Review written by Stephen Deck; originally posted 06/23/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Little Samson is one of the holy grails of NES collecting with an average loose market value of around $2000. Naturally, I’ve been curious what a game this rare and valuable plays like. I will naturally never own a copy of this – it costs as much as a whole month’s salary for me – but through the wonders of the Everdrive, I’m still able to experience this game, and I’ve got to admit, it’s definitely an excellent game. Maybe not worth two grand but fantastic nonetheless.
The game’s story is told through a series of short cutscenes with no text. I take this to mean that the game wants me to craft my own story. Either way, that’s what I’m doing. In the year 3XXX, the world had been devastated centuries past by nuclear war plunging humanity into another dark age. The residual radiation caused dramatic mutations in much of the wildlife leading to lizards that sprouted wings and the ability to breathe fire, apes that grew skin as thick and tough as rock, and mice that could defecate bombs. In this post-apocalyptic world, medieval kingdoms rose up amid the power vacuum. Samson is a knight in the kingdom of Corndogstan, and the king has ordered him along with his dragon, Slobadon; his golem, Muammar; and his mouse, Turkmenbashy; to defeat the evil wizard, Elon, who threatens the peace of the realm. The four intrepid heroes must work together to clear obstacles, defeat Elon’s minions, and restore peace to the kingdom.
At its core, Little Samson is an action platformer somewhat reminiscent of Mega Man. Those games are a dime a dozen on NES, but what makes this one stand out is how tight and smooth the control is. Each of the four characters controls differently, but they all control well. Samson is your well-rounded character who has a sick-looking spin jump and can shoot projectiles. He can also grab onto walls mid-jump and jump off from there. The dragon can fly short distances after a jump and shoot fire projectiles. The golem has a mid-range punch and is slow and has a super short jump that honestly feels pretty worthless most of the time, but his advantage is that he’s immune to damage from spikes, so he’s critical to traversing some of the spiked areas later in the game. The mouse is super weak with a fairly unhelpful attack (only pooping out bombs), but he can run up walls and along ceilings. Be careful, though, as that mouse will die if an enemy so much as sneezes in his general direction.
The levels are extremely well designed with a nice diversity and a pretty reasonable difficulty curve. The game never spikes in difficulty, but it definitely increases steadily. Fortunately, the game utilizes a password system, so when you get game over, you can pick up roughly where you left off as long as you were writing down passwords as you go. Or, since we’re in the 21st Century, have a password list from Google pulled up on your phone. I encountered very little slow down during my playthrough, and aside from some occasional sprite flicker, there really weren’t any performance issues that stood out to me.
Little Samson’s price on the second-hand market may be due to its extremely limited print run late in the NES’s lifespan more than anything else, but this isn’t like Battletoads in Battlemaniacs on Master System where it’s a super rare and expensive but super crappy game; Little Samson is legitimately one of the best non-Mario platforms in the library. The sprite work is beautiful and colorful, the controls are tight and precise, and the level design is clever and doesn’t get stale. The game definitely gets tough, especially at the bosses, but it rarely feels unfair, and I never found myself getting tired of it. You definitely won’t be picking up a copy of this legitimately unless you’re a hedge fund manager or something, but if you’ve got an Everdrive or an emulator (or a reproduction cartridge), absolutely give this one a try.