I would label myself as somewhat of a masochistic gamer. Repetitive tasks are my forte, and I am apparently one of the few people on the planet that likes Irritating Stick. I say this in the interest of full disclosure, for I write today to tell you of a much-maligned game that I like.
I loved Hydlide as soon as I started to play it. The plot itself is non-existent and the gameplay is certainly overly difficult and misleading. But that is par for the course with NES games. Back in those days, spikes were spikes and you had better have a subscription to Nintendo Power if you ever wanted to get out of Marklork’s Dungeon of Hidden Walls.
What really separates Hydlide from the pack is its interface. The game is a simplistic RPG. Its beauty lies in its extreme simplicity. There were no menus at all (except a view-only inventory window when you pressed SELECT and a small system menu when you press START) and no screen switches. The upper left of the screen was reserved for the game area, a top-down view, and the rest is your health, experience, and spells. Everything is displayed at once.
If you want to attack, you simply walk into an enemy. What else are going to do with a zombie, after all? Shake its hand? You can hold the A button to strengthen your attack or B to defend from enemies walking into you. Press both together and you cast a spell. All items you pick up by walking into them and use by walking into whatever they unlock or activate.
This is a welcome relief from other games of the era that complicated matters to an excessive degree in the name of interactivity (Ultima games, anyone?). No need to obfuscate the fact that I’m on a fetch-quest or let me use an item when it makes no sense. Abstracting away the traditional trappings of an RPG and getting at the pure gameplay is what makes Hydlide so appealing.
The game also had save states before we knew what they were. You could save the game anytime, and it would save all the game’s state: your exact tile and health and everything (well… until you turned off the game). Which is good, because the game is nigh-impossible.
Hydlide is admittedly almost as hard as Battletoads, but it does have an innovative interface. That’s got to count for something.