There's nothing quite like a good old arcade hidden gem so let's go back to 1990 and check out Jaleco's adorable and fun Rod Land.
Although I've played oodles of arcade games in my decades of gaming and own a ton of compilations, I've actually never heard of Rod Land but when I saw it on the eShop, I definitely had to play it because it seemed like a supremely charming and enjoyable little game. Now that I have, I'm happy to say that it indeed is. For starters, it's a single-screen arcade game that was clearly inspired by the likes of Bubble Bobble as a lot of arcade games were back in the day. It has you and a friend cooperate as you control the fairies Tam and Rit to explore Maboot Tower in the hopes of rescuing your mom who was kidnapped by some sort of monster. So, you put on your Rainbow Shoes and grab your Rods of Sheesanomo then head out on an epic monster-bashing tower-climbing adventure. Sounds fun, right?
Rod Land's gameplay has you stun enemies with a short-range attack from your rod. After doing so, you can pick them up and smash them left and right a few times in order to make them disappear. This actually involves some considerations because if you're too close to the edge of the screen, the monster will become unstunned as you can't smash them into the ground but you can smash foes into each other which usually results in one of them biting the dust. Seeing as you smash them in an arc, you can even defeat enemies that are on a platform overhead. Meanwhile, another button allows you to erect a ladder which frequently comes in handy because the enemies can be quite relentless. Thankfully, you can even create ladders underneath platforms which allows you to escape even more sticky situations. Add in a variety of enemies, clever bosses, and stage gimmicks like rideable balloons and you're left with one fun formula.
In addition to the enjoyable core gameplay, there are some clever mechanics that help add a layer of strategy to the otherwise basic gameplay. First, each stage is filled with enemies and collectible flowers. Once you beat every enemy, you move on to the next level but if you collect all of the flowers first then you enter Extra Game mode which transforms the enemies and when you beat them in this mode, they drop letters that spell EXTRA which grants you points and an extra life. Because of all this, you'll constantly juggle between defeating foes and trying to maximize your score or you could just charge ahead if you just want to beat the campaign, of course.
One aspect that must be discussed is just how adorable Rod Land is. From its cute fairy protagonists to its colourful stage designs, it's hard not to smile as you play through Tam and Rit's adventure. I particularly love the delightful music that plays from start to finish as well as the silly enemy designs that range from cute miniature gators to things that look like Graboids from Tremors but with charming yellow bows on their heads. Plus, there's a wide variety of boss fights throughout that are as funny as they are challenging.
Speaking of challenging, Rod Land is quite a tricky game at times which can sometimes be frustrating. Specifically, new enemy types and bosses can perform unexpected attacks that may end your life if you're not super-careful. I wish that these were shown in pre-level cutscenes to help ease you into what to expect. Another annoying aspect is that there is substantial slowdown when there are too many onscreen enemies. This was probably in the original arcade version but whether it was or not, this Arcade Archives release could have had an option to smooth it out. Finally, there are only 32 levels to complete and once you do, you've seen all Rod Land has to offer. In other words, it's a one-and-done sort of arcade game that you can beat in one sitting so you likely won't play through it often.
Rod Land is an unexpected surprise from the golden age of adorable single-screen arcade games. Its nifty scoring mechanics and wide variety of enemies make it quite a satisfying treat so if you enjoy retro games then definitely give it a go.
- + Simple gameplay that involves an impressive amount of strategy and skill
- + Extremely cute presentation
- + Delightful music and enemy sprites
- - It's mostly a one-and-done arcade game
- - Some parts can be frustrating
- - Occasional slowdown