Retro Review: Little Samson

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy graphics. This game is more of a Megaman than a Mario, with projectiles flying in all directions and most enemies requiring several hits to defeat. It’s a challenging game, but totally beatable if you’ve got an evening or two to kill.

The Basics

Little Samson was released in 1992 by Taito, quite late in the NES’ life cycle, as an apparent attempt to create a real flagship property and recognizable mascot. Though, they had much more success with previous games such as Bubble Bobble and, oh yeah, Space Invaders.

One has to wonder what would have become of Little Samson had it been released for the Super Nintendo instead, as by the time it came out gamers were very much moving on, and its detailed 8-bit graphics really weren’t as impressive as they might have been a few years earlier.

The character is said, apparently, to be based on the biblical figure Samson, in spite of a total lack of resemblance. Samson, in the bible, fights off an entire army with only the jawbone of a donkey, and then he pries a lion’s mouth open to get a fresh jawbone for his encore. Samson, in the game, spins when he jumps and tosses bells all over the forest floor to spread his cheer.

In Japan the game was known as Lickle: Legend of the Holy Bell, completely removing the nonsensical biblical reference.

Never trust a man with his scepter out

The game attempts to have a story, but it isn’t exactly clear. If we’re going with the idea that this is a young version of the biblical Samson it’s only worse, so we’re going to continue to ignore that idea and go with the implied Japanese background story (which is no background story at all — huzzah!).

The way I interpreted the game’s opening scene was a little off, as I found out while doing my research for this review. As I saw it, the four heroes all jumped inside of a bell under the supervision of a king, who appeared to masturbate in evident approval. The dragon was clearly enraged by the King’s manners, so he was then beaten nearly to death by his friends and forced to submit to the will of the depraved, tyrannical ruler.

According to the official story, however, the four heroes assemble in the good King’s throne room after being urgently summoned, and though the dragon is resistant to take up the charge, his compatriots convince him to come along on the journey.

Either way, it is pretty clear that the king is jacking off.

Although I never really got to fully grasp the story from the cutscenes alone, they are rather nice to have, if only as an opportunity to crack your knuckles and correct your posture before moving on to the next stage.

Four men enter, one mouse immediately explodes

Little Samson plays a lot like Megaman, with very tight platforming controls and, often, a lot of projectiles to dodge at once. It even looks a little like Megaman — especially that health bar. The level design is not quite as good as it was for the blue bomber, though, but it’s still very good. Importantly, rather than switching out abilities gained from bosses, in Little Samson you switch between one of four playable characters.

You can change which character you are using at almost any time, unless they happen to be dead, and this is the main draw of the game. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, controls differently, and has a unique attack.

Little Samson himself, who aside from throwing bells can climb up walls and hang from ceilings. He is, as you would expect, the most well rounded character, who can do well in almost any scenario but is rarely the absolute best choice.

Kikara the Dragon can fly for up to five seconds, breathes fire, and can charge up his attack to shoot three bursts of flame at once. Being able to fly gives him a feeling a bit like Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2, where you often just skip large chunks of levels. Kikara is not very resilient to damage.

Gamn the Golem is slow as all hell, but takes a little longer to kill, and can walk across spikes. He can also one-punch just about anybody, which can come in handy. It would be irritating to have to use Gamn often, just because of his speed and relative inability to jump, but he has his uses. I like to bring him out to start boss fights and get a couple of big punches in early..

Finally, K.O. the Mouse. Like Samson, he can climb on any surface, though he seems to die if an enemy so much as looks at him. He’s very fast and fun to play with, and his bombs turn out to be by far the most powerful weapon in your arsenal, especially in boss battles. Assuming he lives long enough to get a hit in.

The platforming aspects of the game are solid, and the controls feel great for all four characters, despite Goddamn Golem Gamn being painfully slow. To do well, you’ll have to switch out your characters with some regularity, and the strengths of each are well encorporated into the level design.

The boss battles are by far the toughest part of the game. That’s not to say you’ll be throwing your dangerously sharp NES controller through the tv set, or an unfortunately placed roommate, but beating any of the bosses on the first attempt would be an unrealistic goal for most players. You’ll die, you’ll learn, and you’ll like it.

A resounding shrug echoes through the land

I have mixed feelings on the graphics in Little Samson. On the one hand, they are highly detailed for the NES, though that should be expected considering how late the game came out for the system. There are some ugly, clashing colors at times, and things can look a little messy, but when things are a little simpler it sure is pretty. The game probably looks a lot better on an older TV, slightly blurred. It does look quite good, and is certainly better in motion than in screenshots.

The sound design is strong, with lots of different sound effects for each character and ability. The music is good, though not really great, and it is varied enough that you’ll probably only get one tune or another stuck in your head because you really like it, rather than because you can’t escape it.

Very Good

Little Samson is a very well designed game that would have undoubtedly done a lot better had it been released earlier in the NES’ life cycle. It’s a damn shame they never made a sequel, because this game would have ruled on the SNES. Find it and play it.

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