Review by ArabArcadia

"What a novel concept; a game where you use your brain!"

Back in the heyday of the Sega Genesis, the world was introduced to Climax's Landstalker. The game featured a unique isometric view which added visual and gamplay depth to the game. Landstalker also boasted some pretty challenging puzzles, requiring both dexterity and mental acuteness. It was a shining gem that won a cult following and is often used as a benchmark, like the Zelda series, for adventure/RPGs.

The same story is mirrored with Alunda for the Sony Playstation. Not only do the two games look alike, but they both play alike. In terms of game play, you play as the game's adventurer namesake. As Alundra, you have the ability to cross over into people's dreams (or nightmares) in order to free them from a dark menace that threatens the lives of everyone involved. This is a unique gameplay element that works wonders here in that each dream acts as its own dungeon with its own style, puzzles, theme, and enemies. But Alundra is not confined to nocturnal puzzles and dangers; he must also navigate a fairly large overworld which consists of towns, caves, dungeons, and plenty of secrets.

But Alundra doesn't stop there. The game is full of delightful and often frustrating puzzles which take top prize in the degree of mental might required to solve them. This is not to say that you will be solving complex mathematical functions or finding answers to theoretical physics questions, but it does mean that you shouldn't expect the mundane and rudimentary ''push the box and jump'' ''puzzles.'' And these puzzles cover the gamut in what a game can throw at you. On one end you have the dexterity puzzles that test your thumb's speed and range of motion. On the other, you have the seemingly simple yet requiring analysis brain teasers. Please don't be mislead, however. Intriguing as these puzzles may be, they are not impossible. I merely strive to point out that after tackling the deluge of kiddy puzzles that have become ever so popular, you may just have to start thinking when you pick up the controller.

One last thing to say about the gameplay is that the classic ''find a useful item and use it'' element is retained in good form. Here, each and every item and weapon has a purpose and, what's more, they are all a joy to use. For example, finding the cross-bow expands the gameplay greatly in that now you can attack enemies from a distance and hit far-away switches. And you will find a whole variety of different weapons, spells, and tools. This helps to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting.

Like Landstalker, Alundra has a whimsical and novel little story. But unlike Landstalker, Alundra's story grows more somber and mature has the game progresses. NPC start to die off and the game makes a few minor twists. Its nothing that will cause you to put down that good book you've been reading, but it does add a great sense of seriousness to the game that fits with the overall plot. Overall, its not exceptional, but serves its purpose.

Graphically, Alundra has its ups and downs. The game is 2D (which is a good thing in this day and age) but for some reason or another, the developers decided not to emulate Landstalker's isometric, 3/4s point of view. This is not a major loss because the gameplay is the same (challenging platforming sections, tough boss fights, puzzles, etc.) but this top-down view (ala the Zelda of old) gives the game an awfully flat feel. Its definitely a breath of fresh air in this day and age of polygons and camera problems, but it does miss the aesthetic charm of Landstalker.

Another problem is that the colors seem washed out at times. The game simply doesn't have that colorful, vibrant feel that Landstalker did. Although this fits with the mood of the entire game, I would have loved to see a larger variety and expression of color. In this connection, I thought that the animation for the characters would have benefited greatly if it was taken up a notch. But then again, I do realize that this game is a number of years old on an already dying system, so I can afford to be more forgiving.

Finally, I would have to say that the sound is the least memorable thing about the game. I like to rate sound on how much of the game's tunes I can remember. Nothing can match the Zelda theme which I find myself humming now and then and the brief snipits of Landstalker's background music that pops into my head now and again. For Alundra, unfortunately, such tunes are not there. That doesn't mean that the sound is bad, it just means that its not very memorable.

A few more things worth mentioning are that the game does feature some anime clips that help further the story. I liked that these little clips blended in nicely with the overall look of the game. Furthermore, the game does have its fair share of secret areas and goodies. Its enough for a second play after you beat it, but I doubt you could squeeze out more than that.

Finally, this game is high on my value list. It was distributed by Working Designs, so the box art and the packaging are top quality. The game even includes a nifty color map of the main world printed on quality paper. Finding a new copy is pretty tough, too.

If you liked Landstalker or enjoy Zelda type games, you really owe it to yourself to add this game to your collection. It doesn't do anything ground breaking (thank God) but it does do what it does right.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/02/03, Updated 07/02/03

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