Developer: Daft Co. Publisher: Enix Release: 09/29/95 Genre: Action
To this day I am still amazed at the depth of the SNES library. The games released in the West were great but sheer number of hidden gems available for the Super Famicom is staggering. While everyone pays attention to the mountain of Square Enix RPGs that never left Japan there are just as many great games in other genres that remain overlooked. Violinist of Hamelin is one such gem. Usually licensed titles are hit or miss regardless of place of origin. However Violinist of Hamelin bucks that trend and is an excellent platformer that I cannot recommend enough.
The Violinist of Hamelin is a loose adaptation of the long running manga of the same name. In it Hamelin and his companion Flute are traveling north to the Continent of Demons to fight their source that is infesting the land. Along the way they meet many characters who require their help in some way toward their goal. I call this a loose adaptation for a reason. Many of the principle characters from the manga do not appear and not to get too spoilery but the game kind of ends abruptly. It makes sense as the manga had only begun its ten year run when the game started development. Despite that the game is a satisfying experience full of variety that I am still thinking about even after completing it.
Hamelin has a limited set of abilities. His primary weapon is his violin which attacks with musical notes. These are straightforward and grow in power as you progress. He can also pick up and throw objects (and people) and push rocks if need be. While Hamelin cannot double jump he can glide using his cape although this sees limited use throughout the game.
The depth in the game comes from Flute and her many uses. Poor Flute gets manhandled six ways from Sunday in every level. You can pick up Flute and throw her to collect items or break blocks. Don’t worry, she is more or less invulnerable. Flute’s true use comes from the numerous animal costumes she wears. With each suit she gains new abilities pivotal to your quest. Some are simple; the ostrich can walk across spikes unharmed. Others are more complex; the Frisbee is a boomerang but has a weird arc. A lot of the suits double up on abilities with a twist such as the robot suit. This also crosses spikes but is slow and can destroy walls. Nearly every suit will be found when necessary and some purchased early, giving you a massive head start. All told there are sixteen and they add welcome complexity to the gameplay.
The variety the different costumes and their abilities provide is what makes Hamelin so fun. Flute follows you everywhere but cannot jump and only climbs over blocks. So much of the time you must figure out a way to bring her along. This could be simply carrying or throwing her but more often a costume is in order. As you gain new suits your options expand and you can use them in creative ways. The UFO is a late game item designed to allow Flute to follow you easily. But you can ride it to skip problematic segments. It also makes the few boss battles trivial. The level design is generally excellent in that it never stops coming up with clever ways to force you to be imaginative in how you bring Flute along. This could easily have dragged the game down but its variety is its greatest strength.
If there is any one complaint it is that some suits see little use or feel redundant. The monkey suit is not as useful as the frog suit and you have more control over that one. The curling puck almost feels like an afterthought. There is nuance in the distinction between the sunfish and eagle suits but you could still remove one or the other with little impact. The numerous water based suits fall by the wayside once you have the octopus suit. While I have pointed these out to the game’s credit these issues do not crop up until toward the end.
Violinist of Hamelin starts out easy and only becomes easier over time. Most enemies pose little threat and most of your time is spent using Flute to navigate the levels. Chances are you will die to the aggressive clock more than a random demon. Your life bar is adequate at the start and grows longer over time making the action simpler. With a modicum of exploration you will find plenty of extra lives. And if you take up the challenge to guide Flute to the end of the levels with no damage you can rack up even more in the bonus levels. I like it this way; the various suits are where the fun lie and I would rather spend time experimenting than dealing with generic monsters.
I really enjoyed this one. The Violinist of Hamelin is a great game, full of creativity and good level design. The production values are no slouch either. This is another in a giant pile of import platforming greats for the Super Famicom like the Goemon series and Magical Pop’n that deserve your attention. These are the types of games that make me enjoy reviewing games and there are plenty more where this came from.