Here's another Famicom Disk System game that never made to the NES, but this time it's a bit easier to see why. Meikyuu Jiin Dababa (Temple Labyrinth Dababa) wouldn't have changed anyone's lives on the NES, but it is still a great little action puzzler, and another lost gem of Nintendo's short-lived Famicom peripheral.
Story wise, a short but surprisingly high quality intro shows us yet another evil demon abducting a girl, this time the setting is some sort in Indian monastery. Given the main character is presumably a Hindu monk, you've got to assume it's his sister that is taken, or perhaps that's expecting too much authenticity for a game from 1987, and it's his girlfriend. Anyway, our hero must navigate the demon infested temple to be re-united with his female friend. There are a total of four areas, each with between six and ten substages.
Taking the "square tile" based progression of many classic NES puzzlers to its logical conclusion, in Meikyuu Jiin Dababa your character doesn't move freely, but hops between squares. You can also hop over a single empty square, like an ocean or lava pit. You can also jump in place, which lets you trigger the tiles more easily (they have to be hit three times), but you can't jump over enemies, as you remain on the same plane as them. This really changes the pace of the game, as you've got a sort of "stop and turn" mechanic going on, rather than the traditional twitch-based gameplay of your average overhead actioner.
Apart from that, it's very much a maze game, where you must find a trigger to open the door and then find a way to get to the exit. In the first stage of each area, this involve shooting all of the statues and/or trees, some of which will grant you power-ups, one of which will open the exit. In the other stages, you just need to reveal all of the "key" tiles, collect the glowing book, and then escape. Sometimes the game tricks you with fake exits, forcing you to restart the stage, or worse, sending you back to a previous level. Other times, the "real" exit is hidden, forcing you to experiment to find it.
Not to say there isn't action, you have to keep it moving, as enemies keep spawning and attacking constantly, and the environmental hazards force you forward. The limitations of movement come into play with many of the puzzles, as well the way you approach enemies. If there's an enemy shooting at you it's not as simple as other games where you could just get a bit out of the way and then return fire, in Dababa you have to move a whole square out of the way, then turn around, then go back. In many ways, the awkward movement and the tile-hopping is a prototype for Nintendo's Startropics, which, in a strange inversion, was never released in Japan.
Given that enemies constantly respawn, it's in your interests to get through as quickly as possible. In some levels you're forced to do this anyway as the floor starts disappearing. Sometimes it can feel like one big chase scene, where you must make decisions and then precise movements under constant pressure. At least there are plenty to upgrades to find. Additional weapons include arrows, fireballs, triple shots, and what appear to be similar to very large bowling balls. Your health can also be extended by several hearts, and a certain item will even halve any damage you take. Another item will kill everything on the screen, although that only yields a temporary breather.
As the game moves on, you'll have to use trial and error to understand a level, and piece together solutions to each obstacle, all to be implemented in a single run. In later levels there's no time for exploring while "performing" a correct solution to a level, you'll have to already know it and have practiced it to get through in time. It becomes one of those games where the best and sometimes only way to defeat is with a "perfect" solution, moving in exact pattern, modifying it only to avoid or take out spawning enemies. It also gets a bit unfair, as some enemies can move in quite annoying ways and given you have so few options to avoid them, and you can get that old-school "enemy spawns randomly in the worst possible spot", ruining your perfectly executed run through no fault of your own. Some enemies are also invincible and simply must be avoided, despite their erratic movement patterns. Luckily there is a save feature, as Dababa would be brutal without it.
Bosses fights break up the action, and are fought in side-view in slightly floaty traditional platformer form. It's pretty strange, seeing as your monk can jump up almost the entire height of the screen, but it's required to more easily move around the screen. It's also aggravating that you can't simply face left or right - you must hop in that direction, which is sure to cause yourself extra damage.
The graphics are quite pleasant while not spectacular, but like much of Konami's work on the Famicom visuals are pulled off confidently and with nice details that give the whole thing character. The mysterious temple feel has been nicely captured, and the mixture of Hindu and Buddhist imagery is appropriately exotic. The soundtrack, as with most of Konami's FDS work, is fantastic, with a series of great "Indian" sounding tunes that utilise the extra FM channel to great affect. There aren't too many tracks though, and with the large number of levels it can get repetitive.
In the end, Meikyuu Jiin Dababa is another high quality Konami effort on the FDS, and while not quite as much of a lost classic as Almana no Kiseki or Ai Senshi Nicol, it's still a shame it wasn't brought over the NES, considering how much dreck was, even by Konami (did we really need the 1990 release of Road Fighter in Europe instead of something like this?), and it's a great option if you want to create that retro feeling of playing a great NES game for the first time.