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Adventures of Lolo (NES) artwork

Adventures of Lolo (NES) review

"Quick, what's the first thing you think of when you hear the words "puzzle game"? Tetris, perhaps? Yet, if we probe deeper into Tetris and its clones, we see that they aren't really puzzle games at all, at least not by the true definition of the word. The focus isn't on thinking; it's on fast reflexes and quick observations. No, Tetris is more of an action game than a true puzzle game. A puzzle should be puzzling (duh), forcing you to come up with a solution and overcome obstacles. Think f..."

Quick, what's the first thing you think of when you hear the words "puzzle game"? Tetris, perhaps? Yet, if we probe deeper into Tetris and its clones, we see that they aren't really puzzle games at all, at least not by the true definition of the word. The focus isn't on thinking; it's on fast reflexes and quick observations. No, Tetris is more of an action game than a true puzzle game. A puzzle should be puzzling (duh), forcing you to come up with a solution and overcome obstacles. Think first, come up with an idea, analyze said idea to insure success, and then implement it perfectly. That is a puzzle, that is critical thinking. And that, fortunately, is Adventures of Lolo.

The premise is simple. You have 50 rooms to work out, five on each floor of a castle. The view is top down, allowing the ball-like Lolo to maneuver around an 11x11 grid. First, you must collect all of the hearts in a room, and then open the treasure chest. Occasionally, grabbing a heart will give you special powers, such as the ability to shoot two eggs at your enemies or build a bridge over troubled waters. Also at your disposal are crates that can be pushed around. Rocks (which stop all projectiles and cannot be climbed over), trees (which don't stop projectiles), water, lava (same as water, except you can't push enemies into them), sand (slows you down), and grass (enemies cannot walk on grass for some odd reason) litter the landscape as well. But beware, various enemies abound, from the idle snakes to Medusa statues to skulls. Each one has different properties, and all must be dealt with before you can achieve your goal.

So what are the puzzles like? Well, suppose there's a room with rocks arranged in rows (thereby creating many vertical corridors), with a few spaces in between. There's a skull, which comes to life to chase after you when you collected all of the hearts, and numerous pink statues that shoot fireballs at you after you've collected them all as well. There's only one heart, but don't be too hasty. You better push the crates, scattered around the stage in key positions, in front of all of these villains first. But once again, don't be too quick to take action. If you push that one crate up to block the skull, you'll be blocking the exit as well. And if you push it to block the statue, then you won't be able to grab the treasure chest. Better ignore it for now. So go all the way to the right, and push the blocks there to get rid of a few obvious statues. There's one more crate, and you'll need it to block that last statue. But if you do that, you'll block yourself in as well. Hmmm... but wait! If you move that original crate, you can get around this new obstacle. But what about blocking the exit? Well, if you don't push that crate too far, it will remain open from another path, albeit guarded by a skull. But if you wait until after you've opened the chest, the enemies will disappear, and you can push another crate away to get to the exit. Bingo! Now do all that, and then prepare for an even harder challenge.

Can you see why this is so great? Here we have a puzzle that relies on critical and systematic thinking. You are given a long-range goal (grab all the hearts and get to the treasure chest) that you must eventually work towards. Obviously, there are several obstacles along the way to that path, and you must determine how to overcome every one of them before you start moving. Step by step, you move closer to solving out the puzzle, and you must reason your way through each step. Puzzles vary greatly from one to the next - some requiring you to duck and run when the coast is clear, some require pushing the correct crates into the correct position, and some that force you to gather up the hearts in the correct order. All sorts of neat tricks are used, and you must remember all of your options if you are to make it through alive. For instance, you can move between two tiles (and push a block to cover two tiles), yet such a maneuver is required so rarely that you may forget about it when the time comes. Observe, analyze, act. Work your way through to a complete solution. Such a simple concept, yet it works throughout the entire game.

Lolo is also helped by the fact that it's not a generic puzzler. The game has specific properties endemic to it only (such as the ability to egg your opponents and then move them) which make the solutions unique. Furthermore, there are a wide variety of enemies, and every single one of them is dealt with separately (sometimes, the same type of enemy requires different strategies in different situations too!). Every puzzle is different, and they don't feel like anything that's been done before or since.

Fortunately, this game also passes a very important test for the puzzle genre - a steadily rising challenge. To no one's surprise, the first floor is practically a tutorial, with simple puzzles to get you used to the system. The next couple floors feature rather easy obstacles, with only a few moments thinking required for each one. Soon, though, you'll start to get stuck, and you'll find yourself dying or getting trapped fairly often (if you can't win, just press select and Lolo will self-destruct, allowing you to start over). You can't get too cocky here, and you will have to plan carefully before moving. And it keeps getting harder, as you'll have more and more tasks to deal with. You may need to experiment a couple times before you figure something out. By the end, you'll be racking your brains trying to figure out how to maneuver around all those pesky Medusa heads. But don't get me wrong, it's not too hard. Every puzzle is doable, and they just require you to think through to the solution. None feel cheap or random. I never once felt frustrated or tempted to use an FAQ; I always felt as if I was just one insight away from winning. And thus, finishing all 10 floors was a satisfying experience. I only wish it were longer.

So really, are there any negative points? Unfortunately, there are a few, but they're minor. On a few levels, you get specialty items, such as the ability to blow up a rock or build a bridge. These items become activated once you've collected a certain number of hearts. However, once they're activated, you cannot use your eggs until the item is placed, as both commands are mapped to the same button. Obviously, the levels are designed so that this really isn't a problem, but it's annoying nonetheless. The second minor irk is a control issue. Generally it's ok, but there's one place where you must hop aboard an egg to reach two islands. There's only a small margin of error, and you must hop back on the egg in time to get back to the mainland. However, I found I was often just running straight across the egg to the other island, and then getting stuck. Sigh...

But besides these almost irrelevant setbacks, the game is an engaging puzzler. Requiring critical thinking rather than quick reflexes or lucky guesses, the game forces you to work your way through every situation. It never feels cheap or frustrating, impossible or too easy, or bland or unoriginal. The highly stylized puzzles make for interesting solutions, and the game never loses its flair. I'd compare it to some popular game of today, but there is no comparison. Such thoughtful puzzle games seem to have gone on the wayside. Why? It's such a great concept, and deserve a spot in the list of genres. Perhaps this fine example can return and lead the puzzle genre to a new era of greatness. For Adventure of Lolo embodies the critical elements of a good puzzle. And that's the way that I want it to stay.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (November 13, 2004)

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