Sunday, May 17, 2015

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #35

Daedalian Opus

Now I can't claim to be an expert in the field of marketing, but I feel safe in guessing that one of the biggest mistakes you can make is giving your game a name that (a) maybe five people on the planet will be able to properly pronounce, (b) has an entirely obscure origin, and (c) infers nothing about the actual product. Such was my confused contemplation the first time I gazed upon the curiously abstract cartridge art for Daedalian Opus, which I could only assume was an Odyssey-style epic whose story entailed battling mythological creatures at the behest of creepy-looking religious figures. Or was it about flowers?

Really, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when my friend Dominick suddenly handed me that cartridge in the back of my dad's car as we headed toward Atlantic City.

See--my parents knew that I'd quickly grow bored if my only choice was to wander alone through Tropicana's Tivoli Pier and the Boardwalk's many arcades, so they always suggested that I bring along a friend to keep me company. The majority of the time, it was Dominick, whose presence also served to liven up what would otherwise be a long, boring 2-hour car trip; most desirably, he'd be sure to come toting a plastic bag that contained both his Game Boy and a collection of games that included the standard titles (Super Mario Land, Tetris, Golf, etc.), certainly, but also some I'd never heard of. In time, we established a routine: We'd link up and spend the first hour competing in multiplayer Tetris, and then we'd put in some solo play after swapping games; I'd lend him, say, The Amazing Spider-Man or WWF Superstars, and he'd pass me in return a known property like Tennis or more often some exotically titled game like Daedalian Opus.

I took the title's inclusion of the word "Opus" to imply that the game was an RPG, and the presentation of its opening dialogue sequence plus the aesthetic stylings of its initial stage transition seemed to be a confirmation of such. However, Opus quickly abandoned the pretense of character-driven action and surprisingly revealed itself to be a jigsaw-style puzzle game whose concept I found more relatable to Tetris. I wasn't disappointed by the swerve, since I preferred nearly any genre to RPGs, and thought no less of the story- and action-based elements, which I didn't at all consider superfluous--these delightfully rendered depictions working to shower the game with personality while permeating the air with cheery vibes.

Though, I wasn't convinced that Opus' core concept represented an exciting-enough twist on the block-puzzle genre--that a methodically paced puzzler whose goal was to assemble pentominos into larger shapes could boast a similar level of entertainment value or hold my attention in the same way.

My feelings toward Opus slowly started to evolve as the game quietly worked its magic on me; and before I could realize it, I was deeply absorbed in the process of flipping and rotating blocks and arranging them into squares, rectangles, L-shapes and whatever weird configurations the game would dare to introduce.
One puzzle became two, and two became ten, and I lost all sense of time; nothing of importance could be said to exist beyond my field of vision. By the time that car ride was over, Opus had finished transformed itself from a game I was ready to hastily dismiss into a burgeoning obsession.

In our subsequent trips to Atlantic City or Long Island, I'd forgo the usual random game-swapping and specifically request that Dominick lend me Daedalian Opus. I'd get into it big-time, an hour dropping off like nothing as I'd attempt to solve even a single puzzle--normally one of those mid-teen stumpers. Somehow, Opus had become one of my favorite "road games," and I didn't even own it. I would have bought it for myself had I not had easy access to it via Dominick.

Sadly, times began to change as the 90s rolled on and we neared the end of our high-school days, and circumstances dictated that the Game Boy relinquish its role as my steady travel companion. Dominick and I went our separate ways, and those fun-filled car rides became a thing of the past. There would be no more heated Tetris battles, no more Super Mario Land races, and tragically no more Daedalian Opus. Oh, I definitely looked into attaining my own copy of the game, but retailers swore they hadn't heard of it; it seemed as though I'd never see my precious Daedalian Opus again.

Of course, I didn't foresee something like the Internet coming along, and thank goodness it did--not because I needed any of that "communication" or "information" junk but because I could now be reunited with Daedalian Opus! I hunted down the ROM (which in those days was a struggle akin to discovering intelligent life in an IGN comments section) and tore into the game as I had in the past; I'd play Opus on my computer most every day in the after-dinner hours, looking to accomplish what I couldn't years before: Clearing all 36 levels and finding out how the game's whacky story concluded. Truthfully, playing it became too time-consuming; the board shapes started becoming maddeningly complex, and there were simply too many shapes and too many permutations to consider, so I wound up abandoning Opus for a prolonged period. I'd return to it every few years or so, but my march toward victory would be stunted all the same.

It wasn't until somewhere around 2009, when I was on a mission to finish all of those long-unbeaten games whose memories continued to haunt me, that I determinedly loaded up Opus with the intent to conquer it once and for all. Several hours and multiple mental breakdowns later, I was finally able to solve the game's later puzzles and clear the final challenge (in my first try, no less). And just like that, the long-lingering weight had been lifted off my chest forever.

Six years have passed since then, and my only lament is that Daedalian Opus has continued to wallow in obscurity, remaining criminally overlooked. That's disappointing because Opus is the kind of game that would make perfect sense in this current era of mobile gaming: A simple, easily understood puzzler that would cost the user very little and potentially last for months. Its critics might say that the story- and action-based elements are unnecessary dressing, but I'd call them charming and all of the differentiation Opus would ever need.

Try it and see.

Just don't forget to leave your sanity at the door.

1 comment:

  1. While I haven't played this game, I do remember seeing it in my Nintendo Power indexes and wondering what the hell the name meant. I love simple puzzlers, so I'll have to put this one on my list.

    Of note to me is that the game's art is very similar to Clash at Demonhead, another Vic Tokai-published game for the NES.