Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Adventures of Lolo Series - Making a Push for My Heart
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.

So one boring day during the summer of 2001, I was randomly loading up NES ROM files from a CD, which I had created for my brother a year earlier (though, I admit as much with a sense of guilt, and I don't endorse emulation of games that are still viable), when I saw the reviled name, The Adventures of Lolo, and decided to give it a quick sampling, if only for curiosity's sake. You know--to at least finish one or two of its stupid stages before quickly moving on to one of those other "A"-titled games that were bound to be more engaging.

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.

I could sense that there was more depth to Lolo than I'd originally given it credit, but there was something else about it that piqued my interest. Maybe it was the upbeat, inviting stage theme whose peppy spirit belied the maddening nature of Lolo's laborious and sometimes-brutally-punctuated puzzle-solving efforts. Perhaps it was my growing affection for the 8-bit aesthetics that I was beginning to miss. I don't really remember. So I decided to try at least one more stage. One stage became two. Two stages turned into an entire floor. One floor ballooned into five or six, and suddenly I was hooked.

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.

The Adventures of Lolo 2 was the second of two sequels as far as I aware. I didn't know what to expect going in, nor could I guess as to what would be new about it, but I suspected something was amiss from playing through only its first few puzzle rooms. That is, I was surprised to learn that it didn't at all stray from the original's formula. In fact, except for a slight change in the texturing of its final castle rooms and a painfully simple final-boss fight, it was practically the same game. There wasn't a single new enemy, item, or stage hazard to be found. "That's an odd approach to take with a sequel," I thought.

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.

Yep--it's the same damn thing. Well, mostly. To its credit, HAL Labs mixed things up a bit by this time including some new gameplay elements. There's the Zelda II-style overworld map that neatly partitions the room-sets and separates them from the game's miscellaneous puzzles. You can now play as Lolo's girlfriend Lala, who was previously cast as the damsel in distress (though, she's simply a palette-swap and has no unique abilities). There are now three distinct room textures (hooray?). And there's also a new blowfish-type enemy called Moby, who's exclusive to underwater stages; his job is to compromise your movements by annoyingly sucking you in whenever you enter his line of sight.

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.

Excited by my findings, I spent the next few hours searching just about every MSX-related site I could find, desperately trying to find the ROMs. After an exhaustive effort, I finally corralled both titles and wasted no time in trying to unravel their alleged "mysteries." I started with the series' progenitor, Eggerland Mystery, which was noticeably primitive-looking (more so than even the NES games) and unpolished. I shouldn't have been surprised, since it was a 1985 release and one of HAL Labs' earliest games. Its rooms had simple black backgrounds, and the action moved at a near-glacial pace, but it was still somewhat indicative of the patented Adventures of Lolo experience, featuring all of the same principle attributes an experienced Lolo player would expect. Mainly, I'd already seen most of its puzzles in the future games (like a veteran stand-up comic, HAL Labs had a habit of reusing material), and there were no real surprises.

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.

Its sequel, Eggerland Mystery 2, however, blew me away. I was prepared for more of those same-ol' regurgitated puzzles I'd already solved numerous times, but what I got, instead, was the The Adventures of Lolo meets The Legend of Zelda, where the world, itself, was a puzzle and I could choose to move in multiple directions after clearing the initial room. There were a few drawbacks to the revised formula (you could only successfully negotiate certain rooms by entering from a specific entry points), sure, but I loved how the continuous world flowed together and created that true sense of "adventure" that the Lolo games only featured in their titles.

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 discovered, for instance, that there was a Game Boy version of Adventures of Lolo exclusive to Japan and that it had a weird amusement-park theme. As Game Boy developers were sometimes apt to do, HAL Labs tried to replicate the scale of the NES games on the smaller screen, which resulted in a rather cramped Lolo experience (the stages are about half the size) with all of the consistent slowdown expected from a severely limited processor being tasked with interpreting so many large sprites at one time. Still, the designers used some ingenuity to craft wholly unique stages (since they were essentially forced to do so) and created a quality portable game that I wound up enjoying more than I originally thought I would.

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). 

True to how it was advertised, this version of Lolo had great length to it and provided me more than a few-days-worth of entertainment; I especially came to appreciate how that classic, evocative Game Boy aesthetic provided comforting augmentation to the experience, and I wished that HAL Labs had taken another crack at Lolo on the Game Boy. Knowing that Lolo's handheld exploits were in short supply, I soaked up every moment of them.

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. 

Who created these games wasn't an issue--I just wanted to play them. The available screenshots, though blurry and warped, showed that they weren't some haphazard NES ports and were instead tailored for the PC, with high-resolution graphics and modern trappings like level-sharing and modability. With great trouble, and many browser crashes, I tracked down "both" games, which actually comprised one product. There was only Revival! Eggerland, which contained two map-pack files; one was for the earlier-released, default Eggerland for Windows 95, and the other was the newer Revival! Eggerland, which you could swap in by manipulating a data file. The former was your standard HAL Labs compilation pack, but Revival! featured genuinely new puzzles, new terrain, viewable currents, and even a new block-type that could redirect shots at 90-degree angles, which finally allowed for the eggification of those terrifying Medusas and Don Medusas!

I didn't know about any of that file-swapping nonsense, so I would up playing through the default Windows 95 pack. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed with it. "Where were all those unique elements I saw in those screenshots?" I wondered. More searching through obscure, abandoned message boards uncovered chatter about the method for loading the newer Revival! pack, which I otherwise wouldn't have known existed. 

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). 

The experience was punctuated with one of the whackiest moments in Eggerland's history if not all of video game's: A culminating boss battle designed like a Street Fighter II match. That's right--I had to best the main villain, King Egger, in a best-two-out-of-three side-scrolling kung-fu fight. My method for besting the overpowered brute wasn't glamorous (it entailed pinning him in the corner and getting him stuck in an unrecoverable cycle), but it gave me a good laugh and was a splendid capper to a long, fulfilling journey that had now reached its decisive end.

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.

Feed. Me. More.


  1. I can certainly empathize with this; in fact many nights've been spent searching for an FDS BIOS just to play some of the Eggerland levels that didn't make it to the Lolo series. If you're as famished for more as I was, there's some hacks out there you can patch onto the rom to add a few hundred more rooms....about four extra games that way

    1. I might as well. I mean, my only hope of seeing a new "Lolo" game rest on the potential influence of Iwata, and, well... You know.

      I'll do a Google search or two--see what I can find.

      Thanks for the heads up.