Monday, March 14, 2011

Everybody Hates Athena

If you played games on the NES during the eighties and early nineties, you're probably familiar with the games everybody hated: 8 Eyes, Deadly Towers, Athena. By any reasonable standard these aren't particularly good games, and on the NES there are certainly games that succeed in the areas these three don't. But each of those games had some quality that fascinated me while I was growing up, and as a result I just can't hate them the way the Internets seem to. I'll probably talk about 8 Eyes and Deadly Towers at some point, but right now it's Athena's turn.

So Athena's bored and decides to have an adventure. She opens a door in the basement of her castle, The Door Which Must Not Be Opened, and it leads to the World of Forest. She'll proceed through a number of themed worlds on her adventure, until... well, I don't exactly know. I've never finished Athena. And that may be one of the reasons for the Athena dislike that's out there: it's extremely difficult and wears its unforgiving nature on its sleeve. It's also very obtuse, with zero in-game explanation of mechanics and almost as little in the manual. If you don't do things exactly right, you'll end up teleported back to the beginning of the level. Or trapped in a fight with a boss that you can't damage. Or stuck in front of a breakable wall you can't break.

Again: I acknowledge that these are things you don't expect from good videogames, and I'm not really defending these decisions. But partially because of them, Athena has always had an air of mystery about it for me.

What can Athena do? She has two heights of jump, a short jump and then if you jump again quickly a higher jump. There's enough time to do two of these high jumps, if you don't dawdle, but wait too long and you'll miss the window and go back to the short jump:

She can acquire different qualities of armor, shields, and helmets, and helmets allow her to break blocks with her head. She can acquire different weapon types from defeated enemies, and each type has several upgraded versions:

Sometimes when walking over certain tiles, a flower will appear. Destroying it will either release four hearts to restore life, or a heart container that increases Athena's maximum life bar. You can also release hearts by defeating certain enemies.

She'll need all that life, too, because enemies are dangerous and they suffer from questionable hit detection. Also, Athena isn't the most mobile Greek goddess around, and if she has managed to acquire an upgrade of some kind, dipping below a certain health threshold will cause her to lose it. By destroying blocks (which not every weapon can do), you'll uncover a number of other items, most of which have unobvious or subtle effects, and some of which, like the original Japanese Super Mario Bros 2's Poison Mushroom, are detrimental to collect. Oh, and she can get poisoned from both items and certain enemies.

Note the blue life bar. I got slimed!
Despite all of that, I've always liked this game, and thanks to the magic of modern technology maybe I'll get to see the end this time. So set aside your irrational/rational hatred of Athena on the NES, and over the next few updates let's see how her adventure goes! If nothing else, by the end of it maybe I too will dislike the game as much as the Internets do.

Next time: the World of Forest!

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