Hey friends, welcome back to Konjak month! Last week, we covered a bright , fast-paced, arcade-style action game, Legend of Princess. This week we’re going to roll back the clock 2 years from that game to 2006 to discuss the first entry in Mr. Sandberg’s most famous series. The reason I’m choosing this game as opposed to one of his later games is because it brings in another important factor from Konjak’s games, especially the game we will be covering in the final week: humor. Yes, while this game has the busy backgrounds, the catchy music, and the action-packed gameplay of Konjak’s games, this one also has a delightful bit of humor. So this week, let’s kick some smiling robot butt in Noitu Love and the Army of Grinning Darns.
Noitu Love is set in the future, when a mad scientist named Darnacus Damnation (no, seriously) has developed an evil plan to…wait for it…turn all of the people in the world into monkeys. To help with his plan straight out of an old DC comic, the mad doctor has made an army of maniacal grinning robots named “Darns” to take out his enemies. The only one thing standing in this doctors way is the peacekeepers and, since all but one of them are incompetent, their best agent, Noitu Love, a pint-sized boy who is small on words but big on kicking ass.
The story and its events are a good sign of a part of Konjak’s humor. The game, which is modeled to look and play like a Gameboy color game, has the type of story that could only exist in the days of the NES. The world is in peril but nothing is given any real gravity. Even the enemies (who include a pink ninja who carries around a huge hammer and a robot disco priest) who are wrecking the world have giant grins on their faces; the game isn’t taking itself too seriously. However, unlike Charles Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden even the characters don’t take things too seriously. Darnacus borders on senility and his generals (with the exception of one) are too quirky to be menacing. The only character who takes things seriously is Lori, Noitu Love’s boss, who panics at everything and is unable to properly prioritize her panic (like being petrified at the sight of a graveyard but only being mildly perturbed at a nuclear device flying towards the city). Thus, the game comes off like an old action-comedy anime.
Just because the game is on the humorous side doesn’t mean it doesn’t take its gameplay and aesthetics seriously. Noitu Love is a two-button action platformer at its core; Noitu Love has to clear six levels full of enemy darns and bosses using his martial arts. Since the game is pretty simplistic in keeping with its Gameboy color aesthetic, it is still pretty solid combat. While Noitu Love can only perform a three hit combo and a spinning kick, attacking in midair allows Noitu Love to float temporarily, allowing the attacks to become defensive as well. Noitu can also found power-ups which turn him invincible, shoot out shockwaves, and, most importantly, “evolve” (using an NES gme understanding of evolution) into other forms using an evomatic, including a monkey, a bird (makes sense at the time), and a brainy version of Noitu. Overall, this feature is well implemented, with each form getting a fair amount of play time and unique powers, though the bird form does control somewhat awkwardly. Overall however, the gameplay is solid and varied enough to keep players going.
Of course, an action game like this is no good if it doesn’t have fun enemies to fight and luckily the darns are a ton of fun to trash. There’s a large variety of enemies, including recurring minibosses and each of them are unique. The bosses however, are what are really memorable about this game. Throughout the game, you are guaranteed at least two boss fights a level, and the boss you fight at the end of each level is especially well crafted. The bosses in this game are perfect examples of retro-style bosses in that you will have to learn their patterns and figure out how to make them vulnerable. For example, my favorite boss in the game, 02 Joy, is a prima donna necromancer robot (no, seriously) who will only start fighting you if you mess up his piano playing and the fight itself involves the manic robot attacking you with music based attacks like tenors with hurricane breath or ‘sharp’ spikes. While there are a couple bosses with some unfair attacks (for example, the third to last one has an unavoidable, unpreventable, attack), overall the bosses are the highlight of the game and provide a good challenge.
The other highlight of the game is the music and aesthetic. While the chosen aesthetic was a soft palette and goofy enemies, in keeping with the comfortable Gameboy Color aesthetic but the music is loud, catchy, memorable…and dare I say ‘pumping.’ While writing this review, I found myself constantly humming the theme music and some of the stages. The soundtrack is really a treat to listen to and deserves a listen. Another thing that really makes the aesthetic memorable is its backgrounds which usually change between 2-3 times per level and usually have lots of activity or detail going on in the background, like when there is a zombie jam session going on as you fight through a cathedral as strobe lights go off.
Overall, this is a very solid game in Konjak’s lineup and a damn fine freeware game. It has plenty of action, great bosses, and a catchy soundtrack. While a couple of the bosses can be unfair and you do have to hoard lives for the final level (which can only be unlocked at ‘medium’ or above), the game saves your best playthrough of a level so you can redo it to find more lives. In all honesty, the only real weakness this game has is that it is limited by trying to be an old school action plat former, thereby making it limited in what can be done with its gameplay. It would be interesting to see what would happen if this world was revisited again but with a new type of combat system, a much faster gameplay style, multiple characters to choose from, and some divergent strategies and combat styles for those characters…too bad there was never something like a sequel that was available on steam right now. Of course, I couldn’t cover it in this article even if such an awesome game did exist. I couldn’t possibly do a side review and hand out some steam keys so people could enjoy the game. No, no, next week we will cover Chalk, an inventive little title that combines the shooter genre with connect-the-dots.
Freeware Friday is a series of articles by Gabriel B. That celebrates exemplary (or sometimes just plain weird) freeware games.