Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Landstalker - 17/20 hours

There was a moment in Landstalker that legitimately cracked me up. You're in a dungeon, trying to race the villain to a legendary treasure, and you spot each other over an impassable chasm. The villain then does the standard villain thing where he brags about how he's always one step ahead of you, and mockingly offers to go slower so you catch up . . . and then he and his henchmen exit the screen really slowly. It was hilarious.

Which makes me wonder about this game's writing. You can see flashes of inspiration here and there, where's it's clear that Landstalker is trying to be a light-hearted and irreverent take on the fantasy genre. Your fairy companion, Friday, gets irrationally jealous when you talk to certain female characters. The princess who gets kidnapped tells you about how it was always her fantasy to be rescued by a hero. At one point, a knight bribes you to keep the secret of his ballet training.

Yet so much of the time in between is relatively bland. Did something get lost in the translation? Did the old Genesis cartridges not have enough memory to hold an entire script? Was video game writing, as an art form, simply not mature enough in 1992 to allow for the nuance and the humor they were clearly going for. Or maybe the game is funnier than I'm giving it credit for, and it's just the weight of all the hours of frustrating platforming that's distorting my memory.

Whatever the reason, Landstalker never really develops its own unique voice. My initial impression of the game as a Legend of Zelda knockoff wasn't quite accurate, but I'm not sure how I'd sell it in the absence of such a comparison. "It's an adventure game with a lot of platforming-based exploration, but the platforming doesn't always work" doesn't seem like much of a glowing recommendation.

I think the main thing Landstalker is lacking is a sense of worldbuilding. There's a vague reference to "the continent" and the Princess is from somewhere called the "Kingdom of Maple," but it's hard to see how all of this hangs together. Also, the dungeons could stand to be more integrated thematically with the game's story, and a cast of subvillains to act as minibosses would not go amiss (you get Zak, the Dragonian bounty hunter as a kind of honorable rival, but he's the only one of his kind that shows up and you fight him at a more or less random point int the game).

Maybe that's why Landstalker never developed into a franchise. It has a lot going for it, and its flaws are forgivable, considering its age, but I never really felt a pressing need to learn more about its world or characters.

1 comment:

  1. Your comment on the writing reminds me of my experience playing Lili: Child of Geos. The writing felt like it'd been written by two (or more) different people, because the writing was occasionally witty and sometimes touching, but often based in sophomoric, juvenile humor.

    Don't worry, I won't put that game on your challenge list. There's not more than four, maybe five hours of content. Even playing it a second time would leave you ten hours shy, and the other ten would be torture.