Even in a monarchical fable world full of fantasy creatures, 1000 years is an unimaginably long time. King Rizek – deprived of his soul by the sorcerer Kalen – had to languish in the dungeon and even turned into a lizard-like monster during this time. Despite his great muscular strength, Rizek can only evade opponents with courageous leaps. To regain his soul, he must find a total of 12 soul stones hidden in the treasures of his palace.
In that sense, Soulless, just like Impossible Mission, is a pacifistic game in which there is no shooting, but mainly searching and jumping. The player is faced with about 100 flip screens that contain an average of 10 of those treasures per screen. By standing in front of them and pressing the up button, Rizek starts searching. The duration is represented by a small bar that decreases according to the time elapsed. During this brief moment of standing still, Rizek is vulnerable to attack by the many moving enemies and good timing is required to avoid collisions.
Fortunately, the chests, vials, carpets, chests of drawers, trinkets and shields not only contain further gold supplies or rubies for the highscore, but also hidden spells that freeze, slow down or completely destroy the enemies on screen. These cavort in great numbers in the individual rooms and either have fixed, predictable paths like the goblins, the spiked cylinders, the bomb-throwing flying birds, ants and snakes or move directly towards the player, like the flying stones, souls or little white faces.
Deviations from the great godfather Impossible Mission are not only visually recognisable: in some rooms, touching the spiked floor actually spells immediate death. Other enemy contact is only punished with a deduction of one energy-point, which can be replenished at certain places with magical sources. In total, Rizek can withstand 6 enemy touches before one of the initial 3 lives is deducted. As well as exploring the labyrinthine palace, you also have to find 2 keys along the way, which require backtracking to previously blocked passages. There is also a simplified version of the well-known punch card password puzzle from Impossible Mission: The player only has to note the clues laid out in various rooms as background-“graffiti” so that he knows the correct order of the soul stones at the end.
The presentation is of high quality in every respect: an elaborate intro introduces the player to the story. The in-game soundtrack is absolutely worth listening to, the sound effects are fine and in the “Special Edition” tested here, the jumping mechanics have been reworked so that they are extremely precise as a result. Furthermore, the new version offers the advantage that the player returns to the same screen immediately after losing a life and does not have to start at any save points. In the nicely done credits, which spoil a second part, the playing time and the score are displayed. Retries and comparison with other players thus make sense. The soul stones and their order are also randomly generated, by the way, so that there is a certain amount of variety when playing.
Graphically, the all too often monotonous purple-brown colour spectrum of the C64 was so effectively staged that the rooms of the palace immediate spread their Aztec-Egyptian-inspired flair in a colourful way.
For me, Soulless is a far more accessible version of Impossible Mission, which presents the basic idea of its predecessor in a new, modern guise. The jumping manoeuvres are more oriented towards the classic jump'n'run genre, which makes the gameplay feel more fluid. Despite the simple flip screen, the rooms are varied and the palace is much more inviting to explore than the sterile and very samey rooms of Impossible Mission. The simplification in the use of the puzzle pieces found is also an advantage for the playability from my point of view.
The remarkable searching-process that makes up the games core is certainly unusual for Jump'n'Run fans at first and perhaps even seems somehow imposed. The individual rooms would be absolutely harmless without the constant searching and without any challenge for them. However, the player is forced to devote himself to the many valuables in each room. This turns bare-knuckle football players into rather prancing dribbling-artists. For me, the game in this form was quite entertaining and thrilling.
From a psychological point of view, I found it notable that King Rizek, after becoming human again, does not explicitly seek revenge on his tormentor Kalen. Instead, he would rather spend the next 1000 years at peace with his people. So it's a really pacifistic game!
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