“lolo (LOH-loh): Feeble-minded, crazy, stupid.”
Growing up, this game had extra meaning for me for two reasons. One, I was raised in Hawaii where the definition above applied (“pakalolo” means Marijuana, which was popular out there), and two, I was too stupid to get very far in a game called “Adventures of Stupid”, coincidentally. I could not beat this game until I was an adult, when I discovered that this really is an exemplary puzzle title for the NES.
From the creators of acclaimed games like Kirby’s Adventure, Super Smash Bros., and Pokémon Snap comes Adventures of Lolo! It was released in 1989 and again in 2007 on the Wii Virtual Console, and it was followed up by two sequels. Lolo is a small blueberry creature who will be your main character throughout the game’s many and confusing stages. The cover art may depict him as some kind of thief, stealing a golden key from that nice old lady with the dentures problem in the background, but Lolo is actually just a man trying to find true love.
The story begins with Lolo and Lala (who is evidently a princess) having a heckuva time outside. Suddenly, a malicious hand swoops down and princess-nabs Lala. Why? Because the man is always tryna get you down. It’s a giant blue toad creature, floating menacingly in the sky. Lolo pursues the villain to its fortress, where it’s revealed that the monster is in fact the Great Devil (who else?).
Your mission is to navigate the castle’s floors and, of course, rescue the princess so you can share some passionate love together again, you little blue fuzzball, you.As a puzzle game, Adventures of Lolo excels because of simple components which on their own are very easy to understand. Lolo’s controls are easy to learn as well. He can move across the floor, as seen from your top down perspective, and if he picks up enough heart blocks then he can shoot bubbles to entrap or dismiss enemies from the stage a limited amount of times. He can push some objects, like entrapped enemies and green blocks, or ride on moving platforms, but there’s no jumping or magic or attacking with a sword, or anything like that. Fairly straightforward stuff.
A few of the earliest obstacles Lolo encounters will be the various textures of the stages themselves: trees, rocks, dirt, bridges, water. Some of these will play different roles in navigating later on. For example, you cannot pass through trees or rocks, but only rocks will block enemy projectiles where trees do not.
The first enemy you encounter is something like a caterpillar. It doesn’t attack, it simply blocks the path to the exit door. Collecting the first heart block will get you two shots of your bubble entrapping ability, which you must use to entrap the caterpillar and either push it out of your way or shoot it again to blast it into oblivion. By the way if you take too long then enemies removed from the stage in this manner will eventually return. But then you can collect the last heart block, which opens the treasure chest. Collecting the treasure opens the doorway to the next stage. Each stage plays out to that formula: collect the hearts, open the treasure chest, get to the door. Easy right?
But there are other enemies, many of which come to life once you collect the last heart block and attempt to reach the treasure. Pink dinosaurs activate shoot balls of fire directly in front of them. Skulls activate and roam around the room at high speeds in search of you. Gray needle-heads (real names below) are always active and will kill you if you cross their line of sight. Sleeper goblins bounce about the stage and will fall asleep if they touch you, blocking your path. Animated stone slabs meander and rush at you, attempting to form walls around you, again, barring you from the exit.
Alone, each of these enemies and features are simple but it’s when later levels combine these components together that things become hideously difficult. The stages will play out like logic puzzles replete with catch-22’s and bridge-burning and strategy.
Seriously, you’ll need to spend quite a bit of time examining advanced stages to plan out your mode of approach. And even then, expect to try and fail many attempts, especially when stages require precise timing or extreme forethought. Despite its smiley graphics, Adventures of Lolo is much to advanced for kids unless you were a child prodigy.
The 8-Bit Review
For the NES, Adventures of Lolo had some well-defined graphics and textures, especially when compared to contemporary puzzle games on the system. It’s not as ugly as, say, Puzznic or Solomon’s Key. I mean, it’s not like Lolo’s the Sistine Chapel or anything but it has some funny little sprite animations in it. When Lolo dies it looks like it actually physically hurts. I think what pushes Adventures of Lolo into the realm of successful graphics that are not horrific to look at nowadays is the fact that its uses a combination of bright and drab colors, and not just all garish, chemical, neon colors like some games back then did. Just look at the menu screen for NES’s Lemmings, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Music might be the only thing in Adventures of Lolo that faced major criticism. The main stage theme below plays through almost the entire game, and it loops in less than 30 seconds. It’s bubbly and circusey and trying really hard to sound fun, which it is, but fun spelled backwards is “nuf” and after a few stages you will have had quite “e-nuf”.
Press select to kill yourself. No, this isn’t a senseless internet insult. You’ll need to do it in this game on occasion. Not all of the enemies in the game are out to murder you. Many are just out to trap you in corners and on narrow walkways. Or you’ll likely get yourself stuck somehow eventually. That’s when you’ll need to hit select to restart the stage. Adventures of Lolo’s puzzles are about trial and error if you don’t do the proper forethinking, so expect to restart a lot. Block-pushing is the main gameplay element and the strongest tool in Lolo’s arsenal. Many games have emulated it since, but Adventures of Lolo was one of those that wore it best. As mentioned, the gameplay makes for some pretty solid logic puzzles.
There are enough levels to easily teach you how to use Lolo’s mechanics, and you’ll encounter new challenging components step by step. The game doesn’t hold your hand, since there are no spoken tutorials, but a lot of its puzzles are intuitive and you can pick up on how enemies hinder you quickly. In this respect, Lolo was light years away from some other puzzle games. It can be played without a manual, without tutorial, without dialogue. Like Tetris, the definitive puzzle game, Adventures of Lolo is tremendously accessible.
I hope I’ve made it clear just how hard this game is. I understand that Nintendo wanted to “stretch kids’ imaginations” but I hold that this game is just too difficult for kiddies to get fully engaged with it. Maybe that was the marketing mistake that kept Adventures of Lolo in the realm of “obscure titles”, with HAL Laboratory abandoning Lolo for Kirby. When comparing the two franchises, the blue puzzle puff for the pink vacuum puff, it’s really night and day in terms of difficulty. Lolo may be one of the hardest accessible NES puzzlers you could play while Kirby’s Adventure would be one of the easiest side-scrollers on the same system.
Even revisiting it for this review made it difficult to put down. It’s replay value is hard to describe. Maybe it’s because its individual stages are short and easy to complete (at first). Maybe its because it moves along a decent pace for a puzzle game. Maybe its because of the timelessness of its riddling levels, and you’ll tell yourself “just one more” after feeling good for solving each one. Maybe its because you never get tired of that looping circus music. Or maybe its because you really want to watch Lolo and Lala kiss, you perv.
The NES had no shortage of puzzle games, even from the top down perspective. Adventures of Lolo really has no reason to stand out. And as we’ve seen, it was obscure so it really didn’t stand out at all. So while it didn’t contribute to the puzzle scene much, it’s chief distinctive trait was its block-pushing stage layout that adequately challenged the gray matter of the mind. In other words, Lolo is an above average puzzle game because it was uniquely well-designed.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Adventures of Lolo is a good combination of puzzle-challenge and puzzle-frustration. It was never a throw-your-controller-at-the-tv-and-then-break-your-favorite-coffee-mug kind of a game. Though difficult, I never felt like pulling my hair out. It seemed fair to me, and if I died it was justice that killed me. It was my stupid mistake. It’s not like something was too hard to understand.
This is a highly addictive and accessible puzzler, and may be one of the best in its genre on the original Nintendo. I’ll recommend it for its simplicity and intellectual challenge. Who knew a game called “Adventures of Stupid” would be so smart?
Aggregated Score: 7.4
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Categories: Game Review