In today's review, we'll be taking a look at Rod Land for the Nintendo Game Boy. I'd never really considered playing or reviewing titles for the system (largely because I didn't own one as a child), but it was playing this particular game that opened by eyes (and ears) as to what the system was capable of and inspired me to look at a few more games in it's library.
The game is based on the Rod Land arcade game, developed by Jaleco and released in 1990. My first experience of the title was on the Commodore Amiga (great conversion) and later the original arcade release (via MAME) - if you've ever played Bubble Bobble or Rainbow Islands, you'll be in familiar territory.
The story begins in the Fairy village where life is always peaceful, that is until a demon attacks and kidnaps the mother of Tam and Rit, a pair of young fairy children. With their mum now held captive atop a mysterious tower, it falls upon the pair to mount a rescue mission. Armed with magic rods and a pair of rainbow shoes gifted to them by the Village Elder, Tam and Rit must enter the tower and deal with whatever lurks inside.
For those who have never played the game before, the tower is broken up into individual screens containing a number of platforms, each interconnected by ladders. A variety of cutesy (yet lethal) enemies patrol the platforms, all designed to make a bee-line for your position. Hitting an enemy with your rod will trap them, with repeated taps of the attack button swinging them over your head and bopping them repeatedly on the ground; three whacks and the enemy expires, leaving behind a special weapon that can take out other enemies when collected. Enemies killed by these special weapons will leave behind a fruit token, earning the player extra points when collected.
The key to success, however, is ensuring that you always have an escape route figured out, just in case you get cornered by a pack of marauding starfish. It's at these times that you'll want to make use of your magic powers to summon a ladder that you can use to climb to a higher platform. Enemies will try to climb your ladders in order to give chase - players can use this to make groups of enemies easier to deal with by luring them to certain locations, but it's also possible to get trapped if you're not careful.
|Grab those flowers!|
Those players looking to secure a high score, not to mention giving them the greatest chance of success at actually beating the game, should turn their attention to the many flowers lining each of the platforms. Collecting flowers earns points, but grabbing all the blooms in a level will activate a bonus round, transforming any remaining baddies into weird, squidgy, jelly things that drop special letters when killed. Pick up each of the letters to form the word "EXTRA" and you'll be presented with an extra life (and more bonus points) by a very nice fairy-lady.
One of the most obvious differences between this and the arcade version is the screen layout. Each of the levels in the original coin-op were static screens, displaying the entire play-field. This simply would not have been possible, given the constraints imposed by both the physical size and resolution of the Game Boy's screen, so the developers have altered the dimensions of all the character sprites and art assets to make best use of what little screen space there is. Even with re-scaled artwork, trying to pack all of it into a single static screen would have resulted in a frustrating experience, so the team also made the play-field scroll both horizontally and vertically, allowing them to build levels to a size that don't box the player or trap them. It's a design decision that really does pay off and the end result is a game that not only manages to look great (which it does), but also capture the essence of the original arcade, delivering a fun experience on a handheld format.
|Earning a 1-UP|
Whether by design, or simply a by-product of the changes in scale, Rod Land on the Game Boy ends up being decidedly easier than the arcade. The majority of the levels are open enough that, combined with your ability to summon ladders out of thin air, it's possible to outpace and maintain a relatively safe distance from your enemies. This meant that I was able to focus more on collecting flowers for bonus points, as well as activating the bonus round, than having to kill off enemies simply to survive. In fact, the game felt almost a little too easy at times, but then it would teach me a lesson in humility as I'd blunder into an enemy I didn't see, or had mistimed a crucial rod attack, reminding me not to get complacent; it's here that I think the game manages to hit just the right balance between accessibility and fun, yet still providing a challenge.
|The first boss stage|
The other big surprise here was the game's audio and just how good it is. The music from the arcade version has been recreated faithfully here and the GB sound-chip gives it a distinctive sound and quality that I just wouldn't have expected from a hand-held gaming system. Even more impressive than the music, however, are the sound effects, mainly because they're near-identical to the arcade version - sure, there are some differences, but I really was impressed with the quality of the sound in this particular title.
I love the simplicity of Rod Land's game design and the Game Boy version is a great platform for the title. Eurocom did a great job in reworking the game to work on the Game Boy and is definitely a title I'd recommend if you're a fan of arcade-platform games - highly recommended!