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The Battle of Olympus (NES) artwork

The Battle of Olympus (NES) review

"Pay a visit to the island maze-fortress of Crete and the minute you step in the door, you'll be cut to shreds by various Amazon warriors who are both durable and capable of moving their shields around to block attacks much like The Adventures of Link's Ironknuckles. And I haven't even mentioned Phrygia's MANY snake-dragons that take more damage than most bosses while blasting the crap out of you with fire. Brutal…"

When it comes to the ancient Greek legends, Orpheus is probably the least likely of their heroes to pull a Kratos and slaughter virtually every other creation of their lore in order to accomplish a goal. The short version of his story goes as such: His girlfriend died and her soul went to Hades; Orpheus, a talented musician, couldn't bear living without her, so he traveled to Hades and so impressed the deity of the same name with his impassioned, musical plea that the god offered his love back to him with one condition -- she would follow him and he could not look back upon her until reaching the surface world. Since Orpheus was a mortal and mortals tend to be really damn stupid in these stories, he got nervous just before leaving Hades, looked back and she disappeared for good. Orpheus then wandered the earth until, for some reason, a bunch of crazy women tore him to shreds. Well, that didn't turn out as expected…

Infinity decided to rewrite this sad tale in 1988 and Broderbund ported it to America the next year as The Battle of Olympus. There are a couple of subtle differences to the story for this NES version of the legend, which goes as follows: Orpheus loses his girlfriend and finds out the god Hades kidnapped her to be his bride. Not taking this sort of insult lying down, the mortal gets the endorsement of various other gods, strolls through Greece kicking the crap out of every monster he finds, descends into Tartarus, annihilates Hades, reclaims his girl and they live happily ever after. The only things missing are an action montage showing Orpheus training and a hair metal soundtrack playing as he and his girl walk into the sunset as the credits roll!

The Battle of Olympus screenshot The Battle of Olympus screenshot

Battle of Olympus is a shameless rip-off of Nintendo's Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, boasting the same sort of graphics -- in particular, human characters who might have been directly ripped from that game. At least they picked a good game to steal from, as this lack of originality isn't a bad thing. It's when they deviate from that path that cracks start to appear. As Orpheus, you travel from region to region in Greece. You'll kill monsters to earn olives (money), which you use to buy weapon upgrades and key items. Most regions have at least one boss fight against various Greek monsters like the cyclops, hydra, minotaur and others. There's kind of a "Metroidvania" vibe to this game. From the region you start the game in, you can find exits to four other places, so it's up to you to figure out where to go first, as most areas have sections that are inaccessible until you obtain the proper item.

While your standard sword attack has very little range, there are ways to augment your fighting prowess. Early in the game, you'll receive a staff. When one of the gods unlocks its true power, it'll shoot fireballs that give you an effective long-range attack that makes it useful for most of the game, even though you'll get two weapons afterwards which are more powerful. The most powerful of that duo also can fire a projectile…but using that attack will deplete your life meter until late in the game, when another deity sells you an item that negates said damage, turning it into a true weapon of the gods. There are also ambrosia power-ups which give you more life, items to call a pegasus or dolphin to give you a ride, a crystal to unlock hidden doors and a few other goodies to discover…if you can get past all the monsters in Orpheus' way.

Battle of Olympus doesn't mess around. I could easily title this review "An Ode to My Diminished Gaming Skill" after playing through this game for the first time in a couple decades. Back when I was in high school, I didn't think this game was THAT tough. Sure, it was challenging and some parts were downright brutal -- in particular an early boss fight against the bow-wielding Lamia when I had no long-range attacks and simply had to hope my timing was good enough to dodge her arrows and connect enough times to finish her off before my tiny life meter had been depleted -- but I got through it without that much fuss. Hell, the most difficult thing I could remember (and what kept me from beating it more than a handful of times) was the ungodly long passwords this game had. When you're dealing with 24-28 characters that include BOTH upper-case and lower-case letters, it might be a sign that someone should have considered using battery back-up.

The Battle of Olympus screenshot The Battle of Olympus screenshot

The version of myself that's in his late 30s didn't have things so easy. Sure, things (apart from Ms. Lamia) aren't too challenging in the early going, as most of the opposition involves slugs dropping out of trees and a few other weak foes running straight at you, but it doesn't take long for things to get stressful. The Peloponnesus is a confusing maze loaded with erratically flying bats. Laconia introduces birds that drop rocks on your head while you're busy with the hordes of scorpions and monkeys on the ground. Those birds and monkeys return in Phitia…except this mountainous region also has many tiny ledges over bottomless pits. Get whacked on one of those and the knock-back effect is very likely to send you falling to your demise while you watch helplessly. Pay a visit to the island maze-fortress of Crete and the minute you step in the door, you'll be cut to shreds by various Amazon warriors who are both durable and capable of moving their shields around to block attacks much like The Adventures of Link's Ironknuckles. And I haven't even mentioned Phrygia's MANY snake-dragons that take more damage than most bosses while blasting the crap out of you with fire. Brutal…

Sadly, not all of the brutality comes from finding ways to slay monsters and stay alive through difficult regions of Greece. This game also seems to have been influenced by Castlevania II: Simon's Quest in that it's fond of forcing players to wonder exactly what the hell they're supposed to be doing at any given point in time. All throughout the land are people who give you vague hints about various items and secrets. Just from visiting these folks, you're apparently supposed to know that of all the bottomless pits in the game, a particular one in the cavern region of Argolis actually has a bottom…where you both get an ambrosia and collect shells from the snake-like salamanders as ingredients for a shield upgrade. Or exactly what screens you need to use the crystal on to find doors leading to kidnapped nymphs. Growing up, I had Nintendo Power to help me figure out the worst of these "puzzles" (much like with Simon's Quest), but I don't really approve of needing a magazine subscription (or Internet walkthrough) to get through a game without risking a brain hemorrhage from over-thinking things. Or maybe today's games with their extended tutorials and detailed in-game maps have simply spoiled me and made me soft. Either way, Battle of Olympus can be unnecessarily frustrating at times.

But it's also still a very good title that, at times, approaches genius. My personal highlight has always been the entrance to Tartarus. It opens with the best way for a game like this to handle a boss rush. You'll go through a string of rooms, each with multiple exits. Pick the right one and you move to the next room; pick the other door and you'll get a rematch with one of the game's previous bosses. I like that -- a boss rush where you only fight bosses if you're unlucky. This string of rooms ends with a mandatory battle with Cerberus, who provides the most tense and exhilarating moment of the game. Each of the dog's two heads (downgraded from the three it possessed in legend) can only absorb a few hits, but you have to take both of them off quickly or it'll regenerate damage (and lost heads), which can cause the fight to last indefinitely…or at least until he rips out your throat. Moments like that are worth appreciating in a good game, even if there are a few frustrations to overcome on the way there.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 22, 2012)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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