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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Retro Review: Milon's Secret Castle (Wii Virtual Console)

See those walls? Break 'em
The Virtual Console allows gamers young and old to experience revolutionary games that defined a generation. In some cases though, it also showcases some of the biggest issues with game design. Milon’s Secret Castle falls into the latter category, as it presents one of the lower points of gaming as a hobby. It’s a shame, because Hudson also gave birth to numerous gems in the days of yore and Milon's first outing could have been big.

Milon is a boy who lives in a world where people communicate through song, but he lacks the ability to do so.  His goal in this 2D platformer is to rescue Queen Eliza by reaching the top floor of Castle Garland. To do this, he’ll need to find an assortment of secrets in each room, such as keys and doors. Items are often hidden in blocks, but the game offers no way to distinguish breakable blocks from unbreakable ones. The result is aimless wandering, nonstop bubble firing, and gameplay that ultimately isn’t engaging.

Milon jumps and runs like nearly any other character in a 2D platformer. The titular protagonist is equipped to fire bubbles at enemies, but their accuracy leaves something to be desired. When searching for secret doors, the bubbles don’t always reveal the door immediately, even if you fire at the correct space. When the entire game is a glorified scavenger hunt, this makes looking for things even more tedious than it needs to be. There are boss battles in which Milon squares off against very challenging foes, but part of the difficulty stems from the next issue.



Getting hit by an enemy gives you literally no time to recover (unlike other games that give temporary invincibility frames). If you’re not careful, a simple mistake can lead to a game over, forcing you to begin the entire game from the beginning. There is a code to resume your progress after death, but naturally, it’s another secret that the game delightfully hides. Even more bizarre is that Milon’s health is not replenished when starting the game anew.

The game is chock full of beginner’s traps, whether that be forgetting to pause the game and having lightning attack you or being unable to exit the door you came in (subsequently forcing you to search for the secret exit again). Collecting money also comes into play for purchasing items which are mandatory for the progression of the game (something else the player is not informed of). Shops are often hidden within rooms and contain vague hints in addition to an item.

Hints? Yes, please.
The visuals are moderately appealing, but they look much more aged than other NES outings. The sheer variety of sprites is quite something to behold. The audio department suffers a similar fate, lacking a particularly memorable soundtrack. To be fair, there are music box rooms with some interesting tunes.

Milon’s Secret Castle was not an impressive feat of game design in 1986, but its flaws are only multiplied 25 years later. The only way for a gamer in 2011 to progress through this outing is by constantly booting up the virtual instruction manual and digging for hints or seeking help on the internet. The Virtual Console is bursting at the seams with quality platformers, so spending that 500 Wii Points elsewhere could get you a much more refined experience.

-Clark A


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Retro Review: Milon's Secret Castle (Wii Virtual Console)
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