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Ardy Lightfoot (SNES) artwork

Ardy Lightfoot (SNES) review

"It's not difficult to see why companies often make platformers starring cute mascots. After all, making a lovable talking animal is far more easier than making, say, a lovable angst-filled teenager. Mario, despite being an overweight plumber with approximately zero charisma, is nonetheless one of the most recognizable icons of video gaming. Platformers are also quite easy to develop; they may add new abilities or introduce new elements, but you could still get by perfectly with the run-and-jump ..."

It's not difficult to see why companies often make platformers starring cute mascots. After all, making a lovable talking animal is far more easier than making, say, a lovable angst-filled teenager. Mario, despite being an overweight plumber with approximately zero charisma, is nonetheless one of the most recognizable icons of video gaming. Platformers are also quite easy to develop; they may add new abilities or introduce new elements, but you could still get by perfectly with the run-and-jump formula that has been around since the days of the NES.

Of course, it's not difficult to see why such games often flop, either. Simplicity is never simple to get right, and practically every third game on the SNES is some botched platformer that lacks both any real flaws and any real merits. Now, games like this could be moderately enjoyable, but the gamer will be hard pressed to find anything they can't find in a superior game, and he will promptly forget it when a more eye-catching game comes along.

Ardy Lightfoot is a prime example of such middling platformers. The eponymous hero, a rodent-like animal in a feathered hat, embarks on a quest to recover all seven pieces of a mysterious ancient power and defeat the evil... spherical being, Visconti. At his disposal are the typical run and jump, as well as a tail-smash attack. His tail can also bounce him to heights he can't reach with his jump. But Ardy's most unique asset is Pec: although he seems to be a pallete swap of Visconti, he is Ardy's closest ally. Pec doesn't mind being thrown around, and he will devour any enemy that he comes in contact with. At certain points in the game, Pec will even gain special powers such as flying for a limited amount of time (bearing Ardy on his back) or devouring blocks of solid metal.

It's not a bad premise, and Ardy Lightfoot is not a bad game. What sinks Ardy Lightfoot is inconsistency. It's painfully clear that the developer couldn't carry and sustain this premise for the duration of one full game, and they lacked the competence to at least make Ardy Lightfoot feel smooth. What you get is a game which constantly bounces between extremes: Too easy, too hard, too simple, too complicated.

There's the all too simple beginning. A pleasant enough opening stage holds hope; Ardy is good to control, and it's genuinely fun to use Pec. But soon the game descends into a tedious potpourri of the oldest cliches known in platforming. Look, moving platforms! Beds of spikes! Moving platforms with spikes! Your opposition, consisting mainly of mini-Viscontis, don't help: they're easily dealt with by a single attack. In stage three, Ardy promises some variety by hopping into a mine cart - but that turns out to be a mere facade. After ducking a few high ledges, you'll find out that the rest of a level is just one big cut-scene followed by a shockingly easy boss battle.

Then the pendulum swings, and Ardy Lightfoot attempts to be complicated - with no better results. Once again, the developers came up with some good ideas. There's an enemy-infested maze filled with spikes, pushable blocks, and platforms that scroll you off when you stay on too long. At the end of the maze is a ''boss battle'' where you must catch a mouse running all over a room that conveniently has a bed of spikes in the center (the mouse is, of course, unaffected by the spikes and twice as agile as you are). This marks the point where Ardy Lightfoot starts demanding some amount of thought and reflexes. Sadly, it also marks the point where Ardy Lightfoot's controls turn to rubbish.

Perhaps the flaws were always there, and the level design brought them out. Regardless, you'll curse at Ardy's habit of automatically picking up speed when he walks for a long stretch, rendering it impossible to stop him instantly. Such a godsend in a maze full of spikes. You'll marvel at the awkwardness of launching Ardy's main attack - the tail-bounce requires you to release and repress the B button in the middle of a jump in order to start bouncing on your tail, then release the B button again to bounce up. It's difficult to pull off quickly, which you will need to at many points in the game.

Of course, things get nastier when you reach Ardy Lightfoot's hellishly difficult final levels. First you have a room where 20 rows of spears are shot left-to-right, right-to-left over a pit filled with lava - you must use the spears as platforms, without getting impaled or falling off. Even worse, in the end you must pull off one of those dreaded tail-bounces quickly and accurately. Then you'll grab a power-up to inflate Pec like a balloon and fly through a room with spiked walls. Pec deflates quickly, forcing you to memorize the entire level in order to survive. Then a climb up a tower via platforms that rise and fall arbitrarily, with the player trying to stay ahead of the automatic scrolling. And finally a hall of mirrors, where you must watch out for hazards for both you and your reflection - mysteriously, the real world and the mirror-world are completely different.

Fortunately, the control issues fade once more into the background at this point; mercifully the developers seem to have found a way to design around them. Ardy Lightfoot ends on this autumnal note, still exploring all the ways it could come up short. While the game wasn't exactly consistent about its flaws, several shortcomings apply to the entire adventure: dependence on rote memorization, few secrets and fewer things difficult to master, and an utter lack of replayability that comes with these.

Even more disappointing is the underuse of Pec. In most levels (especially towards the end) our little blue... sphere-thingy is reduced to an extra hit for Ardy. Not only is his attack completely useless against bosses, but even against normal enemies it is little more than a novelty. Ardy already has a perfectly effective (more effective in several instances) attack; since you can only throw Pec in one direction and at one range, he cannot compete with the animal buddies of Donkey Kong Country or even Yoshi in usefulness. His transformations, also a good idea, are used a mere three times in the game.

But wait! Ardy Lightfoot does have one moment of triumph - the Underground Passage. Though again rather complicated and puzzle-based, the Passage is designed ingeniously and you will not have trouble with Ardy making your solution go awry. You must find hidden areas containing secret switches, making the water rise and fall. You will need to use another one of Pec's transformations (always fun) to eat away at the blocks you normally need a bomb to destroy. Cleverly laid out, with many secret areas and enemies patrolling the premises, it is anything but the ''conveyor belt'' stages the game seems so fond of. Though it will take far more time than any level before it, you may even be sad to see it end.

See, that's what Ardy Lightfoot should have been. That's where, whether by design or freak accident, all of Ardy Lightfoot's good parts come together and create one gem of a level. But that's just one gem. For its single triumph, Ardy Lightfoot also has sixteen other stages of flailing trial-and-error, sometimes producing something enjoyable, sometimes not; but always failing to produce something cohesive, memorable. Unfortunately, cohesion and memorability are exactly what sets the Super Mario Bros. 3s of the world from the Ardy Lightfoots.

lurkeratlarge's avatar
Community review by lurkeratlarge (June 19, 2004)

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