Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.
When it comes to retro gaming there is no shortage of platformers that one can dig up and get their nostalgia on with. In a genre that holds golden gaming classics such as Mario Bros. 3, DuckTales, and Sonic (to name a select few) vying for retro gamers attention, other games can be left in the dustbin of gaming past. One such title is Pademonium, a game that is very much cut from the cloth of the time that it was “born” in (1996). If you’re in the market for something old school but different Pandemonium! is right up your alley.
Pandemonium is a “2.5d” platformer that does enough things right to warrant a look if one feels like taking a trip through the N64/PS1/Saturn era. The visuals are of course reflective of the hardware capabilities at the time so while they may not have aged the best, the colorful presentation and unique levels are able to push past the lack of visual fidelity. In Pandemonium you step into the shoes of one of two characters, Nikki who is a fledgling wizard and Fargus a jester that is also seeking to change up his life a bit by dabbling in the magical arts. The game starts out with a cutscene in which Nikki is casting magic (spells that look oddly similar to fireworks) and Fargus (with his creepy stick puppet “Sid”) egging her on to cast ever more powerful magic just to see bigger and bigger explosions. Nikki ends up casting a spell that summons a giant monster that consumes a small village in one gulp; oops. In order to make amends Nikki and Fargus have to journey to make a wish at the “wishing engine”.
The platforming is standard fare in Pandemonium, but it is solid in it’s execution. The controls while fairly tight and responsive, can be a little unforgiving with Nikki’s double jump and when combined with the movement speed of the character gives the feeling of being a little too stiff. The levels are where the game shines however with each new level offering something a bit different than the one before. There are a lot of different environments to jump and fight through and the level design keeps it interesting while simultaneously keeping players on their toes. In what seems like an effort to bring some “wow” factor the the tried and true 2d platforming formula there are points where the levels twist and turn, which unfortunately introduces two problems; camera view and enemy placement, with both combining together to offer some frustrating moments of possible death as running around corners results in your character also running headfirst into an unseen enemy. This wouldn’t be too big of a problem except for the fact that while Pandemonium isn’t exactly the strongest and most shining example of a platforming game, it does take one big page from the book of old school: difficulty.
While it doesn’t exactly hit the point of being “NES hard” Pandemonium will certainly put your platforming skills to the test. The game uses hearts as a health meter, with each enemy hit depleting a heart, and the game starts you off with two. More are hidden around in the stages which when one is taking the time to fully explore them are actually quite large. The first stage of course eases you into the game, introducing you to some of the core mechanics such as your ability to shoot magical projectiles if you find the requisite powerup, while simultaneously being excessively easy. After that initial stage however the difficulty ramps up rather sharply, and having only two hearts at your disposal will feel woefully inadequate.
The music and sound effects are where Pandemonium fall a little short however. The background songs do the job, but just don’t feel like they have the polish and finesse that a truly high quality performer would receive. They’re not exactly terrible or anything like that, but at the same time they aren’t anything to write home about.
In a genre crowded with some of gaming’s all time greats it can be fun to sometimes take a spin down a rather unconventional path. If you can look past the dated visuals and somewhat weak audible aspect to Pandemonium, there is a fun and deceptively deep platformer waiting for you, with sprawling levels that have lots of hidden goodies for you to discover. While it most likely isn’t going to be on the top of anybody’s “all time platforming classics” list, it can provide a fun and interesting experience firmly rooted in the mid ’90s era of gaming.