Litil Divil: Surfaced

After the trampoline room, I decided to keep moving forward rather than make the long trek back to the save room. There was a substantial chunk of maze on the other side, but also a great many healing items to make continued exploration feasible.

The sole challenge remaining turned out to not be the usual end-of-level bridge fight, but one last arena fight, and I found it to be the most satisfying combat scene in the whole game. It pits Mutt with a halberd against a tall fire-breathing demon with a flaming sword, and beating him is all about figuring out a combo: a thrust to the gut makes him bend double, at which point his head is low enough for you to smack it, and then follow up with a jump to evade his fire breath just before he straightens up. I suppose it’s a fairly pedestrian boss fight puzzle, really, but in this game, where the combat is generally just monotonous thrust-and-dodge stuff, it stands out.

It’s worth noting that the final maze doesn’t have a toll-taker. The final passages have loads of gold, but there’s no in-game reason to take the time to collect it, not even a high score list. Not knowing this, I of course collected it all.

The whole thing ends not with a credits roll, but with an outro animation that simply loops until you press a button. It’s an unusual choice, even for that brief period when games had cinematic endings but showing credits wasn’t yet normal, which it surely was by 1993 anyway. Recall that Mutt’s ostensible goal through this whole thing has been a pizza. The ending includes some pizza imagery, but Mutt isn’t shown actually obtaining the pizza, probably to help enable a sequel about Mutt’s adventures on the surface world. I think by now we all understand that hooks of this sort aren’t really necessary. You can provide a satisfying conclusion where the protagonist achieves all their goals, and then trivially make up new ones later without being beholden to what you left unresolved.

At any rate, now that I’ve been through this game with fresh eyes, I can definitely say that I wouldn’t recommend it to new players. For me personally, the experience was enhanced by the fact that I was coming back to something I gave up on nearly thirty years ago, with the intent of seeing it through to completion this time. That is a powerful experience, mixing triumph, relief, and nostalgia, but it’s an experience that is mine alone. Litil Divil is, however, a game that’s interesting just because of its unusual structure, sundry minigames embedded in a maze. It occupies an otherwise-unpopulated point on a continuum that I hadn’t thought about as a continuum before, with puzzles-in-a-context games like Professor Layton and Puzzle Agent at one extreme and real-time dungeon crawls at the other. Could a game like that work today? I’m not sure. You’d have to make the maze more interesting, I think, but then you’re moving it around on the continuum and might lose what makes it different.

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