Thursday, November 12, 2009
I needed a new Adventure game for the 2600. Something epic and exciting. To this end, I spent the night playing Krull (for the first time). Dave Staugas designed Krull, and it launched in 1983 (about 1.5 months after the titular movie was released). I haven't seen the movie (though I've always wanted to) so this review won't be informed by anything in the film.
The game is divided into 4 mini-games. On the first board, you hastily marry your pregnant girlfriend only to have a brigade of angry rainbow robots attack. This is by far the most enjoyable part of the game; however, the monsters will eventually swarm your princess and take her away to the Rainbow Castle to be tortured. You can literally fight the robots for days (a sun rises and sets at the top of the screen). Alternately, the player can simply let the robots capture the princess right away, but one won't receive any points without slaughtering some rainbow robots.
The second stage consists of a horse ride across the plains. Suspiciously, two heros ride across the green fields of Krull. Who is this mysterious companion? Sometimes the hero's horse gallops over "glaives" (boomerang throwing stars) and extra men; tapping the button at the correct time will pick up these items. The player needs as many glaives as possible because these allow the player to defeat the final boss, so stock up!
After the brief horse ride, tremble in fear because oh shit it's a giant spider. This stage repeats the same 8 notes over and over and over again, obviously in an attempt to "create tension" (induce suicide). Spider "webs" will wash across the screen. Touching a web results in loss of control for several seconds as the wave pushes you away from your goal. This level is conquered by jumping over webs, avoiding the spider, and reaching a white square on the web. This action causes a cocoon to appear which marks the location of the Rainbow Castle. Then the player must jump to the cocoon and jump around until one exits the level. In addition, if the on-screen hourglass empties, the spider will launch into a berzerker rage and attack instantly.
Fuck this level. The webs create patterns that prove almost impossible to dodge in certain situations (the webs flicker, so the screenshot only displays 2 of the 6 "web waves"). By the time you are free from one wave, a wave spawns in the opposite direction. When you are free from that wave, another spawns in the original direction. This continues back and forth and so on. Sometimes I found the location of the cocoon, but, no matter how hard I tired to exit the level, the game refused to let me exit. Time ran out. I died. The hero moves frustratingly slow in the web, and I literally threw my controller a few times (don't worry, I threw it onto a pillow :) Nothing like a nice video game rage to get the blood pumping.
If the player does manage to get past the spiderweb (despite being annoying, sometimes it's really not that hard, other times...) he or she then returns to the horse-riding level for another chance to snatch some glaives and extra lives. During the first 2 hours in which I played Krull, sometimes after this second horse level, I would lose a life and return to the spiderweb. Other times, I reached the Rainbow Castle. It was extremely confusing, but after researching the game I've discovered that the sun at the top of the screen serves a purpose: the Rainbow Castle "teleports" at sunrise; leaving the spiderweb level at the wrong time caused those perplexing deaths. The player does not have much time in the spiderweb level, so good luck waiting while that pixelated sand drains away. A better strategy might be to exit and hope for the best (time will always be running out). If the player doesn't find the Rainbow Castle, at least the horse stage will allow him or her to (maybe) grab some glaives and extra lives.
The Rainbow Castle rises from the ground like an acid trip from hell. The flashing animation is the highlight of the game, but the majestic architecture houses a dull interior. In the final stage, the player battles a wild savage for control of the imprisoned woman. One must throw the glaive and slowly break away the prison to save your wife and unborn child. However, if you fail to catch the glaive, or if the savage catches the glaive, your weapon is gone. When the glaives are gone, the battle can't be won. The player must exit the final boss room, return to the spiderweb, ride around on a horse, and collect more glaives. (The exits are not actually located in the lower-right and lower-left as the manual says: I exhausted several minutes trying to exit at the bottom of the screen. Instead, the player must exit slightly above the bottom of the screen...) When the princess is rescued, she transforms into a fireball which must be hurled at the wild man to "end" the game and restart at the next-highest difficulty--the standard Atari routine. However, if one misses the throw, the level again becomes un-winnable and one must return, yet again, to the spiderweb.
Although Krull does provide some fun and sense of adventure, it fails on many levels. The first stage is by far the most enjoyable, yet the player spends the majority of the time on the spiderweb level (definitely the most frustrating). Logic fails to provide a reason why the player must continue returning to the spiderweb. Arachnophobes, this game is not for you. Replaying the first stage (without the woman, obviously) would encourage the player with actual gameplay instead of torture. The final boss mechanics also prove idiotic. Because the spiderweb level is the first real challenge in the game, requiring the player to return to the silky slums essentially ends the game.
Krull is almost beautiful, but all the shiny demonic Rainbow Palaces and smooth horse animations can't save this butchered cart. But perhaps I'm not looking deep enough into the symbolism: despite all the video game action, the most constant factor remains the solar cyle. While the player battles for love, the heavenly spheres continue their endless dance, the spider continues to hunt, and the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. So too with Krull.