Years ago, I often played video games with my youngest sister. I was the one who got her into video games, actually. When there wasn’t a two player option, we’d just take turns by playing alternate levels. This was the case with Spanky’s Quest. I have positive nostalgic feelings for this game. Will I still feel the same way now, or will I take the rose colored glasses off?
Let’s Get a Pic-a-nic Basket!
The main character, Spanky the Monkey, no relation to Monkey D. Luffy, is just minding his business going out on a picnic by himself. Suddenly bricks begin falling from the sky inexplicably and surround the bewildered chimp. He finds himself in a tall tower with no way out.
A witch appears and announces to Spanky this is her new home. And with a snap of her fingers, she causes the fruit in Spanky’s backpack to come alive! The witch leaves Spanky at the mercy of these fruity animated minions. But Spanky notices something falls out of the witch’s pocket. It’s a small magical ball with the power to help Spanky defeat the witch and break her magical spells! Thus begins Spanky’s quest to not only free himself from the tower, but also return things back to the way they were.
Controls and Gameplay
Controls are really, really simple. We have the B button to attack and the A button to jump. The start button is used to pause the game. The select button is used on the title screen to move the cursor to determine settings. The other buttons aren’t used.
The only catch to the controls is understanding the mechanics behind Spanky’s magical ball. But once that is understood, controls are a non-issue.
I’ll call this game a hybrid of platformer and puzzler. Spanky is placed in a room and he has to find a certain amount of keys to open the locked door and advance to the next room. There is a time limit which there is no display for. You’ll know your time is up when the little crow, Morty, appears and chases after you. Morty is invincible and when he touches you, a life is lost. So it’s important to be efficient with your time while finding the keys and getting to the door. There are 50 rooms in all, not including boss stages.
Contained in each room are enemies such as green apples, red apples, lemons, oranges, melons and other living fruit. They all have different moving patterns and one touch from them will kill you. The fruit aren’t the only things you have to be wary of. In some stages there are traps put in place. Examples are statues that spit fire, egg cannons that shoot birds that chase its prey, and falling metal mallets that will smash you like a pancake if not careful. Likewise, one touch from one of these traps and it’s “good night Irene!” The traps are manually operated with a switch. You can turn the tables and take control of the traps and have them work for you!
But the main weapon Spanky has is the magical ball I’ve mentioned. When it is thrown up in the air initially, it’s a tiny blue ball. If you “head” it, like a soccer player hits a ball with his head, it become a bigger green ball. Head it again and it becomes a yellow ball and if hit once more, it becomes a huge red ball. If any regular enemy touches the ball while it is in any of these states, they will be temporarily stunned. Pressing B again while the ball is in the air will make it pop into an attack form. The type of attack depends on the color of the ball when you pop it. And herein lies some strategy as the type of attack you will want to use is dependent upon the circumstances. For example, most boss battles will benefit from using the yellow ball that pops into four volleyballs. This attack makes it possible to inflict multiple hits in one attack.
Besides his ball and trap switches, there are other aids for Spanky. Along the way, you will discover hats that give our hairy hero special abilities. The viking hat for instance gives Spanky an extra hit point. The straw hat allows you to descend slowly ala Cape Mario in Super Mario World. The top hat will let you make a big red ball with one header. There are others, but the hats don’t appear often enough to make a serious impact on the game. And you can’t carry them over to the next room. That’s a bummer.
As you go from room to room, you’ll notice the stages become progressively harder and the rooms bigger and more intricate. Eventually you will have to start searching for the door where previously it was easy to spot. There are more enemies that you have to contend with as you get farther into the game. Because you only have to get hit once to die, luck seems to play a greater role as the difficulty increases unfortunately. Frustration starts to creep in by the third world. You only have so much wiggle room here and when you have occupational hazards coming at all angles, it’s not so much skill that gets you through but luck and persistence.
To ease irritation, there are a several bonus stages scattered through out the game that will earn you a chance to receive a 1-up. Bonus stages are hidden behind the golden doors without keyholes. You find these doors by breaking blocks with your ball in specific locations. 1-ups can also be found in the rooms themselves.
The biggest help this game offers is its password system. I’m not sure many people could beat this game in one sitting and thankfully you don’t have to. When you lose all of your lives, a simple three digit code appears that you can use to start in the beginning of that world during your next playthrough. Unlimited continues that start you back at the first room of the world you died in helps too.
In terms of options, you can configure control setup, turn the status information at the top of the screen on or off, and a sound test so frequently found in these older games.
Graphics and Sound
This game was released in 1991. Natsume really did a fine job utilizing the then new hardware. Spanky is well detailed and filled out, the bosses are big and gorgeous, the other enemies are drawn well and have good animation to them. The backgrounds to the stages have detail and movement to them. I definitely get a Japanese vibe from this game’s graphics and I love it for it.
The music is ok. There aren’t any really standout arrangements, but they’re quirky sounding and fit the look of the characters quite well. There isn’t a lot in the way of sound effects. The most notable is when Spanky hits the ball.
Spanky’s Quest is probably best for people who don’t mind putting some thought into their gameplay sessions. The game requires time management skills, timing, patience, observation, and practice. You might not like it if you just want to vegetate in front of the screen.
This game has similarities to another Super Nintendo game, Out to Lunch. However Spanky’s Quest is much more satisfying to play and putting nostalgia aside, still has the charm today that swayed me years ago.
Four out of Five stars
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