Puzzle games existed long before the NES. In fact if you want to be really technical, the earliest adventure games were really just gigantic puzzles that took hundreds of hours of planning to complete. Tetris, probably the greatest puzzle game ever created, began life on a computer terminal. Yet puzzle games becoming commonplace really began to take off during the NES generation. One of the earliest puzzle games I can remember on the NES is Adventures of Lolo. While the title may make it sound like a game in the vein of The Legend of Zelda, Adventures of Lolo is a puzzle game first and foremost. While Zelda was an adventure game with puzzle elements intermixed, Adventures of Lolo is a puzzle game with some adventure and action mixed in. Growing up, Adventures of Lolo was a constant weekend rental between my childhood best friend and myself. Eventually he owned a copy and eventually we completed about half the game. Some of the puzzles were just brutal to two kids and the game would eventually get swapped out for something else we were more familiar with. For some reason after getting raked over the coals in Adventures of Lolo, completing something like Life Force or Contra just became even more satisfying. In the years since, I've played a little of the game now and then, enjoying it as a diversion but never really intending on completing it. However after twenty years I finally completed Lolo's first adventure. Just how does this classic NES puzzler and early HAL property stack up?
Description: The country of Eden is in peril! The Great Devil is terrorizing the land and there's only one hope for salvation! The King of Eden dispatches his daughter Lala to seek help from Prince Lolo. As Lolo and Lala return to Eden, The Great Devil kidnaps Lala and takes her to his haunted castle. While little Lolo might not be very strong or powerful, he is very brave and sets off to rescue Lala. However the haunted castle is filled with traps and puzzles that Lolo must solve before he will be able to confront The Great Devil and return harmony to Eden. Lolo has a long, long, long way to go to reach the top of the haunted castle. Good thing he has you to guide him!
If there is such a thing as an adventure puzzle game, this would be the mold it would be created from. The player controls a Lolo, a little blue puffball with legs, arms, two big eyes and a tail. Lolo is inherently weak: he's not very agile, he can't jump, he can't swim, and he can't take any damage. The only enemies that don't hurt him are those that are naturally tame, fall asleep when running into him, or simply attempt to block Lolo into a corner. What can Lolo do then? He can push blocks, shoot enemies into eggs, use special powers and regardless of his limited agility he can still sprint around at a good clip. Each room of the castle has a locked treasure chest and any number of heart icons littered around the room. After all the heart icons are picked up then the treasure chest opens. Once the treasure is collected then the door to the next room opens or the staircase to the next floor lowers. Additionally collecting the treasure instantly removes all enemies from the room. Some of the hearts will grant Lolo a limited amount of shots. These can be used to encase enemies in eggs, allowing them to be moved around the room. If an egg is shot again it will disappear from the room before the enemy regenerates a short time later. Eggs can also be pushed into water and used as rafts but do mind the current, as eventually the egg will sink - remember, Lolo can't swim.
Some enemies, such as Snakey, do nothing but hang out and dance around. Other enemies such as the Skulls are harmless until the treasure chest is open, then they move around the room and their touch becomes deadly. Then there are the most dangerous enemies, Medusas and Don Medusas, which shoot at Lolo if he crosses into their path - regardless of the condition of the treasure chest. They also can't be shot as crossing into their path equals instant death. Gols work similar to Medusas but don't become active until the treasure chest is open, only shoot in the direction they are facing, and can be encased into eggs. Additionally their shots are slow and can be avoided if Lolo gets out of the way fast enough. Alma is a dinosaur looking enemy that runs around the room, rolling up and moving extremely fast, their touch is deadly. Other enemies are non lethal but very annoying. Leeper hops around the room and falls asleep once coming into contact with Lolo, essentially becoming a roadblock. Rocky moves in much the same way but will chase after Lolo and attempt to either push him into the path of danger or block him into a corner.
While he is faced with many dangers, Lolo has a cunning way of dealing with those blocking his way to Princess Lala. Littered through the rooms of the castle are emerald framers, more commonly referred to as blocks. These blocks can't be collected but they can be pushed. Enemies that shoot can't shoot through the blocks and they can also be used to confine enemies that are mobile. Additionally once an enemy is subdued in an egg it can be moved and used as if it was a block, this is where the Snakeys become extremely valuable. Another trick that becomes necessary to complete rooms later in the game is understanding how the game works on a grid. Every enemy, item and even Lolo himself, are on a grid. The trick is that objects can also inhabit half of a square on the grid, essentially being between two of the grid squares. Enemies that shoot can only get a shot off when the path of the entire square from them is clear. So having a block cover up half a square in the path of two Medusas, for instance, means that neither of them will be able to shoot. Stages where this is a requirement slowly creep up and unless you're prepared for them, it feels like the rules of the game completely change once you get that far in. There will be some rooms where at first it seems like you don't have enough blocks to safely complete the stage, until you start thinking in half grid. The terrain Lolo is walking on may also effect his situation as flower beds provide protection from moving enemies, sand makes him walk slow, and lava can't be floated over on an egg and will eventually burn down bridges.
Lolo also has an assortment of special powerups that appear in specific rooms. These come in the form of bridges that allow Lolo to span short gaps of water, hammers that allow Lolo to destroy a rock that may be blocking his path, and one-way passes that allow Lolo to change the direction of special tiles that only allow movement in the direction in which they are pointing. The special powerups become active after Lolo picks up a specific number of hearts in a room. Lolo still does have one big handicap though, while he can push blocks to his heart's content, he can't pull them. This leads to sometimes creating an unwinnable situation. In this case you can restart any room, moving everything back to how it was when you entered, at the cost of losing a life. Lolo can also continue endlessly and each room has a password, allowing difficult puzzles to be returned to at a later time, so the game doesn't have to be completed in a single sitting.
Graphics: If you're going to be staring at the same static single screen for days upon days of gameplay, the visuals better be engaging. I am happy to report that Adventures of Lolo does not disappoint in this department. Everything is colorful yet muted enough not to become overly obnoxious. HAL could have went all out pastel on us here but wisely decides to give the game a colorful, yet earthy color palette. Browns and greens make up most of the graphics which allow the blue of Lolo to stand out without looking out of place. The enemy designs are all easy to identify and there is never a moment when you aren't sure what something is. Different areas on the playfield that denote different textures break away from the standard background and offer some sense of depth. Lolo and the enemy creatures are all well animated, especially creatures such as the Medusas which "wake up" when Lolo is in their path. The Snakey enemies happily bop around with the music, eggs float along water at a gentle speed, treasure chests pop open once all the hearts are collected - for a static screen game there's a lot going on. Everything maintains a cutesy look, even the most deadly enemies, which only add to the over all look of the game. The world of Lolo is vibrant, colorful and detailed without going too far as to leave behind the medieval style the world is based upon.
Lolo's current status is displayed on the right side of the screen showing how many lives are in reserve, how many shots Lolo has, special powerups that are available in the room and if the powerups are currently activated. While there is no alert when Lolo has collected a heart that gives him shooting power, special powerups work a little differently. Once one less heart than the required number of hearts to activate a special powerup is collected, the remaining hearts on the screen will flash, alerting the player that a powerup will be available on next pickup. After picking up the next heart, the currently available powerup will flash in the status area. Being able to see which special powerups, if any, will be available in each room is a critical component for completing the rooms in which they appear. The status area is small, allowing for the game play area to take up the rest of the screen, this means everything on screen has a reason for being there.
Sound: Some people absolutely hate the music in the Adventures of Lolo games due to its constant repetition. On the other side of the coin, the audio isn't absolutely critical to the game so you can turn it down and put on some music if you find it annoying. Personally I think the background song that loops throughout the entire game is rather catchy and fits the game well. Thankfully it's more than a few notes over and over again and while short, the composition doesn't sound like a quick loop of the same thing. A big part of this is how well the tune is stitched together, so while it has a noticeable beginning and end, it bleeds together well enough to the point where it sounds like one song. The upbeat theme will easily get stuck in your head after only a few minutes of play. When I play Adventures of Lolo the music is such a part of the core experience I probably couldn't play the game without it. To me it helps me concentrate on the puzzles at hand.
Music isn't the only part of the audio package although almost everything else is far subdued under the looping anthem. Picking up hearts makes a little squeak sound as expected. Once a heart has been picked up that activates a special powerup a chime sounds. This, in conjunction with the graphical cue that accompanies it, works great to notify the player in an instant that a powerup can be used. Things like eggs floating in the water make a glob-glob sound before they sink, alerting the player to disembark. Once all the hearts in a room are collected another chime sounds as the treasure chest opens, and collecting the treasure eliminates all enemies in the room with a satisfying boom. However if I can pick one sound effect that I remember most vividly from the game, it would be when a Medusa or Don Medusa shoot at Lolo. It's a terrifying sound since it usually comes as a complete surprise. There's no avoiding a shot from either of these creatures once they see you; control stops, the Medusa shoots with a distinct "shink!" sound and Lolo is dead. If you've sat down to play this game and didn't jump out of your seat at least once when getting surprised by one of these enemies, you have nerves of steel.
Play Control: Without a doubt the most important part of an engaging puzzle game is how well the controls perform. Adventures of Lolo is a rather simple game control wise, at first anyway. The directional pad moves Lolo in the four cardinal directions. The A button is used to fire shots when Lolo has the ability to use them and is also how to use special powerups. Once a special powerup is active, the next press of the A button will use it, even if Lolo has one or more shots in reserve. Then there's the Select button, probably the most important in the entire game. In a puzzle game such as this there are many times when you will create a stalemate, with no way to complete the level, or you'll trap yourself. Pressing Select gives up your current life and restarts the room from scratch. Of course you want to be careful not to hit Select when you don't want to but HAL made a wise decision by putting it far away from the action surfaces of the control pad.
Movement is smooth and fast yet precise. The objects on screen are snapped to a grid with one exception. That exception is you can also move in half space increments. As described above, some puzzles require to to put a block in such a position as to cover half a tile in front of an enemy. Since enemies can't shoot though a block, even covering up a quarter of a tile with a block in their path will keep you safe. As long as your movements on the control pad are accurate, Lolo will respond accordingly. Let me tell you right now that a controller with a worn out directional pad is something you will want to change out before playing this game. With a solidly performing control pad, any mistakes from movement will fall upon the player and player alone. While you can sometimes feel rushed when running away from moving enemies, control in Adventures of Lolo is perfect.
Replay: While a key part of the longevity of a puzzle game is its replay value, Adventures of Lolo doesn't immediately give off that vibe. There are a ton of levels here, nearly all of which build off the skills learned in the previous stages. Since some of the later stages are so very difficult, you'll keep coming back to them again and again before you can move on. Does that mean you'll want to play them again and again after completing them? Probably not, at least not right away. It will take some time to complete Adventures of Lolo, even if you sit down over a couple days and blast your way through the game. Due to the large amount of stages and different puzzles, most people won't remember how to complete them all after a single playthrough. This opens up the replay value of this series. While you won't play it again immediately after completion, it is definitely a game you'll come back to a few months or years later. When coming back to the game the puzzles will feel fresh yet familiar and the game will be as entertaining as ever.
Final Verdict: I often feel that Adventures of Lolo is a game that gets lost in the NES shuffle. It seems to be a game that everyone remembers but no one really cares to play or track down. I can stick myself in this group since that's how I was for many years. However we're all doing this game a terrible injustice. Adventures of Lolo provides a solid and well designed challenge with an almost perfect difficulty curve. Granted there are some certifiably insane rooms to complete in this game but without a constant increase in challenge the game would feel stale very fast. Any game that can have you stare at the same static single screen for hours, trying different tactics and passing the controller around the room is a superb game in my opinion. Adventures of Lolo is more or less like Sokoban on steroids. Where a game like Sokoban tends to loose my attention after a couple hours, Adventures of Lolo did exactly the opposite - the further I got, the more I wanted to complete the puzzles and complete the game. I feel similar about the single player modes in the Bomberman games being a drag yet the single player spin-off Robowarrior / Bomber King is one of my favorite NES games ever. When a great concept is expanded on like it is here, you get a great game.
It may not be for everyone and many may
say to play the sequels instead but the original Adventures of Lolo is
a superb game that will provide a solid and entertaining challenge if you
get sucked into it. If you like the classic game Sokoban or the Game
Boy titles Boxxle (which is Sokoban), Kwirk, or the excellent Mole Mania,
then Adventures of Lolo is a must try. As a person who completed
Mole Mania 100% I can say that Adventures of Lolo still put up quite a
challenge but was enjoyable start to finish. In my opinion, puzzle
games such as this are better played with two or more people since sometimes
you just need to take a break and see a difficult stage approached from
a different perspective. If you enjoy puzzle games with a little
more emphasis on action then this is a perfect game to try out, especially
since it's relatively common. A great game that launched the Lolo
series in the United States.
Written on 01-08-2012 by David, firstname.lastname@example.org
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