Athena (NES) review
"Iím madly in hate with Athena. And when I say madly, I mean there arenít words to describe the atrocities Iíd love to inflict upon each and every one of the infernal NES games bearing her name. The residual effects of playing Athena were enough to cause me to collapse into the fetal position when Battle of Olympus was released, solely because both games share characters of Greek mythology. Itís truly a sad case ó one which likely will make some psychologist a very wealthy an..."
Iím madly in hate with Athena. And when I say madly, I mean there arenít words to describe the atrocities Iíd love to inflict upon each and every one of the infernal NES games bearing her name. The residual effects of playing Athena were enough to cause me to collapse into the fetal position when Battle of Olympus was released, solely because both games share characters of Greek mythology. Itís truly a sad case ó one which likely will make some psychologist a very wealthy and famous person once he diagnoses me with the first-ever reported case of SNKitis.
Sure, SNK created some great NES games. Baseball Stars is considered by many to be the best baseball game on the system, while Crystalis is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest action RPGs of all time. But those games only serve to obscure the festering underbelly that is Athena. SNK tried to make an action platformer with some rudimentary adventure elements such as a life meter and the ability to upgrade or downgrade the heroineís weapon and armor. They failed....and they did so with gusto. In fact, they botched things up so horribly that it is difficult to actually pick out one particular instance of this gameís utter ineptitude for display. So, Iíve compiled a comprehensive list of all the major reasons that Athena is WORSE than Deadly Towers, Hydlide, Heroes of the Lance and all the other infamously bad NES attempts at entertainment. Consider this review my stab at public service for the year.
Letís start out with the upgrade system. As the game begins, Athena is COMPLETELY unarmed, proving sheís not the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, punch out the first couple of enemies and a club pops up in her hot little hands. Whack someone with that club and she'll move up to a hammer. In fact, most foes drop something or other, whether it be equipment or something else. Too bad SNK had to ruin a good idea by making it far too easy to have those weapons downgraded. Letís say that initial club has been powered up to a mighty ball-and-chain. Athena finally has a weapon that not only can slay most foes with one hit, but also can blast through walls with ease. At this point, a wise player pauses the game to revel in this moment of glory ó because it wonít last long. Odds are within mere seconds after getting that ball-and-chain, Athena will kill an archer or sword-bearing horse-headed guy (probably not the official name), accidentally touch (i.e. pick up) the weapon they drop and ó just like that ó† she'll possess a new, completely inferior weapon that takes multiple hits to kill anything and canít smash walls.
There's also no way to cycle between weapons (each new pick-up simply replaces what was in Athena's hands), making one's only option to simply grab a good one and pray to each and every deity known to mankind that they never, ever get careless for even an instant of a nanosecond. Letís just give one example. In the middle of the third stage, a horribly tiresome underwater level, it's necessary to smash through a long, narrow corridor of blocks, meaning a good bashing weapon is needed. Well, while bludgeoning through this extremely lengthy tunnel, poor ol' Athena will constantly be getting attacked by bow-dropping fishmen. Compounding the difficulty, a few of these blocks have bows or other downgrades just waiting to be touched. If Athena grabs a bow, she canít break blocks and is trapped, unable to do anything more than wait for death. There are fun challenges and there are agonizingly frustrating ones. This definitely falls into the latter category.
Moving on, letís look at the armor. On one hand, this stuff is useful. Athenaís soft, supple skin is easily ravaged by the harsh hands of the mindless (but easily aroused to violence) monsters strewn throughout the game, so it's a good idea to find some goodies to allow her to take a bit of damage. Helmets are even more handy, as they can turn Athenaís head into a battering ram to break blocks directly above her. But, it soon becomes apparent one simply can't count on having any type of armor for any length of time, as coming into contact with monsters tends to make it disappear. Itís hard to plan on using a helmet to smash through blocks when there's no assurance Athena will have the blasted thing by the time she's made it to the next screen.
But those flaws seem minor when compared to the gameís horrid level design. As a round of Athena begins, she gets dropped right in front of a tree. Look at that background object and how it's designed to look as though it is screaming in pain in what may be the best use of graphics in the entire game. Spend too much time delving through the levels of this game and the average player will be emitting the screams that silent tree canít. Most levels seem to have two tiers, with Athena wandering from the top to the bottom and back again until reaching the boss. Make a wrong turn and she'll likely get warped backwards. Oh, and there is a strict time limit, so a mistake such as this will most likely seal the spunky heroineís fate......once again. And then there's the World of Labyrinth level, which seems to operate under its own set of rules ó ones that ensure anyone who doesn't know EXACTLY what blocks to break to get certain items hasn't a chance in hell of moving on.
And itís not like advancing through these multiple worlds is any fun. Athena will amble from right to left, jumping onto ledges and breaking blocks while being assaulted at all times from all directions. Anyone wondering why I complain about how easy it is to have your weapon downgraded should try this experiment: start the game and play through the first level while constantly moving forward (because of the time limit), but without picking up a single undesirable item. If that works out well, continue in that manner for the remainder of the game. Iím not saying it's an impossible feat, but I will guarantee that most people would lose their sanity FAR before even coming remotely close to success.
Iíve always played video games for fun. There simply is nothing fun about Athena. Making bad levels even worse is the shoddy play control, as Athena isnít nearly as nimble as one might expect from one of ancient Greeceís most powerful goddesses. Of course, even if she was agile, it wouldnít really matter as this game is designed to force players to move along at a snailís pace, smacking one block or enemy at a time and watching to make Athena doesn't snag an undesirable weapon before advancing.
There is nothing positive to be said about Athena. The graphics are substandard with a bunch of big-headed folk running about the countryside with sparse backgrounds serving as poor decorations. The music only inspired me to mute the sound. The best thing that can be said about the boss fights is that with each major foe that falls beneath Athena's might, she's that much closer to finishing her quest. It truly seems like this game was designed to fail on all levels.
Not that many will want to finish this dog. Without a Game Genie, Iíve never passed the World of Labyrinth. Itís not because the game is too challenging for me ó itís simply because the challenge Athena poses is not of a sort I welcome. I love playing tough games, but I draw the line when that challenge is created because I'm constantly enduring horrible mechanics, wooden play control and levels seemingly designed for the sole purpose of ensuring my defeat. Maybe SNK made a worse game and maybe something even more repugnant was released on the NES ó but to my eyes, ears and overly-twitchy fingers, I honestly donít think itís possible to get worse than Athena.
Community review by overdrive (October 22, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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