LayLa (NES)

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Written by  :  Infernos (16198)
Written on  :  Jul 27, 2014
Rating  :  2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars2.67 Stars

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Good action game when played with a guide, otherwise Layla will have you on your knees

The Good

While other action games might limit its protagonist to his/her main weapon and an additional sub-weapon or two, in Layla there are 7 weapons at your disposal: Pistol, Machine Gun, Hand Grenade, Flame Thrower, Throwing Ax, Bazooka and Beam Saber. How many action games, especially from 1986, can you name with a vast arsenal of weapons such as this one? But it's not just the variety of fire power you can choose from, the puzzle is figuring out what works best against certain enemy types. The pistol is your standard weapon and it's the only weapon effective against all enemies, though it has infinite ammunition it's not that powerful especially in the later stages unless you spend a lot of time powering it up by finding pistol tiles (maximum is 30). The other weapons all have limited ammo (255 max) and only work against certain enemy types. For example, the Flame Thrower only works against living organisms and is useless against robots, whereas the Bazooka is no good in the asteroid caverns but it's very effective against those pesky robots that appear in the later fortresses. Grenades allow you to break boxes underneath you (unlike some other games your grenade can't damage you) and the Throwing Ax is a surprisingly powerful weapon especially against most bosses. While the Beam Saber is likely going to be your least used weapon as it's slow firing and only harms a couple enemies and is completely ineffective against all bosses but when it strikes, it continues to pass through a defeated enemy and strike whatever lies beyond (you can get a special bonus if you manage to kill three enemies with one blade). Then there's Barrier - a defensive weapon that grants temporary invincibility, very helpful, especially on the last two stages. And finally, the Special Option, selectable by pausing the game and pressing select. It has 4 different effects depending on the direction that the arrow is facing. While the 1000 points bonus is pretty useless, the other three: remove all breakable walls on screen, destroy all boxes on screen and damage every enemy on screen all can come in pretty handy. As a trade-off though using the Special Option also reduces Layla's health.

Carefully managing your weapons arsenal and using everything you got is the key to this game. If you take out the maze part, the game's overall difficulty is fairly mild, as long as you don't rush it. You only get one life but the 8 password disks you need to find in order to finish the game also act as the password/continue mechanism, allowing you to continue from that asteroid if you die. Also, when you die you don't have to enter the long password again, you can just press the select button to pick up on the level you were on. You only have to write it down if you're going to turn the game off.

Although at first the controls might seem a bit loose and sluggish to some, pick up the speed power-up Roller Skates (you can collect a maximum of nine) and Layla will start running faster (the longer you hold a direction down, the faster she will run) and jumping higher. You can press down while moving at full speed to stop immediately, this is very useful in stages with falling spikes. Another useful technique if you can't get a running start is to hold down before pressing the A button, this will allow you to jump extra high. If you master the stages you can blaze through the early ones in a couple seconds - Layla is very fast, but also very controllable.

Owning to the technical limitations of its 1 Mbit cart the visuals are repetitive but for a 1986 title it's certainly not that bad - caverns have 4 different color palettes (purple, blue, yellow and red) and the fortresses all have different backgrounds. The technical execution is solid, the only sprite flickering I saw was in places with multiple shutters going up and down. There's also good enemy variety with 24 different enemies all of which are pretty distinctive and not just palette swaps. Plus, unlike some other games, the enemies don't knock you backwards when they hit you. Some cute design touches as well, for example, when Layla dies she turns into an angel and floats to heaven, while enemies turn into (or drop) life restoring food items like ice cream, cake and apples. Layla is also a very import friendly Famicom game. The small bit on the title screen is the only Japanese text you're gonna see in the whole game as the ending is fully in English.

The Bad

Advertised as a "Maze Action Game" on the box and cart, the maze part might not be that evident at first but just wait till you get to the fortress in Asteroid 5. Not only do you have to find the password disk but also rescue Layla's sidekick Iris (who has blue hair on the cover, but green hair in-game) otherwise you won't be able to hurt the final boss. This complex fortress features many non-linear elevators that lead all over the place, dead-ends and two never-ending hallways. And unlike Metroid where you could go left and right, in this game you cannot go back once you scroll past an area. But you see this isn't just about mapping the damn place out, there's also one specific spot in this stage where you have to fall down a gap (something that you won't need to do ever again). How is one supposed to figure that out is way beyond me... Especially considering that falling down gaps results in a hefty penalty: health reduction and more importantly halving of your ammunition, pistol and speed level, so that's the last thing you would normally try. It shouldn't be surprising then that not one but two guide books were released for this game back in 1987.

Inconsistent difficulty is another issue. For example, the fortress in Asteroid 6 compared to the previous one is a total breeze. Similarly, the fortress in Asteroid 7 though large is also manageable. But then comes the last one... besides the fact that it's the most complex one of the bunch, featuring several floors that trap you in never ending loops, you also have to navigate all the way through it TWICE.

Contrary to the mazes, most boss fights are particularly easy with some bosses needing just 1-3 hits if you use the right weapon, meaning the fight can be over in just a few seconds. I'm not a fan of "Nintendo hard" difficulty/cheap boss fights, but some of the ones in Layla are pathetically easy as a result there's no satisfaction in beating them. Furthermore, unlike general enemies there's quite a bit of palette swapping going on for the bosses. The first boss Bamoh appears as an optional sub-boss again in stage 5 and then again as a purple palette swap in stage 6. The same with stage 2 boss who appears again in stage 4 just with a different color. The first form of the final boss is also identical to the seventh fortress boss.

Less than 2 minutes into the game and I bet most that have played it got stuck in this one particular spot on the first asteroid cavern, I know I did. You desperately try to find which blocks are destroyable then a mini tornado shows up because you hanged around in one spot too long and kills you. Turns out what you need to do is press down and you will teleport to the floor below. It is mentioned in the game's manual so no complains there. The problem however is this function is relegated to only a couple designated spots throughout the whole game so it feels like wasted potential as it could have been used better, giving the player more control over where to use it. During Layla's travel between the asteroids there's a bonus shooting round (think Gradius) where you have to destroy enemy formations. These stages are totally pointless as they're only for points. Couldn't the reward actually been something useful like ammo or the increase of pistol level?

Recovery time is practically non-existent so you can go from full health to very little health rather quickly in some of the later stages at which point the screen will flash red and make an annoying sound. The music, like in most dB-SOFT games, including their two previous Famicom titles Volguard II and Galg, was handled by Yasuhito Saito and though it isn't terrible but like quite a few Famicom/NES releases from the time it's simple and repetitive and will get on your nerves sooner or later.

The Bottom Line

Borrowing the name from Eric Clapton's classic rock song, Layla is dB-SOFT's second side scrolling action-shooter game following Cross Blaim for the MSX which in some ways can be considered the predecessor to this game. Overall, despite the complex and sometimes nonsensical maze part it's a nice English-friendly Famicom game with a cute main character and enjoyable & challenging but manageable action part and a large stock of different weaponry. Just grab yourself a guide when you get to the fifth's asteroid fortress to save the frustration.