When it comes to Greek mythology, it’s filled with some popular gods and goddesses. You got your Zeus and your Ares, and your Apollo and any other ones you can name from the Clash of the Titans movie, the Xena television series, and anything else that comes out of David Jaffe’s head.
And then there’s Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, and a whole lot more of the good stuff that I find honorable. She’s pretty important and one of the more popular amongst the fans of Greek mythology. So much so, that in the mid-80’s, SNK made a platformer game with her has the lead character. They were ported to the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum, and the Nintendo.
Sadly though, the game doesn’t live up to the legend. So we are having a look at this game on the N.E.S. for a Review A Bad Game Day global extravaganza!
The big problem I have with the game, right off the top, is the character herself. Have a look at the first line in an online article about Athena, and see for yourself:
In Greek mythology, Athena was the goddess of wisdom, of warfare, and of crafts. She ranked as Zeus’s favourite child and one of the most powerful of the 12 Olympian gods. Although Athena was worshiped in many cities, the Athenians considered her to be their special protector and named their city after her. Many rulers sought her wisdom in both government and military matters.
She’s Daddy’s favourite child? Great, she’s nothing more than a spoiled little rich debutante. I’ll bet she gets what she wants when she wants, and Zeus will just drop everything for his precious angel. All she needs now is to befriend the daughter of a famous singer, and she can have her own reality show. Look, even the story premise from the instruction manual makes her sound like her actions in this game do not have the best intentions.
I am Athena. They call me the Goddess of Wisdom, but I have grown weary of my dull life in the castle. The Fantasy World beyond the castle walls beckons to me! Strange and fearsome creatures will attack me at every turn. But I will find weapons along the way: a ball and chain, a bow and arrow, or a mighty sword will be my defense! In the Fantasy World, I can put on wings and take to the sky, or become a mermaid to explore the ocean depths. There, the Goddess of Wisdom can become the Princess of Victory!
You see? There’s no threat to the world, or imminent destruction, or duke or damsel in danger. She’s just bored, and decided to kill some helpless creatures in the forest for her own entertainment. My guess is that she stormed out of the castle because someone gave her a convertible for her birthday, and it was the wrong colour, and she wants to take her anger out on some man-horse-thingy outside. So, really, when you think about it, the bad guys trying to defeat our female lead, they’re defending their lair from some crazy woman having a temper tantrum and stomping flowers to piss off some tree slimes. So, really, we should be cheering for the wildlife, not our hero.
As soon as I press power on my console one thing annoyed be before I even dived into the game. As many of you know, the N.E.S. has a problem with blinking and dust, that requires you to blow into the cartridges consistently to get the game to work. Then you get a solid light on your console, but you don’t see anything on the screen, so you immediately turn the console off to get the rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs to give it a thorough once-over. Well, in this game, the game starts off with at least a couple seconds of a blank screen before you get the title screen. So if you don’t know that, and you see nothing when you start up, the first reaction is to turn off or jiggle the cartridge immediately, frustrating you even before you get the game started.
Something needs to be said about the opening screen in the game. I mean, even by 1987 standards, the design of the girl looks really good. I mean, you got the anime-style drawing of Athena that looks as good as the drawings of today. And she’s sporting the blue hair, which is kind of a turn on. She’s got the spaghetti string bikini top which gives her some sex appeal. I can kinda dig that. But what is up with her face? She has that O-face that has me concerned. She’s got the look of a sex blow-up doll, and it’s really out of place. Feels like they took the intended sex appeal a little too far. And while we’re on the subject of ripping the appearance of a fictional character that could eventually make me look like a bully, what’s the deal with the size of her sprite’s head? Dear God, that’s huge! Paraphrasing Mike Myers’ dad from So I Married An Axe Murderer, it’s like an orange on a toothpick. That’s a colossal noggin, which is probably where her massive big-headed ego comes from.
The graphics aren’t too bad, it’s just a shame that most of the colours chosen were pretty poor. They bleed into your eyes in some of the levels, and it’s next to impossible to identify the dropped items. The perfect example is the second level, which is in the caverns. The background colour of the stage matches the colour of the first-level bow and arrows and wands, so it’s next to impossible to see them or to see where they dropped. If they had used a couple more different colours, it would have made a world of difference. It also doesn’t help that the background designs for the underground stages look hideous. The animation looks lazy and robotic, but I’m going to let that slide out of sympathy.
The enemies don’t make a lot of sense. I mean, the horse men, and the chimera boss, they make sense because of the Greek mythology inspiration. But what’s with the club-weilding Man-Bear-Pig? Or the things that look like a hybrid of Cookie Monster and Grimace from McDonalds chasing you with a lollipop? And most creatures respawn quickly on the screen, in the same way in Ninja Gaiden, where they will not stop spawning from the side of the screen. This makes for frustrating game play. The stage end bosses can only be described as dumb. The first boss you face is a tree with wacky limbs, spewing fireballs at you, and it’s impossible to hit him with a melee weapon. Then there’s the octopus in World three, with wacky tentacles, spewing round balls at you, and it’s impossible to hit him with a melee weapon. Wait, the tree and the octopus? They’re the exact same creature, just reskinned. That’s pretty lazy to do that kind of tactic. And then there’s the fifth world boss, the spider-like creature that will not die no matter how many times I hit him, and it still made the hit sounds. I kept hitting him and hitting him, but since there’s no enemy health bar, there’s no way to know that I’m making progress. After a half an hour of nothing and restarting, I had to give up and couldn’t continue to complete the game. It was only afterwards, I looked up that I was supposed to be using the dinky bow and arrow to hit him, because that’s his only weakness. How was I supposed to know that without the Internet in 1987?
The sound is screeching to the ears. The background music repeats over and over. And usually you don’t have an issue with it, but it just makes for an unpleasant experience in this game. The music in World of Sky sounds like the circus, but after the third iteration, it feels like the carnival of souls. What’s worse than the sound is the sound effects. The pops and bloops are too loud and over the top, and gets under the skin. The worst of the sound effects is the one when Athena gets hit. Nothing. There’s no sound. In fact, there is little notice that you got hit, with exception of the bounce back, but other than that, you wouldn’t even know that you took damage.
And speaking of taking damage, there’s one programming issue that makes this game incredibly infuriating. When you take damage, you can keep taking damage until he’s dead. You know in games like Super Mario Brothers, when you get gooma’ed, you start flashing and become invincible for a couple of seconds to get out of the situation? Athena doesn’t do that. If you get hit, you can still get hit and causes more damage. And since you jump back after every hit, like in Castlevania, there are many situations where you can lose all your health from a simple hit. So, for example, when I have to fight the Treetopus, if I get hit by the fireball facing away from the monster, I’ll jump back towards another fireball and keep getting hit after hit after hit by the limbs, then the mouth, then the limbs again, until I hit the edge of the screen, ad nauseam. It also doesn’t help that hit detection sucks, on both sides. Sometimes it seems that the projectiles go right through Athena, and the number of times I would swing the sword and doesn’t register a hit on that whatchamacallit coming towards me.
The controls are fifty-fifty. As in the directional pad works, but the A and B buttons don’t. Moving left and right works just fine, but the jumping and weapon-swinging feels delayed and unresponsive. The double-jumping is also really disastrous. You jump once, you do a regular jump, the second jump, you do some sort of space jump, and the third jump after that, does the same space jump. It becomes really hard to control which jump its on, and sometimes the time between the first regular jump and the second jump is hard to measure.
I guess when the programmers were looking for something groundbreaking, they went to do it literally. Half of the game is just breaking bricks to find items and weapons, and if you have a weak weapon, some bricks take two swing to break instead of one, and it feels like a complete waste of time. And there are a lot of items to collect that do harm, like lower your armour or replaces your weapon with a crappy one. So now to avoid those, you have to wait for it to drop, then wait for the unwanted item to time out off the screen, making more of a waste of time.
Maybe I’m being to hard on the game. There are attributes that isn’t all too bad. Although it’s pretty much a simple side scroller, each stage has an upper part and a lower part, which gave it some depth, and that’s pretty innovative for its time. Although why there are certain paths that lead you back to the beginning of the stage is beyond me. It also has upgradable armour to be found, which is pretty neat. And with different weapons makes game play less boring when you think of it. Stage three and four introduce turning into a mermaid and giving angel wings respectively, and although it’s annoying to control, you have to tip your hat for trying something different for the better.
Overall, the negative far outweigh any positives you can find. The poor music and sound effects takes away from the experience, and the aggravating glitches and battles makes for a hell on earth experience. Even when you accomplish something in the game, it doesn’t acknowledge you doing anything. It moves onto the next level without so much as a congratulations or a victory stance. Apparently, even the end of the game doesn’t even give you a credit roll. Just a single screen and the first stage music playing over and over. The challenge is there, but the reward doesn’t justify the risk. It’s a good concept, and some good ideas, but the god awful execution leaves you to believe that this is nothing more than a bland, generic and broken side scroller. Great potential just flushed away. It doesn’t qualify as the worst game ever made, and there are people out there who defend Athena. After playing it again, I can sort of see why, but it still qualifies as a terrible game. It isn’t so bad that I would recommend avoiding the game altogether. It’s playable at least, but be prepared for disappointment when you find a working copy.
Now, to properly dispose of the cartridge. Is there a way we can leave this to the annuls of time, and bury it some tomb in Greece, never to see it again? Actually, maybe we shouldn’t. You never know, in ten thousand years, some advanced civilization will find this game. Some archaeologist wearing a futuristic fedora of the future will find it, play it, fall deep into madness and destroy what once was a proud culture. Best to just sacrifice this to our alien overlords. Get the lighter and the propane!