Taito were always masters of their craft, from Space Invaders to Bubble Bobble and beyond – here is an example focusing on more the beyond. Relatively overlooked until its recent explosion in popularity due to the collectors market giving the game insane monetary value without much genuine nostalgia or considered worth of play. Of course, for this review it’s time to blow off the dust, give the cart a wiggle in the untrusty (let’s face it, they hate working) NES and press the power up button multiple times to get this gem working…This, my retrobates, is a review of Little Samson!
Little Samson (known as Lickie: Legend of the Holy Bell in Japan) was originally released by Taito for the Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System in ’92 but didn’t hit the PAL market til a little later in 1993 (standard). Developed by the little known Takeru (a studio born out of a Capcom exodus looking for that ‘creative freedom’; think of Treasure-Konami, just less hyped), who focused their efforts primarily on the NES, but had stabs at the Sharp, Sega CD and MSX systems, with Shinichi Yoshimoto (Ghouls N Ghosts, Strider) as the leading the production. At the peak of the action platformer genre’s height, Little Samson fits the mould well allowing potential for yet another cutesy mascot in the arguably oversaturated market.
As with most Taito classics, a plot resides within this sassy cart; even if the majority of gamers would happily toss it aside. Little Samson’s world is turned upside down (like Australia) when a dark prince is let loose following what appears to be a thunderstorm (darn storms!) and as expected, is bent on world domination. People these days. Naturally the King is all nervous and knows the kingdom needs a hero, so he sends off some pigeons to summon Little Samson (and Kikira (a dragon), KO (a cute as hell and fairly out of place mouse) and Gamm the Golem (a rock guy!)). Man, I love video games. After having a little read, the heroes trot off on their adventure…
Each protagonist has their own set of abilities. Samson himself is all about bells, as the Japanese name would suggest and proceeds to chuck them at the many enemies in rapid succession. Kikira shoots fireballs that gradually float up. Gamm has like an extending rock arm of doom and punches things into oblivion (seriously, as soon as you punch a sword with this fella, you’re sold). KO logically drops bombs. Wait, what!? Anyway…Samson’s quick and a good jumper (can also do a Ninja Gaiden up walls), KO’s even quicker and better at jumping and can run up walls n’ ish like a tiny Spider-Man, Gamm is slow as heck but is basically hardcore (spikes mean NOTHING) and Kikira can fly for short bursts of time. The different sizes, strengths and weaknesses all come into play throughout the game, as you’ll find that some can get to areas that others cannot, etc. It’s all nice touches that go to flesh out a well-designed game, in truth. I dig it.
But, how does it all play, Basil? Very well, in fact! The controls are tight and the general gameplay is more than fair, leaving it to the individuals own devices as to whether you’re going to suck or not. Obviously, difficulty increases as the title moves along at its fairly brisk pace, but it’s all as expected in a positive manner, with an acceptable difficulty curve for even the more casual gamer (at least by retro standards, especially of the period in question). Little Samson is far from without challenge, but the more you play and stick with it, the more natural it will all come.
There is a choice from the off as to whether you wanna play Easy or Normal, I recommend Easy for first-comers simply as it allows you to easily (funny, that) engulf yourself within the titles gameplay and story elements. Normal plays slightly differently, however. If you lose one of the characters, then POOF – they’re gone, unless you grab yourself a potion or beat the level and no one wants that! There’s also an immediate note of more enemies in the Normal mode, but also some more levels toward the end of the game – so it’s all good. In terms of collectables/pick-ups, the handiest are most definitely those that increase your health bar, but do keep in mind it will max out much quicker on Easy than in Normal. Potions, hearts, 1-Ups…They’re all in there and distinguishable.
Although the controls are tight, as mentioned, you’ll want to make sure your controllers at the ready to rumble, so to speak, as timing will be a decided factor nine times out of ten, like Kung Fu fighting; so you don’t want sticky buttons! Especially as Samson’s jump height, for example; is dependent on longevity of button pressing. The ABS (always-be-shootin’) rule is utterly in place, too. Don’t let the A-button out of your thumbs sight! For real, though. Also, do be prepared for re-spawning enemies, as they do love it and don’t get tricked into awkward spots with characters unable to flip their way out. Items will fall from deceased baddies, but it doesn’t mean they’ll land in ideal spots, they’ll also pop off if they’re out of eye line when you’re on the move. Nothing gold stays! These are all pro-tips, so use ‘em well. You’re welcome. Overall the pick-up and playability is bloody spot-on, it’s tremendous, one may say.
So, how bout dem graphics? Alrighty, mighty! In short, it looks beautiful and truly shows off what the NES could do best when used to its full ability. The sprites are all colourful and lovingly crafted, not to mention cutesy (barring some of those ugly (but well-made) antagonists). There’s some sweet animations, too. Samson’s blinking and spinning when jumping, for example, all look sweet. Think Mega Man, but better. If you’ve played lots of poor titles on the NES, you’ll instantly be in gaming heaven by the fact that platforms pop with colour, while the background clearly look like they are just that. The player shouldn’t have any issue understanding depth in the design. I guess if you have bad depth perception that could be an issue, especially if you’re colour blind, too. But the designers aren’t to be particularly blamed on that one. Overall, it’s one of the most visually impressive titles you’re likely to find on Nintendo’s 8-Bit system that screenshots alone do little justice. Although, if you are like me, you’ll instantly be craving for a Master System port (imagine this with more colours? UGH! AWESOME!). That’s neither here nor there, so we’ll work with what we have and what we have is gorgeous in its own right. I particularly like the story-driven cut scenes, on a personal point.
Just a note on the level design itself. While it doesn’t hit you with anything majorly genre-defying, everything that does exist within is very enjoyable for fans of the genre, such as myself. The trouble with good design (as with anything) it can often fly under the radar. Some may argue (some even have) that the lack of “memorable” levels as a negative of sorts, or at least a point of contention. As far as I am concerned, if it is good it’s good. Not at any point does it feel lazy, or lacking imagination. It is, however; crafted in a way that is strongly focused on functionality, becoming user-friendly in the process. That’s what we have here with Little Samson, folks.
Musically it’s as you’d expect, sounding like a typical Taito NES title if anything. That’s far from a bad thing, though. Its catchy tunes will have you humming along as you carefully traverse the expertly crafted levels and nothing ever sounds out of place. Effects wise, again, as expected. That kish-kish (read that out loud, it’ll make sense) noise(s) that the Nintendo happily kicks out as sharp and nostalgic as ever. There lacks any real stage music, rather relying on the individual character in use. Arguably repetitive, but that bothers me not. Bothers me a whole hell of a lot less than Super Mario World’s overuse of that damn theme (every level, situation, whatever – just different sound samples – DAMN YOU SUPER MARIO WORLD!, I digress…). Anyway, do like.
Whatever you choose to do following this review, if you feel implored to give this gem a shot, just for the love of all that is holy, don’t fall into a resellers’ trap. If they game is out of your price range, or someone’s trying to rip you off, never forget that all retro classics are available by other means. Emulation may be a dirty word to some, but Little Samson stands as a perfect example as to why things like the EverDrive can be the perfect choice, or a site like emu-paradise can easily hook you up on this one. Don’t feel obliged to have to own a physical copy, as that’s an elitist opinion of a game that hasn’t had any significant re-release or port, despite its immense playability. Do what you have to do, it’s why these avenues exist. You’re not taking any cash out of anyone’s pocket by wanting to play a 20-plus year old title that you’d otherwise not have access to. The power is in the players hands, keep it there.
The long and short of it all, is that Little Samson is a game that had been held in the dark for far too long, with none of it a true reflection on the title itself. It’s quite simply rather excellent and is well-deserving of any praise heaped upon it. I loved revisiting Little Samson for this particular review and remembered just why I loved it first time round when upon happy accident discovery almost a decade ago now. Go out and give it a play!
Verdict:- An overlooked mascot-style side-scroller that had so much potential that got caught up in a case of wrong time, wrong place. A game desperate for a big re-release, perfect for the Virtual Console, but remains in the hands of stubborn collectors, resellers and the like, often resulting in emulation as the means for the real retro gamers out there.
Little Samson is an awesome game, pure and simple. The lastability mostly focused on the want to come back to it from its pure joy of excellent design and the personal want to beat both available modes of play.
If you let this slip by you, you'll regret it. For fans of the genre, it's one of the Nintendo Entertainment System's best examples, arguably second to only Super Mario Bros 3. In this gamers eyes, that is...
Second Opinion:- On my very own console of choice, the mighty Master System (ya dig?) there was a game that allowed you to change the character you played as opening up new play styles and gameplay mechanics. It was called Wonderboy:Dragons Trap. It was the most boss of boss games, apart from mine of course.
This is kind of like that but done as a straight up platform game and not as an RPG of sorts which is what that title I just mentioned kinda was. With several things to play as you never really get bored at all and the fantastic and varied locations always throw up something cool to look at, it really is a corker of a game.
On a Nintendo console it is more often the case than not that the best games are from them directly however the more shrewd gamers will always find titles that often surpass anything the makers of Mario can produce. If you own a NES or like to play NES games then this is one of the games you need to get down with ASAP, not because I said so (although I did) but because it's a prime example of the genre done right with new twists.
Transbot Scores: 9 out of 10