Game Review

Solomon's Key Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Dave Letcavage

One door closes, another one opens

In Solomon’s Key – an action / puzzler from Tecmo – you take command of a wizard named Dana as he searches for a magical formula that’s said to banish all evil from the world. The game began life in arcades back in 1986, finding its way to NES a year later, and now it’s resurfaced on Wii U Virtual Console. Is Solomon’s Key a thoroughly rewarding challenge or will it leave you locked out of a good time?

In concept the gameplay is fairly simple; in each dungeon there is a locked door, and you need to obtain a key to pass through it. Since the whole stage is viewable at all times, you can see the location of both of these from the get-go. Where the real challenge comes is in navigating the dangerous obstacles and enemies that roam the landscape. But the platforming isn’t always streamlined as there will often be no obvious path that leads to your goal. Instead the ability to add and remove blocks – thanks to your trusty wand – allows the player to build their own path to victory.

You create and remove blocks with the A button when adjacent to the target area, while the B button unleashes fireballs on any enemies standing in your way. You can't fire rapidly like you would in a Mario game — these fireballs need to be used strategically, as they’re in limited supply. To obtain more, you have to search your environments thoroughly and collect jars generally hidden by obstruction.

Since the two buttons of the original NES controller are spoken for, you jump by pressing Up on the D-Pad. This isn’t the most precise method of control, but once you get used to it, it works well enough. We did sometimes find it a tad sluggish and imprecise in the stages that required speedy reflexes; in many cases you need to move quickly, because any physical contact with an enemy will eat up a life.

Then take into account that there’s a timer counting down in each level, ensuring that you stay focused and don’t take too much time plotting and executing your strategy. You’ll want to be thorough to find the items hidden in each stage, too; these come in the form of free lives, attack upgrades, and bonus points that assist in setting a high score – if that’s what you’re after. There are even secret rooms that can be found if you search hard enough.

In each level finding the Bell of Lilac – which looks like a standard hand bell – will release a fairy for you to snatch up, and accumulating ten of these earns you an additional life. Another way to obtain lives is by collecting the Medicine of Mapros – a jar that looks to have an ‘E’ on it – though these are rare and generally hidden away in risky areas. Trust us, if you can do anything to increase your life count without putting yourself in too much danger, be sure to do it! If you want to see this one through its 50 stages, you’ll need all the help you can get.

That brings us to the overall difficulty of the game. Fair warning to the younger generation of gamers that were never exposed to the classic era of NES gaming: Solomon’s Key is an extremely tough game. To advance you’ll need to experiment with strategies, memorise routes and practice them to perfection. When you get a game over, it’s all the way back to the first stage. Given the number of levels, this can be too unforgiving at times and we’d be shocked if you didn’t find yourself cursing in frustration on at least a few occasions. We’d also be confident saying this is an experience that advanced gamers will get the most out of.

Admittedly, even we stumbled onto many situations that perplexed us and took a good amount of thought and experimentation to solve. These are very cerebral trials and everyone should take that into account before jumping in. Sometimes it’s as easy as moving a few blocks while dodging baddies, while at other times you’ll need to keep a frenzied group of fireballs from escaping a confined area as you move and manipulate the blocks that hold them in place. One wrong move and it’s the loss of a much needed life — or even worse, the dreaded game over screen that sends you back to the title menu.

This is where Miiverse integration has actually benefited Solomon's Key, as users have already began to utilise the service to share strategies and help other gamers find solutions to some of those trickier layouts. Those of you who adore a steep challenge may perhaps consider this assistance “cheating”; however, simply being shown how to reach that out of reach key or door is one thing, but executing that plan is easier said than done. Mastery will require great skill that can’t really be taught by bearing witness to someone else’s strategy.

Solomon’s Key is a complex game that could have used a more forgiving life system or would’ve gained from smoothing out some of the major difficulty spikes. As for the rest; the graphics are simple but competent, the music repetitive yet memorable, and controls can be bothersome, though for the most part, function adequately. Overall, this is a fairly unique game that deserves attention for those up to a challenge of this proportion.


It’s easy to see why Solomon’s Key has retained such a loyal following to this day, but in the same breath we can understand why many people find it to be a frustrating experience. This is an extremely challenging game that may be too unforgiving for a great many gamers due to steep difficulty spikes and sometimes imprecise controls. But it’s important to remember, patience and practice are the keys to success, and if you enjoy putting your brain to a tough task, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Unlock Solomon’s Key from the Wii U eShop – if you dare. You might just be happy you did.

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User Comments (22)



HateTheDrake said:

I remember this game in the arcades and on the NES years ago. I picked it up on the Wii VC some time ago and clearly my nostalgia goggles were clouding my judgement. This is an accurate review as the difficulty and wonky controls can be quite frustrating at times. Though repetitive the music is pretty nice.

ps: There is a button sequence at the game over screen to allow you to replay the level you were on without starting over. (UP + A + B at the same time I believe)

@KeeperBvk: Agreed about Pyramid, though I thought the demo was terrible. Does not do this game justice.



C-Olimar said:

Pyramids is awesome, so if you want a 3DS version of this, it should suffice!



Ryno said:

@HateTheDrake: Man, that continue code saved me so much anger as a kid though with save states it is not longer needed today. Still a great reminder of the life saving codes hidden in retro games.

I'm tempted to download it and actually beat it after all this time.



Nightwalker said:

I am glad that I have Pyramids, a beautiful new game for the 3DS, instead of an old game that is being republished for a new console. Nintendo should focus on publishing the top titles on the Virtual Console, and nothing else.
Besides, they are focusing too much on the NES and GB systems. They should start releasing more top SNES, GBC and N64 titles. As far as I know, they are part of the Virtual Console too!



Klimbatize said:

Pyramids is like a baby version of Solomon's Key. I enjoyed it, but Pyramids isn't nearly as difficult as Solomon's Key.

Solomon's Key requires much more thought and skill. That's why I think it's the better game. I hope they release this on the 3DS eShop.



SKTTR said:

Solomon's Key has more variety, better leveldesign, better music, and overall is just much more polished and fun than the 3DS-Pyramids clone.

Solomon's Key was challenging but with an easy cheat in the US version and unlimited continues in the PAL version you never needed to repeat levels you already won. And now it even has a save function.
Some levels are quite challenging and right so, but it never reaches the unfairness of Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden or the level of confusion you can get from Tecmo's Mighty Bomb Jack. Actually this is Tecmos finest effort on the NES.

If you like oldschool puzzle platform challenges of a unique kind and never tried Solomon's Key or any of its clones it's definately worth a try, may click with you, 8/10 from me.



antonvaltaz said:

I remember getting this free on a ZX Spectrum magazine covertape back in the day. Great game!



TreesenHauser said:

Down the road, this is definitely a possibility for me. It's a game I never played before, but it sounds and looks interesting enough.



RetrogamerFan said:

@antonvaltaz i used to have the Speccy version as well, nice game but too hard. Speccy verison and some other 8-bit versions were based on the arcade game so only had about 16 rooms.
This NES version has 50 rooms and an abundance of secrets to uncover. I think it's a fantastic game and had no trouble at all with the controls, up to jump is an understandable compromise and i quickly adapted to it.
The save states are a big help because that continue code (EU also got US version) doesn't retain any fireballs/items picked up, so if you're strategy to escape a room relies on you having a couple of fireballs in hand, then you could be a bit stuck or needing to find a new way out. I spent a couple of hours on it and am only up to about the 9th room.



AJWolfTill said:

This is exactly the kind of thing I'd sample if it was on a promo sale, but is not something I want to shell out a couple of quid for otherwise.



Rebel81 said:

With the Arcade version available on Wii VC I see no reason to go for the NES-version.



DarkEdi said:

Better download the Arcade version instead this NES version. It is only $1 more but is better.

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