Review: Adventures of Lolo (Wii U eShop / NES)

YOLO, Lolo

HAL Laboratory's 1989 puzzler Adventures of Lolo falls into the same category as titles like Mach Rider and Clu Clu Land: C-list NES classics that are often overlooked today but provide an arcade-like fun experience for those searching out Nintendo's "deep cuts" from the '80s. Adventures of Lolo is probably best remembered these days as HAL's precursor to its other puffball creation, Kirby; some sound effects from the early Kirby titles were lifted straight from Adventures of Lolo, and while Lolo has faded into obscurity he and his co-star Lala would go on to become recurring enemies in the Kirby series as Lololo and Lalala — not to be confused with Dedede or Trololo. Measured on its own merits, Adventures of Lolo isn't an all-time great, but it's a clever little puzzle game that still feels fresh in 2014.

The basic set-up of Adventures of Lolo is simple: an extensive collection of single-room puzzles where Lolo must activate all the heart buttons onscreen, claim the treasure chest, and move on to the next location. Controls are easy to learn, with D-pad movement, "A" for using items, and the Select button to commit suicide and start a level over again if you get stuck; that's it! There's not even a pause button, so if you want to take a break from the game, you'll have to Run Lolo Run (or cheat and use the Wii U home button). Later on, certain levels introduce more complex mechanics like the abilities to build bridges over water and destroy boulders in your way, but it's all through the simple A-button controls. Along the way, there are all sorts of clever enemies, from standard bad guys who chase you around the room to drowsy enemies who fall asleep as soon as you touch them. Some enemies only activate once you've acquired all the hearts in the room, and others are content to merely sit around and let you use them as puzzle pieces.

These enemy encounters can be frustrating at first – since the layout of the castle looks similar to the single-screen rooms in The Legend of Zelda's dungeons, players are tempted to approach enemies as if Adventures of Lolo were an action title. In fact, Lolo dies after one hit, and his only weapon is a blast attack with almost no ammunition; you gain ammo by stepping on heart switches, but you never have more than two shots available before you run out, and enemies take two hits to disappear from the screen. A single hit simply turns them into an egg that delays them for a few seconds as they hatch (a precursor to Yoshi's enemy-eggifying?), and a second hit knocks them offscreen, although they respawn after about a minute.

Instead, you're encouraged to think strategically and avoid enemies rather than fight them head-on; this is a puzzle game, after all, and the enemies are extensions of the puzzle. You can move blocks around the room to trap enemies and shield yourself from their attacks, or you can turn them into an egg and move them around the room to solve the puzzle, like pushing the egg into water so you can use it as a stepping stone. Levels can seem infuriatingly difficult until you figure out exactly what you're meant to do in exactly the right order – there are often multiple ways to solve the same puzzle, which lets Adventures of Lolo feel nicely non-linear.

Hot off the heels of Tecmo's NES-cutscene-revolutionising Ninja Gaiden the year before, Adventures of Lolo opens with a short cinematic to set up the storyline. It's your generic Damsel in Distress trope, where the villain King Egger kidnaps the beautiful blob Lala, and it's Lolo's job to save her from Egger's castle. The cutscene is an impressive feat for the NES hardware; the fact that Adventures of Lolo launched so late in the NES lifespan means it could've had gorgeous graphics all around – if it weren't for the strange decision to use the ugliest colour scheme imaginable, full of browns and pale blues. The music also leaves something to be desired, consisting of stereotypical upbeat NES chiptunes that you'll forget as soon as you stop playing.

The horrendous colours and music make for a drab gameworld, but the sprite animations are a particular highlight. As Lolo traverses the levels, his walking animation uses more frames than we're accustomed to on NES, creating an almost-3D perspective as we see every side of his body. As far as puffball protagonists go, he's not nearly as charming as Kirby, but Lolo's simplicity allows for the fluid, complex animations we get to enjoy. Unfortunately, despite the unique interactions with enemies, most of the enemy sprites are fairly bland, with your standard green snakes and floating skulls dotting each level.

Conclusion

If you're not a big Virtual Console buff, Adventures of Lolo won't change your mind: it's an old game with offensively cheerful music, muddy colours, and a rigid, unforgiving difficulty. There's no multiplayer or extra modes, and the gameplay ultimately boils down to "flip all the switches and move to the next room." Once you get past the mostly horrid aesthetics, though, Adventure of Lolo's genius is in the ways Lolo interacts with the unconventional enemies to solve each level in this puzzle-action setting. It's not in the same league as big-name NES legends, but if you have the patience for it you'll go loco for Lolo; it's a unique collection of action-puzzling stages and a peek into the pre-Kirby years of HAL Laboratory.