I defeat the first several pig-like Boas, picking up the Club and then the Hammer. In the blocks along the bottom I find a Ball and Chain, the best weapon of the blunt line.
You generally want to keep the Ball and Chain as long as you can (with a few notable exceptions), because it has a great reach and can destroy up to four blocks in front of you. So I'm feeling pretty good as I defeat one of the horse-headed Pyutans and fall prey to a classic Athena blunder: accidentally replacing a weapon you like with one you don't.
Most enemy types in Athena drop a weapon when they're defeated, and if you're not careful, you could pick it up even if you don't want it. The Blue Sword is weaker than my Ball and Chain, but even worse: it can't break blocks! Passage through the levels gets much harder if you can't break blocks, and you also won't be getting armor and items! So we either need to upgrade this Blue Sword or find a different weapon type to start collecting. Luckily, there are lots of these Pyutans around, and if you already have a Blue Sword they'll drop Yellow Swords when defeated, so it's easy to get back the ability to break blocks.
See the mushroom in that screenshot? Athena's claim to fame when I was growing up was this mushroom. Any of the 'Win at Nintendo Games!' books that came out that mentioned Athena would very rarely talk about anything except this mushroom. See, if you duck down while standing on that mushroom, Athena will instantly get the Flaming Sword and all the best armor in the game.
The catch is that every swing of the Flaming Sword descreases your life gauge by one, and once it gets low enough the Flaming Sword degrades to a Red Sword. The Red Sword is better than the Yellow Sword, and it can shoot projectiles, but it doesn't have the destructive power of the Flaming Sword. So I'll use it sparingly, and try to keep it as long as I can.
|That didn't take long!|
Sure enough, that wasn't enough time to finish the level, and after losing a life and coming back, I decide to try a different route. Instead of staying on the upper level to get the Flaming Sword, I drop down the first pit to the lower level. Down there, in the blocks on the left, you can find the Lamp.
The Lamp is a very unique item. Once you find a Lamp in a level, it's possible for you to skip fighting the Boss of that level. However, it requires that you find a particular room, the Warp Room, and if you instead find the Boss Room, you'll still have to fight the Boss. If you were to find the Warp Room without the Lamp, it'll just send you back to the start of the level. You won't lose a life, but the clock will stay where it was, so your days are pretty numbered.
Of course, through general sloppiness I lose both of my remaining lives, so it's back to the title screen for poor Athena. This might be more difficult than I expected.
Next time through, I scroll the screen too far to the right before dropping down the pit, and as a result can't grab the Lamp. I make my way back to the area where I died before, but before climbing up the last vine to the Boss area, I thought I'd let you see what the Warp Room looks like. If I had the Lamp, I'd automatically teleport to the next World after reaching the center of this room.
Instead, it's up the vine to the area with the Boss.
This guy is apparently called Hammer Dryuas, and if you're intended to fire arrows or magic at him from a distance, I know that I never did. With a Ball and Chain equipped, I always ran straight at the Boss, jumped over his flailing root with a short jump, and attacked him from right next to his face.
It takes me a couple tries this time, but I manage to get to that sweet spot and voila! After the Boss was defeated, a K Slate falls from the sky. This item lets you keep all your equipment when you're defeated, so it's very valuable.