Written by  :  Paul Smith (70)
Written on  :  Dec 15, 2008
Platform  :  NES
Rating  :  3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars3.4 Stars

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A look back at this classic won't land you in Hades.

The Good

Battle of Olympus is a side scrolling action adventure that adapts the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (called Helene here). The story begins shortly after Helene's death and you, as Orpheus, leave to ask Zeus to bring her back. Upon reaching Zeus, the leader of the gods tells you that he's already of your plight from Aphrodite and agrees to help. From here on out the game more closely resembles Perseus' adventure from Clash of the Titans than Orpheus' myth from the Metamorphoses. Your task, as dictated by Zeus, is to travel throughout the land of Greece to visit the temples of the better known members of his pantheon to gain their blessings and artifacts, often familiar from myths, to open up more of the map and eventually confront Hades.

The story is rather well integrated into the game -- as compared to others on the NES. And the game seems to be researched a bit more than I expected. All the boss monsters and important are derived from Greek myths and even the temples are often where you'd expect to find them, Athena's in Athens, for instance. The adventure portion plays out a bit like a detective game. Through talking to villagers, you assemble a list of clues and then, by crossing referencing a couple, you can determine where you can go next. For instance, you might be told by one person that the Staff of Fennel controls fire, by another the Staff of Fennel is in Attica, by another that you must be able to control fire to enter Peloponnesus. This is rather standard, but every peasant gives you a unique dialogue, and there are quite a lot of them. It is best to take notes, so that when you've finally received the staff of Fennel and discover that it does nothing and you still can't get to Peloponnesus, you can go back into those notes and figure out who is mostly likely to explain why.

It is easy to forget about the adventure game portion, which is a mistake as that only leads to getting lost or stuck, because the majority of Battle of Olympus is a side scrolling action game. And a rather difficult one at that. Every monster in the game acts uniquely and if they hit can take a big hit out of you, because of the way you bounce around after being hit, sometimes being hit once, even when you're at full health, can easily result in your death -- and this even against the very easiest of opponents. Good tactics, such as not getting surrounded, and getting out there once you are, are essential to surviving. After many trials, you will eventually figure out the most efficient manner to dispatch each foe, and then the game will become much easier, until the maps pair up foes in rather gruesome combinations. These battles are Battle of Olympus' greatest strength. The mix of thought, reflexes, and frustration are what really make the game worth playing.

The Bad

The boss battles, on the other hand, leave quite a lot to be desired. You get all geared up to fight the Nimean Lion, for instance, and all you do is rush it and hope that you kill it before your health meter runs out. And this is typical. After all the surprisingly well thought out minions, the bosses are greater and greater disappointments. The primary thing that makes one harder than the last is the number of hits required before they're brought down. It's really a shame, particularly because the familiarity of the bosses from myths are one of the draws into the game in the first place.

The other big flaw is the game's map system. Essentially Greece is one gigantic maze. Except a maze that can't be translated into real life, or onto graph paper -- at least very easily. Cities and forests are incredibly long scrolling wastelands with exits to other cities and forests at both ends and back into the screen throughout their lengths. And it makes no sense how one thing is connected to another. If you're looking for the ocean, you just might find it deep with in a network of caves. Entering a house that looks just like any other in the city might lead into a room, or it might lead into temple, or it just might lead into a forest halfway across the map. Ahhh! And then ontop of this there are areas that deliberately meant to mazes! The only defense against that map that I can think of is to try and complete the game in as few sittings as possible, because you'll never keep it in your head for longer than a weekend.

The other disappointments in the game are in the way the developers didn't follow through with the plot -- why doesn't it end in a way even remotely similar to the myth? -- and the fact that even though its nice that the adventure portion of the game exists, it'd be nicer if it were more developed.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, Battle of Olympus starts out enjoyable, but becomes more than a bit tedious by the end. This is a problem with a lot of games from the era, though, because for some reason, the idea that games could develop their plots is a somewhat new idea. Of course that Battle of Olympus references its plot midgame at all is shocking for an NES cartridge and that the gameplay reflects the plot, even moreso, so perhaps I shouldn't complain too much. The game is definitely worth a look, especially if you're interested in mythology, but rather than leave you satisfied, it will leave you wondering at how much better it could have been.