Monday, July 20, 2020

NES Replay: Solomon's Key

Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Released: July 1987
So anyway, as I was saying.

Tecmo was one of the first third-party developers for the NES. and they were actually innovating pretty heavily. In contrast to companies like Data East or Capcom, they weren’t content to just transfer their arcade hits wholesale onto a console, either.

Solomon’s Key is probably the closest thing they did to an arcade-to-console port in those days. It’s also the kind of game that makes you want to rip your hair out in wet chunks. I’ll explain why shortly.

First, puzzle games have an interesting history. They weren’t very common early on. Remember, the history of video games began in the arcades, where the whole goal was to separate a player from his money as often as possible. You certainly couldn’t have someone being smarter than the puzzle game and playing indefinitely on a machine.

Usually, when we think of puzzle games, we think of Tetris, Puyo Puyo and Dr. Mario, but early developers weren’t thinking that far outside of the box yet. Most early puzzle games combined action and puzzles. (As an aside, one of the earliest, if not the earliest, was a game called Heiankyo Alien, which was developed in 1979. I only know that Heiankyo Alien exists because a high school friend of mine bought the Game Boy port as a joke and started unapologetically loving it.) Early action puzzlers like Lode Runner is a prime example of this form, and we'll get to that much later.

Solomon’s Key
is in a similar mold: It looks like a platformer, but you have a puzzle to solve and things to find in order to get to the end of the level. You play as a wizard named Dana who can create and destroy certain blocks and get magic spells, all on his way to release fairies, unlock the door at the end of the level and escape.

When you play the first few levels of Solomon’s Key, you think to yourself, “Hey, I’m getting this!” It’s hard, but manageable. Then things ramp up fast and it becomes nearly impossible.

I thought that maybe it was just me, but then I watched a video of a run of Solomon’s Key just to see what I was missing. The solutions to the individual puzzles are far from easy. Some of the solutions require you to know where an invisible item is or get the timing JUST RIGHT or lose everything.

That’s the danger with action-puzzlers. If you’re not careful, a bog-standard action-puzzle can turn into a game of “guess what the developer was thinking,” and no one enjoys that except the developer. Still, I’m going to give Solomon’s Key a pass for at least trying something different. They were breaking ground on something that very few developers had tried, so that counts for something.

Final Rating:

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