When Games Were Hard as F%$#: Remembering Solstice, on the Solstice

Shadax, He works out.

It’s the Winter Solstice today, and whenever I hear the word ‘solstice’ my mind instantly recalls one of the most nerve wrackingly difficult games I ever played: Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos for the NES. Yes that’s right: the original Nintendo Entertainment System. I am old enough to recall when that console was the big thing.

What most kids and “gamers” nowadays don’t understand is that video games used to be HARD. There was no difficulty level you could turn down, and until later on there was no save your game option either—if you stopped playing your game and decided to turn off your console, you’d be starting over from the beginning. Remembering the olden days of games, I have come to form the opinion that gamers now are incredibly spoiled for the most part. The last real “hard game” I played that was released in recent history was Demon’s Souls on the PS3. I’m feeling nostalgic since tonight is the winter solstice, so I’ll tell you a bit about Solstice and what made this game so excruciatingly difficult.

The story is your typical bad guy kidnaps princess story and you are the hero out to save her. You play a good wizard named Shadax who looks incredibly ripped, judging by the box art for the NES Cartridge. Personally, looking at the box art again as an adult I wonder why he didn’t just strangle the bad guy with his bare hands and enter bodybuilding competitions.

Surely that must pay better than wizardry.

The bad guy, with the super obvious evil bad guy name Morbius the Malevolent, kidnaps princess Eleanor and is going to ritually sacrifice her so that he can become the evil Baron of Darkness. This guy is Disney evil, and it’s up to you to stop him. The only way to beat Morbius is by assembling the staff of Demnos, which was broken into six pieces and hidden in a labyrinth maze under (ironically) the bad guy’s stronghold: Kastlerock. Apparently the bad guy never found said pieces of the staff because they were hidden in the one place he wouldn’t look fo them: in his own castle! On top of that, apparently the pieces of the staff have a spell on them so that they are invisible every other night but for this one night, the winter solstice, they become visible to the human eye.

Yes, the whole thing is ridiculous and cheesy, not to mention that staff is the deus ex machina of the game. Once you assemble it, you can beat the bad guy, and it’s not even hard to beat the bad guy. You walk in and once the staff is assembled—BOOM. Bad guy is dead. Princess is saved. The end.

You basically walk around and solve puzzles. The pieces of staff do nothing for you as you collect them, and if you touch any of the monsters, spikes, etc you’ll die. BUT—you can use potions for offense/defense. Pretty much all you can do is run, jump, pick up items, and use potions. You can’t really “fight” anything, which is kind of ridiculous yet again, judging by the American box art of the game which leads me to believe Shadax should be the Chuck Norris of the wizarding world.

As you probably learned from my entry about my obsession over the PS3 game Catherine; I like puzzle games. I think this is mainly because I get so hung up on a puzzle that I refuse to give up until I solve it. The puzzles are not that difficult, but the reason why Solstice is so difficult is because it is so damn easy to die in this game. Anyone who has played this game ad nauseum can tell you this much is true. For most of the game you can only jump the height of one block, until you get the boots that allow you to jump (slightly) higher. There is no health meter or anything like that. One touch of a monster=dead. Also, my favorite: no save. Yes, that’s right. No saving for you, modern day gamer! You better beat it all in one go or you’ll be starting over again. The closest one could get to totally owning this game was using Game Genie cheat codes. Oh, the old days of gaming….

One thing I really both liked and hated about the game was the music, it sounds really awesome and has an almost Arabian flavor. Though this one blogger gave a really bad review of Solstice, I had to agree with his views on the music. It sounds cool and kind of mysteriously intriguing….perfect for exploring a labyrinth. The problem though is this music is on an INFINITE loop in the labyrinth. A few hours in, the music definitely loses its appeal, especially after you’ve died about 200 times. The music was seen as noteworthy enough to make it into the youtube series “The Music of Video Games”. You can check out Solstice’s video here.

Solstice was not the most amazing game ever, I’ll admit it. It was a pain in the ass to play and there were things that drove me insane about it. But on the other side of the coin, it was one of the most memorable titles I played growing up, and I think there are things modern gamers used to the instant gratification style of today’s games can learn by playing a game like this.

Apparently when I was researching the game’s details for this blog I discovered that there was a sequel released under the title Equinox (hehe, how cute) for the Super Nintendo console, so I am now currently on a mission to find and play this game. I may need to find a version online for an SNES emulator, but I prefer paying the actual cartridge on my console (yes, I still have mine) if I can find it….here’s hoping I will.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone! 🙂

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