Total time played: 25 Hours
Short review: An ingenious puzzle game that takes great hand eye coordination, puzzle solving skills, a steel trap memory and luck. Many people consider it to be one of the hardest games on the NES
Interesting links related to Solomon’s Key
A great game I wasn’t in the mood for
It has been 3+ months since I completed Pinball. I believe that makes this the longest distance in time between two games in the 9 years of this journey. The length in time wasn’t because the game was really hard, which it definitely is. I’ve just been much busier than normal in 2022. So, I’ve not had the free time to tackle NES games like I used to. A lot of my free time has been spent watching movies and uploading to my spoiler free movie review YouTube channel.
Between a full time job, keeping up with chores and household projects, my YouTube channel, and raising a 4 year old I found myself only being able to play 20-30 minutes at a time a couple of times per week. In a game like Solomon’s Key that makes it hard to memorize levels because they are all so intricate and there are so many of them. Solomon’s Key reminds me a bit of Wrecking Crew because of how each level is a single screen puzzle and Milon’s Secret Castle where there are a million blocks on screen and any one of them could be hiding an item.
How to Play
As I stated exactly 1 sentence ago Solomon’s Key features a bunch of levels that are each a single screen. You control a guy named Dana whose job is to get a key which opens a door and then get to that door. In the first level this is very simple, but, by level 3 you better be prepared to try over and over again. This is a game where it is impossible to beat some of the later levels in one try because what seems like a solution may be a red herring, a trap that if you attempt means you can’t beat the level. Each block location becomes important.
Dana jumps with the Up button on the Directional Pad. He creates blocks by pressing A. He can create a block directly in front of him, or, if you hold down he creates a block down one square diagonally from where he is kneeling. If you stand so far to the edge of a block that it looks like you might fall he can create a block 2 squares in front of him. Any brown square can also be removed by hitting A while standing in front of it.
Pressing the B button will throw a fireball and clear enemies from in front of you. But, only if a small fire icon appears in the top right white bar on the screen (next to “Fairy”). Fireballs are hidden in some stages that you can pick up if you find them. They could be hidden inside a brown block, or, they could be hidden in a random space and not appear until you create a block in that space and then remove it. They also could be hidden behind another item. A few items in the game can be hit with A and they transform into a vase that increases your fireball count by one.
The goal is to get to the end of the game which is roughly 50 levels. I don’t know for sure because some of the bonus and hidden levels are not numbered and depending on some hidden items you do or don’t pick up the game has different levels and different endings.
Just beat the game
Initially my goal was to play through every single level, find every item, play every hidden level and bonus stage and get the best ending. But, I just don’t have the time or patience to do it. I feel like if I owned this game as a kid and didn’t have the internet or a dozen other consoles to distract me I could have mastered the game by sheer repetition. It just wasn’t in the cards in 2022. I quickly decided my goal was just to get to the end of the game without using the internet even if it wasn’t the best ending.
There are so many items in this game, some give you fireballs, some give you different fireballs, some make your fireball white bar longer so you can hold more fireballs. Some unlock bonus stages, some are just for points, some give you extra lives, the bells make a fairy appear and if you get 10 fairies you get an extra life. There are probably more that I’m forgetting. The point is, I never memorized the items well enough to be able to tell you what they did. I probably should have learned and tried harder to collect them in the early game because I desperately needed them in the later game.
The secret continue code
It would be a miracle for me to beat Solomon’s Key without continuing and initially I thought I would have to do just that. Thankfully I learned that on the poster that came with the game a continue code was given to the player. By holding A+B+Up on the game over screen you can continue on the stage where you lost your last life. This was an absolute life saver and the reason I never bothered much with finding all the secret items in each room. When you get a game over you lose any unused fireballs and since I died so often I figured I’d just practice each level until I could beat it. I thought I was taking the easy way out by just plowing through the levels and not learning each levels secret.
Hidden warp zones
In multiple levels there are small icons like that look P-Wings that act as warp zones. If you pick up this item you are warped 7 levels forward when you walk through the door and complete the stage. I accidentally found one of these and was surprised to learn it warped me 7 stages. This probably saved me 2 hours of game play to not have to learn those stages I skipped. I later learned there are several of these warps hidden throughout the game. While I enjoyed learning many of the stages I would have loved the ability to skip some of those harder levels. That’s what I get for not exploring every block in every level.
Save states to the rescue
That continue code that I spammed my entire play through has an Achilles heel. It turns out once you reach level 41 the continue code quits working and if you use it on a later stage it returns you back to level 41. That means you have to beat the last 10ish levels on a single continue. Of course these are by far the hardest levels in the game. For the most part the levels required brain power to beat but these last levels require brain power and precision timing. A single brick put in the wrong spot or removed at the wrong time renders the level unbeatable. Since extra lives are few and far between that means you have to play those last stages nearly perfectly.
Because of this I created a save state each time I beat a level and just practiced each level dozens of times until I could beat them. Once I did this for each of the last levels I began attempting to do them all at once. Without this modern day “cheat” I’m not sure I would have ever had the patience to beat the game. A couple of the later levels took me probably 100 times to beat which means I would have had to play through the earlier levels that many times to get enough attempts to beat it
A worthy challenge
The older I get the more I like puzzle games like this. I mentioned above that Wrecking Crew is another great puzzle game and so is Adventures of Lolo. These games take puzzle solving skills more so than hand eye coordination and nothing feels better than solving a complex puzzle on your own. If I had been in a better place while playing through this game I would have probably beaten it quicker and probably enjoyed it a lot more. It is a great game, the level design was great and the puzzles were tough but not impossible. I would definitely consider it a hidden gem and recommend it to anyone. It isn’t one I expect a lot of people to beat but I think playing through a few levels would provide some great entertainment.
It took a long time but I finally beat those last 10 or so levels on a single continue. 4/30/2022 is when I finally beat each level using save states and it wasn’t until 5/9/2022 that I was able to beat all the levels at once. Beating Solomon’s Key gave me a great sense of accomplishment. I’m sure I would feel it even more if I kept playing it and mastered each level and beat it without the continue code while getting every item, unlocking every bonus stage and getting the best ending. But, alas, it was not in the cards for me right now. Solomon’s Key is a great game if you give it a chance. I’ve enjoyed watching others play through it on YouTube and learning that many of the levels can be beaten many different ways. The game designers really outdid themselves creating such clever puzzles with multiple solutions.