Genre: Platformer Developer: Namco Publisher: Namco Players: 1 Released: 1991
Called Talmit’s Adventure in Europe, Marvel Land is an old, forgotten platforming gem by Namco. It was released as a coin-op in 1989, and it bears a resemblence to other run-’n-jump games of the day, such as Blue’s Journey and Alex Kidd, featuring bright, colorful artwork and upbeat sound. Somehow I’d never heard of it, but luckily I downloaded the ROM the other day, and guess what, now I’m bidding for it on eBay! How about that. The story? Well, it concerns this princess and prince, and other stuff. I skipped this section though as I do all games that have stories, since stories and games never mix.
The visuals are detailed and cute, with lots of unusual sprites and monsters. It took me a long time to realize I wasn’t playing the princess, because in the main game the prince looks like a girl. Some of the better-looking graphics show up during the boss scenes, where the characters are twice as large. In the arcade version, it zoomed in on those sprites, but not on the Genesis. Speaking of arcade vs. Genesis, I suppose I ought to point out that the home version remains pretty well intact by comparison, which makes sense because the hardware was similar. It didn’t lose much color, but since the Genesis is lacking in pastels, the soft look of the arcade is no longer there. That is not such a terrible thing if you’re a man (heehee). What is worse is the occasional slowdown and loss of extra background planes and sprite rotation, such as when the rollercoaster goes loop-d-loop and the whole screen turns with it. Yet here and there the home port has been tweaked, often for the better. The clock is now extended to the point of being irrelevant (you no longer need to rush to finish a stage) and cheap deaths are harder to come by. Best of all, there’s now more levels — three more stages per each of the four sections of the amusement park.
My favorite power up in the game is the one that makes shadows of yourself so you can destroy enemies and collect goodies by spinning the shadows in a line around you. (In the arcade you twirled the joystick, but at home you just press a button). Obviously, this is where Ed Boon stole the idea for Johnny Cage! Also, you can get dragon wings to jump higher. Like in Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, some “power ups” can be a hindrance, and in the case of the dragon wings you don’t always want to be jumping really high, unless you like to die.
Do you like to die? If so, you’re in for a treat because this game is really hard. Harder than Sonic The Hedgehog, but not as hard as, say, Shadowgate or Legacy of the Wizard. Anyone with patience or the level select code should be able to beat it eventually. The jumping, as you might expect, is very precise and unforgiving, which I love. In fact, I wish there were new games of this style, where the computer is brash to the player, catching him off guard and wasting your “quarters.” Anyway, Marvel Land features clever enemy placement and hazards that tend to trick you up when you least expect it. For instance, moving platforms that are normally safe to stand on slowly lower themselves into liquid chocolate and instantly drown you. I don’t know why you can’t swim in chocolate (I could), but it doesn’t matter because in games like this nothing is meant to be realistic. Indeed, if Marvel Land had photo-realistic graphics it would probably scare young kids.
I only wish the sound were as consistent as the platforming. I didn’t love it, but it’s not bad. I was loving more the free-form design of the levels and their various secrets. There’re little nooks and crannies to crawl into (what is a “cranny,” exactly? I guess it is like a nook, only nookier), and you can jump to high places that at first look out of reach, and things like that. It doesn’t go out of the way to impress you with secrets like Super Mario Bros. 3 did, though, and it’s not obnoxious about them like Kid Chameleon was. Sometimes you’ll accidentally warp to another area, skipping a level or two. Rad! And the bonus levels at night, lit by Namco’s characters as amusement attractions, are kind of nice.
The boss battles are funny. They each consist of a different, impromptu mini- game, such as paper, rock, scissors (or “Scissors, Paper, Rock” as the game prefers it; “Janken” in Japan?), a race to burst a balloon over the opponent’s head, etc. Failing any one of these sends you back to the dungeon level (the last stage of each world, like the way the Mario games end its worlds). I screwed up many times at these, only to quickly realize how easy they are.
So, should you play it? Yes. It’s definitely one of the better platformers of the era, and it’s been overlooked. Despite the cutesy appearance, it packs a decent challenge. I thought I’d played them all, so this was a surprise, a NICE surprise. If you’re a fan of creative platformers like Jumping Flash, Wardner, McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure, etc., be sure not to miss Marvel Land.