Ufouria: The Saga Review
Posted by Marcel van Duyn
Easy Mode Metroid
The original Metroid was a ground-breaking game for its time, but it feels incredibly dated to anyone playing it for the first time now. The lack of a map makes navigating the seemingly endless identical corridors way more annoying than it should be for newcomers, whereas those who know the game inside out can beat it within an hour.
Ufouria takes heavy inspiration from the first Metroid, as you navigate a large world consisting of multiple areas, finding new abilities along the way to help you reach extra items and even more locations. Originally released in Japan as Hebereke, it stars Sunsoft's original mascot, Hebe, who, along with some other characters in the game, was made to look slightly different for the western release.
It's one of only three games in the series released outside Japan, and curiously enough, none of those three were released in North America, only in Europe and Australia. Ufouria is the most infamous of the bunch: it's one of the rarest NES games around and a complete English copy can go for hundreds of dollars on auction sites, if you're lucky enough to even see one of them.
Hebe, now known as Bop-Louie and resembling a snowman more than a penguin, has somehow ended up in a strange world with all three of his friends missing, so naturally, he sets out to find them. Although the general idea is very similar to Metroid, there are very few ability-granting powerups to find in Ufouria. Most of the new areas can be accessed by locating your friends; each has their own special skill they can use to great advantage, which means you'll have to switch between characters as the situation calls for it.
Although it might sound cumbersome that this has to be done by going into the menu (thus pausing the game) and then selecting a character, it actually brings a good deal of strategy to the table. If you're playing as a character who can't swim and you somehow manage to tumble towards a body of water, you can quickly pause the action and swap in a character who can. You'll mostly be playing as Bop-Louie, as he can run faster than the others, but each of his friends must be used at least a few times in order to beat the game.
The characters are initially defenseless save for a stomping attack and the ability to pick up and throw strange balls dropped by defeated enemies. You'll have to find one hidden treasure per character in order to let them use an actual attack, which is done by standing still and holding a button for a while.
Metroid could get frustratingly hard, but Ufouria is quite easy-going. You'll quickly locate a map and a compass which will point out the location of every single special item, and you can collect a bunch of (respawning!) medicine that can be used at any time to restore 50 health, as well as Water of Life that fills every single one of your life containers, provided you've found them. The bosses are relatively easy, following a usually simple to figure out pattern, and it's not until the final boss that you'll really ever be in any true danger. Even he's easy with maxed out life though!
Should you lose all your health, you'll be sent back to the first area of the game with no further penalties — all items you've collected will still be in your possession. You can be given a password at any time, but with the Virtual Console's suspend feature this is kind of pointless now. The game is about three to four hours long for first-timers and there should practically never be a time where you get stuck, as the map will get you out of any pickle.
The graphics and sound are some of the best on the NES, just like almost all of Sunsoft's NES catalogue. The whole game looks not unlike a cartoon and the music is very catchy.
Although it might be a bit on the easy side, Ufouria is a great example of a third-party developer beating Nintendo at their own game. It does just about everything the original Metroid did, but better, so if you love Nintendo's action adventure series you'd do very well to check this one out.