Updated: Oct 10
This early Sega Master System puzzle/maze action platformer is joyously colourful but its punishing trial and error are painful.
Released by Sega in 1985 as one of the first Master System titles in Japan and then ported over to Europe in a bundle cart with Astro Warrior in 1986, it's easy to compare its visuals and ideas to the later released The Legend of Zelda and Bomberman (mainly for the top-down perspective).
The premise is incredibly simple. As the white knight, you are tasked with saving a captured princess from an evil witch who has hidden her inside some sort of castle maze. With that, you traverse a series of rooms looking for three magical peices of treasure (ring, magic cross and the sacred potion) and only once these are found can you rescue the princess (otherwise your character inexplicably dies).
Bizarrely, the witch leaves you with a magic mallet which you can handily use to swat her goons that roam the mazes. If they touch you, then you die and if you accidentally smash the platform you are on with the hammer, it's death again. The enemies respawn so the trick is to keep moving and with only three lives the Game Over screen becomes a frequent appearance.
There is a practice mode which is essentially the easiest setting with only four maze rooms to wander so finding the items isn't too difficult but even on the next setting of Beginner (16 maze rooms) the jump in difficulty is pretty severe. The Advanced and Expert modes are further multiplied again with trickier enemies and maze layouts. Having not even completed the Beginner mode I haven't attempted the other two modes yet.
To find the items you need to master the route between the rooms with some having hidden treasures and keys to unlock doors. Eventually it becomes a battle of endurance and path memorisation, which is exacerbated when the tiles and backgrounds all look the exact same. There is also a two player option which sadly I haven't been able to try out.
The jaunty music is incredibly catchy and typical of the 8-bit era sound design although there are only two songs and the main one plays repetitively so this could irritate over time.
Ultimately, despite its charming visuals and memorable music the gameplay loop and difficulty ruin the enjoyment of trying to work through the mazes naturally as they really require a pen and paper roadmap (or more likely YouTube guide) which isn't quite as fun.