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Little Samson (NES) artwork

Little Samson (NES) review

"It's yet another case in which a developer wisely forsook innovation for refinement. The team at Takeru knew their audience, they knew what platformer players wanted, and they delivered. Oh, did they ever deliver"

Little Samson asset

There are some of us NESers (myself included) who are more enamored with the 8-bit era than we perhaps should be. Any time someone shows interest in older games, we corner them and gab for hours about various titles like they were old wars in which we once served. I can lose hours recounting my experiences in the Battle of Contra, the fight for Castlevania Hill, and the war between gamers and Dr. Wily. There are some battles, though, that few gamers talk about. One example is the battle at Little Samson. The lack of discussion is likely due to the game’s late release in 1992, when most gamers were engaged in Genesis and SNES battles. Little Samson's resulting obscurity is unfortunate, because it's actually one of the most enjoyable titles in the NES library.

When playing the first stage, the first thing I noticed was the exuberant music. It was a catchy, confident tune with a memorable beat that soon found me stamping my foot. I guided the young titular hero through an introductory stage that exemplified the gameplay elements I could expect from the rest of the game. Tight controls and smooth animation kept the pace quick. I leaped from platform to platform, blasting cute enemies out of the sky with projectile shots while effortlessly weaving around their own barrage. I marveled as Samson clung to a wall and allowed me to ascend it without complications or collision detection issues. Something about it seemed too perfect, like any minute the house of cards was going to come tumbling down and I would be stuck picking up the pieces of another disappointing rental.

Little Samson screenshotLittle Samson screenshot

The next three stages introduced new characters, and with each such introduction my heart swelled. I commanded a dragon who floated through the air a la Princess Peach. She also spat fire, which could be charged up by holding the 'B' button. With her level completed, I then took on the role of a mighty golem. Fear set in as I came to an impassable bed of spikes, but that waned as I realized that golem was impervious to them. The golem could shrug off a beating and hit incredibly hard, though the tradeoff was he moved slowly. Finally, I played an enchanted mouse who could drop bombs. What this guy lacked in size and defense, he made up in speed. I found myself getting into little nooks and crannies the others couldn't, securing items otherwise out of reach.

After completing the mouse's stage, I saw Little Samson's scheme. These characters were going to meet up for a journey, and I would need all of their talents to overcome various obstacles. With each new situation that would arise, there would be one or two characters best suited for handling it. I felt more of my initial worry dissipate as I saw the small outline of what the developers at Takeru were playing at. If executed properly, it would be something amazing.

In each stage, the difficulty rose incrementally. There were no great problems in the early phases of the game, save for occasions when more than two projectiles or enemies came at me. As I advanced, I saw things heat up to the point that I had to multitask. I found myself timing a jump off of a moving platform so I could leap over both a pitfall and a projectile, bearing in mind that I had to fire the instant I touched down in order to take out an enemy lying in wait.

I found myself performing all the same cliches I recognized from previous platformers, only I never found myself growing tired of it. I made many long jumps, leaped onto disappearing/reappearing platforms, dodged randomly spawning evil spirits, and crept through tight crawlspaces with spikes all around me. One stage featured large holes filled with life-stealing lava, while another pitted me against lightning-summoning liches in a castle of ice. It was difficult to dodge the bolts while bumbling around on the ice and trying to take out the creatures, but thrilling when I pulled it off unscathed. Several times came when I had to ride a moving platform, leap off it and onto a tiny block over a pitfall, then dive headfirst into a throng of floating skulls or slimes. Along the way, I switched characters often. Samson worked best for basic platforming scenes, while the dragon took on large gaps located between platforms. The golem came in handy when tougher enemies appeared, since his punches could one-shot certain enemies that took several hits with other characters. The game always kept me on my toes, always had me either thinking and planning or reacting to situations.

I so loved playing through each challenging stage that I made an effort to "accidentally" lose my passwords every time I rented the game. It was one of the few times I didn't groan when my password book went missing, or when a password didn't work. I didn't mind rising to the occasion because, for all the challenge this game featured, it was fair. If I died, it was my fault. I couldn't blame faulty controls or cheap game design. There were a few times, though, that I could blame the game. Mainly, it had to do with randomly spawning enemies, though such scenes are few and far between. In the middle of my leap over a pit, an evil spirit would randomly spawn right on the platform I was headed for. Few though these incidents were, it was still irritating to lose life thanks to rotten luck.

Little Samson screenshotLittle Samson screenshot

The true test of my mettle came at the end of a run of stages. Soft music would kick in, reassuring me my quest was forlorn. Within a few seconds, I would see why. The grotesque and monstrous sprite of a boss--a stark contrast to the cute and light-hearted enemy designs featured throughout the stages--would appear, and I knew I would be in for a hell of a fight. I found myself in a stare down with an armored sea serpent that sent water upward in killing spires. I took on an undead knight who was mounted on a decayed steed and accompanied by long perished squires. The worst battles involved various robed mages. After I defeated a single mage, he would slink off into the background and transform to a horrific beast. One took on the appearance of a demonic dragon, and another became the grim reaper himself. I remember well the latter. He would vanish into the background and reappear at a random location on the screen, sometimes right next to me if I was unlucky. One touch from this guy shaved off most of my life, and even instantly killed some characters.

Skill was my main defense against these beasts. They usually operated based on a certain pattern and fired shots that were tricky to dodge. Sometimes, though, skill wasn't enough. Bosses sometimes took ages to kill, especially if I had to use Samson. The longer I spent fighting them, the more time they had to cut loose attacks I couldn't dodge easily. Thankfully, the developers provided items that helped to tip the scales more in my favor. Enemies occasionally dropped special hearts that increased my health capacity. Now and then I'd also find a magic potion similar to the E-tanks from Mega Man. It wasn't a wise idea to boil boss battles in this game down to a constitution brawl, but it worked as a last resort. These items helped make it possible.

I played Little Samson for hours. I played until my thumb couldn't handle it, until my head pounded, until I had to take the game back. Though I never bought it, I always thought I should. Nothing about this game was new or innovative. It rehashed ideas from many other platformers, yet I couldn't stop returning to it. The developers knew what kind of game they were making and they did it well. It was as if they played all of the contemporary platformers, analyzed every inch of them, and created a greatest hits compilation using all of the most effective features and elements. It's yet another case in which a developer wisely forsook innovation for refinement. The team at Takeru knew their audience, they knew what platformer players wanted, and they delivered. Oh, did they ever deliver.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Freelance review by Joseph Shaffer (July 18, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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overdrive posted July 19, 2012:

Really good review, Joe. I remember seeing Little Samson in Nintendo Power and thinking it looked great and a lot of fun, but I never got around to playing it. And now, I have it in my rom collection, but still haven't gotten around to playing it. From this review, I might have to make a point to eventually do so.
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honestgamer posted July 19, 2012:

It's a great game, Rob. Make it the next NES title you experience.
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dagoss posted July 19, 2012:

This is one of those games that I owned at one point and could kick myself for selling.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 19, 2012:

Thanks, OD! I second Jason's motion on making it the next NES game you play.
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zippdementia posted July 19, 2012:

Joe introduced me to another one I've never heard of! I feel sad I missed this one. I believe I actually have seen it in my youth, while browsing Hollywood's game selection, but the name turned me off. And you have to admit, Little Samson is a terrible name for a game. Four Creatures of Destiny or The Golden Quest or even Samson's Adventure would have inspired more of a purchasing mood in me.

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