Solomon's Key (NES) Review

By Athanasios 28.01.2022

Review for Solomon

Apart from the 20 or so golden classics, the NES library mainly consists of mediocre pieces of software, or straight up garbage. There is, however, a somewhat large chunk of titles that belong in a sort of "classics… but not really" type of category; games that have a sort of retro magic, if that makes any sense, but are far, very far from flawless. One such thing was Tecmo's Solomon's Key, a notoriously difficult action/puzzle hybrid, which was the perfect rental title, but probably nothing more than that. Something that can provide a pleasant gaming weekend, and that alone. Here's a quick look at it, 35 years after its creation.

Take the manual, open it up… and then immediately throw it out of the window. It talks about a magic thingy, which was holding evil thingies inside, and then the magic thingy opened… and who cares really? All you need to know about this simple, arcade-y game is this: Dana, the young wizard players control, has to clear 40+ levels, with each one holding a key that opens the exit. That's it. Of course, typical of the NES era, a simple concept is no promise of a simple ride towards the finishing line. Solomon's Key doesn't hold its punches, and it won't take long for most to figure that out. 10 stages in, and the difficulty starts rising very high, with the second half of the journey being able to provide tons of pain for the unsuspecting fellow that manages to survive to see what's up ahead.

Being an action-puzzler, the challenge on offer is two-fold. At first, you need to think how to proceed. Dana can create or destroy stone blocks with his wand, and the main tactics that power gives him range from creating stairs or blocking an enemy's path, to "imprisoning" foes, or killing them by destroying the blocks they walk on. It sounds simple on text, but the level design is against you, with plenty of tricky spots that need precise controlling on your part, especially since most stages seem to have a magic mirror or two where enemies are constantly created from, so you can't simply depend on your demon-killing skills.

Screenshot for Solomon's Key on NES

The other half, of course, is the 'action' in the 'action-puzzler.' Unlike the sequel, this forces you to always be on the move, as the various critters that Dana will face often come towards him, and don't just wait in a corner. Oh, and don't forget the existence of a timer, which becomes increasingly more relentless the further one goes into the game. There are even some maps near the very end, where you barely have time to think of a plan, let alone managing to pull it off without losing a life or two.

Things can get a bit repetitive. You are basically doing the same thing again and again, but in more complex levels, but you won't really get any new tools to work with. It's just Dana, his stone-creating wand, a couple of fireballs that can be gathered, and - precious and rare - 1-Ups, or fairies that give an extra life upon gathering 10 of them. It doesn't help that, secret bonus levels put aside, there's only one friggin tune that bops along the action. It's a really neat, appropriately Middle Eastern-flavoured one, but not so good that hearing again and again is ok.

The saving grace of Solomon's Key regarding its replay value, is the fact that many of the levels (especially the first 20 or so) don't restrict that much, letting one try out different solutions and "routes." Don't really change the experience that much, to be perfectly honest, but this small detail separates this from those puzzles that have just one solution per problem, and as such have zero replayability. All in all, no, this isn't a major classic that shouldn't be missing from a gamer's library, but it has its charm, making it an easy pick for any NES afficionado.

Screenshot for Solomon's Key on NES

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Solomon's Key is undoubtedly one of the better action-puzzlers of the NES era, but sadly it lacks that extra… something that could turn it into something better than just a 'good' title to spend some evenings with. With that said, it's far from a bad experience. The way the action blends with the puzzle-solving is pretty neat, and there are usually multiple solutions to a problem, raising the replay value a bit. Just be ready for a very, very challenging ordeal. This won't show you a single ounce of mercy.

Developer

Tecmo

Publisher

Tecmo

Genre

Puzzle

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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