You might have stumbled upon Namco's love letter to Norse mythology, the Valkyrie series, in the past. Of the few games released, there is one rather noteworthy entry for the arcade named Walküre no Densetsu, a one or two player overhead shmup/platformer hybrid with a lot of impressive scaling effects thrown in for good measure. While player one was given command of the titular Valkyrie, player two was cast as her sidekick, a green lizard creature called Krino Xandra who looked more like an angry gummy bear. It would have been really interesting to see if Namco could pull off a Super Nintendo conversion of this underrated title (only the PC Engine was lucky to get one) but that was not to be. Instead, the spotlight went to Xandra.
Xandra no Daibouken: Walküre to no Deai - localised as Whirlo in the west - is a 1992 platform game on a console that excels at hosting many memorable ones. As the plot goes, a huge explosion is heard and a mysterious dust begins to cover the land, decimating Xandra's people with an unknown disease. When his own son becomes infected, Xandra takes up his trusty pitchfork and ventures the land seeking a legendary medicine that would cure his son and save his people.
Story wise, these are the events that will lead Xandra to meet Valkyrie, so this game is the prequel to the arcade one. Xandra himself is one of the reasons that sets the game apart from most because, he's not exactly hero material and finds himself at the clumsy end of the warrior spectrum. Mastering his controls and learning what not to do when facing enemies will be your very first priority as you begin the game.
The B button jumps and Y button attacks with the trident. Jumping and attacking is a gamble in itself. You can just spin with the trident in the air or press down and drop trident on your enemy's heads, DuckTales style. However, there is no spring at the bottom like Scrooge McDuck's iconic cane, so miss and you stick your trident humorously in the ground, taking several seconds to pull out, leaving you at mercy of foes. The A button allows you to either charge up for a screen-high vertical jump necessary to progress in certain parts of the levels or, if you tap it, a huge lunge forward. Both these actions should be made while running, since Xandra picks up the pace automatically after just a few steps held left or right.
Last but not least, X allows you to charge up a courageous horizontal spinning torpedo-style move that will not only take out enemies but is also mandatory to get past certain parts of the levels. All that goes up must come down however, and Xandra plunges earthwards at the end of the move, tumbling on the ground and sitting there dazed for a few seconds, completely defenseless.
Considering this is a 1992 video game, the graphics in particular stand out immediately. They are beautiful, including detailed watercolour-style backgrounds, level tiles and excellent character sprites (some of which will be familiar if you have played the arcade title). There are also many additional characters to meet on the journey, some of them posing Wonderboy-style decisions, despite the game being mostly of linear progression. The music is rather good and quite catchy, with some recognizable tunes making across from the arcade game. Namco certainly made sure the game was had stellar production values for 1992.
There is however a major catch, though. Whirlo eases you in you with cute visuals to hide the reality of being one of the hardest games on the Super Nintendo. One hit and Xandra dies, taking you back to the beginning of the level. Now consider the amount of seconds you will spend just sitting there defenseless because of Xandra's unique abilities. Add to that platforming sections which allow little margin for error coupled with boss fights that can take you out in a single hit and Whirlo becomes quite the challenge. It quickly becomes a case of your skills versus your patience and frustration management by stage two.
At least Namco gave the game a password system that automatically puts the latest progression code on your password screen, not only giving you infinite credits but assuring that once you conquer a particular tricky bit you won't have to sit through it all over again. However, there's no escaping the fact that this is an insanely difficult game, and one that has the potential to break a lot of your beloved controllers.
Whirlo is a very pretty, very challenging platformer that will certainly appeal to anyone looking for a challenge. If you're playing the (cheaper) Japanese version then you should know there is quite a lot of dialogue through the adventure, but linear progression means you will never be too lost. As previously stated, the game was officially translated and released in very small quantities in Europe and Australia. Both game and titular character were renamed and - in a similar move to Kirby's angry expression in western cover art - Xandra's eyebrows were altered for his in-game sprite, so he looks more fearsome, edgier and angrier than in his Japanese release, but sadly still dies with a single hit from enemies or level hazards. Just like Terranigma, US collectors have made sure that the price for a complete PAL copy remains very high indeed. Since Namco doesn't seem keen to re-release it in any form, it looks like that prices will only climb up, so if you have it in your collection, hold on to it. There may never be another one quite like it.