Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole (Genesis/Mega Drive) - Replay

Landstalker title screen PAL
Developer:Climax|Release Date:1993 (1992 in Japan)|Systems:Mega Drive/Genesis

This week on Super Adventures I'm playing isometric action-adventure game Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole! I've already written about it once before but now I'm playing it again.

This is the second game I've revisited recently, after Nox, so I guess it's finally happened: I've finally played through every single video game ever released on every console and computer and now all I can do is circle around and start replaying them all. Actually wait, I just thought of something else I could've played: isometric action-adventure game Equinox. Though after checking out Nox, AquaNox and Anachronox in a row I'm kind of 'nox'd out at the moment to be honest.

It's been almost ten years since I last played Landstalker and I remember very little about it... though that's probably because I saw very little of it. It seems that the game lost my interest right away and I only stuck with it long enough to find an enemy to hit. In my defence the site was only six days old at the time and Landstalker was my 74th article that week... wait, that's not a defence, that's an admission of insanity! What the hell was I thinking?

These days I try to at least see what a game plays like before turning it off. Plus sometimes I even do research! For this game I decided to research whether the original Japanese version also has a melted version of the Turrican II logo on its title screen, and it does. In fact it has the exact same logo, as the game is called Landstalker in Japan as well.



That's a nice walk cycle the hero's got there, lots of frames. The clown shoes are a bit excessive though, unless he's got toes as big as his fists. Judging by the pointy ears it seems like I'll be playing as an elf in this. Or maybe a Vulcan from Star Trek. Either way I don't get to enter his name.

I'm liking this Zelda-style save system by the way. It's not something I've seen in many Mega Drive/Genesis games; mostly because I'm not into sports games. There's actually a fair few Mega Drive carts with a save battery, but there aren't many left after you've taken out everything that starts with NBA and PGA etc. Not compared to the Super Nintendo's library anyway.

You can argue about whether the Mega Drive or SNES is the better console, but if you're judging them on the quantity of action adventures and RPGs then the SNES is the unambiguous winner. It does have over twice the games overall though so it's not playing fair.


GAMUL DATE 312

JYPTA RUINS


Hey the game's in widescreen! The intro anyway.

The screenshots in my original article were all wrecked by inexplicable bad cropping, but I think I can enhance these new screens with some carefully considered trims (I'm going to cut off those black bars).

Straight away the intro establishes three things: the developers have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, the hero shares Indiana Jones's fondness for nicking golden statues, and the game has an isometric perspective...

... with isometric platforming.

I'm hoping that the worst of it is contained within this cutscene or there's going to be some trick to it, because there's just not enough information on screen for me to know where the floating platforms are relative to each other. That bit of rock on the top right could actually be below the other two, there's absolutely no way to tell (except for the fact that he's just jumped down off it).

The hero seems to manage the obstacle course just fine though and he's soon back in town, selling the Statue of Jypta for a massive 2000 golds. It's at this moment that we learn that he's called... Nigel. Not that unusual a name, but it feels weird for an elf (or Vulcan, I dunno) to have a name so mundane. He should be called Nigelas or Nigelebrimbor or Spock or something.

Fun fact: Landstalker was the first game to have its levels designed and built using Minecraft.

Nigel gets back to civilization with his prize, but just as he's collecting his money a fairy named Friday flies over, chased by two monsters led by a woman called Kayla.

Kayla wants less jibber-jabber and more fairy, but Friday's worried that they'll kill her to get her to talk. Turns out that the fairy's seen King Nole's legendary treasures and presumably knows where to find them.

Well, maybe not. But what she does know is enough to get Nigel's attention and the two of them manage to elude her pursuers by hiding around a corner.

Nigel tells her that he just needs to know where to start looking, as he's certain his keen senses will lead them to the treasure! I'd roll my eyes, but the guy did just make 2000 golds by finding a golden statue, so he might actually know what he's talking about.

Incidentally, Friday is a really unusual looking fairy, as she's got green dragon wings and maybe tiny horns as well. She makes the look work though, with her colour coordinated belt and boots.

Cut to Nigel on the back of a weird giant bird (that's wearing giant bird goggles) with Friday tagging along, on his way to get the Treasures of King Nole. He's not satisfied with just ripping off Indiana Jones though as now he's stealing Han Solo's lines as well.

I got to be honest, the GIF up there isn't entirely 100% authentic. I edited the credits out and moved the message box down a little so you can see the bird's shadow. Also everything on screen freezes when the text box comes up (except for the fairy's wings for some reason), so I changed that as well. I wanted an animation of the bird flapping its wings with some text underneath and I wasn't going to let anything stand in my way.

All other screenshots and GIFs are exactly what you'd see in game... unless I inform you otherwise.

Even Nigel thinks that bird was strange and he lives in this world! He was totally up for flying on its back though, even though it cost him every penny he has. I guess you've got to spend money to make money. Though actually finding the treasure is up to me, as after four and a half minutes of intro it's my turn to take control.

Oh damn, what the hell is up with these controls? It doesn't matter what direction I press on the D-pad, he'll only walk backwards or forwards. It's bloody strange is what it is. Hang on, if I press a diagonal I can get him walking in the direction I want, but if I stop pressing diagonally he gets locked into walking on that axis instead. This is really weird and I'm not liking it.

Alright I've started off facing downwards, so I suppose I need to do something with that angel statue to get inside. I walked over to the cave behind them first just to check and Friday stopped me with a message box saying "Now, let's start our adventure!!" so the statue it is.

There's a mysterious statue, a mysterious ram skull symbol on the wall, and a mysterious panel on the floor, and Nigel doesn't want to do anything with any of them. C'mon man, just give the statue a shove, see if we can push it down onto that thing!

I can't believe this, I'm stuck on the first screen... of a game I've played before.

Alright, I've been caught out by making assumptions and missing the obvious before so I'm going to run through all my options again: I can jump and I can hit things with my sword, there's a symbol, a statue that won't move and a panel I can't activate, and there's a cave nearby.

I'm supposed to go into the cave aren't I?

I was supposed to go into the cave.

I came across an ominous sign near the entrance saying "Woe and death unto those who step unto this land...." and then right afterwards I found this chest with a Life Stock lying in it. That's kind of the opposite of woe and death, but I'm not going to complain.

Seems that each Life Stock raises my hit points by one, so now I've got five hearts instead of four. There doesn't seem to be anything here to hurt me though, which is weird. I also found 5 golds, so I'm well on my way to getting my 2000 golds back.

I came across a room with two exits and taking the south east one brought me here. One of the routes is going to be a dead end and I'm hoping it's this one, because otherwise I'll likely be missing out on some treasure.

This is my first puzzle and it's teaching me that I can pick up crates and put them in other places to use as a step. It's pretty unusual for a Mega Drive game, but not exactly groundbreaking for the time. In fact it's reminding me of all those isometric 8-bit computer games that were a fad in the mid 80s, like Knight Lore and Head over Heels. But mostly Batman on the ZX Spectrum, because that's the one I own.

Batman (ZX Spectrum)
Man Batman was a dick, with its conveyor belts and floors covered in spikes.

This particular screenshot shows me trying to collect the jump boots, which are a crucial bit of a kit when you can't jump by default. But Nigel can jump all over the place right from the start so he's fine. (I remember Batman having better controls though.)

I should probably be comparing Landstalker to the other isometric adventures I've written about like Cadaver and Light Crusader, but it's been so long I can't actually remember anything about them. Sorry!

Lines should vaguely point somewhere near the earliest release date in any region.
Here, have a timeline, they're always fun; lots of names and lines and dates. Lots of purple in this case as well. It almost looks like a road sign.

Landstalker seems to take inspiration from the Zelda games (green lines) and the Knight Lore isometric adventure genre (blue) so I put some of them on. I've seen it mentioned alongside Mega Drive action-adventure games like Soleil and Story of Thor so I threw them on as well.

The developers, Climax, went on to make a couple more isometric adventure games called Lady Stalker and Dark Savior, and some of the programmers and designers worked on the spiritual sequel Alundra... but I didn't put that on the picture because it was already getting too full. I did include Climax's Dreamcast RPG Time Stalkers though, as it features Nigel as one of the playable characters. And that's all I know about it.

Oh crap I messed up trying to jump a gap and now I'm rooted to this raft. It's a bit like a conveyor belt, except I can't get off. I just have to stand here and wait as it brings me on a tour on all the places I'll likely be visiting much later.

I don't know what this thing's ultimately going to take me to but I'm starting to get the feeling it might be woe and death.

THUD.

I guess that's the end of that expedition.

A beast girl called Fara finds Nigel knocked unconscious and gets him back to her place to recover. Turns out that her dad is the village's mayor, so that'll be convenient if I end up being sent to find and talk to him. I won't even have to get out of bed, I can just yell across the room.

Seems that these are good kind people and they decide to let their visitor rest for as long as he needs to recover... but Friday wants her damn treasure already and yells at him to wake him up.

So now I'm in a village then.

You know when I said I'd tell you if any of my other screenshots were edited? Well, I extended this one by a little bit so you can see all the nice rustic houses at once. They're clearly sensible, intelligent people, as they've gone with a straightforward layout that makes it easy to find a particular building. Plus they've put all their doors on a wall I can see!

I'd make shots like this for games more often but they take more time than I'd like to spend. Stitching screenshots together is no great struggle, it's editing all the duplicated characters out of them that's a pain. There's probably still a few stray pixels of a wandering guard somewhere that I missed. Oh by the way, you can click the image to see it at its proper resolution.

Though here's the only bit you really need to see:

Look at this little doggie! He's so happy to be walking back and forth, changing direction whenever he hits a wall. This may be the most cheerful dog in video games.

Anyway I should check all the doors. It's not what you'd do in real life and it's a bit of a hassle to get myself lined up with doorways with these controls, but these are friendly NPCs and I'm sure they've got much wisdom to share. And maybe some chests full of treasure.

Huh, why isn't the priest a beast man? It's a bit weird that these natives have an outsider as their local religious leader. Hang on, I see what's going on here, I can see the clues and join all the dots. He claims that his duty is to make records and the table on the left is covered in metal LPs... this must be Judas Priest himself!

It seems that the albums are basically part of an overly awkward shop menu, as I have to pick one up and carry it over to the table in order to buy the associated service, such as being cured from a curse, or saving the game. Oh damn I should save the game immediately.

There's also an inn in town with some other items that can be bought through the same process, like an expensive Life Stock I can't afford yet. They're letting me check the map for free though.

I'm sure I've been here before in one of the Monkey Island games.

So I'm over in Massan huh, and there's at least five other settlements. This island is a lot more populated than I expected.

The other Massan NPCs I met were pleasant enough, especially the one who told me what EkeEke is about. It's a plant that works like a health potion and I should really stock up on it once I've got any money. Someone also said "You must go see the Waterfall Shrine Sage", so I guess I have a quest now. It's a shame I can't check where the Waterfall Shrine is on this map. It'd also be nice if I could bring up the map at any time from the menu instead of having to visit a shop.

There are some helpful signposts around at least.

On my way out of town I met one last villager who told me that the people of Gumi have been possessed by evil spirits and someone needs to tell the mayor!! For a moment I wondered if he was passing the job to me, but then he ran right past me into town so I guess he's going to go tell him himself? Either way, the Gumi villagers have broken the bridge, so I can't go south. I guess I might as well go to this Waterfall Shrine then.

There's no enemies out here in the wilderness by the way. It's all peaceful and quiet.


WATERFALL SHRINE


Oh there you go, I've finally found some enemies... I think. I mean they look pretty harmless and they're not coming after me at all. They're just weird little bubble slimes hanging out in an empty shrine, minding their own business. But if I leave them alive I'm only going to end up walking into one of them, so I need to clear the place out.

The game rewarded me for slaying the bubble slimes with a single coin from each. One coin for every two sword hits isn't bad; I can make all my money back with just 3976 more hits.

It's just occurred to me that first time around I quit playing right after getting my first kill, so this must be the furthest I've ever been in the game. Okay now I've got three exits to choose from: a door on my left, stairs leading up and that waterfall hole back there behind me. Oh, I can't actually jump down the waterfall... two exits then.

I had to know what was up those stairs, so I raced up to the next room and ran right into a dead end. A dead end with a key for me to claim! I claimed my treasure, walked back downstairs and carried on through the doorway to a new area.

Crap, I messed up the dismount and walked off the floating platform instead of jumping. I shouldn't have even had to ride the platform as that gap to the right is clearly small enough to leap over. It's just blocked by a tiny barrier about half the height of my giant clown shoes.

By the way, I should probably mention that Nigel's boots are probably made by the same manufacturer that does Sonic the Hedgehog's sneakers, as he makes the same sound when he jumps. Every time he jumps.

Plummeting into the inky black abyss wasn't so bad though as I just landed in another room underneath. I killed a couple more bubble slimes and made my way up the stairs to try again.

This puzzle wasn't too hard to figure out. I stepped on the red switch, the blocks lifted up to reveal a path downwards, problem solved. I like how they marked it with an arrow to let me know I can (and likely should) go down there. They could've maybe marked the switch so I didn't mistake it for a mushroom though.

The passage actually leads to the same room I fell down into a minute ago, except this time it put me on the other side of a stream. But my path was eventually blocked by two entirely motionless monsters. I think they're maybe statues... either way they're in my way and I need to get rid of them.

With no other option I backtracked back to the room with the floating platform and the mushroom switch to explore some more.

Oh there you go, there's a locked door here just down and to the right of the mushroom switch. It's not keen on opening for me though.

Landstalker inventory screen
Ah, I've got an inventory screen. It's a bit basic, but it gets the job done. Well, okay in this particular screenshot it didn't actually get the job done, because nothing happened, but I just had to take a few steps closer to the door and then it worked fine.

Inside the room I found a chest with five golds and a mysterious switch.

What the mysterious switch does, I have no idea. I don't think it changed anything in this area. Man, I had enough of this crap in Hexen! At least this switch stays pressed when I go to another room, unlike that first one I found.


With no better ideas I decided to go back to the monster statues blocking the other path hoping that they might have moved... and they had! There was a staircase behind them leading up, so I climbed the stairs.

Okay now I'm in a new room and what the fuck just happened?

I feel like this played out exactly as the designers planned it to, because you can see how much time I had to react to that incoming onslaught of fists. All I've been fighting so far is bubble slimes! They just sit there! I wasn't ready for this!

Oh by the way this is another edited GIF. In game the camera always moves to follow the character, but that was making the file a bit big, so I motion stabilised it and stuck the HUD back on afterwards. This is non-representative of what the game actually looks like (though it's entirely representative of my immediate and comprehensive beat down).

Here's another edited shot for you, showing my phoenix-like rise and ultimate triumph over overwhelming opposition. Turns out that Friday was ready with the EkeEke plant to resurrect me once my hearts ran out (which happened so bloody quickly, did you see how much they were taking off with each hit?)

Where's Friday been anyway? She said like two things in the mayor's house when Nigel was asleep and she's been quiet for every conversation since. Nigel too now that I think about it. The game's got two protagonists and they're both mostly silent!

The gate must have been connected to a dead man's switch as once the monsters died I was able to carry on through and finally meet the Waterfall Shrine Sage.

Well this whole trip was a bloody waste of time then. Though he did say that if I drop by later he might have learned something more. Also Friday got a chance to say another line!

The chest contained another Life Stock by the way, bringing my total to 8. I'm going to need a lot more of them if the game's going to be throwing fights like that at me.

Once I got back outside I went down to check the bridge again and it turns out that the Massan villagers have repaired it! But I couldn't get across as they were standing in the way, busy coming up with a plan to fight the Gumi villagers. Well if NPCs are getting new dialogue now I suppose I'll go back to Massan and see how things are over there.

How bloody typical. While I'm out of the village for two minutes trying to get a bit of treasure for Nigel, Fara gets kidnapped by another tribe! Seems like there's an evil manipulative force riling people up and turning neighbour against neighbour, so I should go do something about that. It's only fair, as did she save me earlier after my risky raft ride.

First though I'm wondering if I should give this article the 'princess rescue' tag. Fara's not a princess exactly, but she is the daughter of the local leader. Nah, if I start getting lax with my tags it'll just lead to chaos.

Anyway there's enemies all over the place on the road now so here, have an actual authentic unedited GIF showing what the game actually looks like!

See, the camera follows me as I walk around and WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?

I don't like it when tiny unnoticeable bits of background scenery suddenly spring up to attack me! Especially when it looks like... that.

No. Bad game. Never put lips on a mushroom.

Anyway, this is what the combat is like now. It's that GIF, three or four times per area, forever. I move forward to trigger the enemy, then keep tapping the attack button as I wait for it to wander into my sword. I'm not very good at moving around with these controls so standing still makes the most sense. On the plus side Nigel's got a pretty good arc on his attacks... unless he's standing too close to a wall, then his sword smacks harmlessly into that instead and the enemies remain unslain.

Most outside areas aren't much bigger than what you see in that GIF and if I move to the next area and come back all the enemies respawn, so I'm never going to be rid of them. Still, that also means I'll never be completely out of money.

The Gumi village looks a lot like the Massan village, from what I can see. It's a bit hard to really tell though while I'm stuck out here.

There doesn't seem to be much I can do about it unfortunately as I can't attack NPCs and I definitely don't get dialogue options to choose from. Oh, well, that was another wasted trip then. I guess I'll have to go somewhere else. Not that I have anywhere else to go.

Hang on, is that a step hidden behind those miniature trees back there? I think I've just found myself a sneaky secret path!

Oh man, what are they even doing here?

Well the good news is that the sneaky secret path lead me right to the Gumi village. The bad news is that my path's blocked by a wall of tiny trees and I can't find a way back out.

The Gumi villagers soon got bored waiting for me to carry out my heroic rescue and took Fara away to sacrifice her elsewhere, leaving me trapped in my arboreal prison. Fortunately a bit of desperate leaping around behind the wall helped me locate some secret steps and I was free to race inside the abandoned village, spend the night at the inn to recover my hearts, rush to save at the local priest, and then continue sprinting down the road to save Fara!

Well the bad news is that there's been a landslide. The good news is... I have to fight all the enemies on the road again when I head back? No, that just sounds like more bad news.

I had a chat to that thief down there on the right and he mentioned an Idol Stone in the mayor's house. So I fought my way through the enemies, got the stone, fought my way back to the landslide, used the stone and... nothing happened. Because it's a landslide, what was I expecting?

I'm getting a bit tired of fighting the same enemies now to be honest, so I checked a walkthrough and it says they've taken Fara to the Swamp Shrine, and to get there I need to backtrack to the area between the Gumi village and the repaired bridge, then turn left at the sign. I still think this game could do with a map.


SWAMP SHRINE


Oh balls.

The shrines aren't going easy on me anymore as now there's traps to avoid and lots more doors to try. Still no bloody map though! C'mon game, even Zelda had a map. I mean Legend of Zelda, the original NES game.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
By the SNES era, Zelda had farly complicated dungeons and a fairly complicated map screen to go with them, showing multiple floors. Landstalker came out a year after Link to the Past, so this is what it had to beat, but it hasn't even tried.

The rooms are getting trickier to leave now, with lots of them slamming the doors closed and locking me in until all the enemies inside are dead. If the game wanted me to engage with the combat instead of just walking past the monsters, it could've just made it good! 

Fortunately I feel like collecting 11 hearts has given Nigel an upgrade. It seems like it takes less hits to kill things now, which means I can get to the puzzles quicker! Though right now they're still teaching me basic concepts like 'you can put boxes on switches'.

I don't mean that literally, there's no tutorial. There's just four switches, two boxes, and nothing else for me to do while that boulder's blocking the stairs.

Oh no, a floor covered in spikes! It's finally happened, the game's gone full Batman.

I didn't even mess up my jump this time, I just strolled right off the edge by accident because I'm still not used to these controls. What kind of action-adventure game punishes a player for not using diagonals on a D-pad?

Friday used one of my precious EkeEke plants to revive my unfortunate treasure hunter and hopefully do something about the giant spike-shaped holes in his face, and I got back to waiting for the wooden platforms to move into position. When I saw my chance I leapt across to the nearest platform and rode it across to a brick island in the centre of the spike field, only slipping off a handful of times along the way. It's fine, spikes don't kill you instantly, I can survive this.

Note: I edited this very slightly to make the torches loop better.
These bouncing balls don't kill you instantly either, but they will eventually if I keep throwing away my precious EkeEke on dumb mistakes.

The interaction with the balls and these two crates I just put down hints at more complicated puzzles to come, but this one seems pretty simple. I need to get the crates all the way on top of those brown switches to drop the weirdly sci-fi looking grey blocks and make a path out of here... maybe. I have to be honest, I don't even know if they even are switches, I'm working things out as I go.

Man, I'm going to regret putting those crates down where they are when I go to pick them up again aren't I?


A LITTLE BIT LATER


Okay what the hell just happened? I came in through the door, stopped for a moment to scope out the room I was in, then suddenly the Indiana Jones boulder comes flying in and knocks me off the wall!

In fact it knocked me all the way back down to the balls room! Not the last one, the one right at the bloody start of the shrine. Well, I suppose I can be grateful there's no falling damage at least.

If this was a PC game I'd hit quickload, but it's not, so I'm going to go walk all the way back up here, fighting all the same enemies and solving all the same puzzles, and then I'm going to make damn sure I don't get hit by the boulder next time. Somehow.


ONE TRIP BACK THROUGH THE DUNGEON LATER


I got past this Indiana Jones boulder room eventually, and it wasn't really so bad once I knew what to expect. That's been true of a lot of the game actually, as getting back up to where I'd fell off was much quicker than getting there the first time. This is good because I jumped down a mysterious hole looking for treasure and ended up right back down in the ball zone again! I bet the game is finding this hilarious.

Funny thing was, there actually was a Life Stock down there that I couldn't reach before, so this is actually the ideal outcome. But I decided to take a break from the dungeon for a while and hike back to Massan, seeing as I'd landed right next to where I came in. I haven't found any save points in the dungeons so far, so I figure I should pay the save priest a visit and restock my EkeEke while I'm there.


ONE TRIP OVER TO MASSAN AND BACK, AND THEN UP TO THE TOP OF THE SWAMP SHRINE AGAIN LATER

Okay, I've made my way back through the Swamp Shrine for the third bloody time and now I'm looking for a bloody key for the room upstairs because I don't know where the bloody thing bloody is.

I gave up searching for it in the end and just looked up where it is. Turns out it's on the other side of that locked gate! This is actually one of the rare rooms where I have to leave the monsters alive to open the exit. I just have to get one of them standing on the switch and the door to the key is opened.


SOON


I did it, I saved Fara from the Orc Kings!

It seems like I skipped ahead a bit here, and I have, but I haven't skipped much. The Orc Kings defending the room were about as tough as any other Orcs so far and I beat them by standing still and tapping the button. The combat in this game would be laughable if there was anything funny about it.

I kept expecting that statue behind her to come to life and attack me, but he's staying put. It seems like he's just a distractingly well-pixelled piece of background art put there to make the room look good. It's working.

Now it's back to town once more for healing and saving and maybe even a reward!


EVENTUALLY


I was going to stop writing after rescuing Fara and call it a day, but look, I found a proper isometric platforming bit! Can you tell where these floating platforms are in three dimensional space? Because I can't! I'm too high up to see the shadows at this point, which doesn't help. Also the game doesn't even have shadows! It's definitely not going to let me rotate the camera either.

You've pretty much got to take a guess at which platform is going to be next in the chain and then take a leap. Eventually you'll guess wrong and have to start again from the beginning, so it helps to remember the ones you got right. Fortunately I made a few good educated guesses in a row and made it to the chest before my patience ran out. Then I used the chest as a step to get up to the top of the cliff.

Alright, let's see what my reward for making it up to the top is.

Oh, it's some just guy giving me grief about my rubbish sword. Nigel and Friday are being silent as usual so they just stand there and take it.

Hang on, is he giving me a sword?

He gave me a sword! It's a magic sword that sets itself on fire if I leave it for eight seconds to let it to charge up. Oh, it's just like the sword in Secret of Mana then, which makes you wait between every swing if you want to deal full damage. I'd rather not actually.

I would've done better with an upgrade to his leather bra that makes it so I only lose one heart when I get hit, or maybe an upgrade to his fingerless gloves that adds fingers.

Wait, are those Batman's jump boots? Are they following me? No, on a second glance they look nothing like them, I'm just going crazy from all the isometric dungeon crawling. Time to turn it off I think.


CONCLUSION

I didn't actually hate playing Landstalker, which is weird seeing as it was making a real effort to piss me off. It's like a cross between Zelda (with worse combat) and one of those old isometric 8-bit computer games (except with worse controls) and to be honest those aren't my favourite types of games at the best of times, so it's done well to keep my interest.

It helps that the game hasn't been that tricky or punishing yet. Sure it's dropped me back to the start of a dungeon once or twice for making a single mistake, but I rarely felt like I was really in danger of getting Nigel killed and there's barriers around to stop you falling off edges more often than not.

Those controls though, they're really not what you want. They make things like getting through doors slightly more awkward than it needs to be and they make things like dodging enemies and leaping between platforms a real pain sometimes. Though that's partly due to the combat being bad and also the platforming being bad.

The trouble with the combat is that you stand there and keep pressing the button until you win... unless the enemy comes at you from more than one direction, then you might be in a bit of trouble due to the controls. Fights for me were about getting all the enemies lined up to one side of me and then tapping the sword button; there was no fun there. Though the game found ways to keep itself entertained by hiding enemies behind walls or below steps so I'd walk right into them without any clue they were there.

And isometric platforming with no shadows is more about looking for clues than it is about making precise jumps. I did better when I realised that the correct path would probably use all the floating rocks, but there was still a lot of trial and error involved. They could've found ways to indicate their position and height through manually painted shadows, or support struts attached to the scenery, or different shades, or anything, but they didn't.

The graphics were generally pretty alright though. It's not the prettiest game on the Mega Drive, but it definitely ain't ugly. The soundtrack's even better at being alright; it's almost perfectly acceptable! No seriously, the sound's so good that I didn't even realise that it was doing that thing where it plays noises as each character's voice while the text's printed on screen until I talked to a kid and the noises turned higher pitched. That usually annoys me, but here it was fine.

The light-hearted story and the funny characters were actually one of the strongest parts of the game for me. The designers were smart enough to hold back on introducing NPCs until I'd done a bit of adventuring and was ready to just hang out and chat with people for a bit... which leads me to another complaint: Nigel and Friday barely seem to say anything! I actually like the protagonists and wanted them to talk to people, or at least each other! I like that the plot's been fairly non-epic as well. It's just two people trying to get some treasure and occasionally freeing a village from possession, nothing with world-changing stakes.

Unfortunately I haven't really played it long enough to have much of an opinion about the heart of the game, which is the puzzles. They've been pretty basic so far, put the box on the switch, but it seems like there's potential there for them to get complicated. You can stack things on top of other things for one thing, and I lost a box on top of one of those balls for a while before I was finally able to snatch it back.

Overall I think I have to give Landstalker a thumbs up, kind of. It has some serious obvious problems, but there's more to the game than just fighting and jumping around, and it's got some real charm to it.



Thanks for reading! No seriously, I really do appreciate it.

Now it's your turn to give people something to read, either by sharing your own thoughts on Landstalker or by having a guess at what the next game's going to be. Plus you can also join my brand new Super Adventures Discord Server, which is slightly less new at this point, but more powerful than ever.

5 comments:

  1. You can argue about whether the Mega Drive or SNES is the better console, but if you're judging them on the quantity of action adventures and RPGs then the SNES is the unambiguous winner.

    Well, yes, but if you're European then it's about equal because most of the SNES rpgs didn't come out here, and almost all of the Mega Drive ones did.

    Sadly, isometric controls haven't improved in the 27 (!) years since Landstalker. I gave up on Lumo because of a jumping puzzle that was made annoyingly difficult because the game has full analogue movement, rather than locking the character to four or eight directions, as would have been sensible.

    Yes, I'm still bitter.

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    1. I have the same problem with isometric games. I always end up getting fed up with the perspective. (I also gave up on Lumo after a while)

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  2. I've tried to get into this a few different times over the years, and my experience was always pretty much the same as yours. It's very charming, with nice graphics and sound and a likable roguish protagonist. It's just that the game does everything it can to be incredibly annoying to play. Isometric platforming is bad enough at the best of times, but when you saddle it with a complete lack of height indicators and the world's worst controls, it becomes a bit like trying to navigate an M.C. Escher drawing while drunk.

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  3. Hey, you really did a replay of Landstalker, that's awesome!
    I gave this game my best shot on the Mega Drive Classics Collection and it was just so charming that I had to soldier on despite its huge flaws. Sorry to say, the isometric madness doesn't get any better. The ball-and-spike puzzles will give you tears of despair even if you're quickloading save states - I can't imagine how anyone got far in this in the old days.
    But it can just be so anachronistic. How come as soon as you rescue the girl from the tribespeople who wanted to murder her, everyone is suddenly best friends? Or the time you reach a boss at the end of a dungeon, and she pushes the wrong button in her intro cutscene and accidentally kills herself instead of you? Or the time your nemeses _just_ beat you to a riverside mcguffin by scooting in on a raft from side left, only for the current to just continue washing them out to sea before they can do anything at all?
    It's a pain to move, it's a pain to navigate, the puzzles are inscrutable and the combat is too (especially with harder enemies which appear to be just random whether attacking them will hurt them or hurt you). But it's got real heart, and ambition. I never knew the MD had games like this in the 90s.

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  4. This game oozes charm but man the controls look like I wouldn’t be able to deal.
    As always a great review. Love the GIFs!

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