This month Tecmo is bringing another arcade hit, Solomon’s Key, to the Nintendo. This title brings a gaming experience unlike anything else currently on the system. Be prepared for complicated puzzles, hordes of monsters, and an extreme challenge.
You play as Dana, a wizard who is tasked with bringing peace back to the world by unlocking shrines with, you guessed it, ‘Solomon’s Key.’ The game is made up of 49 single-screen rooms, also known as shrines. The goal is simple: locate and grab the key in each shrine, and then make it to the exit to progress to the next level. However, actually pulling this off is more complicated than you might expect. Each room is filled with all kinds of monsters who stand between you and the key, and plenty more guard the exit. One touch from any of these monsters results in a loss of life. To make matters worse, there is a time limit for each room. If you dillydally around and the timer hits zero, poor Dana is done for.
All hope is not lost, however! As a wizard, Dana has the ability to create blocks and destroy them. That means you are able to build staircases to get to your destination, or build traps to block the monsters by altering their attack path. Dana has no weapon, so proper block management is vital. Luckily you can find hidden items and potions in each room, which will offer assistance. The most important item is the fireball, which have to power to kill your attackers. These are very scarce and thus extremely valuable. A defensive strategy is usually the best course of action, avoiding monsters and trapping them will lead to success. Save those fireballs for emergencies. But, be careful! You could just as easily become trapped or stuck by making or breaking the wrong blocks, trapping you forever in the room! This adds another complication to an already over-the-top difficult game.
This game will ask a lot from players and will require a lot of puzzle solving, strategy, trial & error, and perhaps just a touch of skill. Younger players may have difficulties formulating a plan, but it’s good exercise for their brains. All of the monsters follow a set path, so studying their patterns is crucial for success. Proper timing is essential while moving and jumping through the level, since a single mistake is rarely forgiven. The game is loaded with secrets and hidden items to locate, as well as bonus rooms to unlock. As grueling as the gameplay is, what really sets it apart from a hard game like Ghosts ‘N Goblins is the lack of a continue system. You can earn extra lives by rescuing ten fairies (and good luck doing that), but you start the game with only 3 lives. When you lose them, it’s game over, and you start completely over from the beginning. That’s an extremely small margin for error to complete all of the stages.
The audio and visuals in Solomon’s Key leave much to be desired. The graphics and color in this game are mediocre. There are no exciting backgrounds or visuals, however I do like the variety of enemies. All manner of creatures roam these rooms: demons, goblins, dragons, ghosts, you name it. The music is okay for the first few minutes, but becomes extremely repetitive and offers little variety (it speeds up when time is near expiration). If you intend to play this for a long period of time, I’d recommend turning on the radio or putting a record on.
The controls take a little time to get used to. This is another game where the Up direction makes you jump, which can be a bit unwieldy. The B action button creates blocks and the A action button shoots those precious fireballs. When your quest ends at the game over screen you’ll also get a score, which is comprised of your time, progress, and items collected.
Solomon’s Key is not going to impress with story, sound, or visuals. However, the level design in this game is incredible. Each room offers a new puzzle to solve and the game is loaded with all kinds of secrets to unlock. As difficult as the game is, the levels are all fair and can be conquered. If you enjoy some puzzle solving in your games, rather than straight-up action, you’ll certainly be satisfied purchasing this game. It should certainly take most gamers many hours to make it through to the end. The no continue system is very frustrating, however I did discover a secret (much like Super Mario Bros.) that does allow you to continue at the level you died on. This made the game a lot more enjoyable for me, but I can see purists wanting to play through it naturally.