The Battle of Olympus (NES)

Talk about going to hell and back….

The Battle of Olympus is an action adventure game published by small Japanese developer Infinity in 1988. Subtitled “The Legend of Love” on its initial release in Japan, the game was indeed a true labor of love. In fact, everything except its musical score was created by just two people: Then newlyweds Yukio Horimoto and Reiko Oshida. There definitely aren’t many games with this sort of development history behind them.

The game’s premise is essentially a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Euridice, except that instead of traveling to the underworld to plead for his deceased lover’s life, Orpheus instead picks up his trusty wooden club and heads there to beat the immortal piss out of Hades himself until he cries uncle. Because video games make mythology way better. Along the way he also encounters a mixture of creatures and elements from nearly every other famous Greek myth: Hydras, minotaurs, cyclopes, the witch Circe, the pegasus, golden apples, winged sandals, the works.

The first thing people notice is that the game plays a lot like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, except lacking the overhead sections and presented completely in a side scrolling view. This is no coincidence, as the developers have admitted to being big fans. If you like Zelda II’s combat, you’ll probably enjoy Battle of Olympus’, although it can be a bit more difficult. Enemies are tougher to hit due to Orpheus being unable to stab up or down like Link learns to do in Zelda II and there seems to be more pits to worry about getting knocked into. A nice change from Zelda II is with the various other characters you’ll encounter, since all of them either say or do something useful. There are no pointless “Hello” or “I know nothing” NPCs here.

The game’s graphics are very beautiful for the system at the time and I love the colors used. There are a lot of bright pastel shades of pink, purple, blue and green. Some areas like the caves and forests are more subdued, but for the most part it really pops. The characters are large and well drawn, generally quite recognizable for what they represent. I liked the score a lot, too, although it doesn’t have the same epic polish as Zelda II’s.

If I have one major qualm with the game, it’s the currency grinding. When you encountered a character in Zelda II that had an item or spell for you, they usually just gave it to you outright and there was no need for a money system at all. In The Battle of Olympus, they usually want a certain amount of red gems dropped by enemies (bizarrely referred to as “olives” in-game) before they’ll fork over whatever you need to proceed. So expect to find yourself grinding out lots and lots of weak enemy kills until you amass the 50-80 olives that each character demands. It’s pure padding at its worst.

Despite the grind, The Battle of Olympus is a compelling and memorable adventure with a fascinating and romantic story behind its creation. It flew under the radar at the time of its release and continues to do so 29 years later, but it’s the very definition of a hidden gem. Or maybe a hidden olive?

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The Guardian Legend (NES)

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Aww! You’re so sweet, game!

After playing it for the first time, I can report that The Guardian Legend is really, really damn good. The sheer scope of the game is amazing for the NES: 23 space shooting sections linked by hundreds of screens of overhead dungeon levels, ten different weapons that can be upgraded three times each and utilized in both gameplay modes, RPG-like character improvement, moody and memorable music, and stylish graphics.

If you like fast-paced vertical shooters with tons of enemies to blow away and a huge selection of upgradable weapons that you can switch between on the fly, you’ll love this. It’s made by Compile, after all. If you love overhead action-adventure games in the Zelda mold, you’ll…like this.

Yeah, if the game has one flaw, it’s that the adventure segments aren’t as fully realized as they could be. The enemies don’t have much personality and don’t pose much of a threat. More importantly, there aren’t really any cool secret areas or items to be discovered. Everything’s pretty much right out in the open, as far as I can tell, since I was able to get all the weapons and upgrades without uncovering anything resembling a hidden area. Definitely some missed opportunities there. Still, these sections still work fine as a change of pace after the frantic shooting sections. When your heart is pounding after just barely overcoming a tough boss, it feels good to get shuttled back to the labyrinth to chill out and hunt some upgrades at a relaxed pace for a bit. And for what it’s worth, the overhead section are definitely better than Blaster Master’s.

In terms of challenge, it’s only average if you explore the labyrinth throughly for power-ups, but since seeking these out is largely optional, you can also increase your difficulty level (to a potentially extreme degree) just by deliberately avoiding these pickups.

So, in conclusion: The world needs more Guardian cosplay and I need an adorable plush lander.