Gameplay, Story and Value:
Landstalker puts you in control of Nigel, a treasure hunter in search of the treasure of King Nole. To do so, Nigel will befriend a tiny fairy, help anthropomorphous woodland animals, fight monsters and brave treacherous dungeons all in the name of golds! Your journey will not be easy, as the game will do everything in its power to make you hate playing, and it succeeds for the most part. Controlling Nigel is an absolute chore thanks to the game’s isometric view angle and lack of any idea as to how to compensate for it in terms of controls. You’re left trying to accurately hit diagonals while having to line yourself up perfectly with monsters, traps and jumps and rarely able to actually do so!
As a result of these movement controls, you find yourself getting hit by enemies that really shouldn’t have hit you, missing jumps, and even straight up walking off of ledges! The non-movement controls are good with responsive sword swings and decent jumping, but without decent control over where Nigel’s actually going it doesn’t really amount to much!
The story’s fairly bare-bones, through the writing is good. Everything serves as a framework to direct you to your next case of dungeon. You start things off with a very small health pool, though the game quickly gives you health extending items akin to heart pieces in Zelda games. These are welcome, as enemies tend to hit HARD. I had actually thought I was going in the wrong direction earlier in the game as, while traveling through a fairly easy cave, I opened a door only to be immediately attacked by three orcs, each of which could kill me in two hits! Turns out I was going the right way, and just had to hope that I could kill them before they killed me…
This would all be well and good, but when you die once you’re sent straight back to the title screen. No respawns, no starting from the dungeon entrance, just getting shot back to the last time you saved, usually about an hour before you died. This is immensely frustrating given how quickly and cheaply this game can and will kill you! Never mind the impact the aforementioned controls have on your survivability… When you do die, your incentive to try again seriously plummets.
The dungeons themselves are okay at best and boring and tedious at worst. It follows the “Press the switch to get the key to open the door” formula which would be all well and good if, again, actually PLAYING the game wasn’t such an exercise in frustration.
There were some brief moments where things came together, but for the most part it all just fell flat.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
While Landstalker does sport large, colorful sprite work, it’s as if they decided to stop at just good enough. The animations are okay, but not particularly expressive. The environments are fine, but don’t seem to pull together well, most likely due to the camera angle. It’s difficult to judge things like height or distance, and some things just look a bit off.
The music is good, though tracks tend to get recycled. There’s the Town music, the Dungeon music, the Field music… Of course all this music is banned in the US on Youtube but that’s not the game’s fault. Regardless, it does fit the game well, and it never got annoying. Sound effect are solid, though sometimes a bit nonsensical like when the slimes “scream” after you defeat them.
I really, really wanted to enjoy Landstalker more than I did, but there were just too many things working against me. The story was fun, but there wasn’t enough of it. The dungeon crawling and treasure hunting should have been compelling, but the poor controls and boring environments just made them frustrating and uninspired. Death in the game was heartbreaking, in the bad way, and had me dropping my controller at the sight of the title screen.