As children with no disposable income, I am sure we have all played our fair share of games both good and bad simply because they were available. Christmas and birthdays would sometimes bring a new game that we would play almost exclusively until the next such event. That is why borrowing games and the departed concept of renting was such an invigorating concept.
My dad would take me to the rental store before a long weekend and a world of new possibilities would open up to me. Unfortunately the cog in the system was siblings. For the sake of ‘fairness’ my dad would periodically let my sister pick the game, even though she would ultimately ignore the game entirely after the selection process. Don’t get me wrong, my sister is wonderful, just not when it comes to picking good games for me to end up getting stuck playing. And play them I would, as that weekend would be the one shot of diversity I would get for potentially the next few months. On one such occasion my sister chose Super Troll Island. It was the 90’s; if it was a license of any level of popularity…it got a game. So how could we go wrong with a company like Millennium Interactive making a game featuring plastic toys seen on the top of pencils in schools country wide?
Not a fan of story time? Too bad, it was my story and I am sure in even a small way, it was yours too.
Before I get into the quality of the game, I have to address the presentation as it stuck with me as a child and when I played the game again for a refresher it still haunted me. If this game was intended for children and I firmly believe it had to be, it was primarily to give them nightmares. The actual graphics were not bad, the game featured very bold sprites, a lot of color as you progressed and featured very positive imagery overall. It was the faces of the trolls that were off putting, resembling something of a frail witch from a children’s fairy tale, they were set to a fixed perspective on a moving body. No matter what the character was doing, be it running or swimming, the face just stayed fixed forward. Even when climbing a ladder with the trolls back to the screen the face kept looking forward, just peering into your soul and judging your every move. It’s like the troll was becoming sentient and was only playing coy while it planned its escape through the TV screen, changing it up when swinging on something like a vine just to throw you off. There isn’t much else to say about the presentation, there wasn’t a lot of diversity to the graphics. The music, while upbeat and cheerful, was so limited that it became repetitive very quickly.
I will admit that the concept of this platformer was very unique to me at the time I first played it. Yes you would jump over pits and throw pies/custard at the enemies to defeat them but that’s not how you finished a level. Levels were arenas of sorts, at fixed sizes, that were all black and white due to a ‘mist’ that was…bad…for some reason, it’s not quite explained. As the trolls traversed the landscape on foot or by swimming they would bring color back to that portion of the level. You could get bonus points for having 100 percent color revitalization but to beat a level you just had to fill in the sections that looked like they were squared off segments. It was a simple concept but it worked well as a hook since I had not seen anything like that in a puzzle platformer before.
The game loves to make you figure things out for yourself. It features 4 trolls with different hair colors but doesn’t actually tell you the difference between them. It might be in the manual but you won’t find any sort of in game assistance on it. One can swim deeper while another can jump higher but if you need a certain one and they are asleep, the equivalent of dying in this game, you can’t use them until your next continue. Speaking of which, continues are limited and the screen doesn’t tell you how many you have left before you have to start from the very beginning of the game again so you can’t gamble lives. Furthering on the theme of not cluing in the gamer are the collectibles, certain ones like the berries are just run over and add to your point total. Others are placed in your hand when you run through them and can be thrown at the enemies or if you figured it out can be ‘used’ by hitting a shoulder button, a feature not even shown on the options screen that displays the controls. ‘Using’ a tornado icon for example will add one charge to your tornado power up counter however other items like combs, shields, and gems will just add to your point total making you wonder why they don’t just add to your points automatically, like the berries.
Finally I want to address the controls. While a game like this doesn’t need to build its appeal with graphics and sound, the concept requires precise controls so that you can effectively color the world without running into enemies. It does not succeed here. While you can definitely get used to the handling and progress deep into the game due to its low difficulty curve you will first have to adjust to feeling like you are always running on ice. The controls are loose and slippery and often times you feel like you are just working around them rather than with them. Children won’t mind or notice this as much of an issue but it could have appealed to a larger audience if they just tweaked the controls a little to match the requirements of their unique concept.
Perhaps I notched a few points off due to the memories of being stuck with this game one long weekend, decades ago. I just can’t find the level of hatred for it that I want to; it’s a game where you can’t really figure out why you started playing it but once you start, you just have to keep going. I won’t tell you to run out and try this one but if you somehow find yourself playing it, don’t be ashamed to admit that you had a bit of fun playing the video game equivalent of a coloring book. Kudos Millennium Interactive on a job…sufficiently…done. Except for the faces, curse you for the faces.