There must have been something in the air at Konami HQ circa 1987. That summer saw them releasing two wholly distinct Famicom Disk System games themed around ersatz Indian mysticism of all things. I already covered one, the side-scrolling Temple of Doom homage Arumana no Kiseki, last year. Now it’s time to cap off this odd pseudo-duology with Meikyū Jiin Dababa (“Temple Labyrinth Dababa”).
First off, this is one odd duck. As a colorful top-down view action game with light puzzle elements, it bears a superficial resemblance to two other contemporary Konami titles: King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch and Ai Senshi Nicol. NES veterans like myself are far more likely to be reminded of Nintendo’s StarTropics, however. That game’s hero, Mike Jones, frequently needs to leap between square tiles suspended in water or lava in order to trigger hidden switches that unlock doors and reveal items. Dababa’s star, a bald lad named Shiva, does much the same. What’s more, he takes it to the extreme. Whereas Mike walks more or less normally over open ground, Shiva can only ever hop along the invisible grid that runs through the entirety of each level. I suppose this makes Meikyū Jiin Dababa a mirror image of Capcom’s Bionic Commando, which famously reinvented the platformer by subtracting the ability to jump. Here, it’s all jumping all the time!
Set in the ancient city of Pataliputra, Meikyū Jiin Dababa tells the story of brave apprentice monk Shiva’s attempt to rescue his master’s daughter Tanya from the clutches of the demon Dababa. This requires clearing out four temples comprising 23 small stages in total. Each temple has its own boss monster to defeat, of course, with Dababa himself waiting at the very end.
Most levels are straightforward affairs in which Shiva must dodge traps and fend off constantly respawning enemies with his projectile attacks long enough to find and activate the specific tiles that will open the exit door. If he takes too many hits, falls off the stage, or runs out of time, he’ll lose one of his limited stock of lives. Fortunately, you’re provided with unlimited continues and a save feature, so there no need to worry about losing progress.
There are a numerous items available to help Shiva on his way. Some are alternate weapons to replace his default throwing blade. These include fire, a triple spread shot, and a rolling sphere that functions like a bowling ball. You can also grab icons that will refill lost health, expand the health bar itself, halve incoming damage, freeze enemies in place, and more.
Once every temple or so, you’ll encounter a stage that changes things up by incorporating some very minor puzzle solving. For example, you might need to find a key, plan a route to complete the level as quickly as possible before it collapses beneath you, or keep your eyes peeled for a hidden exit. Though you’re bound to die a lot the first time you reach one of these sections, discovering their solutions naturally renders them no more challenging than the rest.
Another curveball comes in the form of the boss fights. The action suddenly shifts to a side-view perspective for these, although Shiva is still limited to hopping as he attempts to evade the boss’ attacks and return fire. This led to some pretty tense moments for me, especially during the two-phase final bout with Dababa.
Per usual, Konami didn’t skimp on the the audiovisual side of things. We’re treated to a spiffy introductory cutscene depicting Dababa’s abduction of Tanya. Beyond that, the sprites and backgrounds are all bright, clean, and full of personality. Composers Shinya Sakamoto, Satoe Terashima, and Kiyohiro Sada really leaned into the whole fantasy India angle. The results are broadly stereotypical and more than a little cheesy. That said, they’re still catchy and make good use of the FDS’ extra wavetable audio channel. It’s a step below Arumana no Kiseki’s stirring score, but still above average by the standards of the day.
On the whole, this is yet another high quality Disk System offering from Konami, further cementing their reputation as the peripheral’s undefeated third-party champion. Its compact, arcadey core design is fleshed out with just enough power-ups and puzzling to keep you on your toes throughout. The one major caveat to this is the relative severity of its learning curve. As you might expect, a lead character whose sole movement option is jumping takes some getting used to. Like the aforementioned Bionic Commando, it feels just plain weird right out of the gate. I can easily imagine some players firing this one up and then throwing in the towel after an awkward and frustrating first fifteen minutes. This is one of those cases where I can’t urge patience enough. If action puzzlers are your thing, you’ll find the rewards of getting to grips with Dababa’s strange controls more than worth the effort.
Strengths aside, Meikyū Jiin Dababa may have proven too quirky for its own good. Its legacy seems to be limited to a lone Shiva cameo in Jikkyou Power Pro Wrestling ’96 – Max Voltage for the Super Famicom. I guess that’s still more than Ai Senshi Nicol ever got. Great as Konami was at churning out these delightful FDS adventures, they were even better at forgetting them. That’s a mistake I don’t intend to make.