Have you ever played a game that just seemed like so much wasted potential? A game that was a great idea gone horribly wrong? Of all games I've ever played, Solstice could definitely be in the running for top game in that category. In Solstice, you play as a wizard trying to rescue a princess by solving puzzles inside the castle stronghold that she's being held captive in. I've mentioned several times that I love finding little-known games that are as good as, if not better than the mainstream classics. When I saw the reviews of Solstice and brought it home for the first time, I had such high hopes. How could a game that looked this cool possibly be bad? Well, the game itself, isn't. It's all these little flaws that add up to make this game practically an unplayable and unpleasant experience.
7.5/10I will give the game some credit in this department, the graphics of Solstice are quite good. They're displayed in a 3-D isometric view, similar to that of Snake Rattle n Roll. The enemies and objects look nice, and the animation of your wizard character is very fluid. The enemies, which stand out well on the backgrounds, include walking eyeballs, trolls, spiked balls, and other such oddities. There's a good variety of settings, too, ranging from castle walls and caves to forests and rooms filled with spikes. The downside of these graphics is that everything is so darn small! You only have a very small portion in the middle of the screen that is actually dedicated to game graphics. Why did they not take advantage of the full screen? This game must be hell on people with small TV sets. The 3-D view can also be quite confusing at times. It's often difficult to tell what platforms are on the same level as you. And if they are on a different level, it's hard to tell if they're above or below you, or just how far above or below you they are! Nothing in this game, including your character, has a shadow. This makes it difficult to perform some jumps that should be realtively easy to do (more on that in the Play Control section.)
7.5/10Solstice has one of the best opening theme songs I've ever heard in an NES game. In fact, I think one of the only reasons to want to own this game is just to listen to the music. It has an overall "Arabian" flavor to it. The opening theme is quite long. It's longer than the actual demo. When you press start, the music changes to the theme for the opening story. It sounds quite menacing and somehow makes the typical "save the princess" plot a little less cliche. Then, when the actual game begins, another extremely long, well-orchestrated theme is heard. There's only one problem: This is the ONLY song you hear throughout the entire game, and those ringing cymbals/bells had me wanting to pull my hair out after I played for about 20 minutes. This game is long, so I would've liked to have some variety while playing.
3/10It's been my experience that isometric games usually have play control that takes some getting used to, but this one seems worse than most others. Pressing Up makes your wizard move diagonally up and right. Pushing Left makes him move diagonally up and left. Pressing down makes him go down and left, and pushing right makes him go down and right. Does this sound confusing? Well, it really doesn't take too long to get used to in the actual game, but there are many, many problems with it. First of all, it can be very difficult to tell just how close you are standing to something. I've often run into enemies and died when it didn't seem like I was touching them. When leaping from block to block, it's not always clear just where you can leap to, because of the lack of shadows. Sometimes, I could not tell if the blocks were above me or below me, or just how far away from me they were. This makes the jumps quite frustrating to do. And if the easy jumps are hard to do, you can imagine how difficult the precision jumps are! The wizard doesn't jump very high or very far, either. I also hate how sometimes you'll be riding on top of a moving object, and then just fall off for no apparent reason. I've actually found it's possible to get stuck in this game with no way to move on because of this. I happened upon a room with walking skeletons that you have to ride across to a door on the other side. But I fell off the skeletons while riding them, and got stuck in the pit below. The only way out was to reset. I'm pretty sure there are other areas of the game where this can happen, too. The menu screen, where you can use your potions, is a bit tricky to manipulate, as well.
3/10An evil wizard named Morbius kidnaps Princess Eleanor. A good wizard named Shadax is trying to rescue her. The only way for Shadax to do this is to comb through Castlerock Dungeon and find the missing pieces of the Staff of Demnos, which he will need to defeat Morbius. The game is called "Solstice" because if Morbius sacrifices the princess on the night of the Solstice, he will gain demonic powers of some kind. Of course, none of this is ever really explained in detail. We just have to taken Morbius's word for it. We don't even know, nor find out, anything about any of these characters. The plot is cliche, the ending is typical, and I can't say that I felt much of a sense of atmosphere, either, since many of the rooms look so much alike.
5/10How do you rate challenge on a game that is challenging for all the wrong reasons? Solstice seemed like it was supposed to emphasize adventure and puzzle solving. Instead, it emphasizes stupid frustrating jumps. I think the designers were trying overly hard to make this game challenging. The first and foremost problem is the lack of a save feature. Yes, that's right: It's a long game that you must complete in one sitting. If that isn't bad enough, there are no continues, unless you find a special coin that gives you a continue. Of course, those coins are few and far between, as are extra lives. You start with special potions that have different effects, depending on their color. Yellow stops all enemies from moving. Purple makes you invincible. Another potion destroys all moving objects in the room, and the other one reveals any hidden blocks. These potions are extremely necessary for getting through the dungeon, but you aren't even given full bottles of them to start with! And more potion bottles, much like extra lives and continues, are very rare. So what this all means is that this game is practically unplayable, unless you use this cheat code that gives you unlimited lives and refills your potions each time you enter it. I had to resort to using this code to get anywhere in this game, and I almost never have to do something like that. The "puzzle-solving" is usually nothing more than just pushing blocks around or finding invisible blocks.
4/10In Solstice, you walk around from room to room, solving puzzles that will help you get to the next room. All the while you are searching for the pieces of the Staff of Demnos, that is needed to defeat Morbius. You must use your potions in order to overcome the many obstacles that stand in your way. Sometimes, you will have to combine usage of potions. For example, you may need to use an enemy to reach a higher part of the room. To do that, you'll use the yellow potion to stop the enemy's movement. Then you will use the purple potion to make yourself invincible. That way you can safely leap on the enemy's head. You will also need to find items to help you progress, such as keys, extra potion bottles, and boots that make you jump higher. Another interesting concept is that you cannot directly defeat enemies (unless you use the potion that destroys all moving objects in a room.) You must find other ways around them. Unfortunately, the scarcity of necessary items, particularly potions, extra lives, and continues, will make this game more frustrating to most players than anything else. The puzzle-solving is overshadowed by the annoying jumps. And since the plot is unoriginal, there isn't much motivation to beat the game.
Sigh...So much potential just gone to waste. Solstice seemed like it would be a cool game. I would only get this game if you're really into collecting NES games, and you don't mind using a built-in cheat code to win. The music is definitely worth hearing, but that's about the only really positive thing I can say about Solstice. The basic concept is very intriguing. It's the execeution that is so poor.
SCORE (not an average): 4/10
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