The Battle of Olympus (NES) review
"Greek mythology is great. You've got great big monsters, dashing heroes, powerful Gods... it really is top material for a game. It is odd, then, that this vast wealth of inspiration has very rarely been tapped by developers - I guess it's just too easy to stick things in Space, or in the future. So it's refreshing to see a game that not only is set in ancient Greece, but is based on a fully-fledged, licensed Greek legend. Yessir, Battle Of Olympus brings you everything that is great about Greek ..."
Greek mythology is great. You've got great big monsters, dashing heroes, powerful Gods... it really is top material for a game. It is odd, then, that this vast wealth of inspiration has very rarely been tapped by developers - I guess it's just too easy to stick things in Space, or in the future. So it's refreshing to see a game that not only is set in ancient Greece, but is based on a fully-fledged, licensed Greek legend. Yessir, Battle Of Olympus brings you everything that is great about Greek myths and legends except for Xena. While some developers would have made Battle Of Olympus into a straightforward platform game, such as Kid Icarus, what we have here is a side scrolling adventure / platform game much in the vein of Faxanadu or the second Zelda outing. This is a great idea, as it allows a strong emphasis on plot rather than just hacking and slashing (although you get plenty of opportunities for that, fear not), and as such it makes the Greek mythology more than just window dressing. Huzzah!
Battle Of Olympus tells the tale of Orpheus, whose lover has wound up in Tartarus. Whereas in the official Greek Mythology she was dead, and Orpheus went to ask Hades to return her, here she is very much alive, and Hades has kidnapped her for some sinister reason. So Orph does the only decent thing, and sets out to kick mythological butt. Naturally this is quite a large task, and Orph needs friends. Luckily, he moves in the highest social circles possible, as he gets on very well with the gods (not just in a TV evangelist way, this is the real deal), and they are only too happy to lend a hand. So with a little help from his friends, Orph gathers up his wooden club, puts on his white robe thing, and sets off to take back his girl from Hades' clutches.
After naming the central character (and the woman that he is out to rescue, which is a novel touch) you find yourself in the middle of a sleepy woodland village. There are hardly any enemies, and the locals have very little to say that is of any interest. Within these first five to ten minutes you'd be forgiven for thinking that Battle Of Olympus is a bit, well, dull, but as soon as you meet Zeus, and set off for the first major city of the game you find yourself being drawn in, and by the time you face your first boss you are well and truly hooked. This really is one of those games that sucks you in without you even realising it, and from that point on you will keep coming back until you see the end sequence. The main joy of this game comes from exploring the vast cities and forests of the game - despite the NES' limited powers every area looks and, more importantly, plays different - from eerie waterside ruins to urban metropolises, you'll find yourself wandering around many different environments. While taking your tour of Ancient Greece you'll find plenty to do - in the first major city, for example, a local child has been kidnapped by an evil creature. Track down the big bad and send her back to Tartarus, rescuing the boy, and the townsfolk will be more than happy to help you on your quest - ranging from giving you new weapons to teaching you how to make your current weaponry shoot out deadly fireballs. Each environment also contains a temple, where you will find a Greek God. Being, as you are, on good terms with the friendly neighbourhood deities, they aid you by giving you items, such as better jumping boots that let you walk on the ceiling, and by telling you the 'words of the gods' - or a password, to us mere mortals.
Sadly, though, it's not all good. Despite the variety of tasks awaiting you in the game, Battle Of Olympus is a sadly very linear affair. It is impossible to access areas that you blatantly can reach until you've talked to the local who tells you to go there, for example. This can get very frustrating when you know exactly where it is you must go, but have to sit through lots of dialogue that you've seen several times before because the game won't let you do otherwise. There are also a few minor frustrations that have managed to creep into the game. The ceiling-boots are one of the main culprits - if you are in an area where it is possible to get upside down, pressing the jump key will get you upside down on occasions when you just want to make a simple jump, and send you jumping into a chasm like a lemming when you want to go upside down. It's a minor thing at first, but the frustration grows on you the more you see your Greek dude plummet to his untimely reunion with his missus. The password system is also a real pain. Anyone who's played a complex NES game that requires passwords will know the drill - you get two lines of random letters, making any password look like it's been typed out by an enraged simian seeing a typewriter for the first time. Copying these passwords down is an arduous and distressingly lengthy process, as due to their random mix of upper and lower case letters and various symbols, it is very easy to make a mistake, so you must check and double check. A minor frustration, yes, but admittedly nothing in comparison to the table-thumping, controller-snapping, TV-through-the-window frustration that comes with having a password wrong by a digit because the typing monkeys don't speak English.
Another problem with the game is that it isn't really that difficult. Taxing certainly, but it won't have you tearing your hair out - it'll be completed in a few days, a week at the most. The game is good enough to keep you coming back for more after you've completed it, but you can't help wishing it lasted longer (although that could be seen as a compliment, too).
Graphically this game is first rate. Orpheus moves a little jerkily - it looks as if he has a cramp in one leg, but the bad guys and other characters move quite smoothly. The backgrounds, though, are absolutely gorgeous - the forest environment looks dark and foreboding, the ruins ancient and haunting... Despite the fact that the levels are basically no more than either left-to-right or right-to-left affairs the graphics give this game's levels a feeling of real depth - walking around these environments really feels like an exploration, even though for all intents and purposes one important place is sitting next-door to the next important place. Every environment looks pleasingly different to the last, and this gives the whole game a very polished feel - if NES games were movies, this would be one of the Summer blockbusters.
The tunes in the game are also very evocative, and suit their respective environments extremely well. The only time that the music in this game starts to sound like just a few beeps and whirls strung together is in the, frankly not very good, boss music. Since the boss fights are among the more enjoyable moments of the game this is a great pity, but the fact that this game excels in the music department elsewhere is more than enough compensation. The sound effects, though, aren't so great. It's not that they're bad, they just aren't very special, and in a game where so much of the presentation is very special, the sound effects sadly get forgotten very quickly.
Overall, this game does have it's drawbacks, but they are tiny little annoyances that, while noticeable, aren't really enough to detract from what is without a doubt one of the finest renditions of Ancient Greece seen in a videogame. It's a bit too linear to compete with Zelda 2, and it doesn't have the depth that came with Faxanadu's experience point system, but they didn't have Greek Gods, so... so... so there! There are better side-scrolling adventure games on the NES, but the fact that it isn't the best in it's genre doesn't mean that it isn't still a fantastic, if slightly flawed game.
Community review by tomclark (February 02, 2004)
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