Land Stalker - Staff Retroview  

From King Nole to Jessica Alba
by Jason Schreier

35-45 Hours


Rating definitions 

   In an era where the Super Nintendo dominated the gaming market, particularly when it came to RPGs, other companies were hard pressed to stay afloat. Although competition was limited, Nintendoís stiffest opposition came in the form of a little black console called the Sega Genesis. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, the Genesis brought several RPG gems to the table, particularly Phantasy Star IV, Shining Force II, and Land Stalker. The latter game, considered by some to be a Legend of Zelda knockoff, is actually a fantastic 3-D action-RPG with great puzzles, an intriguing storyline, and fascinating characters. Rather than a silent elf protagonist, the player takes the role of Nigel, treasure hunter extraordinaire, who, at the request of a spunky fairy named Friday, adventures to a small island in search of the legendary fortune of the ancient King Nole.

   At its core, Land Stalker is a simple hack-n-slash roleplaying game; Nigel talks to people, he buys equipment, he jumps, he swings his sword, he defeats enemies, and he progresses from area to area in a somewhat linear quest that takes him all throughout the island of King Nole. Monsters are all over the island in all sorts of different shapes, forms, and palette swaps, while powerful bosses reign supreme in their respective dungeons. However, thereís a lot more to the game than slashing Nigelís sword at every monster in sight, despite that being a pretty viable strategy. He can gain new armor upgrades to help prevent losses to the life meter (represented through a bar of hearts in a Zelda-esque fashion), upgrade his sword to do more damage, and collect health-replenishing and battle-enhancing items. On top of all that, the gameís plentiful supply of dungeons provide a layer of delectably challenging puzzles ranging from complex jump maneuvers to positioning bowling balls and forcing monsters to move on door-opening buttons, although sometimes they get repetitive. Because Land Stalker is 3-D, which was a rare sight in those 16-bit days, many of the puzzles take advantage of its isometric viewpoint in order to provide a rich, challenging atmosphere.

Every good hero has to jump on statues sometimes Every good hero has to jump on statues sometimes

   Land Stalkerís graphics are completely ahead of their time. Using the 3-D interface, dungeons can contain entangling mazes, layered puzzles, and all sorts of jumping challenges. Characters are also designed exceptionally well for a Sega Genesis game, each with its own loveable and often humorous traits and qualities. The environments are lush and detailed, immersing the player into the world of Nigel and King Nole. On the other hand, the gameís music is not nearly as polished. Although most of the songs played in dungeons and fields are tolerable enough for what they are, sound effects are repetitive and irritating, with monster screams being the worst culprits. Some songs, on the other hand, are quite excellent, particularly the wild reggae Massan theme song, which has its own set of memorable (and hilarious) lyrics.

   The game is quite difficult, especially when it comes to puzzles; some of the riddles and solutions can seem rather obscure. Enemies will also do quite a bit of damage, but this problem is mitigated by Eke-Ekes, bizarrely-named vegetables that serve to rejuvenate Nigel upon death, restoring half his health; he can hold up to nine of these treats. Nigel can also hunt for or buy Life Stocks, which add hearts to his life meter. Beating the game will take some commitment and probably a few Game Over screens, especially when it comes to the final dungeon, also known as tediousness incarnate.

   From a crypt full of riddles and awakened dead to a Nigel doppelganger with a loathing for garlic, Land Stalker is filled with style and charm, and the localization is almost perfect. The translation is well done, with amusing light dialogue and a plot that never takes itself too seriously. Land Stalker also has a healthy number of side quests that satisfy without overwhelming the player, from an eco-friendly romp that will take you inside a gigantic talking tree to clear its demons out to a shape-changing dog adventure. There arenít many localization issues at all, and sometimes itís hard to tell that itís even a Japanese game.

Hey there, just chill for a sec while I steal your treasure k? Hey there, just chill for a sec while I steal your treasure k?

   Itís hard to call Land Stalker the most original game, because as an action-RPG featuring an elf and a host of puzzles and items, itís very similar to Zelda in many aspects. However, its story and humor make up for this shortcoming; Nigelís adventures take him past all sorts of amusing situations and characters, from the enigmatic Madam Yardís that may or may not be a brothel, but will not let children in, to three goofballs named Wally, Kayla, and Ink, who will try to thwart Nigel at every step of his journey. The story is also filled with its own set of twists and turns, and though sometimes it can be a little cheesy, overall itís pretty good.

   For anyone who is interested in experiencing an example of the age of 16-bit greatness and immersing themselves into a great action-RPG, Land Stalker is the game to play. It has its flaws and it has aged a bit, but the game is definitely worth playing now. So go forth and stalk the landÖ and pick up Land Stalker too while youíre at it.

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