Review: Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos (Retro)

Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos: Member Review

Retro 1,014 view 0 likes 0 comments
Reviewed by Slamicite, posted Aug 8, 2013
I love wizards. I love love love wizards. There are few things in the world cooler than wizards. Wizards are awesome.
Aug 8, 2013
  • Release Date (NA): June 1, 1990
  • Publisher: CSG Imagesoft Inc.
  • Genres: Puzzle, Platformer
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
In the beginning, there was an empty work of fiction. Then someone said, "Let there be wizards!" The world would never be the same. Solstice is a game with wizards and some of the best, most wizardy music in the NES.
Slamicite
SOLSTICE: THE QUEST FOR THE STAFF OF DEMNOS
Wizards. Fire. Dungeons. Solstice.
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Hide your asses, he has a potion!
Solstice... Already upon booting the game you are greeted with a colorful picture of a wizard. Not surprising, as it came out by the end of the NES's years, but still pretty.​
Before you can even stop and ponder at how beautiful this title screen is and how cool wizards are, sweeping arpeggios will flabbergast you with the purest musical quality available on a game with wizards released in 1990. If you don't mind being blown away, you can listen to it below:​
Phew! There goes half the memory banks.
"Wow! This game already looks fantastic!" I can hear you express. "So what is it about anyway, what kind of wizardy things will we be doing? Casting meteor showers to kill a dragon? Summoning a dragon? Morphing into a dragon?" Well, no, Solstice is a puzzle game. An isometric view puzzle-platformer, to be precise.​
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Radical!
As Shadax, a rather athletic wizard, you walk around rooms in a maze-like dungeon, where you must avoid all sorts of traps with his highly advanced powers of walking, jumping, moving blocks and using potions. There's a reason why it's a potion that is there in the title screen, and it's that a block wouldn't look any cooler.​
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Above: uncool.
Of course, you have to save the princess. Of course, you have to collect all the pieces of a magical item to do that. Of course, there are many keys along the path.​
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There's no Dark World, by the way.
Yes, that is right. That phony wizard does not even have his own fucking magic staff! After he has the brilliant realization that raiding the bad guy's dungeon with the power of some color-coded liquid in a flask isn't likely to work, he has to steal the Staff of Demnos, which conveniently is only visible during the winter solstice or something. It's all there in the manual, but it's written in such a olde butcherede englishe that I don't recommend trying to understand it. Not that it should matter, though. Go and push blocks around to get the staff pieces. That's all you need to know.​
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The intro cutscene. Notice how Shadax is blue here as opposed to the previous screenshots. "The princess can wait, I've got to don my fabulous pink robe."
You start at a room in a dungeon. Shadax moves around diagonally with the d-pad. You can make him jump with A.​
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He grabs items or blocks he's standing on with B. Note that by block I mean the colored cubic shapes like the ones in the above picture, not the floor tiles. You can hold one block at a time, and pressing B again will make it appear under you.​
Defying all physics and in typical NES fashion, you can grab a block and jump at the same time with A+B simultaneously, which lets you reach one tile higher. What's even crazier is that, with another press of A+B, you can release the block in mid air and immediately jump off of it again. Doing it at the peak of your height essentially lets you double-jump. Blocks can also be pushed around, but for almost all purposes it is better to pick up and drop where you want.​
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There's an old saying that says a game designer starts using crates only when they run out of ideas for plausible representations to fit their gameplay into. Well, Solstice doesn't even bother making them crates. Just plain blocks. There's even one shaped like a bowl, but it's equally undefined. They should have thought of a better metaphor for the thing that you can jump on, grab, and use to double-jump. Double-jumping may even seem like a glitch when it's first found out, but it's mandatory to beat the game. One might get stuck and frustrated at this game just for being unable to guess the utterly nonsensical double-jump mechanic.​
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You know those pointy things are never good for a video game character's health. The large spikes differ from the small ones in that the bowl-shaped blocks will not be destroyed if they fall on it. Why? No idea.​
Empty spaces are not bottomless pits, just holes that put you in the floor below.​
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Conversely, if you jump high enough in certain rooms, you will be put into the exact same spot on the floor above it, if there's any. That leads to some awkward mechanics of appearing not on an empty space, but on a tile, implying that you somehow went through it when going up. Another poorly identifiable mechanic that the game relies on to progress.​
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A challenge approaches!
Try to judge height and distance in those two screenshots. Go ahead, I challenge you. Can't? Neither can I! Solstice lacks shadows or any other sort of aid for depth perception in its pseudo-3D environment. Enjoy jumping towards a block just to fall onto spikes for misjudging the unjudgeable.​
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So, is that it for Solstice? Is it a putrid piece of shit that should be buried alongside ET?​
NO
Solstice is awesome. Yeah, the wizard is not really a wizard, but who cares? I'd rather play as a muscular wizard without magic powers than some wimpy little kid. The choices for themes are odd and the metaphors for gameplay mechanics are nonsensical, but once you understand and accept them, that's when things get entertaining.​
Does that sound familiar?​
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Above: "The choices for themes are odd and the metaphors for gameplay mechanics are nonsensical, but once you understand and accept them, that's when things get entertaining."
Plus, I have to give it to the developers that if they chose their theme with no regards to gameplay, wizards are one of the coolest possible choices.​
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False expectations aside, let's get to what Solstice really is about.​
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The whole game takes place in a single huge maze. There are various environments, such as the castle, a forest, or a cave. You must jump and double-jump your way through several traps, finding the pieces of the staff and the keys that open up new paths. Shadax's controls in midair are just as tight as when he's on the ground, allowing for interesting maneuver tricks while doing the double-jump.​
There is a lot of content. Enemies have contrasting attributes and behaviors. They may, for example, follow a preset path, go after you, or turn in a certain direction whenever they hit something. Some are able to climb, some are short enough to be jumped over, some can move vertically. There are many kinds of tiles which interact with Shadax in different ways. Those all open up many possibilities for level design, which Solstice makes very good use of.​
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There is a good bit of strategy involved when it comes to deciding when to use a potion (special attack) and when to collect one. Some very difficult rooms can be made easier by potions. In fact, sometimes they're required to pass. Each potion is good at getting you through a different type of danger. Often you will find a room where you know you wish to use a potion, but even then you have to decide which one you think better balances your immediate needs with what you might want to save for later.​
Collecting potions the first time you see them may not be a very good idea, since you can only carry 4 uses for each type. Gathering anything that would fill more than that would waste the rest.​
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The same can be argued for the credits (continues). Those are inserted in the inventory management concept in a way I haven't seen many games doing. A continue will let you resume a Game Over, but only with the progress you had when you last picked one. Thus, they essentially serve a limited saving function. As you find a continue, you will have to decide whether it is better to pick it up then or save it for later. You have to decide whether or not you will need it later on, whether or not you have enough lives to wait until the next time you find a credit, or even if you're coming back to that location at all. It's a mechanic I would like to see more arcade-styled games using.​
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The difficulty in Solstice is generally high but fair. Shadax dies in one hit, so it's a great thing that there are plenty of lives. You start with four, and there's much more scattered around. They're often somewhat dangerous or entirely impossible to get without a potion. Therefore, in a way, it's like you're given the opportunity to "buy" lives with potions sometimes.​
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Playing it multiple times will make the game easier by having you learn and memorize, but it should be perfectly possible to beat it on your first try if you're good enough. The exception is the damn ambiguous depth. It's the only serious problem with this game, and causes several deaths. You can avoid most of them if you're careful, but it's still infuriating.​
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Solstice is a great arcade-style game in spite of its weird presentation. It involves both reflexes and planning, both skill and trial-and-error. Shadax's game is difficult, however so fun that you may want to try again right away. Its gameplay makes no sense, which is good in many aspects; all it means is that the game is too unique to be easily represented by simple visual metaphors. I don't blame whoever made this for not coming up with more fitting masks for the mechanics, as I myself can't think of a better way. Plus, wizards.​
________​
Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos is a video game released for the NES in 1990 by CSG Imagesoft. For coming about so late in the NES's lifespan, it pushes the console's capabilities pretty far with overwhelming amounts of content. As a game by Sony released on a Nintendo console, it's unlikely to be re-released any soon.
Verdict
Pros
+ Excellent soundtrack.
+ Great portrait and item graphics.
+ Varied challenges.
+ High yet non-frustrating difficulty.
+ Clever level design.
+ Wizards.
Cons
- Nonexistent depth perception.
- Poor plausibility in representation of gameplay elements.
- Wizard is young and ripped.
8 Presentation
Solstice has an impressive atmospheric soundtrack during gameplay. The title screen alone could easily sell the game to most. It's too bad that it hardly fits what the game is.
10 Gameplay
One of the most complex and varied NES games, Solstice will give you tools and ask you to use them in challenging and unexpected ways. It's the perfect balance between skill and memorizing. Difficulty that is as fair as possible. The only problem is the depth perception. Since the developers could add so many enemies and whatnot, you'd expect them to at least add some generic shadows to help you perceive it all.
9 Lasting Appeal
Each time playing Solstice is short and sweet. It will take several tries to figure what to do, and then several more to do it right. After beating the game, it should be easy to quickly beat it, but there's still more to do. You can try getting 100% completion by going into every room and getting every item. Good luck ever accomplishing that.
10
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Solstice is a great arcade-style game in spite of its weird skinning. It involves both reflexes and planning, both skill and trial-and-error. Shadax's game is difficult, however so fun that you may want to try again right away. Its gameplay makes no sense, which is good in many aspects; all it means is that the game is too unique to be easily represented by simple visual metaphors. I don't blame whoever made this for not coming up with more fitting masks for the mechanics, as I myself can't think of a better way. Plus, wizards.
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