"You start out as some anonymous kid living with an old guy who seems to hate you, and a younger woman who tries to work as a buffer. She also heals you whenever you visit, so I liked her almost as much as I hated how the game basically shrugs off the old dude's behavior as "tough love"."
To succinctly define Tougi-Oh: King Colossus, one would use phrases such as "good, but flawed" or "perfectly adequate" or some other terminology which vaguely indicates that the game was enjoyable but could have been better.
Such an assessment doesn't really tell a reader anything, though, other than that he should expect a lukewarm recommendation… the sort which says that if you're a fan of the game's genre, you'll like it, but otherwise there's no real need for you to waste the necessary time and money to find your own copy when there are so many other games out there that more adequately meet your entertainment needs. Slap a "faint praise" number like a 6 or 7 at the end of the review and that's that!
Oftentimes, I find games like this to be the most interesting to write about. You're not praising a near-perfect icon or trashing a shoddily-made piece of crap. Instead, you're analyzing something that just seems a little more like real life. It’s like the neighbor who does a wonderful job earning a paycheck and making a respectable life for his family… but who can be a mean drunk when overindulging. Or that car that does a great job of getting you from home to work, but which starts shaking a bit when you really step down on the gas while on the freeway. Flaws are what spark conversations.
Flaws also are what tend to get noticed when the subject is held under scrutiny. King Colossus is a Mega Drive game that never left Japan. Much like Crystalis or Secret of Mana, it combines the action of a Zelda game with the level-building of a role-playing game. You go through dungeons, acquire new weapons and follow a linear, trope-filled plot from your character's humble beginnings until the thrilling finale where he kills an evil god and becomes a great and wise king.
You start out as some anonymous kid living with an old guy who seems to hate you, and a younger woman who tries to work as a buffer. She also heals you whenever you visit, so I liked her almost as much as I hated how the game basically shrugs off the old dude's behavior as "tough love". In between rounds of verbal abuse, the old guy sends you out to recover some sword, which leads to you eventually being enslaved by the local king to serve as a gladiator in his coliseum. The old guy responds to that particular development by telling the younger woman that it's cool, because you'll come back from this experience a lot stronger. To which I responded, "Or as a corpse, jerk!"
The plot picks up when you embark on your new career as a pit fighter. You'll hear about the evil Queen Desire, who took over another kingdom and placed her subordinates (such as the king who just made you his property) in positions of power around the world. Their goal is to resurrect an evil god of destruction, and coliseums just like the one that is your new home will play a big role in that. The blood and pain the constant stream of fights to the death cause are the fuel that will bring their god to life, so all they have to do is capture people, sit back and watch them do all the work.
Fortunately, you're the hero of this story and so the evil queen's daughter falls in love with you and eventually grants you freedom when it becomes clear you're actually the son of a great hero and, therefore, in mortal danger due to being the sole threat to Desire's plans. More exposition, more battling and the script runs to its logical conclusion. It’s all very nice and tidy. No new ground is broken, but the narrative handles the "tried-and-true" quite well. No complaints, yet.
Those nasty little flaws I mentioned start popping up when the fundamentals of this game get analyzed, however. You get a variety of weapons throughout the game, which wildly differ in terms of effectiveness. Use a sword, for instance, and you'll think you're playing crap like Lagoon with its utter lack of attack range. Compounding this issue, a lot of enemies are quite damaging to the touch, so swords are probably best only used by the extremely skillful or daring player. Meanwhile, bows have great range, staffs shoot fire that burns on the ground for a few seconds and morning stars attack in a full circle around your guy. All of those weapons are far better than the sword, which means that late-game moment in the plot when your best sword becomes even better has far less impact for a player than it should have. It didn't take long for me to realize how poor a weapon the sword is, either; I was only in the game's second dungeon when I started encountering this game's version of the common bat. With a short-range weapon as your only means of defense, these things are deadly. They'll latch onto your head and drain a surprising amount of life if they touch you.
Because of such encounters, with the exception of only a certain few bosses, I found myself instead using morning star-like weapons for much of the game. They cover so much space that it helps to alleviate a big failing in King Colossus: your inability to attack in more than the four standard directions offered on the d-pad. The range of bows would make them a perfect choice in most games, but here the inability to aim diagonally really does blunt their effectiveness in anything resembling a tense situation. Enemies would be charging me and I would spend my time trying to line myself up to fire off a straight shot, which isn't the most fun way to spend my gaming time. With the morning star, all I had to do was run around pounding the attack button and anything near me took damage.
Bosses tend to look pretty cool and seem to offer up fairly challenging attack patterns. Oftentimes, it was hard to tell because they can so easily be defeated if you abuse the Time Stop spell. You get that skill at the beginning of the game (along with four others), and can start using it the instant you have 15 magic points. It freezes ANYTHING in place for a little while. At the least, you can chop off a good part of a baddie's health without fear of retaliation. If you are able to cast it more than once, you can easily to dispose of many of the game's toughest foes with minimal effort. And yes, this even includes Queen Desire and her evil god.
As you advance far enough in the game, you get the idea the designers realized they'd given players a tool that makes things too easy, so they really ramped up the difficulty to make up for it. Dungeons start getting l-o-n-g, and often contain mini-bosses for the purpose of whittling away at your potential uses of Time Stop. This is cool, as I like a good challenge and what fun would a game be if every little victory was a foregone conclusion? There's also an increased reliance on rooms loaded with moving (and eventually vanishing) platforms suspended over long drops to a previous floor. This isn't quite so cool, since the play control is a bit wooden for the required precision. Probably the only thing keeping me from pulling my hair out over a couple of these rooms in the final dungeon was the fact that in King Colossus, you can save in virtually every room not containing a boss fight. This meant I could save upon entering a platform-based room and reset after each failed attempt to try again, all without having to retrace my steps to that point. And then, of course, I could save after succeeding in crossing that room and entering the next, so I'd never have to do it again.
In a nutshell, that’s the reason a game with the flaws King Colossus possesses can still be praised: there’s usually a way around each issue. Can't stand the platforming rooms? Abuse the game's save function as much as possible. Swords have no range? Use one of the many weapons that does, especially if it covers so much space that the annoying lack of diagonal aiming isn't actually a bother. Such accommodations don't make the negative things go away entirely, but they do help turn them into less of an issue, which in turn allows you to enjoy a decent--if not particularly original--fantasy loaded with evil gods, corrupt monarchs, rebellious princesses and all those other things you know and love. And now, all that's left to do is get that "faint praise" number ready!
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 11, 2013)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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