Review by ramsiverse

"Get those neurons warmed up"

In 1989, most genres had been done to death. Some of the best side-scrollers, shooters, and platformers had made their permanent place in video game history. Efforts were made by a number of gaming developers to capitalize on others' success. Gamers had grown tired of all the Contra- and Double Dragon clones, but one company stood to do something different: HAL labs. They created a game where the focus isn't on action, but thought. An entire game of problem solving, The Adventures of Lolo required gamers to slow down and ponder their moves. The game was a success and spawned two sequels. Maybe it was the novelty of an untapped form; a unique kind of puzzle game that intrigued the market. As for me, I love this game for many reasons...

As you could guess from the title, you play as Lolo- a blue sphere with short arms and legs, complete with huge eyes and an occasionally-recognizable tail. Your girlfriend, Lala, has been kidnapped by the Great Devil and taken to his castle. It's up to you to save her. The plot is weak, but gives you a reason to go forward. My take on it is that the Great Devil spent so much time and effort designing a castle full of puzzles that he was just too eager to steal someone's girlfriend to coerce them into his lair. Why else would he have designed such an elaborate castle if he didn't intend for someone like Lolo to work through it? I try not to think about why the big bad guys want to steal women from the likes of Mario, Lolo, and Bayou Billy. There's gotta be more back story than that, I think. Lolo must have done something to upset this Great Devil, and now Lolo's paying for it… That, or the Great Devil lacks the people-skills to get a girl he likes, hence the abduction of Lala (who I guess is pretty cute).

This isn't the kind of puzzle game like Tetris or many of its brothers. The Adventures of Lolo uses a top-down perspective in a single-room environment. Your goal in each room is to collect all the hearts. Once you do that, a treasure chest will open. Collect the object inside, then move on to the exit. How is the name of the game. Standing in your way or shooting at you when you're in sight are a multitude of enemies. All of them serve a certain purpose in each puzzle; there is almost always a reason for them to be in the room. Some will only activate once you've grabbed all the hearts in the room, while others constantly keep on their guard. You'll have to push blocks in between you and them strategically if you are to succeed. Sometimes a heart will yield ‘shots', which allow you to encase most enemies in an egg, at which point you may push them around, shoot them off-screen, or push them into the water to act as a ferry for young Lolo.

Some rooms have more than one way to solve them, but usually there is a pre-determined solution that you must discover. The best strategy, I found, is to take into account all the objects on the screen. Find out where you need to go and what stands in your way. As each level begins, Lolo starts in a set position and all the enemies remain still. There is no time limit, so you can ponder for as long as you need to. Some puzzles require a bit of trial-and-error, figuring out which hearts will yield powerups and where an egg will float. Usually, I'll just start moving, go with an idea, and watch what happens. I'll then mess up and realize what needs to be done. Doing these things, one may think that game is pretty easy, but it's not. Games like Lolo and The 7th Guest require the player to think more than any other game. Sure, when I'm playing a first-person shooter, I will examine a battlefield, take many factors into account, and act accordingly. The only difference is that in Half-Life, there's usually room for error. There is no life bar in Lolo. A single half-push could mean complete failure. Luckily, you can restart any room by pressing the ‘select' button. You're given 5 lives to start with, but there's a password system that allows you to begin on any given room, so it's like having infinite lives. HAL Labs had no reason to make the game any more challenging. They realized something that I wish more developers would come to terms with: if I complete a challenge, I shouldn't have to complete it again. In Lolo, once you beat a room, you beat it for good.

There are a total of 10 floors with about 5 rooms on each, so 50 puzzles all together. The first couple of floors are fairly easy and can be breezed through at roughly 2-3 minutes per room. Once you get to floor 7, the puzzles get very challenging, requiring you to really think outside the box and figure out just what the developers intended for you to do. There is a variety of challenge to be found. Some puzzles require you to move fast and avoid enemies while others necessitate strategic block-moving and proper use of resources. A few of them can be intimidating, with large numbers of blocks to be moved. These were the most difficult for me because there are so many possibilities as far as how to use the blocks. The final stage was probably the most difficult. The layout seemed simple enough, but I had to exhaust every possibility before I gave up and looked up an FAQ.

That's what I like about this game, though. The sense of accomplishment when you finish a room that seemed impossible, all by yourself. Then, conversely, when you give in and look online for the solution, because you know that you reached your limits. You discover the answer and go, “Ohhh….”. Realization sets in and you move on, slightly ashamed of yourself for getting help. The ability to excite such strong emotions is unique to puzzle games of this kind.

The music is well-done: catchy, memorable, and appropriately preparing you for adventure. If only it weren't the only song in the game. It stops when you either die or move on to the next floor, but otherwise it's the same 1 1/2 minutes of track repeated to infinitum. This is another one of those games where it's best to play your own music and mute the TV. You're not missing much. I will say, however, that the game has end music, and it's also pretty good.

I don't like how the cover art mis-represents the game. It shows Lolo holding a key as he's jumping away from a large fireball. In the background is the Great Devil, grinning menacingly, and a pink block with eyes lying on the ground. None of that is found in the game. There are no keys and you only see your enemy twice in the whole game- the beginning and the end. However, there are a few parts in the game where Lolo must make a narrow escape and dodge fireballs.

The replay value is moderate. Obviously, once you play through it once, you can pretty much play through it again without much trouble, since you already know the solutions. I can pick this game up about once a year and enjoy it, but it gets easier every time, as each puzzles' solution comes back to me from the depths of my memory. Luckily, there are two sequels, and they play exactly the same as the original, or at least the second one is (I don't own the 3rd). The game is reasonably long, and will keep first-time players scratching their heads for days.

The ending is pretty good. Maybe because I've played so many games that have no ending at all ::glares at Back to the Future::, but The Adventures of Lolo has a fairly rewarding ending for all the time you devoted. After beating it, I feel…smarter. There aren't too many other games that make me feel that way at the end. I usually just feel like a loser for having spent so many hours of my time on a single game. But Lolo doesn't have that problem.

HAL Labs went on to make games like Kirby's Adventure and Super Smash Bros. Melee; obviously a company that takes pride in their work and ensures that each game deserves the proper amount of attention and testing before it hits the shelves. The Adventures of Lolo is harder to find than some of the more common NES titles, but definitely worth whatever price it's given.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/11/09

Game Release: Adventures of Lolo (US, 04/30/89)

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