Lutter (Famicom Disk System) review
"For those of us disappointed we're at the end of the road with obscure NES titles to discover and love, Famicom Disk System games like Lutter give us one more chance to discover something new. Lutter features basic RPG, maze and puzzle elements without dedicating itself too much to any genre or bogging itself down in controls: combat is repeated collision, the A button chooses puzzle items, and B allows for save-game or surrender. It's not especially difficult, but it's hardly stupid. And..."
For those of us disappointed we're at the end of the road with obscure NES titles to discover and love, Famicom Disk System games like Lutter give us one more chance to discover something new. Lutter features basic RPG, maze and puzzle elements without dedicating itself too much to any genre or bogging itself down in controls: combat is repeated collision, the A button chooses puzzle items, and B allows for save-game or surrender. It's not especially difficult, but it's hardly stupid. And while never seeming like anything special, it's distinctive without doing anything drastic, turning you around enough to be satisfying to solve. Once it's over, you'll realize how much fun you had in such a short time.
It certainly draws you in well. On the first screen, you have an unreachable door in the lower left. Tiles blinking in and out guard gold and a key. At the bottom, an unlocked door flips you to the other side of the castle. Here you're in a gutter with a locked white door where the unreachable one was, so you have to retreat to the entry room, use a key to exit right, and... fall down a chute. But this room has a lot of items, even if the button you push in the corner brings a ladder up the right side. You'll just have to keep exploring. All four castles take up 4x2x2 screens, including the flip side. The first one even combines two levels, so the worst you'll do is loop, before you notice where to go next. In many screens, you'll wonder how to get back to where you were, and you'll wonder how you can get to the other half. Lutter is economical with its design, so no rooms are just there. Each has a trap or a time-waster you should've seen through.
And the maze is more of a focus than monsters, which are most annoying when turning back that airborne platform you were waiting for. Combat is simply running into enemies but offers some strategy; flying enemies can attack freely from above, and you can hit falling enemies from the side or drop on them. Fighters on ropes are also vulnerable. Death is an inconvenience. Pay a ransom and get kicked back to where you entered the room. It's possible to build up several levels without losing gold. You get some from the monsters, who take time to regenerate, and you regain hit points by staying in place. The gold from the first room, then, snowballs for the rest of the game, so it mainly buys time or items with a strategic surrender. This, like death, recharges hit points and makes your hazard-triangle allowing peaceful recuperation in some dead end obsolete. Even improved weapons are more convenience than necessity, each offering a half-level's statistic bump--double the boost from the vials of honey also tucked away in inconvenient nooks.
So you have little distraction from the puzzles: ladders get you to that shelf you can't quite reach, and you can place a bomb to remove a soft wall or floor, or drop a bridge to create one. Later an antidote solidifies trap floors, and you even get to fly. Keys are three colors: lime green, where often you'll find several in one room and need them in a later one, green, which is rarer and unlocks more important areas, and white, which unlocks the path to the boss. It's generally clear where to use something, and if you're not sure, the map loops around quickly enough so you can see where you haven't been yet. Sometimes you'll see a treasure room, and other times it'll be that white door or a new power-up. Lutter's worst trick is a one-way flip door, but if you mapped correctly, you should expect it.
Lutter's graphics, while slightly surreal, are never off target. With each new power-up, your shield gets fancier, or your helm or chest changes colors. Castle motifs vary from red walls and orange vines to a more classical ladder/whitewall combination, to ice and bone ladders, to a more ornate finale. Monsters don't have names, and you can't guess them, as none are clichés. The easiest resemble you, but later you fight blobs, flies, centipedes, amoebae and snails. By the end, tanks, alien ships and robots impede your progress or maybe even provide an impromptu bridge while falling. The princesses you rescue from bosses even change pastel hair color and styles.
And the bosses? Well, they sure LOOK neat. After their initial flurry of missiles, you can get behind them, find the vulnerable spot, and a few screen flashes later...BOOM. Maze denizens offer hints, though I found trial and error sufficient and interesting. There's a tragicomic clawed spaceship, and one screen-wide dinosaur sits around--once you kill its satellites, you can wait and heal up. But the caterpillar you must kill from behind, as well as the final boss Beeton--who has different weaknesses in human and dragon form--add later-level urgency to the game. Here you may even need the HP-curing bread you've been gathering all game, especially if you missed a weapon or two.
Lutter is a satisfying little game for those days when you are too lazy to plow through a weapons menu or combat screens, or when you don't feel like facing profound puzzles. It's easy without feeling dumbed down, and it avoids dumb mistakes so yours aren't costly. Even if you're sure you've seen the ideas before, you can't name any game it's too equivalent to. I played it when told it compared favorably to two other games I liked, Lode Runner and Castlequest. I'm glad I did; it does everything correctly, if not profoundly. The castle maps lead you on without entangling you and allows quicker solutions later for people who conserve items. On replay, it's fun to roll through areas with quick power-ups, making Lutter a pleasant break between longer, heavier games. You could call it a solid role-player among role-playing games. The sort every serious gamer should have, for a quick fling with many things done right, whatever his favorite genre is.
Community review by aschultz (July 01, 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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