Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole

Landstalker is a game I remember being really interested in but never got around to playing. All the UK Sega magazines were raving about it at the time but being a poor child I couldn’t afford it. When the game was picked for a recent Game Club 199X event over at Hardcore Gaming 101 I found it was the perfect opportunity to give the game a whirl. 

Landstalker is a bag of clichés. You play as the unfortunately named Treasure Hunter Nigel who runs into a spot of bother when he decides to rescue a Wood Nymph named Friday from a band of thieves. The thieves are after Friday because she knows the location of the legendary Treasure of King Nole from the title. So the two strike up a deal and head off to look for the treasure together. Although the story is predictable it’s full of charm and amusing moments, particularly from Friday who has a secret crush on Nigel.

I’d like to say Landstalker is an action adventure game in a similar vein to Zelda but it’s not as well structured. While Zelda’s roadblocks to progression are overcome by gaining new abilities the roadblocks in Landstalker halt progress until you move the story forward by talking to certain NPCs or defeating dungeons. In fact at one point progress is stopped by a literal roadblock caused by a landslide. 

 The first thing that will strike you about Landstalker is the isometric perspective. Fans of the ZX Spectrum games will be well familiar with isometric perspectives from classics like Head over Heels and the Ultimate games but it’s quite unusual for a Japanese action game. It’s probably the game’s greatest strength and weakness. It really gives the world a sense of 3D depth and it looks gorgeous for a Megadrive game. On the downside the game requires a lot of tricky platforming that can be extremely frustrating due to awkward controls and the strange perspective. Objects and the player character lack shadows making jumps and heights very hard to judge. Some of the later dungeons are particularly infuriating and one misjudged jump can lead you to the beginning of the dungeon and some infuriating backtracking. It seems at times that the designers are purposefully using the isometric perspective against you with red herring platforms and other nastiness.

Platforming in isometric games needs to be outlawed!
It’s not just the isometric perspective that causes problems but some badly thought out puzzles as well. There’s a few mazes in the game, two of which constitute the most annoying parts of the game. Getting stuck for nearly an hour in a teleporter maze in and giving up for the night after over an hour in the dreaded ‘Green Maze’ section weren’t a high point in enjoyment. Some timed puzzles require such precise timing that they require multiple repeat attempts. Combat is at least is inoffensive. The AI is pretty dumb with the only real tactic is hacking away while keeping your distance.

 I did have a lot of fun with Landstalker but it was spoiled somewhat by later stages when the game started to really punish the player with ridiculous backtracking for the slightest mistake. It really doesn’t lives up to all the praise it got at released but I understand where it came from. At the time it was pretty much the Megadrive’s only response to A Link to the Past until Soleil/Crusader of Centy came out. I more than likely would have loved this game had I played it back in 1993. I’m glad I finally did get around to playing and finishing it and I don’t think I would have managed that if not for Game Club 199X.

The chickens really have awful potty mouths!