REVIEW: Black Forest Tale
In the early 1990's a Taiwanese developer named Sachen was doing it's best to circumvent Nintendo's stringent publishing rules by releasing a series of unlicensed NES carts with odd sounding names and even odder operation methods. One such title ‘Little Red Hood’ has since recieved a fair degree of online notoriety via an appearance on the Angry Videogame Nerd’s Youtube channel.
What many people may be unaware of is that, Sachen, operating under their ‘Commin’ pseudonym, came back for a second bite of the cherry two years after that game's release, with a handheld take on the same core gameplay concept that operates as a semi-sequel.
In Black Forest Tale, you again play as Little Red Hood and begin the game viewing a nicely detailed map, charting 10 different parts of a typical looking fairytale kingdom. You can attack the games levels in whatever order you choose, save for the final stage which helps add a bit of variety to the proceedings once you've played through the game a few times.
When the game starts you’re presented with an overhead view of the action with a labyrinthine 4 way scrolling stage to explore and ultimately escape from.
Red has two basic attacks. The A button unleashes a short range attack from Red's magic wand, while the B button pushes stationary objects. Hitting one of the wandering enemies with your wand results in them being briefly turned into a large rock. While in this form a push will send the stone hurtling off on a fixed path killing any other enemies it hits and destroying destructible scenery until it meets a solid surface and explodes leaving behind a coin. This scene destruction becomes necessary on some stages where paths are blocked and careful luring and maneuvering of enemies is required to chip away at obstacles.
As mentioned, escaping each stage via the initially locked exit is the key to progression and this is done primarily through the accumulation of coins. Red must gather at least $20 before entering the stage’s shop (found on a random part of the stage). Here she will need to purchase a key for this amount. The key, rather than opening the stage’s exit door actually activates the big Bad Wolf enemy, who begins prowling around it’s locked gate. Once dispatched Red must collect the present left behind and the door to the next stage will open up.
To spice things up the game includes a very basic RPG series of upgrades and improvements to buy with your spare change, so the shop also sells boots to make your walk faster, extra lives, extra time (each stage gives you a strict limit to complete it in) and invincibility potions. While these occasionally come in handy on the trickier stages where scenery must be carefully and time-consumingly destroyed to open a path, it seems like an option that is often best ignored, as does the fruit machine that you can play with your spare change.
In addition to rolling rocks, Red can use the push action to shake down trees and scenery for extra coins and other bonus food items (presumably these contribute to your overall score as they don’t seem to do anything in game). There are also secret mini-dungeons to be uncovered on most stages, where up to six bonus coins can be plundered. This is a nice touch that gives the game a little more depth than it would otherwise have.
Each stage is nicely designed and themed differently, so you might have a haunted forest on one stage, a Jason Vorhees themed world or a beach level on another. Similarly, background and enemy sprites are switched up for variety as is the little ditty that plays on each level.
Playing the game through on its default setting is a fun if easy experience. Seasoned gamers will experience little of the frustration of it's more famous NES sibling and should be able to beat it in one sitting (albeit using continues).
Disappointingly, the final unlocked stage is actually easier than some of the regular levels and the ending is minimalist and little more than rolling credits and a customary well done message.
Black Forest tale is a curious little title and one of the harder to find Mega Duck games. In many ways it seems more rounded and polished than it’s infamous NES counterpart and it’s nicely varied graphics and music give it an air of polish, yet it’s short challenge (it can be beaten in about an hour) leaves it with little replay value beyond attempting the higher difficulties and challenging for high scores.
Like many Sachen titles it feels like a fun idea, never properly explored in the way they could have been.