Google+

Monday, April 29, 2013

NES Replay: Arkista's Ring

Have you ever played a game where it feels like everything should fit together, but never quite does? As you're playing it, you say, "I should like this. Everything about it is objectively OK, but I don't like it at all and can't exactly put my finger on why."

That's how I felt while playing Arkista's Ring. The controls in Arkista's Ring are solid. The music is passable, and the graphics are clean. So why does it leave me so cold?

Arkista's Ring is an overhead action-puzzle game in the same vein of Legend of Zelda. You play as a warrior woman who wields a bow and arrow. You must fight against hordes of monsters and make your way to pick up the titular ring of Arkista that you can use to save the world or something. Along the way you pick up different tools that can improve your armor and health and help you lay waste to your enemies.

Unlike Legend of Zelda, there is no overworld in Arkista's Ring. Instead, it's divided into a bunch of discrete levels. Each level is similar: Navigate a simple labyrinth while killing enemies. Once you reach a certain amount of enemies that you've killed, a key will appear. Pick up the key and find the door to get you to the next level.

There are two things that Arkista's Ring tries to do: Action and puzzles. Neither of them are very good. Let's look at the action first of all.

When you kill an enemy, there's a good chance that it'll drop a goodie bag. Inside those bags, you can find various consumable magic wands and health restoring potions. Some of these wands are almost game-breaking. For example, one of the wands kills all the enemies on the screen. That's fine if you get these wands every once in a great while, but they're constantly throwing these at the player. At one point in the early going, my inventory was full of magic wands that I had no use for.

Once the game gets harder, you start needing to lean on the wands, but that makes everything almost too easy. For example, why bother fighting the scary vampire in the middle of the room? Why not instead use a fireball-shooting wand and pelt him to death from across the level?

OK, so what what about the puzzles?

Here's a real example of a puzzle: You fight a couple of baddies at the bottom of the screen. You see more enemies on the top of the screen, but you're separated from them by a row of trees. One of the trees looks a little different than the others. You walk up and touch the tree and it disappears, giving you access to the top of the level.

That's the puzzle, folks.

So many of the "puzzles" are so brain-dead that they won't even slow you down. Compare that to The Legend of Zelda, where some of the puzzles actually make you think about what you're doing. What a concept!

One other major gripe: There's no level flow whatsoever. For example, the first part of the game starts out in a bombed-out village, then moves to a cave. After that, the levels change constantly: You're in a cave, then you're outdoors, then in a fortress, then outdoors, then in a cave, then a castle. There's no rhyme or reason to it. The levels don't feel like part of a whole, but rather distinct areas with no relation between them. It makes Arkista's Ring feel less like an epic quest and more like a series of places that you just sort of go to.

That's a big problem for a game of this type. An action game needs to have some sort of stakes involved, like, "If you don't win, this really bad thing will happen." Think of all the great action games of the NES era: If you don't get to the end of Super Mario Bros., the princess stays with Bowser. If you don't finish Zelda, Ganon wins and destroys Hyrule. If you don't finish Mega Man, Dr. Wily destroys the world with his robots.

This is accomplished almost entirely by level flow. While the instruction manual might tell you the motivation, the levels are what propel you through the game proper. Everything in the game is supposed to move you toward a final confrontation, so when you finally reach that point, all that you have learned and experienced prepares you for that moment.

I'm sure there's a plot behind Arkista's Ring, but you would be hard-pressed to find it in the game itself. Within the game, you instead feel like an aggressor who's killing a bunch of creatures at random and hoping to move on. Some of them aren't even trying to attack you, just standing there and minding their own business when you brutally murder them.

With better level flow, this feeling could have been avoided. The first levels could sttill have taken place in a bombed-out village, but then it could have diverged from there. You could have moved through the village and reached the elder's house. Inside the elder's house, you could have fought a vampire. Then, in the house, you find a cave. Go through the cave, reach a mountain. Climb the mountain, reach the clouds. Navigate the clouds, find a tunnel. Take the tunnel, go into a volcano. Meet the boss. Boom.

That's level flow. Instead of having that flow, Arkista's Ring feels like, "A bunch of stuff happened, and now the game is over. Congratulations! Or something."

I will say that Arkista's Ring excels in one area: In stark contrast to the stingy games of the time, Arkista's Ring gives the player three lives and ten continues. That's pretty cool. Everything else needs work.

Final Rating:


Next Week: Asterix