Long study sessions in public libraries seem to entail equally-long tedium after suffering the effects of cerebral overload. Hours of hunching over the old computers of the place soon gained me an acquaintance: a cheerful girl who shyly admitted her inexperience in all things gaming. She told me this with the eyes of a puppy, as if she expected a scolding. In her mind, I was the guy who owned 200 cartridges and spent his time playing evening-long board games of Roman politics and railroad operations, and wrote about them for a foreign website. She thought we had no common ground, that she would disappoint me were we to play together.
Nothing could be further from the truth! You just have to pick the right title.
Cooperative, easy to play and with a pleasant difficulty curve, Rod Land is a single-screen action game, reminiscent of Taito’s Bubble Bobble, in which two cute faeries named Tam and Rit try to save their kidnapped mother by smashing enemies and collecting magical flowers. It’s simple, and it doesn’t have any unique mechanics that challenge our concept of gaming. Rather, it’s just a joyful game, and there’s a certain whimsy in moving your character around and beating the levels without point pressing or taking every single power-up.
Each level presents the faeries with a dozen or so enemies who move along different platforms, which can be reached either by stairs already placed in the level or by summoning one by pressing up and the attack button at the same time. This can require the cooperation of both characters to reach the tallest parts of a level. Defeating enemies is a matter of getting close and hitting them with a mallet from the side to side, an act that stuns them and allows the player to chain several enemies at once, gaining a higher score and providing crowd control.
The outright killing of enemies makes for a poor strategy, though, as collecting all the flowers in a level transforms the enemies in slower monsters that drop letters after you defeat them, netting you an extra life if you can take five of them.
That’s practically all there is to it. Sure, there are some quirky bosses that require a small shift in strategy, but the game is all there in the level design. You just kill enemies, collect flowers and run towards your companion when you need him around. It’s adorable, it’s fun and, every time I played it, I end up having a great time. You can play it with hardcore gamers, newcomers, kids, the elderly, girls and guys, and they will all have fun with it. It’s really a game that lets you share the hobby.
The game is short but worth running a couple of times, and the extra world featured in the arcade and some of the other versions add just enough replay value so as to justify several evenings of it, coming back to raise your score after getting the gist of the levels.
While the NES port is infamously hard to find (given its limited release in Spain, Italy and Japan in 1993, a year after the Super Nintendo was already in the shelves), Rod Land was ported to practically all other platforms of its era, and it’s easy to find the PC and Amiga ports of the title without any issues or significant expense, leaving the cartridges for the expert collector.