Published on June 12th, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell2
A Review of Belle’s Quest: Simon’s Quest for Girls???
Year: 1993 // System: Sega Genesis // Publisher: Sunsoft // Developer: Software Creations // Genre: Platformer/Adventure
>>> Yes, I’ve reviewed more Beauty and the Beast games than I have Sonic games. Okay, not that anyone is complaining, but what can I say? I have an affection for the movie. It played nonstop at my babysitter’s for two years straight when I was a tyke, and twelve years later I’d take on the role of the prince in the BatB play. Bad news? I only played the prince in the prologue, and didn’t get to be either the beast or the prince when he kisses the girl. Good news? I also got to play the town drunk. But enough about my theater years (year???). Let’s talk about one of Sunsoft’s two Beauty and the Beast video games, both of which were released simultaneously on the Sega Genesis in 1993. Roar of the Beast starred everyone’s favorite behemoth as he staved off an onslaught of villagers and forest creatures that dared to invade his castle. Belle’s Quest, on the other hand, gave players control of Belle, who had to solve a series of puzzles in four maze-like environments in order to find true love with the Beast and live happily ever after. Yeah…this was intended to be a girl’s game. They even said so in a televised advertisement which claimed boys would enjoy Roar of the Beast, and girls would get more into Belle’s Quest.
Still, games in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras that starred a female protagonist lagged way behind those male-centric titles. Not that this surprised anyone, since more boys picked up the controllers than girls. The games that did appeal to girls, like Belle’s Quest, often dumbed down the controls and tried to cater to girls’ puzzle solving capabilities. Playing this game was like dealing with a side-scrolling precursor to the hidden object genre, which is nowadays dominated by the Nancy Drew PC games. Anyway, fueled by both my nostalgia for the classic Disney film and curiosity about how a game would use Belle as the main character, I plugged in Belle’s Quest and hoped for another undiscovered gem.
But as a matter of fact I discovered, to my sheer horror, one of the worst play-throughs of my life.
Belle’s Quest struck me as the female counterpart to Simon’s Quest rather than Roar of the Beast. For those of you who don’t know (which is hopefully nobody), Simon’s Quest is the second game in the Castlevania series, and it deviates from the original’s platform-heavy formula by having Simon run around, collect items, and figure out where to go next. Belle’s Quest also has Belle wandering around, but in a much…worse…fashion. At least in Castlevania II, Simon could duck using down, slice through enemies with a chain whip, and clear a path with special alt weapons. It was a great idea for the time, but it didn’t follow through with the best execution. BQ, on the other hand, simplified the exploration concept by separating the game into levels, and then having you wander around extremely repetitive levels that show very little variety in design save for the introductory stage (or Belle’s poor provincial town).
The first level signals you to the mess you’re about to engulf yourself in almost right away. On your first trail, you encounter a bird that moves in a pattern similar to the Medusa Heads (NOOOOOOOO), and in order to avoid them you need to predict where they will move when they reach you…upwards or downwards…and then you’ll have to jump or duck accordingly. This brings up another major flaw in the game’s design. The default controls are something hideous. To duck, you don’t press down. Instead, you press A! Why?! Well, this is because later on in the game you will come across paths where you need to press either Up or Down to transition to another screen. Pressing A to duck still feels counter-intuitive, and will most likely throw the hardcore gamer who’s used to ducking in games like Mega Man and Contra. If that button decision wasn’t tough enough for you, how about using B as the jump?
I know that games have done that, but I always preferred the C button…probably because I played a lot of Streets of Rage and Golden Axe back in the day. I guess the developers thought the B button the best because it was the center-most button on the right had on side, and girl gamers, perhaps being new to the gamer world, might want to rely on the button in the middle a little more. And since jumping is a domineering feature in the game, why not place “jump” in the center. So there’s your logic for the B button. I still have no logic to offer for ducking.If anything, pressing down to have Belle transition to another screen prevents her from getting mauled anyway, so why not just alternate the programming between ducking and moving to another area with the down button? They had no trouble making C a utility button, so why not do the same for the D-pad? By the way, defining C as special on the menu screen threw me for a loop. How was I supposed to know that “Special” encompassed “Talk to People/Pick Up Items/Pick Up Keys?” When I think “Special” in a video game, I think of magic spells. So, I thought that Belle would pick up magical skills later on to give her attack power.
What really stinks is that, if you forget to speak to a certain villager in the first stage, you won’t know what to do in the forest. The forest turns into a maze where you need to stand EXACTLY in the middle of each tree to move forward. Wrong moves will warp you back to the starting panel. Following the villager’s dense advice will suddenly transform the level into a wasteful blip that sends you to the castle, where you need to run around, find keys in drawers and frescoes, and then open the door to the room hiding the Beast’s rose.
The castle epitomizes all of the game’s problems. For one, there’s no order in which to unlock doors. This can be troublesome if you really wanted to try another locked door, but you can’t because you wasted your key on another door that only took you so far. The second major problem is that stage variety hardly exists. You have corridors, large rooms, the balcony, and the Beast’s room. You can become lost very easily because the hallways look the same. The third major problem that crops up in this level concerns the pests that want you dead. What did Belle ever do to nature? Did she kill Bambi’s mother and blame it on Ray Lewis?! I don’t know, but bats and birds come after her like Medusa Heads, with Belle mainly ducking underneath their virulent patterns. Rats and wolves also scurry across the floor/ground, forcing Belle up into the air. Belle’s reaction time is horrible, leading her to fall off of edges before she can even jump. One particular crevice on the Balcony specifically drove me mad because it was so spaced apart that you needed to jump from the very edge in order to make it. Needless to say, the creators added in an overused but effective AI against an atrociously underpowered heroine. Even Jerry the mouse could defend himself at will!
Needless to say, Belle’s Quest fell far away from the standard and I doubt that even a handful of people will argue in favor of its quality. Even so, it definitely needs to be played given its terrible moments that serve as a friendly reminder of the times when games liked to drive players up the wall with their ridiculously insane difficulty or mind-boggling progression patterns. Belle’s Quest turns the latter into a fine but frightening science.
Challenge: 3/Wow…just, wow…: This game’s knack for confusing you senseless made you wish there was a Sega Power that dealt purely in previews, reviews, and strategy guides.
Handling: 2/Barely a Game: Default control settings felt unnatural, Belle was unarmed against a serious threat, and jumping felt weak and flimsy in its mechanics. Oh, hey, did I mention that Belle cannot run?
Innovation: 3/Wow…just, wow…: Belle’s Quest took the exploration/puzzle-solving/mindless wandering formula of Simon’s Quest and made it too simple while still keeping players oblivious as to where to go next (unless you talk to that one villager…).
Core Experience: 2/Barely a Game: Forget the wonderful graphics! Talking to people wasted your time (for the most part), hiding from Gaston seemed like a silly gag, and the bonus levels felt horribly contrived. Good luck “categorizing” all of the falling books in the library. Some fall so far apart from each other that not even amazing luck can help you. Also, the music in this game feels butchered.
OVERALL: 2.5/Barely a Game: Belle’s Quest made me mad for how it returned to the style of confusing players senseless. I don’t know if the creators thought every girl gamer out there to be a Nancy Drew, but they certainly didn’t try very hard to bring in the female demographic if they were using this game as primary advertisement. Let’s hope they weren’t…