Little Samson (NES) Review

Click here if you wish to visit the Little Samson description page for screenshots and more information.

Review by tankMage (July 2016)

Score: A

Little Samson would probably have come to be known as a classic and spawned a number of sequels had it been released two or three years earlier. Unfortunately, this game hit the shelves in ‘92, a time when many gamers had already moved onto the Sega Genesis and SNES, leaving this gem to languish in obscurity. Those lucky enough to play this game will be treated to a platformer that is derivative, yet beautifully designed. In fact Little Samson takes concepts from games like Super Mario Bros., Ninja Gaiden, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mega Man and implements them into a single action packed game.

Story

    In order to understand what was going on, I had to take a look at the manual and was initially disappointed by the simple paragraph that explained the story. One day an evil wizard broke free of his ancient prison and began wreaking havoc upon the kingdom. The king summons for legendary warriors who possess magic bells to fight the wicked Ta-Keed and…that’s it.

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You’re playing this game, because reasons.

   Then I decided to read on and found some brief, but nice character descriptions that give each protagonist a back story. Little Samson is a young lad who lives in the mountains (OK, so he doesn’t really have much of a story). Kikira was once an arrogant young woman who irritated a wizard and was turned into a Dragon as punishment. Gamm was a thief who drank a stolen portion that transformed him into a rock creature. And K.O. was a wizard who transformed himself into a mouse after drinking his own potion. While the background on each character is slightly more detailed than the summary I provided, they’re still pretty basic, however, it was a nice touch that they took the time to explain the characters a bit rather than just throw them in the game arbitrarily. It also explains some of their actions throughout the game. The actual in game story development is just a series of cutscenes that are devoid of dialogue, but they do tell a tale nonetheless. With that said, Little Samson’s story is sufficient in the sense that it gives the player a reason to explore the game, but does not offer much else.

Graphics

    Like many late era NES games, Little Samson is a beautiful example of 8-bit graphics. The world is colorful and there are tons of areas, each of which has it’s own look. The character sprites are detailed as well as nicely designed and the devs even took the time to create front, back and side views of each character which can be seen in the character select screen as each sprite spins around. Little Samson also has a number of interesting monster sprites along with the usual stock ghosts and skeletons. The boss characters are especially cool looking and often have a distinct anime flavor to them. Backgrounds are also well done, but are rarely animated. The backgrounds are at least just as colorful and unique as the foreground of each stage and some backgrounds are surprisingly detailed which enhances the game’s atmosphere beautifully. So, yeah, this title looks great and 8-bit aficionados will be pleased with the hard work the devs put into the graphics.

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Mega Man would feel right at home here….

User Interface

The controls for this game are perfect, there’s really nothing more I can say about the UI.

Music

    Little Samson’s OST is bland at times and gets repetitive. This is mainly, because stages do not have set themes, instead each character has a theme that plays when you select it. Luckily the character themes are decent, even if you won’t find them stuck in your head or catch yourself humming them in the shower. The devs were also wise enough to give later levels their own tracks, which broke the monotony somewhat. This title features some unique sound effects that distinguish themselves from other NES sounds, which is was not the easiest task to accomplish. Most notable is the sound of Little Samson’s bell weapon which jingles when fired and the sound characters make when they die.

Gameplay

    Gameplay is what sets Little Samson apart from so many other NES platfomers. Each of the four characters has it’s own abilities that must be used to overcome the various challenges presented throughout the course of the game, but the true brilliance of this title is that problems can often be approached in different ways depending on whom you choose to use. Players will need to figure out what characters work best against a boss or can pass through an area the most efficiently and can also challenge themselves by placing restrictions on what characters they use. For example, Little Samson is fast, a nimble climber, and has a fair amount of life, but his attack power is incredibly weak, making him a poor choice to use on strong foes in most scenarios. On the other hand, the unwieldy Gamm (who can barely jump) can walk across spikes without fear of injury, soak up vast amounts of damage and deal heavy blows with his fists is often a good choice against many bosses and tough monsters. Of course the dragon, Kikira and K.O. (the fragile yet deadly mouse) also bring plenty of their own useful abilities to the table as well. Players can (and often must) switch between the four characters to accomplish tasks and while pausing the game to do so within levels slows the game down somewhat, it also keeps the experience fresh and entertaining.

   Overall, Little Samson is not a terribly difficult game, but there is an easy mode nonetheless, which makes it more accessible to less experienced players. Boss fights are often the primary source of challenge in this game, since many of them can dish out major damage or utilize attack patterns that need to be learned to some extent. Even so, the difficulty curve on boss fights is gentle for the most part, but there are a few stages in Little Samson that present a slight spike in challenge. Such stages force the player to deal with a number of respawning monsters while requiring them to do some platforming and can take a few tries to clear.

   While, I briefly touched on the game’s level design, which is entertaining and competently executed, I did not mention several important factors that contribute to its quality. Firstly, there are a variety of areas to explore that are not only well crafted, but also give the player a sense of progress as the scenery becomes darker and the stages become more perilous. There are also several routes the player can take depending upon their actions, which gives Little Samson a bit of replay value. Finally, there are a number of interactive objects that only appear once or twice in the game, like the whirlwinds in Kikiri’s intro level, which gives many of these areas a sense of uniqueness and require some tactical flexibility on the player’s part since many of these objects can be either a help or a hindrance.

As much fun as this game is, it’s not perfect and has two noticeable flaws:

  1. Even with alternate paths, Little Samson is somewhat brief.
  2. The powerup and death system often requires the player to grind RPG style.

   While the issue of this title’s brevity is self explanatory, the power up system bears some explanation. Firstly, players need to collect special hearts that extend each character’s life bar, while this isn’t really an issue, since they tend to be plentiful, it can become cumbersome when combined with the other thing you have to collect: potions. Potions can be saved and used to restore each character’s health, which is fine, but they are also required to resurrect everyone but Little Samson. If Kikiri, Gamm, or K.O. die in battle, the player loses a life and is sent back to the previous checkpoint as in many other games, but the character in question will remain unplayable until the player is either forced to continue or acquires a potion with which to restore them. This often forced me to kill respawning monsters repeatedly in hopes that they would drop a potion, so I could restore my characters and move on. This is something that simply doesn’t belong in an action game of this nature and was either an oversight on the dev’s part or a very poor design choice.

Final Thoughts

    Little Samson’s strength lies almost entirely in it’s gameplay, which took elements that made various NES platformers great and distilled them into one title. As I said earlier, this game would probably have been held in high regard had it been released a year or so earlier and marketed more effectively. The diverse abilities of the characters, fun gameplay mechanics, level design and cool bosses make this game a true gem worth playing if you enjoy old school platforming games. Little Samson’s short play time and poorly implemented death mechanics, which can force players to grind at times, do hold it back a bit, but this game is an excellent title despite it’s flaws.

Recommendations

This is a great choice for anyone who enjoys NES platformers…except for one caveat: I’ve seen physical copies of Little Samson range in price from 45 to 1500 USD and it’s likely that the cheaper copies are reproductions. Personally I can’t really justify spending so much on a single game, so you may want to grab a digital copy unless you are a serious collector with deep pockets.

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