"Lots of games give you characters that kick butt, but only Secret Scout forces yours to. If you groaned at this pun, it is not as painful as trying to solve this game. The game almost could be good. It has a sizable map, items you have to ration, and a variety of scenes. It features a real underdog, too--your scout can barely kick in front of himself, and enemies quicker than him can hit him multiple times. Once you figure out how to navigate this mess, though, the game quickly gets repetitive. "
Lots of games give you characters that kick butt, but only Secret Scout forces yours to. If you groaned at this pun, it is not as painful as trying to solve this game. The game almost could be good. It has a sizable map, items you have to ration, and a variety of scenes. It features a real underdog, too--your scout can barely kick in front of himself, and enemies quicker than him can hit him multiple times. Once you figure out how to navigate this mess, though, the game quickly gets repetitive.
It doesn't seem like it will at the start, in a jungle. That's a good place for the subtitle's Temple of Demise to be, even if it camouflages you(green) and the enemy(red.) Then, the red guy runs at you. You can defend yourself with a stubby kick, though you probably won't at first, because you need precision timing. I can't think of anything more demoralizing than getting whipped on the first scene, and while I found several easy ways by these guys later, this was not a good first impression. Combined with the fat daggers flying from off the screen that brush against you, and I can't blame people for giving up ASAP, despite the infinite continues. Tricks to winning combats consist of 1) Jumping and twisting in the air, with confusing enemies til you drop and 2) jumping to the next platform, while enemies run at you so you can kick them in the head until they expire. For variety, sometimes they try to jump up and go flying ignominiously. Which is fun until you realize you have to repeat six times for each enemy.
If you're able to get past the first two monsters, you'll find a tunnel to the left of a waterfall, with a vine leading up to another one to the right. Take the first one, beat up an enemy, get a map and suddenly the game seems a lot brighter. Until you resurface and take the other tunnel. It leads to city streets. But don't worry, they're not out of place in the game, because you get more of the same frustration. Archers shoot at you, at angles, falcons fly at you, and just plain thugs run at you. Often you can take a chain reaction of damage. No mulligans for getting hit! Yes, you start with twenty hits available, but they're drained so quickly here.
Still, once you figure what to do, you can beat the archers back and enter the window ledges. There are eight of them, and you have items at the end of some of these inside areas, past part two of the archers. Your first game puzzle is here. You have to blow yourself up with TNT to get to a higher ledge, which is a clever puzzle, but then you must throw TNT at the door on the ledges to get to...a dark room.
This is where the mix of items comes in. You can take a shot at the enemy or even use TNT for brief flashes of light, or you can go fetch a torch to come back and get a key. This whole starting puzzle is rather complicated and, while it's interesting, the game really never builds on it. You have a lot of repetitious fighting afterwards, where you just jump and kick monsters from behind. You'll find some side rooms where you basically trade a torch for more special items--which don't work.
And what's worse, HOW you use the items doesn't work either. Some of the controls make sense--twisty jump in the air, jump and push up to get on a ladder, and the B button for a turbo run. But for the items, you need to hold select and push left/right to choose, then select and up to use. You even have to cycle through items you don't have yet, and if you choose the far right item(key) it'll take a while to get to the far left(TNT.) It's horrendously awkward, and you often need to prep what you need in advance. Because in combat, if you get hit, or if for example you throw TNT or are incapacitated by a flaming ring, you can't even select an item. No wonder your poor stubby-kicking scout seems like he is half-crying through the game. Quarter-glass-full types may note at this point that it's probably a good thing you don't really need to use a lot of the items that are so hard to get.
So in other words, you can spend a lot of time mapping, making sure you've been everywhere--and getting punished for your thoroughness. Yes, you can restart, but really there's no clue given that you could be on the wrong track. Meanwhile you will go up a couple of levels, use a torch or two to explore areas that give you a few torches and a key back, and retreat. The third level, a conglomeration of different types of ancient temples, is a lot of fun with its occasional giant flying shuriken, but then you hae to retreat past the bouncing fast soccer balls on level two, where you'll have to get killed and take advantage of the infinite continues. Then you go to the underground, with several dark screens in a row, some with rings of fire that freeze you as mad bombers throw stuff at you. You're going to just flat out waste time there.
So after a few game-resets, wasting all those continues, you'll realize there's a point where you need to save torches. But you don't know this. You only suspect you might need to save something, for later, because you don't really have any bad fights, but doesn't it make sense to balance items generally? Too bad the boomerang does little damage, the shields don't work, and the hacksaw, which I cheated to get in the right hex values, doesn't seem to exist. And it doesn't help you avoid the stupid ending if you do kill off Dr. Demise.
Secret Scout has a lot of nasty little traps which leave you feeling dumb, too. You can fall off a long ladder to your doom, and if you do not climb up the center of a ladder, it is tricky to exit at the top. If you win a fight, a heart drops from above, which gives you health back. Unless it lands on a ledge you can't get to. It's not always clear where ledges are, and often you get hit twice in the air, causing you to fall off the screen. This is in direct opposition to how monsters seem to get dumber as the games go along. Or how they take damage does--in the final screen, you have machine gunners on copter-jetpacks who are as vulnerable to a random flying bomber overhead as you are. So you can just sit around to win. As with the first combats, this seemed impossible til I took another look and realized it was pretty dumb.
At first, I felt Secret Scout could have been a much better game if it hadn't had so many dumb parts to it, but then the grossly flawed parts provided the only real challenge. I don't know if I've seen such a relatively short game that seemed so long, yet seemed so dumb after I solved once-impossible puzzles. It has occasional background changes and some neat mapping, but despite that amusing puzzle where you blow yourself up, it never comes close to being good.
Community review by aschultz (April 24, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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