[We tend to forget that every person will experience a game in a different way. We’re all unique people with unique pasts, after all. It was this consideration that bred the idea for this series. Like the name suggests, I’m going to use this series as a platform to simply talk about my experiences playing certain games in the hopes that you can share in the experience through my eyes.
In today’s world, non-linearity is seen as preferable in many genres to linear, point A to point B experiences. There are plenty of reasons for this: more replayability, richer experiences, a greater responsibility on the player to create the story, etc. Such experiences are especially enjoyable to me now, both due to my experience with games, which makes me feel much more comfortable in open worlds, and due to the technology of games today, which helps to make non-linear experiences feel more cohesive and less daunting.
However, non-linearity is the curse of the young and the inexperienced, and when I originally played the 1990 NES game The Battle of Olympus, I fit into both categories. Though the game wasn’t a true open world, it was just open enough to confuse the hell out of me, forcing me to walk around the game world like a bumbling idiot, dying as if it were my job. The Battle of Olympus turned out to be the battle to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do.
Some basics: The Battle of Olympus was, in many ways, a cross between Zelda 2 and Metroid, combining the sword-wielding, side-scrolling action of the former (while basically copying the look) with the labyrinthine design of the latter. To me, however, this game took it all one step further, making the game nearly as difficult as a Mega Man title while upping the ante with some bizarre level design.
See, the paths that you took to get from one place to another were entirely unpredictable and, quite frankly, insane. For instance, you progress from screen to screen either by walking to the edge of the area or by passing through doors, which were often and inexplicably built right into trees, rocks, and other places where a normal person doesn’t expect to find a door. Even more insane is that passing through certain tree doors might just take you to an entirely new city without any warning that it would do so. Want to go from Peloponnesus to Arcadia? Just walk right into that tree. Totally sensible, right?
Suffice it to say that navigation in the game was a nightmare for someone unaccustomed to a general lack of guidance. Sure, there were gods and townspeople that attempted to tell you where to go, but the advice was cryptic and understandably unhelpful most of the time.
The basic plot of the game involved the hero Orpheus trying to figure out what has happened to Helene, his love. To do this, you’ll need the help of the gods, and eventually you’ll travel to the underworld to battle Hades and rescue Helene.
As I alluded to before, this really wasn’t easy. Hell, I was never even able to find the final area since the damn entrance is out in the middle of the damn ocean and you have to ride a damn dolphin
to get to it. At another point, you have to attack a pillar to open a hole in the ground. Perhaps one of the many random NPCs in the game might have been able to tell me these things, but the last thing a young boy wants to do when playing a game is listen to cryptic hints from crusty Greek guys.
The hardest thing for me was that you could go nearly anywhere you wanted to right from the beginning. Sure, there were certain areas that were off-limits until you talked to a certain god and obtained a new item, but plenty of the towns were accessible right away. So you could just wander around the world, traveling aimlessly from city to city.
In the midst of all of the traveling were plenty of monsters ready to hand your ass to you. There were the typical bats, monkeys, and snakes that rained from the sky onto your face, and even they were enough to kill me in many cases. The bosses were far worse. Cyclops was a real bastard, made worse by the fact that you fought him three times throughout the game. Plenty of other creatures from Greek mythology rounded out the cast, including the hydra (a jackass), the centaur (a jackass), Cerberus (an insufferable jackass), and Hades himself (whose jackassery cannot be properly described).
Perhaps if I were to play the game today I might not struggle so much to defeat these enemies, but simply whacking dudes once with a sword became a victory worth celebrating. In the case of Hades, hitting the guy was damn near impossible since he spends the first half of the fight invisible, and the only way to track him is by using an item to view his shadow.
In all likelihood, I should have hated this game. But I didn’t. I constantly struggled through the game, playing without the hopes of actually finishing it. I wandered from tree door to tree door just to see where it would take me. I spent hours walking in circles, killing baddies and collecting one of the game’s two forms of currency.
Most surprising of all, I somehow enjoyed my utter confusion. I had no idea what was going on, and I loved it. Though it was incredibly frustrating, it was also a blast to stumble upon a new ancient Greek city by wandering into a tree. If my memory serves me correctly, The Battle of Olympus was my first experience with ancient Greece. The pantheon, mythical creatures, and stories of ancient Greece were all fresh to me, and it no doubt sparked my future interest in that field.
As a game, I don’t even know what to say about The Battle of Olympus. I think it was a good game despite being totally ridiculous, but there’s a reason that you don’t see many seven-year-olds reviewing games. I would imagine that the game isn’t even that difficult for the average player, but the design was a nightmare for my younger self. As a memory, though, The Battle of Olympus is one of those games that remain in my mind for no particularly great reason.