Solomon’s Key is a game that I have always known by name but not in experience. As both a child of the arcade era and a person who today still tracks older games, it’s a name that has come up quite often. Yet I can’t recall ever actually playing it before I was asked to review the Arcade Archives PS4 port. I actually had no idea what to expect going in because I couldn’t remember anything about the game except for its name. So for me, this was just like reviewing any other game I hadn’t played before. This puzzle platformer was originally released in 1986 by Tecmo before they merged with Koei. It’s very dated, but in some ways it’s quite good for the time it was released in and no less challenging today.
This game actually doesn’t look too bad for 1986. It’s a 2D platformer that takes place in an enclosed space. Every stage is a square area filled with square obstacles of only two or three colors and enemies. The backgrounds change every few stages, but all in all the level design is simple. The layouts are basically just stacks of blocks that together form a puzzle. The enemies are very impressive. There are so many different kinds, all of which are meant to be magical creatures such as dragons, trolls, gargoyles, and floating blue heads. The main character is a small wizard in full costume with a green gown, a hat, and a wand. The movement animations in this game run really smoothly and are done very well for the time period. You get the walking and shooting fire animations, but also a lot of other on-screen movement takes place at any given time because of all the enemies.
The HUD is very simple. It’s similar to the one in Bomb Jack, where everything is above or below the gameplay area while the gameplay itself is untouched. It features score, round number, lives, and a bonus timer. While this isn’t the best looking game I’ve played in the Arcade Archives collection, it’s certainly not one of the worse one I’ve played either.
The gameplay sounds easy enough but it’s actually very tricky due to the puzzle based scheme of the levels. Your goal is to grab the key in each level and then get to the door. The key is revealed to you at the beginning of the level, but how to get to it and the door is the puzzle. Levels are populated with enemies of various kinds that behave in different ways. Some can fly, some can run, some can shoot fire, and some will chase you upon sight. You also have to deal with blocks. You have the power to remove or place certain types of blocks, but other ones you can’t do anything about. Blocks must be used intelligently to reach the areas you need to get to. Many enemies will react to blocks. Some will break them, others will climb over them, and a small portion of them will just turn around when they bump into them. You can also shoot fireballs, but they can’t be spammed. You must collect special items in order to refill your fireballs. You start with a maximum of three, but can extend that to eight with certain items. Scattered throughout the levels are also special items. Some are hidden as well and can only be made to appear in specific situations. Items can do a number of things but mostly they either give you points or more fireballs. All stages are timed and if you can’t get through the door in time you lose a life.
You instantly die when you touch a monster or fire. But what’s great about this game is it’s one of the few in the collection that has a properly working continue system. You can start with three to five lives based on your settings, but when you die it’s not over. You continue at the level you died at as many times as you want. If you die after you already got the key, you will respawn with the door already unlocked. When you continue from a game over you will still have the key and no loading screen. Even when you turn the game off, you are given the chance to continue your game from where you left off when you come back. That’s a great feature to have in this game because honestly it’s really tricky even in the early stages and there appears to be quite a few stages in total. I can’t say for sure how many because I could only get so far, but if it’s similar to other puzzle games from the era then it’s fair to assume a decent number of levels before it loops back around.
The only thing I took issue with as far as gameplay was the controls. You can move left and right, jump, crouch, shoot fireballs, and cast block magic. But all movement including jumping must be done with the d-pad or left stick. I would very much have preferred if the jumping was tied to a button press. Usually the Arcade Archives titles let you customize the button map, but this one only lets you switch the magic buttons. Movement is locked, which means jumping is locked. Because of this, the controls work but can be a bit frustrating at times. There is a two player mode. It’s just like Bomb Jack where you’re really just playing two single player games and switching turns when you die. Overall I found the gameplay to be pretty good. It’s a series a good quality puzzles that are challenging but not impossible and you can continue as many times as you want even without using the save state function so you can actually reach the end of the game without having to accomplish near impossible feats to do it. But be warned that like with all arcade games when you continue your score resets to zero which will affect your ending score.
The sound is pretty standard in Solomon’s Key. There is a simple background music track that plays continuously through each level. It’s decent as far as sound quality. There are also a number of special tones for certain occurrences such as beating a level or touching a special item. The sound effects are exactly what you would expect from an old arcade game. Sounds for things like dying and shooting fireballs, but not for walking. I would say the sound is simple, but definitely at level with the bulk of other games from that era. I would have liked to have more options about controlling volume levels of music and sound effects if I’m honest though.
There is no writing in Solomon’s Key save for the instruction manual. And that doesn’t even give you the customary one to two sentence explanation that you get in many if not most Arcade Archives titles. All it tells you is that your character’s name is Dana. I have no idea why it’s called Solomon’s Key as opposed to someone else’s key, because key is the only relevant part of the title. And I have no idea why the main character even has a name in this plotless adventure. I guess it’s not fair to say there’s no writing though, because some of the levels have clues written on the background about secret bonuses. But there is certainly no semblance of a plot, or at least not in the earlier stages of the game.
Because of the continue system, there’s not necessarily much replay value in Solomon’s Key. You don’t technically have to replay any levels unless you want to. There is an online leaderboard so that might be some motivation, but I think once you beat all the levels you’ll probably be done with it. There are a total of nine trophies, but this is one of the older Arcade Archives titles so it’s the useless trophies like read the manual and change the settings. You can get the first seven trophies before you even start a game and the last two only require you to beat the first three to four levels to get enough points. I got 100% on PSN in less than 30 minutes. I would assume there’s at least 50 levels in this game and based on that assumption I’d say that you will probably get around five hours total out of Solomon’s Key unless you personally choose not to use continues. $8 is a little higher than it should be, but it’s not a terrible price for what this game is when compared to a lot of other games in the collection for the same price.
Arcade Archives: Solomon’s Key is one of those games that actually did age pretty well. At least as far as gameplay is concerned. It’s challenging, yet fair and long enough, but not so long that it feels like it drags on. Outside of gameplay though, it’s a pretty average game, but if you like old games, it’s one of the better ones to check out in the Arcade Archives collection.
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