The Fair Shake

Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos

Greetings readers! Carl has once again donned a wizard cap and robe. He’s gone isometric on us! Judging by the box art of this game, he’s pretty jacked too. Join him and me, in Solstice: The Quest for the Staff of Demnos, on the NES.

Women love a vascular man.

Solstice was released in 1990 for the NES. It’s a puzzle-adventure game. The box art is epic, similar in vein to Ultima IV, and also similar in that the scene depicted never happens in game. Shadax, the wizard you play as, looks less like Thor, and more like say, Orko.


Just a kidnapping… nothing to see here.

Winter solstice is soon upon us. Some jackalope named Morbius the Malevolent kidnaps Eleanor, the Princess of Arcadia, to sacrifice her to some nameless bad gods. Her death will give Morbius world domination, which is bad, since he’s malevolent. If his brother Gary the Generous won, we’d let her die, right? Only one thing can stop him, the aforementioned Staff of Demnos. Broken into six pieces long ago to stop Morbius from wielding it, the peices were hidden in Morbius’ castle and made invisible. This staff can also destroy Morbius. Enter Shadax, the wizard (you). You know of the staff, and its power. You also know that once a century the pieces become visible. So, tut-tut, off you go, breaking into Kastlerock, looking for the staff, hoping to reassemble it and stop Morbius.

Shrek’s cousins?

Shadax has a few things going for him such as a magic map, similar to maps in such FPS games as Doom or Goldeneye, and some potions scattered about the fortress. Potions can either freeze time, make invisible items visible, destroy all objects and creatures in a room, or make you invulnerable to said creatures. All this, by drinking a potion. What’s in those things anyway? He can’t however, punch, kick, hadoken or lightning bolt anything. He’s just a guy with four flasks of gin juice, saving the world.

Maps and Potions! Oh my!

Being an isometric puzzle game, Solstice is difficult. For example,  Touching a monster will kill you. However, it takes some creative thinking to realize you can use the invulnerability potion to allow you to walk on a monster’s head… which will give you some added height in order to step on a tall ledge. Luckily, there’s no time limit, and no particular order in which you need to obtain the six staff pieces. However, some things in one room may affect things in another, like obtaining a key will permit you to open a door in a far part of the castle.

Who put those blocks up there anyway?

The music in this game is amazing. Seriously. Check out the intro song, which is over two minutes long. It almost sounds like something off a Jethro Tull album. The in game music is also about two minutes long and loops as well. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the song is also incredible. It also won’t completely annoy you like so many other in-game music. The sound effects are minimal. A ‘magically power-uppy’ sound (Here at The Fair Shake, I prefer highly technical terms..) when you drink a potion, there’s a beep/boop when you pick up or drop an item, and lastly a siren-like scream when you die that will haunt you. That’s it.

Moving platforms and spikes… typical of every dungeon.

The play control in Solstice is interesting and may be difficult at first. It’s isometric, that is, pressing up on the controller actually moves you up and to the right on screen while pressing left moves you up and left on screen. Similar to Q-Bert, Marble Madness, and other isometric games. After a short time, it becomes second nature, or you toss the controller at the tv screen in disgust. Your in game controls are limiting to walking around, jumping, a status screen which pauses the game (allowing you to choose a potion), and picking things up/putting them down. Shadax’s control is very precise, and it’s possible (and necessary) to sometimes do a double jump by dropping something, jumping, and quickly picking it up again. Dodging enemies becomes a necessity, and this precision control helps.

Boots allow you to jump higher.

Solstice has a nice dark palette that sets the mood of the game, You’re either in a dungeon or an outdoor garden, late at night. Each room is lit, while the rest of the screen is black (night time remember?) There is no on screen health bar or potion level indicator, only the play-field. It’s a nice minimalist view. Your character sprite looks a little like the guy that would expose himself to people late at night as they leave a club. There’s a foot creeping around… a human foot, with a pair of glasses. WTF?! I’ll let you find him.

Man…. the rainy Saturdays I spent during my middle school years with this game. A shame I never beat it. Even today, with the tools available, I haven’t. Maybe I’ll do so this weekend. Although this game features a ‘magic map’ it’s kind of ‘crappy’. It’s really necessary to draw a map on paper, or if you suck at drawing maps, use one of the nicely drawn pieces available online. Otherwise, you’ll spend an hour or three wandering around. There are no continues, just a few lives, and a few more scattered about the castle to pick up. If you find yourself looking for a game to capture your interest for a few hours, and you’re in the mood to think as opposed to blindly blasting enemies, go ahead and give Solstice the Fair Shake.