Sunday, May 22, 2011


Tecmo / Pack-in Video / Arc

My noble brother Alexei is the big Solomon's Key fan in the family; I'm just the doofus who always confuses the title with Spelunker for some reason. Foggy-at-best recollections did little to pump me up for Pack-in Video's PC Engine revamp of SK ("That cave game?"). I did have good reason to believe I would enjoy it, however. An upgraded rendition of a game Alexei loves seemed like a safe bet, as my stout sibling is nearly infallible. And the presence of the Pack-in moniker on a cover is typically a harbinger of enjoyment (perhaps only for me, but whatever...). Speaking of covers, what a wacky sight this game's is. It's tough not to go into the Zipang experience with a general feeling of positivity.

The experience itself was an enjoyable and surprisingly addictive one for me. There isn't really a whole lot to it, conceptually: you can make and bust blocks, and in each level you must utilize these cube-centric talents to reach an out-of-the-way key and an even-more-out-of-the-way exit. The variety in enemies, obstacles, and challenges that the game throws your way from stage to stage (and even within each stage) is remarkable, especially considering that lengthy sequences of distinct conundrums are built into small, single-screen boards. Sometimes, you have to construct serpentine stairways to make it to your goal; sometimes, you need to find your way through intricate preset labyrinths. Build blockwork barriers to keep aerial foes at bay; take out the ground beneath a beast-warrior's feet to send him plummeting to his death; and lure a mindless pursuer into a niche and seal him away, Cask of Amontillado style.

Zipang keeps things interesting, and it keeps them challenging as well. Know this: you'll find yourself very frustrated at times, if not with the puzzles themselves, then with the hero's extremely inconvenient lack of dexterity. But also know that you'll feel incredibly proud after overcoming a particularly difficult series of trials. And once it's all over, once all sixty boards have been conquered, you'll likely look back on the trying times and, with a sense of accomplishment in tow, realize you wouldn't change a single thing about how the experience unfolded.

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