Since I've been playing a lot of NES games lately, I thought I should stick with the platform's Japanese cousin for this round of import gaming. Sunsoft published global 8-bit Nintendo console hits like Blaster Master and Batman, but their early home system output included unassuming titles like Atlantis no Nazo, published in 1986 for the Famicom and never released in North America. This title screen references Sunsoft's parent company, Sun Electronics Corporation:
Atlantis no Nazo ("Mystery of Atlantis") is a fast-paced, simple but not overly easy platformer that sends a pith-helmeted man through a series of short, scrolling zones. He can jump about three times his own height, and throw small bombs to take out enemies willing to sit still long enough to be knocked out that way. Most of the challenge comes from the time pressure -- we have to get from each level's entry to an exit doorway before the rapidly ticking timer runs out.
The game's biggest weakness is a general blandness -- the music rarely changes and the color palette is similarly static. The game occupies a relatively tiny 48K cartridge, and while the backgrounds and enemies are refreshed on occasion, many of the level layouts are repetitive and predictable. The first zone sends our hero across a flat landscape -- all we have to do is dodge some incoming birds, and their, erm, air-to-surface missiles:
Note an early use of the standard Japanese video game iconography for animal droppings -- somehow this bird manages to repeatedly disgorge output nearly as large as itself. Birds fly by at only two heights -- up high, indicating we must dodge the poo, and at face-height, where we can jump or duck.
The second zone is different in style but still straightforward -- we have to climb around some rocks, bombing shell-armored enemies who are only vulnerable while moving:
And zone 3 challenges us to make some tricky jumps while avoiding flying fish (a la Super Mario Bros.) and more of the molluscs from zone 2:
The design does make a few attempts to be more adventurous in its layout -- if we fall down certain gaps in Zone 3, we are taken to Zone 6, a spooky graveyard scene where we must dodge bat guano instead of bird poo:
Zone 6 leads, oddly enough, to Zone 8, where we must try to leap across jagged spires and avoid falling into gaps. I had not figured out how to pick up the apparent boot power-up floating in the air on Zone 6, and thus found myself unable to make certain critical jumps in this level. There's also no way to return to the previous level to remedy such an error, so my adventure ended here:
If we skip the first exit to Zone 1, and use a bomb to blow open the next door we see, we can jump straight to Zone 11... but it's a lot like Zone 8, as the limited cartridge capacity starts to reveal its weaknesses:
Note that there's not really much we can do here -- we can grab two treasure chests, and if we can get ourselves out of the deep pit associated with the leftmost chest, we can bomb the door open to return to Zone 1.
Atlantis no Nazo is not an easy game, despite its simplicity -- we start with a generous 7 lives, but we die if we make contact with an enemy, jump or slip into a fatal gap, allow the level timer to reach zero, or foolishly drop explosives at our explorer's feet. When we're out of lives, the game is unceremoniously over, displaying the player's final score and number of treasure chests collected, with no continues, and no indication of whether we've made a good or bad showing:
Early games for any console are always interesting to evaluate -- the Famicom was around long enough to see considerable growth and improvement in its library, and Atlantis no Nazo is more of a curiosity than a classic. Still, it's challenging and non-linear enough to make it a worthy challenge for platform game fans, and a forerunner of better titles from Sunsoft just a few years down the road.