only speak Japanese and repeated exposure to the language hasn't yet blessed me with the ability to understand a word of it.


LEVEL FOUR.


I've got to be getting close to the end of this world now.

You know, I've noticed something missing from a lot of my screenshots for whatever reason: enemies. They're all over the place in these levels believe me, I just happened to capture moments where they weren't around. Here, have a shot of me taking out a group of purple snakes by throwing Pink Hat in her bouncing curling stone costume to make up for it.


SOON.


Right I've got the key, time to get out of here pronto. Uh, can you quit pushing me back up, you've got me trapped up here. Crap there are MERE SECONDS LEFT, quick, what can I turn her into that's small...

Never mind, too slow. Now I have to do the entire stage all over again from the start. Next time I'll have to remember to tell her to wait somewhere else, so that she doesn't automatically run over and trap me.

The game's been pretty slick so far, but here's one problem I've been having with it: getting my notes to connect with the enemies in a manner that leads to their expiration via explosion. It's usually nowhere near as bad as this, but I've been in situations where my quavers are overlapping the enemies by pixels and it's still not being detected as a collision.

There's a way to pull off diagonal shots but fuck it, I've got full hearts here and no time for patience. I'm just going to run through the enemies and hope I can make it to a health item before I lose all my life. Oh by the way, the game gives me temporary invulnerability when I'm hit, and after playing a couple of games without that feature recently it's so nice to have it back.

Finally, the world one boss fight! This guy couldn't even wait for me to kill him before bringing his fortress down on top of me, so I've got to dodge weirdly angular falling boulders while I'm figuring out the right place to hit him. Oh and he also likes to duck down and slam the ground on occasion, which is actually probably my best chance to get a shot or two in.

I knew it, by using Pink Hat as a platform, I can get the height needed to zap the boss monster in his face-shaped weak point! Though I've fired off half a symphony at him and he still isn't dead yet. His face flashes with each hit, but I'm not sure this is even harming him.

After 90 tedious seconds of dodging rocks and shooting him in the face I ended up getting desperate and tried jumping towards him to get more of my shots to connect, throwing away my final heart.

Then I did it again and again, and believe me this fight didn't get any more fun for me on a replay. I mean yeah I admit I don't like boss fights to begin with, but a minute and a half of dodging rocks can't be many people's idea of fun. There must be something here I'm missing. I'm going to go crawling off to a youtube walkthrough, because I can't just quit without finishing world one.

The solution was so obvious! The walkthrough I watched had Violin Guy throwing Pink Hat in a curling stone costume from a safe distance as it does far more damage than mere violin shots. I decided to refine the technique further, by just standing still underneath him and throwing Pink Hat straight up over and over.

I soaked up two hearts of damage in the process but I got the fight finished in 14 seconds. Win.

At last I've reached world two and I can turn the game off! A new world means a new town to use as my base, and a new dancing platypus outfit for Pink Hat apparently. Yeah I think I'm going to quit here.

Actually, there's one last thing I needed to check. You see, I never actually managed to throw all my lives away in gameplay, so I don't know how the continues work.

Hey, I actually seem to have infinite continues, and they restart me at the beginning of the stage instead of dumping me be on the world map. Ain't that cool, another victory for sanity... only slightly offset by the fact that there's apparently no passwords and no saves, so if I ever wanted to finish the game I'd have to do it in one run. Drat.


The Violinist of Hameln seems to be a reasonably high quality, likeable platformer with some decent art and music. In fact I wouldn't be totally shocked if the entire soundtrack was made up of covers of classical music, though I only recognised two songs. Weirdly the AI sidekick character hasn't been a total pain in the ass and I never felt that she was slowing me down. Which is good because I often found myself running short on time.

I'm not sure the harsh time limit actually suits it though, as the gameplay doesn't exactly encourage racing forward, and there's plenty of puzzles and (often necessary) side paths. Even Violin Man's attack (okay fine I admit I know his name's Hamel and the girl in the hat is called Flute) roots him to the spot when he fires off notes. Personally though I'd have liked it more without the time pressure.

I know I'm getting way too lenient with games these days, but despite it annoying me at times I have to give this one a gold star. It's definitely not a great game, but after all my whining about the boss fight, my enthusiasm for it started flooding... well, trickling right back once I reached the next proper level. It's probably worth a look at least. There's a fan translation out there but it doesn't really seem necessary if all you care about is gameplay.

Thank you for potentially reading some of the things I said about The Violinist of Hameln, or at least scrolling through the screenshots. If you want to respond to anything I've written, share your own opinions on the game, or just talk about the site in general, you're welcome to leave a comment.

4 comments:

  1. The catholic cross in the intro is not very surprising for Nintendo Japan. It was Nintendo of America who were very eager to censor any of that.

    Anyway, the game does look quite fun, and that was a great article!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice review! I've played this game just a little bit, and I ought to try it out some more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. hey my friend, this is the good post,

    but i´m playing that game in this moment and mi casette can´t save in the second world ..... i dont know if that is a battery problem.

    what do you think???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not going to be much help to you I'm afraid, because as far as I know there isn't a save feature in the game.

      Delete

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