How a foolishly dismissed series of games became an obsession.
I mentioned in my Super Mario Land piece that I had a tendency to ignore games that didn't fit within the narrow parameters of my current interests. If I was reading through that month's of issue of Nintendo Power, for instance, I was probably quickly flipping through the pages with the express purpose of seeking information for either anticipated releases or the usual known quantities, relegating everything else to the periphery if even that. Oh, there were times when something new would catch my attention, like a preview whose pages were embellished with images of intriguing-looking monsters or other attractive graphics, but there was specific, sometimes-recurring material that I was happy to avoid. Like any other insecure kid, that is, I was programmed by certain societal forces to instantly dismiss any game that projected excessive amounts of "cuteness."
I was fine with cartoon-based games (like Capcom's Disney-themed titles, for which I had a lot of respect), but I had a serious aversion to those whose artwork promoted characters that were any combination of giant-headed, big-eyed, smiley or super deformed. There was one particular series whose name always triggered an immediate sensory deficit. Its name was the Adventures of Lolo, and the mere sight of its colorful logo and sickeningly cute artwork was enough for me to roll my eyes and speedily flick through all encompassing pages, skipping right past it in favor of Counselor's Corner, Classified Information, or whichever feature held more relevance. I remember always seeing these games featured and wondering why they were so prevalent. "I mean, who wants to play a game about some blue ball with massive eyes?" I'd dismissively question, without even having any knowledge of the games' subject-matter.
I can confirm years later that my opinion on the matter was foolishly conceived, and my failure to give The Adventures of Lolo series a fair shake is indeed another entry on my long list of game-related regrets. Really, it's more than that; I consider my spurning of Lolo and crew to be one of the great tragedies of my gaming past.
Though, the great thing about this medium, I've learned, is that there's no expiration date on a video game's potential to win your heart. It's never too late to find your life-path altered, even if marginally so, by a game that entered your consciousness by even chance.
Most immediately, I observed that the first stage had two hearts laying about and a large, inexplicably happy green snake blocking the path to one of them. "Why am I doing this?" I questioned, snickering only cynically at what I was seeing. So I collected the first heart, which supplied me two bullets; after firing off a wayward shot, I discovered that I could use the bullets to "eggify" the snake and thereafter either destroy it with a follow-up shot or push it out of the way. Also, I found that the snake would respawn in its original location if destroyed, supplying a limited time-span in which to grab the second heart. I procured both hearts, which prompted the room's treasure chest to unlock; I grabbed the small crystal that lay within, and as a result the room's exit opened up.
"This is kid's stuff," I thought.
So I entered the second room and collected all of the hearts only to be blasted in the face by a fireball as spewed by a previously dormant dragon creature. "That was mean." But I got it--I had to make sure not to collect the top-left heart last, since doing so required that I pass back through the topmost dragon's deadly line of sight, and it was necessary to push that green block directly in front of the bottom dragon before gathering all of the others. No problem.
Also, that day, I solved Blue's Clues at least a full minute before Steve did, so you better recognize the skill.
By now, puzzle games ranked among my favorite genres. I loved them in almost all forms, whether it was block-falling games like Tetris, jigsaw-style games like Daedalian Opus, action-based puzzlers like Wrecking Crew, Solomon's Key and Donkey Kong '94, or point-and-click adventures like Maniac Mansion and Shadowgate. The Adventures of Lolo was something different, and after completing it I could say without hesitation that it was one of the most brilliantly designed games I'd ever played. It was top-tier material if ever I'd seen it, and I couldn't have imagined that such a cutesy, simple-looking game was capable of packing a quality of content that transcendent. All I could ask was, "Where have you been all my life?"
Oh, that's right--I used to readily snub it in favor of reading about Fred Savage's favorite video games and a bunch of 30-button title-screen codes I could never get to work (hi, Solstice!).
But I was still floored by what HAL Laboratory had accomplished here: The game's designers used a mere eight enemy types, a handful of items (occasionally earned hammers, ladders and arrow-switchers), and three types of terrain to create 50 uniquely plotted, amazingly creative puzzle rooms, many of which were so deviously conceived that I had to stop and spend hours staring at them before arriving at potential solutions. "Do I ride the egg directly over to the island, or do I push it into the water, run around to the right, skirt past the Don Medusa, dodge the Armadillos, and meet up with it on its upward arc?" To truly master Lolo required that I learn all of the tricks, like using a single block to box in two enemies at a time, and walking over one side of a heart framer to use it as a shield without collecting it.
"Did this stage's design demand the use of these seemingly-game-breaking tactics," I wondered, "or have I been so broken by my repeated failures that this is what I have to resort to?" I couldn't tell. And that music--I didn't know if it was a helpful ingredient in my ruminating about strategy or if it was driving me insane.
The Adventures of Lolo had truly busted my brain, and I can admit that I enjoyed every second of it. It left me wanting more, and I knew exactly where to find it.
But you know what? I wasn't at all disappointed. Really, I didn't mind that they reused all of the same assets or that they couldn't be bothered to compose more than two of those perky, insanity-inducing ditties. I had only a desire for more of what The Adventures of Lolo proffered, and its sequel provided precisely that.
Even then, its additional 50-stages-worth of mind-bending puzzles wasn't nearly enough to satisfactorily scratch the itch, and my appetite hadn't even been close to satiated. I needed more, so I wasted no time in moving on to The Adventures of Lolo 3.
None of this changed the basic formula in any tangible way, and, well, I still had no real problem with that approach.
I played through the three Lolo games multiple times, still managing to find challenge in their later stages but undeniably craving some new trials. So I took to the Internet and its array of search engines to find out what I could about the series--to see if there was anything more that I'd missed. What I discovered was that the Adventures of Lolo games were actually part of a series called "Eggerland," a name with which I wasn't familiar. I was shocked to learn that the Lolo series I had come to adore began its life exclusively in Japan on the MSX computer system well before coming to the Famicom/NES. As a Konami fan, that certainly sounded familiar.
Still, it had its charm and exuded that curious, alluring vibe typical of old computer games (back when competing PCs actually had their own identities and unmistakable aesthetic qualities), and I was quite fascinated with it even though its trudgingly slow speed worked hard to deter my further interest.
I played it over the course of a few quiet summer days, a span of time that represents one of the few nostalgic memories I have from my post-teens adulthood. Like the world when I was kid, the Internet was still fairly new to me--vast but without real structure, like a planet whose lands still hadn't been fully mapped--and part of the wonder of Eggerland Mystery 2 derived from the fact that there was little information about it. It had a lost-episodes feel to it, as if playing it put me in an exclusive club; that sense of private engagement combined with our suburb's quiet atmosphere, as augmented by only the calming symphony of bird-chirping, created a relaxing puzzle-solving environment and a series of well-remembered gaming sessions.
Though, Eggerland Mystery 2 was often quite obtuse, featuring special puzzle rooms (denoted by the question marks placed in the item space) whose solutions required actions outside and beyond the universally understood mechanics--certain maneuvers a player might have never known about without using a guide. The solution for one room in particular required that you rush over to a certain spot and let the narcoleptic Leepers fall asleep around you in a specific formation; if you couldn't deduce that this was a thing that could happen, you'd have to spend an eternity exhausting every possibility.
There were times when these rooms had me so utterly stumped that I had to painstakingly search the Internet for solutions. I was lucky enough to find some help, but not in the form of any FAQs or guides. No--instead my ridiculously tailored word-searches ("Eggerland 2"+"MSX"+"Question Mark"+"Leepers") turned up ancient message boards where people (mostly bored housewives and older computer enthusiasts who had played it years earlier) discussed the correct strategies offhandedly, which made it seem like top-secret knowledge. I mean, I eventually figured it all out, but solving Eggerland 2's "mysteries" was a lot like trying to find signs of life at a theater opening for a Ryan Reynolds film.
The only sticking point were those absolutely torrid rafting-based rooms, from which you could only escape by finding the correct current. The problem was that the raft moved sooooooo slowly that getting from one room to the next, or even sailing around a single room, took minutes on its own. To piss the player off, I guess, the designers often included trick currents that functioned liked logical escape points but instead led to dead stops and thus forced failure (time well spent, by their standard). Worse yet, getting killed in any such room sent you back not to its entry point but to the previous room's entry point, requiring a punishingly long round trip across an already completed room! What in God's name were they thinking with that?
Nautical issues aside, I was now obsessed with the Eggerland series and needed to know what other secrets it held. As fortune would have it, the Internet started to boom at around this point, and information on old games was becoming more readily available. Further research revealed the first mind-blowing fact: There were only two Adventure of Lolo games for the Famicom where we had three. Our parts 2 and 3 were actually Japan's 1 and 2, and the original Adventures of Lolo we were playing was nothing more than a best-of complilation--a collection of stages as taken from the earlier MSX and Famicom Eggerland games and released here as a test.
The shared titles were altogether similar, the Japanese versions' puzzles simply rearranged with only a small number of unique challenges mixed in. None of that mattered to me--I actively sought them out and completed them all the same. I decided, in fact, that if there was an Eggerland/Lolo game released for any platform, no matter how obscure or exotic, I was going to hunt it down and conquer it.
I call it "exclusive to Japan" because it was--in its original form, at least. That is, The Adventures of Lolo for Game Boy was also brought to Europe, where it was reworked and instead fitted with an equally bewildering musical theme. "Well, that's a pointless change," I thought. I didn't even have plans to play through it until I read that it featured dozens of new puzzles not found in the original work, which was an exciting prospect (unique Lolo puzzles in any form were preferable to the same old collection of repeats).
I wasn't done. Perhaps due to all the name overlapping, I'd somehow missed that there was more than one Eggerland game on Nintendo's 8-bit console; there were in fact three of them spread across the Famicom and Famicom Disk System. There was the simply titled Eggerland, Eggerland: Souzouhe no Tabidachi (Departure to Creation), and Eggerland: Meikyuu no Fukkatsu (Revival of Labyrinth), all of which were styled after Eggerland Mystery 2 for the MSX. True--they lacked that aforementioned home-computer vibe, which was the source of their inspiration's personality that so strongly resonated with me, and theirs were mostly rehashed puzzles, but I was so consumed by the power of Adventures of Lolo that I just wanted to be playing anything from its family of games.
I was a block-pushing, heart-collecting, Medusa-avoiding fiend, and it all came about because of one fateful day in 2001. However, it seemed that my journey of discovery had sadly come to an end; the available information suggested that I'd seen everything there was to see, and I was frankly bummed out about that. There were certainly enough Lolo games for me to return to, and I'd probably forgotten enough of the solutions to where a particular revisit might seem kinda new, but I wasn't ready
Well, it turns out that even by then archaeological efforts were incomplete and there was still undiscovered country, which is to say that Eggerland had one last surprise for me. New information revealed that HAL Labs had dabbled in modern PC development from the mid-90s to the early 2000s, and their last creations for the platform were two Windows 95-compatible game called Eggerland for Windows 95 and Revival! Eggerland. "Wait, what?!" I contested, completely flabbergasted. "I thought HAL labs was owned by Nintendo. What were they doing making games for the PC?" There's a confusing backstory to it involving two separate entities sharing the same name (HAL Laboratory, Inc. and HAL Corporation) and working with different licenses, but I don't know the full details.
While both map-packs were patterned after Eggerland Mystery 2 for the MSX, I of course derived greater enjoyment from Revival!; I spent a quite a few cool, quiet summer nights in 2002 gleefully solving this hidden gem's cleverly devised puzzles and exploring its lively, colorful world. I unfortunately never got to hear its stage-theme music, since switching it on caused the game to crash immediately upon taking control of Lolo (really, the game was unstable in general, crashing randomly due to what I believe were incompatibilities with Windows XP's screen options).
I returned to the Lolo games frequently during those years, and it seemed as if I'd never tire of them. Moreover, I regarded them as comfort food--a much-needed distraction for an OCD-afflicted young man whose life was currently filled with a great degree of stress. Spending nights within the safe confines of Lolo's world certainly helped me through that tough period, and his games succeeded otherwise in turning me into a big fan of Sokobon-style games; this new affinity for block-pushing opened the door for my embracing of beloved titles like Fire n' Ice, Mole Mania and Catrap, which aren't quite on Lolo's level but are nevertheless titles I hold dear.
I still load up and play through a random Adventures of Lolo title every two years or so, and doing so always reminds me that the hunger still exists. It remains one of my deepest gaming desires that this terrific series will one day return. I mean, the stars seemed aligned for it: The 3DS, as was its predecessor, was seemingly made for this type of game. Nintendo is run by Satoru Iwata, who in his time at HAL Labs was deeply involved in the creation of the series. And the retro scene is still running strong. So where is it? Where's my Adventures of Lolo?
Come on, Nintendo. Reintroduce that big-eyed blue ball and whip me up a new Lolo game--and not one of those repackaged jobs that your company has been so guilty of puking out lately.
I'm ready whenever you are, Iwata. So get to it.