Saturday, April 10, 2021

Escape From Monster Manor: Hiding Behind Locked Doors

This isn't supposed to be like one of those internet funnyman shows. I'm not supposed to be finding a new masterpiece of suck, I'm supposed to be finding hidden gems. You and I know there's nothing good hidden in the rest of this game.

That's spooky, I'll give 'em that. And the music isn't some annoying garbage anymore. It actually is starting off competently...which is strange at this point. Nothing in the imminent area, followed by a series of rooms full of spiders. They jump down from the ceiling, and they do that at precisely one block away from the far end of the area. Its precision, but its clever...wait, I just called this game clever. Its getting more suspicious. Ghosts appear, but they're usually in a reasonable location, not dozens of hiding places in a 6x6 room. Ammo galore. Oh, no, what is going to happen? What awful monsters are hiding here?

But no, it continues being good. A maze that's actually good, a new kind of door. Level design linking back on itself that, surprisingly, isn't done in the confusing way it was in previous levels. This isn't to say that it redeems the game, but now the only problems are due to the game's non-level related elements, ones that are inherent to other parts of the game. Like ghost transparency or having to backtrack for ammo. I do die once, but I can honestly say that's my own fault.

There's a big treasure room near the boss of this floor. Its interesting...and yet, its not a prelude to something horrible. Same old boss, same old.

Lone Catacomb...what, Creepy Catacomb was too on the nose? This is where they're getting too clever with key placement for their own good. All the items, rather. The opening area is a large circle, there are doors leading inside the circle, and doors leading outside the circle. The doors inside all seem to lead to ammo and health, but require two keys and have no keys inside. The doors on the outside require one key, but offer little if any health and ammo, further, they're not guaranteed to have keys inside them.

This kills me. There's just no ammo and health here. I guess the idea is you're here good enough to beat this level with that ammo or you're just supposed to avoid doors that don't have the goods you need. Several times, I've had to get enemies away from the path forward or just rush past them. This isn't good. I've been through most of this level and I've seen nothing of the medallion piece or the exit. You're not supposed to be playing a level just to bypass most of it on the final try. That's not good game design. At least, its not good game design nine levels in with no hint of this being the ideal playstyle. I am not even sure this level is possible. It doesn't feel possible.

In the interesting of saving my time, I decide to do what any good reviewer would do when faced with an insurmountable task, cheat himself full ammo, turn off the in-game music and start blasting to the sweet sounds NWOBHM sounds of Satan. There are a few things I learn. One, Satan instantly makes any game better. Two, if you fire fast enough the game momentarily craps itself, cool. Three, the exit on this level is at the end of a long hallway. A long hallway the longest damn hallway in any game I've ever seen. See, the problem with these twisty hallways where behind every corner is another enemy is that the way back is incredibly boring. Four, the medallion piece is at the center of a maze.
The perfect playthrough of this level requires you go into that maze, never miss, go to the northeastern outer door, because the one to the left of it is blocked from the exit, never miss, and somehow beat the boss. Presumably at some point a human being played this and thought this was okay. I'm still going to try to legit beat the rest of the levels, with the actual sound, but I'm not upset I cheated to beat this one.

Last group of levels. First, Tombs of Doom. Now we're rhyming? This reminds me a lot of Nitemare 3D. Spooky outdoor garden was a significant amount of gameplay there. It also suffered from having no melee weapon, but it made up for that in other ways. Here I'm just seeing what lovely things I'll be killing ten hours later. Feels like the head monsters have a little delay before you can kill them now, but nothing interesting so far. Scratch that, that's just the first two.

Now I realize what the problem with the enemies is, they have no alert sound! Explains why I've had so much trouble with enemies sneaking up on me. Its a curious combination. Not unlike Catacomb Abyss, and yet, Abyss was ten times better. An interesting thing in the opening hedgemaze, doors that open when you're a certain distance from them, but closed otherwise. You'd think they'd plot a better use of it before now, but I'm not a professional level designer or anything. The level's proceeding as these usually do, tedious, obnoxious, but not offensive. Ammo is sometimes in short supply, as are keys, but I generally have enough for the most part. My fears of a large generous ammo supply before a huge battle turns out true. A dozen ghosts, plus two boss ghosts, in a room just filled with ammo. I don't know how many there are, they cluster together. Which makes them hit hard and are generally annoying to kill. I don't die to that, I kill them all, no, I die because one of the heads one shots me from full health. I think I'm done playing this level legit. Its not that this level is some nightmarishly difficult thing, I just want to end this with a win. I turn the music off again too, this time for some Saviour Machine. There's just not much to the level after that, I almost had it beat. Turns out about a fifth of the area is completely unnecessary, but you're not going to find that out unless you go there first. The narrator is apparently a music track, figures.

The next and I hope final level, I turn back on the in-game music, it seems like a new track, but I'm keeping infinite ammo, because screw these spiders. The level is "Ghastly Graveyard", and it lives up to that name. When it isn't just another hedgemaze. So many enemies seem unreachable by design, and I'm not sure if I'll ever reach them. Small concern. I discover, much to my distaste, that the game is slowing down a lot on this level. I don't know if that's the emulator's fault or not, I really don't care too much, but it did result in my death, I can't shoot because of it. Only sometimes though, but it turns battles that really shouldn't be deadly into deadly battles.

I find it just another sign of bad game design that even after getting an unfair advantage I still have to be completely alert on every corner. SWAT 4 is less stressful than this game. Eventually comes a more crypt-styled section. I find it not a good sign that I have 7 keys at this point. I also consider it bad that it took me nearly 90% of the game to find the medallion piece. I think its in absolutely the longest possible place for it to be.
Do you really wanna know what the ending is? Shiny mansion, "You have collected the talisman, but for how long?" I mean, why bother making an ending when nobody is ever going to see it. At least its not a stupid win screen...yippee. As meaningful as the end boss. Note I did not mention the end boss before now, because it was the same boss as every level.

Final Time: 12 hours 10 minutes

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