i realized that i’ve been playing way more sequels this year than ever before, so i decided to step back and dig into the pile of games i’ve been meaning to play (and finish). the first one i laid my hands on was milon’s secret castle by hudson soft for the NES. MSC was one of those games i had owned and played as a kid, but i had never been able to finish it. it had always intrigued me, and at long last i have fulfilled my childhood dream of beating the game. from the vantage point of the current internet age, i was at a huge disadvantage in terms of beating the game, because somehow i had lost the instruction book and was missing the crucial information that you can continue by holding down the left button when pressing start at the title screen. i’m amazed that i was able to get as far as i did back then with this huge handicap; never underestimate the tenacity of a kid whose mom won’t buy him as many games as all his friends’ parents.
looking through reviews online it seems the game is pretty much universally maligned. just starting the game i immediately recalled how incredibly frustrating the first room was. the game offers you no hints on how to progress, and i still don’t remember how i finally had the breakthrough that you have to destroy the two blocks in the bottom right corner of the room, then push the middle block, and then shoot a bubble in the empty space to reveal an essential door. this breakthrough is all the more frustrating since it’s only one of two times you push a block in the entire game. anyway, this random review i came across eloquently further illuminates the game’s gameplay:
My guess is that the presence of the word “Secret” in this game’s title is rooted in the fact that virtually every room here holds hordes of secret rooms and items. You aren’t expected to just fire your weapon at enemies (that quickly respawn), but at EVERYTHING. You’ll be breaking blocks like crazy. You’ll be firing into blank, empty air. You’ll be constantly flooding the screen with bubbles because any single location in any single room just might hide a doorway leading to something you need to clear the game.
a bit of an exaggeration, since the secrets aren’t in completely random locations, but it is true that to progress you’ll be making a habit of shooting bubbles everywhere possible. having gone through all the pain of learning how the game operates so many years ago, playing through the game this time around was mostly just enjoyable. imho, the rooms are well designed with a lot of variety in their layout; the castle, which serves as the game’s map, is fun to navigate; the music and graphics are both enjoyable; the main character is endearing; and the powerups, while not approaching the epic scale of nintendo’s franchises, are all pretty useful. there’s also a bonus level that’s fun. the biggest drawbacks are that the boss battles are pretty much all the same (although the same could be said about the original super mario bros.); the last boss is fairly lame, and the ending consists of a single still image (although, again, super mario bros. doesn’t offer anything better either); and on the third floor all of the three bosses you can choose to face are pretty much impossible to beat until you find a couple of remaining powerups. people also complain that milon doesn’t have an invincibility period when he gets hit, which means that the damage can rack up, but i didn’t have much of a problem with that.
all in all given the fact this was released in 1985 i ended up being pretty impressed with the game’s solid gameplay and nicely designed rooms. once past the initial frustrations i think many people would find a lot to enjoy, but i can see why so many people would never be able to get to that point. if the instruction book had included an explanation of the first stage the game probably would’ve gone over much better, but as it is this is a classic that will probably never get the attention it deserves. the japan-only sequel (available on the VC) is apparently a much more straightforward platformer that has gotten good reviews, and i’ll definitely be checking it out, as well as the game boy version of the original which has a password feature. i think the original game contains all the elements for a great revival, though; but it doesn’t seem like that’s likely to ever happen. too bad!
milon’s secret links:
– great fan site including info on other versions and the text of the instruction manual.
– great info at strategywiki.org, including images of the castle map, level maps, enemies, and bosses.
– this random page has images of all of the in-game “hints” which are amusing. i never did figure out what the heck “A WATERPOT IN ICY ROOM” means.
– entry at wikipedia
– nintendoage.com includes scans of the manual