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Banana (NES) artwork

Banana (NES) review

"Imagine Boulderdash, but instead of collecting goodies and shooting enemies, your character is hoarding for the winter and finding his wife and, occasionally, a new son."

I loved Adventures of Lolo and was glad there were three NES games. Banana is a puzzler and love story in its own right, as your mole digs through dirt to find his wife and return her home--and often he would get trapped without her following him. The raw challenge is high enough that you get helper items from previous solved levels. The result is a flexible, balanced and charming game that never feels strictly like a puzzler. Imagine Boulderdash, but instead of collecting goodies and shooting enemies, your character is hoarding for the winter and finding his wife and, occasionally, a new son.

Here are the rules. Your mole cannot go up without a ladder. He can't even stand on the top rung. While he can dig through actual dirt, he will fall if space is directly below him. Any boulder column he walks under will fall once he's gone past--no physical damage, so the main risk is blocking or destroying a passage back as he attempts to collect all the fruits scattered around, find his wife, and then enter the door to his home. His wife, once reached, follows one square behind and often can hold up falling boulders that prevented all backtracking before. So getting lost is frequent, and it's up to you to resign if you see you or your wife trapped by boulders, an unreachable fruit, or an unreachable door. You'll forget about space you opened below one "sure" path to a win, but on the other hand, walking on suspended fruit provides some of the most amusing solutions. So with so many ways to screw up, it's good the game allows you to start every five levels.

Because you'll be using the odd A/B combination that makes your hero and his wife face you and erupt in freeze-frame, shruggy tears. It's a sweet and tender moment where they can seem resigned or pleading, and with any text at all it would fail. This makes up for some frustration when puzzles become a screen and a half wide. There's a bit too much to keep in your head, and while you'll generally be going into a corner to get the toughest fruits first, the game starts to feel a bit abstract. With the wife rescue each level it usually doesn't--I often found myself tempted to rescue her right away, or pick off some nearby fruit.

But eventually the solution clears up as you see that this fruit must be taken before another, or you'll have to let this whole stack of boulders collapse as you can only go back and forth once, and chaining these observations narrows down the possible solutions. I had many different sorts of last lousy item losses, and often it was more an a-ha moment than thinking, geez, do I have to do THIS again? You really need a blend of experimentation and planning to get through Banana efficiently, and while a lot of general strategies carry over from previous levels, there's very little copying. And given the special pieces you can use--remove a boulder, place a ladder or throw a rope up--you can pass a lot of troubling levels. You get the special pieces by finishing levels with bananas. If there're enough in any one level, your mole can turn into Superman, sort of. Then he can blast through boulders and even rescue his son from an egg. It feels like a bonus level and adds a nice bit of variety.

While the graphics aren't spectacular, touches like your mole's half-smile and white gloves, along with his wife's blue hair, prevent the game from becoming drab. Levels spell out numbers or "SOS" and the like or even form a cocktail glass, at least until the end when challenge reigns over aesthetics. And if we've seen all the foods before, they're old favorites. Even the sound works well--the background music's a bit plain, but combined with the up-and-down digging tune, it's a neat little duet and a slight nudge to get going. There's also a level creation utility I never seriously explored except to realize how nontrivial making a good puzzle is. Because while the puzzles are sensible, I seem to forget them when I sit down to play after a long break, so there's really enough game to be caught up in, and there's no way to get through all 105 levels quickly.

It's amazing how the simple difference from "I almost got there" to "They didn't quite get there" provides emotion that helps a puzzle game from getting stale or maddening. This means the amount of deductive reasoning to solve some levels will take longer to drive people crazy, especially with the levels divided into reasonable groups and cheats allowed. Still, it's a very neat game where both the rules and story are intuitive, but you don't worry about abstract concepts like that until you've had your fun.


aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (March 02, 2012)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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zippdementia posted March 03, 2012:

Kudos for mentioning Lolo. That sucked me right into the review; good choice on comparison.
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aschultz posted March 03, 2012:

Thanks. I like Lolo a lot. I'm not big on name dropping but this seemed like too good a comparison to pass up.

Of course, I may break this rule by reviewing ANOTHER puzzle game with a mole as the main character and referring back to banana.

/dramatic foreshadowing music.

But really, yeah, I do like to see a story embedded in my puzzle games, and others probably like it even more than I do. I tend to be able to make my own silly story from abstract puzzles (it's probably not publishable, but yeah) though other people may just want to go through with it.

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