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DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) artwork

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) review

"Redemption through polishing unambitious design "

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's Quest is a Japan-exclusive SNES platformer less well-known than its NES predecessor, Milon's Secret Castle. Actually, "less notorious" may be a more suitable moniker; many, including some angry video game nerd, weren't too big on Secret Castle. That game was the epitome of cryptic 8-bit games, with hidden doors, massive dead-end routes, and all sorts of other nonsense resulting in a maddeningly miserable maze that could be issued as a penalty for criminal malefactors. Yet what others see as a waste of time I see as... well, a waste of time that is also one of the most ambitious titles on the NES. A platformer with nonlinear level design, in-game stores, and secret areas was novel at the time, however butchered and dysfunctional they may be. The terrible and the innovative aspects of Milon's Secret Castle alike make the existence and nature of its SNES sequel all the more fascinating, a final product that challenges assumptions of the very nature of game design in the ways it differs from its predecessor for the better.

The most immediately evident departure from the previous game is the presentation. Secret Castle had almost no visual or sonic features to distinguish it from hordes of other NES games, yet DoReMi Fantasy has presentation rivaled by almost none of its contemporaries. A vivid color palette brings to life the various worlds, from the elsewhere tiresome verdant forests and snowy mountains to the delightfully original candylands and concert halls. Even more appealing is the sprite work, which comprises some of the most fluid 16-bit animation out there; the attention to detail is truly spectacular, with your character demonstrating a host of reactions to available actions and damage from obstacles. The enemies should not be neglected for their amusingly goofy designs, giving the game a great sense of personality. Of course, as the title suggests, the music is also excellent, with waltzes, tangos, and and ambiance resulting in a delight for the ears.

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) imageDoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) image

The uniqueness of DoReMi Fantasy's presentation among 16-bit platformers is apparent from the cutscene that introduces us to titular protagonist Milon. He's some Young Link-lookin' kid, and despite appearing a jolly fellow at first, he dons a serious scowl upon the kidnapping of his anime fairy chick. He must defeat Magic Bad Guy #117 by getting the seven Dragon Balls or instruments or whatever to break a curse, I guess. The anime-trope quest is less notable than the little in-game cutscenes, which range from utterly forgettable to utterly bizarre, the pointless Bomberman cameo being my favorite. Still, he has to fight his way to his goal, and like real-life kids with a bone to pick, Milon sets off to murder everything in his way using a household toy, a bubble blower in this instance.

I, for one, know of only eight ways to kill a man with a bubble blower, yet Milon seems to have everything under control if the gameplay is any indication. The original game had a finicky aiming system for Milon's tool of destruction, but here it's all intuitive projectile combat. Well, kinda; you must incapacitate enemies inside a bubble prison, ramming into their humiliated form to finish them off. An enemy's brief stun period from being bubbled or trod upon by a Mario-style jump from Milon makes for a mechanic more engaging than what most platformers offer. The powerups are of a meager but handy variety, with a get-out-free card for pits and very valuable floaty boots that give Milon a hover effect like the Tanooki Suit from Mario. Fortunately, one won't need these powerups as direly as one would in Secret Castle, for DoReMi Fantasy is a vastly better-balanced game.

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) imageDoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) image

Secret Castle, in its vast labyrinths, was an exercise in aimlessness at calm times and an exercise in agony during the absurdly difficult boss battles. DoReMi Fantasy does a 180 in both regards, featuring largely linear levels accessed from a Super Mario World map, a far cry from the ambitious sprawling castle from the previous game. The bone-crushing challenge has been replaced with a lax difficulty that pretty much any age group can get into; with those floaty boots, the game gets so easy that the nine-life cap is necessary for any challenge. Secret Castle was difficult via bad level design, unfair enemies, and obtrusive mechanics; improving all these makes DoReMi Fantasy perhaps too much easier. Or maybe it's so easy because its gameplay is so familiar.

Functional and polished as it is, one cannot help feeling a lingering sense of familiarity when playing DoReMi Fantasy. Jump on the enemy's head or hit them with projectiles! Get a buncha magic MacGuffins! Run around in ice levels and lava levels and whatever levels! Sometimes new mechanics are thrown into the mix, but creating ladders or riding snowboards and whatnot is severely underutilized to the point of adding almost nothing. Therefore, this little game raises an interesting artistic dilemma: with how many works are out there, can a work bank on just its presentation being unique?

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) imageDoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (SNES) image

To answer this query, let's look back at the differences between the two Milon games in terms of gameplay. Secret Castle was certainly unique and ambitious, with a massive overworld to explore and item-based challenges not often seen in platformers back then... but it wasn't any good. DoReMi Fantasy played it relatively safe and managed to be one of the most enjoyable platformers on the SNES. Beyond the scope of 16-bit platformers, the cutesy aesthetic here isn't notably original; I could be considered an exception to finding this novel. After all, I'm not one to waste time watching goofy Japanese cartoons, but would some otaku having blown thousands of hours of his life on Japanese media find the art style here as memorable? No, it is not the uniqueness of the gameplay or the aesthetic of DoReMi Fantasy alone that make it a good game; it is the polish applied to both respects that makes it successful.

In the end, what you see is what you get with DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's Quest. Do you see the same jumping and shooting as in other games, accompanied by an art direction typical of Japanese animation? Well, that's what you get. Or do you see a platformer with balancing and polish leagues ahead of its contemporaries, enhanced by delightfully detailed colors and silliness? Whichever stance you identify with, it's undeniable that Milon's choice to stop grasping so far from his reach on the NES and start refining what he could do on the SNES resulted in one of the best platformers of the era, one that took familiar elements into a newer blend that hardcore retro fans of the genre shouldn't overlook.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Featured community review by Follow_Freeman (April 30, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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overdrive posted May 01, 2018:

As someone who owned the NES Milon, I never even considered this to be worth looking at. Perhaps I was wrong, as it sounds pretty good. One question: You refer to it as one of the best platformers of its era and only have a couple small complaints, but it has a 3-star rating. Is that what you were looking for, since from reading, I was thinking you'd be going for at least a 4 from your tone?
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Follow_Freeman posted May 01, 2018:

Thank you! There exists an English translation patch if you wish to go the emulation route.

As for the rating, I find rating systems arbitrary and unimportant compared to my critique, so I don't pour over the scores too much. However, in this case I decided 3/5 was the way to go since this game works on doing largely the same thing as other games with its own expression, like a different artist painting the same rose, to morph a quote from famed filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. You're not going to see much here that you haven't seen before, but at least you won't suffer the bad difficulty curves and lack of polish that even the 16-bit era was characterized by once you got past the dozen or so all-time platforming classics. This game's dynamic struggle to be unique is what most interested me, as the last few paragraphs detail.

The other reason is that I want to make 5/5 games be all the more demanding of respect, ones anyone can appreciate. Games like Environmental Station Alpha and Tyrian (coming soon) are rather unknown Hall of Fame material that should be played by everyone. Guess it's time for a 1/5 review soon, too...

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