Remember those Halloween safety assemblies they’d have in elementary school? Numerous topics would be covered to ensure that your upcoming Halloween wouldn’t also be your last. The thing that always got me was the warning to check candy for all sorts of crazy stuff: razor blades in apples, needles in gummy bears, dog poo that’s dipped in chocolate then repackaged as fun-size candy bars, etc. It was like a sadistic version of ordering pizza to someone’s house back in the pre-caller-ID era and made just about as much sense as far as sick pranks go.

Speaking of pranksters who disguised crap in deceptive packaging, the folks at FCI took it upon themselves to port Hydlide to the NES back in 1989.

…”Hy-dlide?” ..”Hid-lide?”.. “Hydil-lide?” – meh, whatever.

It’s fairly safe to assume what most peoples’ reaction to this game is…

That good?

Wanting to create an action-RPG after being inspired by Tower of Druaga and The Black Onyx, T&E Soft’s Tokohiro Naito developed Hydlide back in 1984 (later ported to the Famicom in 1986). Upon its release in Japan, it was fairly popular and sold pretty well, what with its innovative open world map and health regeneration mechanic involving the exciting method of… simply standing still (“action”-RPG). When it went stateside in ’89, few knew that Hydlide had actually come out before the games it often gets accused of ripping off, such as The Legend of Zelda or Dragon Warrior. Considering so little was done to update its quality to 1989 standards, it quickly earned a bad reputation as being a real chore to play.

The open world setting is a plus when you start out as Jim the Knight (Yep, that’s his name. I guess Gary the Paladin decided to sit this one out). You can take your time and start exploring and get a feel for the territory. If you’re starting to get a hankering to watch Indiana Jones films, that’s just the theme music that rips off John Williams’ iconic score and will play almost the entire duration of your adventure – and on a 15 second loop, no less (though I have to say, it’s infinitely better than the loop from the original 1984 version). The combat seems to be the thing that gets the most of the attention, as there really isn’t any in a manner of speaking. As you go against all gamer instinct and crash your body into the enemy on purpose, you can set Jim to “attack mode” and then just hope to endure a little longer than the enemy does.

More often than not, battles are simply wars of attrition with almost no strategy involved, save for the aforementioned “backing off” mechanic to recharge your life meter. As level-grinding is a must and leveling up takes a painfully long time, the quality of fun in Hydlide also suffers. Considering how weak Jim is when you first begin your quest, when you rush at monsters, the only thing you’ll be slaying is their personal space. If battles don’t kill you, sometimes – and I assume this is a glitch – Jim just dies completely at random. Cardiac arrest? I don’t know.

All in all, I’m pretty sure mothers used to scare their children into obedience with the threat of making them play this. Combat isn’t satisfying, magic use and spells are clunky, clues are obtuse at best, and when you die, you get to contend with a grating password system and nearly useless save option. Even the back of the box is hilariously just winging it with vague features and a thrown-together synopsis of the game.

Fire balls always struck me as more of a “chaotic neutral.”

In regards to the story, the manual and back cover gives you a nice, generic fantasy plot to mull through. From the manual…

Fairyland?! Then what’s a “Hydlide?!” Who’s the “evil man” and why did he just take one jewel? Why weren’t the jewels better protected? Why did Boralis not just kill the princess? “Finally, the young knight Jim stood up”(!?) – the heck was he doing up to this point? And can someone just pop in Arkista’s Ring instead, please?

Throughout your quest, you’ll collect special items, die a lot, kill vampires, avoid bees, die a lot, avoid moving trees and rocks, stand still, level grind for a decade, and die a lot. Towards the end, the fairies that you rescue bring you to the island castle of the evil Boralis/Varalys (sounds like medication for ED). When you get there, the dragon that guards it will go all guano-insane at your presence and immediately begin pacing frantically while breathing fire at random. There’s a bush you’ll need to burn (though there’s no real way of knowing that) that leads to a secret entrance where you’ll find a gravestone to smash, which drains the lake. Now you can fight the dragon….  in slow lengthy, careful, systematic steps while waiting for your life bar to recharge (fun fun). Storm palace, kill bad guy, save princess, win game. Viola! If you beat the game back in the day, then kudos to you as the manual is pretty vague and a little quirky at times.

Cherry-picked examples, but still poignant.

As I mentioned above, by 1989, the NES already had established a great library and enough had changed in five years that it made Hydlide’s copy-and-paste port to the NES feel lazy. Later entries such as Super Hydlide and Virtual Hydlide are pretty vanilla retellings or sequels to the series. However, they often came out early on in eras of new technology and the ambition behind these games seemed to outshine the final product.

Whether it be nostalgia or a healthy bottom line, according to some unspoken pop culture rule, no franchise is ever allowed to die. And with reworkings and re-imaginings bringing new life into many old series, why not bring some redemption to an old shoddy one and do it right with a proper remake? As I don’t own any Hydlide games (surprise surprise), saving me from having to play through all the Hydlide entries, ProJared videos helped me keep my sanity by doing the grunt work. The AVGN does a great review on the NES port, and there’s also talk of a possible remake here.

Sure, I’ve been tough on Hydlide as most gamers are, but while it seems to be the Ralph Wiggum of ports and its general rep makes it out to be made of broken dreams and babies tears, no game is really 100% awful and, that being said, playing Hydlide might actually be worth your time – solely to say you’ve had the experience of having played it and there is some old-school charm and remake-potential there.



Michael A. Jones

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