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SummaryThe legendary difficulty of this title is balanced by great gameplay
The GoodThis game is a classic because its immense difficulty can bring extraordinary payoffs. Arthur, the hero of the game, seems to be designed to give the player an idea of what it is like to be one of the weak, fragile enemies in other platform games. One hit will knock Arthur backwards and strip him of his armor, leaving him in his red skivvies. Another will reduce him to a pathetic-looking pile of bones. The more difficult enemies require from four to a dozen hits to kill, and, while you are facing these, innumerable weaker enemies that die with one hit are flying all around waiting to catch you at an awkward moment. Also, at the same time you must jump from platform to treacherous platform, face boss enemies that have immunity to certain weapons, and oh yes, there is a strict time limit.
Few games have ever asked so much of the player. Few games have unapologetically stacked the odds so much on the side of the enemy hordes. And this difficulty is there from the beginning. About a quarter through the very first level, one of the most devious foes in video game history appears--the red demon. This menace, once roused, will proceed to run back and forth hurling fireballs at the player. If the player shoots, the demon will fly up, again shooting fireballs, and perform a death swoop that is almost impossible to dodge. If you attempt to jump it, the demon will fly upwards into you. If you stand still or duck, the demon will still hit you solidly. The only viable option is to run like hell, jumping backwards and chucking javelins until the monster swoops. Then the player must flee in earnest, cowering in fear at the last moment as the thing rushes by overhead. The red demon takes four hits to kill, and very likely will take your first life if it hasn't been taken already. And this is just the first of his many, many appearances.
There are brown ogres that vomit purplish projectiles at you both horizontally and vertically. These can withstand over twelve hits from any weapon, and will continue to gain ground on you even if you fire your weapon as quickly as you can--if you catch them too late with your first shot and they get to you, it's all over.
Two of the boss opponents have immunities to a different particular weapon, and the last boss has immunity to all weapons but one of limited range. Two of the weapons are worse than useless--the axe is slow-moving and cannot be rapid fired while the fire shoots in an arc, has no range, and if the player misses twice, takes precious time before it can be fired again. The shield blocks projectiles but has limited range and cannot damage the cyclops, while the javelin is moderately fast and long range but cannot damage the dragon. The sword is an excellent weapon because it kills all but the last boss and is very fast-firing. If you lose one of the good weapons and receive a bad one, you will have very few opportunities to correct this mistake. Going through the game with a lousy weapon makes things even more difficult, and in some situations it will make the game impossible. When you finally beat the game the first time, you are greeted to poorly translated text saying everything was an illusion, and now you must beat it from scratch, only with faster moving enemies.
Sound impossible? Sound like it couldn't be any fun? Well, not so fast. The reason this never gets too frustrating lies in how good the play control is. Controlling Arthur is intuitive, simple, and always precise. While Castlevania fans might relive nightmares during this game when Arthur is knocked back in a most inconvenient spot, there usually isn't anyone to blame for a truly impossible situation but the player. When an ogre is hurling purple death at you and simultaneously a blue bird flies across the screen ready to knock you backward to allow the ogre an opening to finish you, Arthur is capable of dealing with the situation so long as you know what to tell him to do.
This is where the payoff comes in. When you waltz into one of the last stages and see the terrifying image of a red demon and an ogre sitting right next to each other, defeating both and surviving through a mixture of skill and luck is one of the great thrills of gaming. For once in a platform game, it isn't the sheer weight of weak enemies that are designed to wear you down, making it impossible to be skilled enough to escape untouched. In this game it is your own skill level that is most responsible for how you survive--it is possible to go through the whole game without getting touched, although it would take an enormous amount of skill and no small degree of luck. In a platformer like Actraiser 2, this would be impossible.
The BadThe story is very dull, and the translation and ending are lousy, but that's not what this game is about. The story here becomes surmounting the incredible difficulty of the game, being able to survive video game Hell--if you are skilled enough to beat this game, no modern game should give you trouble.