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NES Obscurity Quicky!

Another week, another game I sold long ago and bought again recently. But this time there's a twist: I already did a (really brief) write-up of this game in the past. So, I guess I already have a pretty good start on what I remembered about this game.
And the game is...
Athena
What's this game about?
The goddess Athena gets bored wandering down a hallway, so she jumps in the air...
and warps to a forest where she decides to kick yellow and blue bear creatures to get the mallets and hammers necessary to excavate medieval hats from rocks!
(Also other platformer-y things may happen).
What did I remember about it?
Well, I remember it being a no-win situation most of the time, for several reasons:
Despite painstakingly gathering and powering-up weapons and armor, you get beaten senseless by various and sundry enemies*, and has to re-start the level all over again.
(Optionally, if you explore the level and try to break every brick, or take a wrong turn -- more on this later! -- the timer may very well kill you instead)
A third option: if you survive long enough to find your way to the level boss, I hope you got one of the 2-3 weapons that can fire projectiles. Most bosses will make short work of you unless you can shoot projectiles!
What impression did it make this time?
Well, since I played it last, I've learned a little something about perseverance. And more importantly, I also learned the amusement factor of playing a video game that expects you to figure out how to 'game' the horrible game mechanics to make progress.
For example, The Last Action Hero is a SNES 1-plane beat-em-up (meaning you can't dodge up or down).
The only way to win against multiple opponents from both directions involves constantly 'juggling' enemies away from you with punches, and using holes in the hit detection (for example, if you run TOO CLOSE to the baseball bat guys, their swings don't connect).
So I dug in to Athena's quest with a vengence, trying to see what the designers expected of the blue-haired moppet of Wisdom. Here's the highlights of my search!
There are no bottomless pits... All pits either move you to upper/lower parts of the level. This sounds good so far, but instead of "death pits" for dead-ends, some of the pits...
  1. warp you back to the beginning of the level,
  2. AND take all your weapons/armor away
  3. AND don't reset your timer.
I'm not sure HOW that's better than taking a life away...especially because (like every game so far this month), losing your last life has almost no greater penalty than losing every other life. When you get Game Over, you have unlimited continues...so if you choose Continue, you just start again at the beginning of the latest level with 3 more lives. Actually, I AM sure that these dead-end pits are WORSE than losing a life: everything else is identical to what happens when you lose a life, BUT YOU DON'T GET A FRESH TIMER.
Having lots of armor-ups and weapon-ups to collect is fun, but both the weapon power-up and armor power-up systems are flawed:
  1. Armor Power-Ups tend to mean, "if you get hit when you have FEW armor-power-ups, you die really quick."
  2. There are TOO MANY Weapons: each weapon has 3 levels. You get Weapon Level 1 from enemies...and if you kill the same enemy again, you might get Weapon Level 2. However, the killer 3rd level of weapons can only be achieved from hidden power-ups hidden in blocks. Oh, and some weapons don't break blocks. Good luck!
  3. Also, TOO MANY enemies drop weapons. There's a lot of flickering graphics and you have to kill enemies fast to avoid death...but as you do so, you might replace your great Level 3 Hammer (an impressive flail) with a Level 1 Sword
(And did I mention the generous sprinkling of "power down"-s throughout the game?)
It definitely suffers from the Shoot-em-Up curse, If you're powered-up good and then die, sometimes you might just want to press RESET.
Stage 3, The Ocean level, is a good example of this: whatever you're carrying, you'd better power-up to a projectile weapon to fight the octopus boss. And fortunately, this level throws lots of fishmen at you, who drop either Arrows or Wands. UNfortunately, you can never tell which weapon a given fishman will drop.
The end result is: you'll have to spend a lot of time trying to get to Level 2 of either weapon (so you have the ability to break blocks, thus get the Armor you need to survive)...and even if you have exactly what you want, all of that goes down the drain if you accidentally kill an enemy who drops the other weapon right on your head.
If you die (while trying to gather the right gear, or failing to kill the boss), you go all the way back to the beginning of the level to start again. It's quite exhausting!
Then, there's the obscure power-ups with no in-game explanation --
For example, did you know that if you get this Lamp item, AND get to a specific dead-end in the level, you can warp to the next level WITHOUT fighting the boss? (yes, just like in the SNES version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein!).
Oh, and even if you knew that -- did you know if you die or get ANOTHER "item" power-up before the end of the level, that REPLACES the lamp, so that dead-end will just loop you to the beginning of the level again? Now try to figure out what's an "item" power-up (it's not a new weapon...or a new armor...or an Armor or Weapon power-up, or an Armor or Weapon power-down, that's for sure!
Maybe life would be easier if they, oh, I don't know...showed which Item Power Up is in effect, to both let you know there's some lingering effect from something (say, the Lamp), and moreover, let you know that SOMETHING ELSE REPLACED THE LAMP when you picked it up!?
So, to summarize...
I throw up my hands in disgust.
The Last Action Hero's bemused detatchment at bad game design will only take me far. I've only found more fascets of this game's poor execution, and I think my initial summary should have been plenty sufficient.
— carlmarksguy, 2015-12-21
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