Platform: Nintendo Famicom
Completed: August 7, 2015
Arsene Lupin is a book series created by Maurice LeBlanc in around the late 1800s. The series chronicles his exploits as a gentleman thief, always tipping off the police of his caper in advance to increase the challenge. I have read several books, now available in the public domain and translated from its native French language, and thoroughly enjoyed each one!
The reason I got into the books were because of the anime Lupin the 3rd, an unauthorized continuation of Arsene’s adventures starring his grandson with a new gang. The new Lupin was a little more… doofus-y. The stories were not as exciting or deep as the books, but it was still entertaining. Lupin the 3rd takes on a more comedic tone (at least in the second series; I did watch the first series subbed in English and liked it much better) with slapstick, outlandish plots, and quirky characters. Lupin himself pales in comparison to his grandfather, but like I said, it was still okay.
Then I watched the movie Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro. The directing debut of the now legendary Hayao Miyazaki, this has become my absolute favorite anime movie (which, admittedly, is a shallow list). For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into the entire plot of the film, though the important part is Lupin saves a girl name Clarisse and… yeah.
The game Lupin the 3rd: Pandora no Isan supposedly picks up right at the film’s end. Clarisse is kidnapped, and it’s up to Lupin and his gang to save the day! Granted, the plot is a little lacking, it does make up for it in its gameplay. Each of the characters has unique traits:
Lupin, the leader, carries with him a pathetic gun that shoots a very limited distance in front of him. He makes up for this with his assortment of gadgets. The balloon saves him from drops, the rocket lets him reach higher platforms (which is necessary in later levels), the scuba tank allows him to swim, and (most importantly) the bulletproof vest lets him take more than one hit.
Jigen, the sharpshooter, has a lot more expertise than Lupin with a gun. This being the case, his shots will travel the length of the screen and he has the ability to fire while in the air. I played as Jigen a lot.
Goemon, the samurai, uses a sword rather than a handgun. This specially tempered sword can stop most projectiles and mow down a lot of the tougher enemies. I refer to him as “expendable.”
At the start of each stage, the player is able to pick the member of their choosing. If you aren’t happy with your choice, there is a radio item that will allow you to phone in another person to take their place. This has limited uses, so be careful! When (this is not an “if” statement) someone gets injured, they are captured and can be saved by going through the numerous random doors throughout the stage. Once all three are captured, the game is over. There are infinite continues, but you lose all of the gadgets accrued prior to your demise, and considering the final level, you might as well reset.
The initial stage finds the thief running across rooftops, avoiding enemies in jetpacks. This is one of the only scenes taken from the film; Lupin ends up using the momentum of running down the roofs to reach Clarisse’s cell. The first part of the stage is probably also the most fun due to the interesting mechanic. Once Lupin finds the door (and you do want to use Lupin for the balloon gadget the first time around), it’s a straight run through a few staircases to reach the boss. The doors throughout the stage may lead to a captured ally, items, hints (in Japanese), or nothing. As long as you hold the UP button while in a dead-end door, Lupin will hide, helping in avoiding enemies. The boss’ weakness is bullets.
The second stage is more of a maze than the first one. You need to explore each of the entrances to find individuals hanging around the castle (I’ll assume they are royalty of some sort). This is one of those times that knowing the language helps since I ran around for over a half hour trying to find the boss! Not only was it confusing to navigate, I would trigger falling debris that was all but impossible to dodge… Apparently, the Scott Summers glasses allow Lupin to see otherwise invisible traps. Sneaky, sneaky. Once I read a guide, it was much easier to figure out what to do (that’s kind of the point of them, right?). I found the boss, who throws out butterflies. Bullets didn’t work, so Goemon stabbed him a few times.
Third stage is more straightforward, navigating a shipyard. I let Jigen go on some sort of spree. Some enemies like to jump out of the water, but they are quickly disposed. This is the first time I ran into Inspector Zenigata. Zenigata appears what seems to be randomly when entering an area that normally has enemies. He throws handcuffs at you in an attempt to capture the player, though going back into the door and out again will make him give up and go away. The boss is a robot. Jigen shot him until he cried robot tears. A guy also plopped out of his backside. Gross.
Bonus stage! Ride a car! Avoid boulders! Choose Goemon since he can slice through said boulders! Man, those jumps are annoying!!
I’m going to talk about the final stage right now. I’ll throw up the Spoiler button in a little bit, but this is a huge part of my experience with the game that I felt the need to keep this in the open.
After the bonus stage, Lupin and company enter a pyramid. This is like one of those three dimensional maze areas with enemies that can block and attack from a distance (STINKIN’ BOOMERANGS!!). Skeletons spray out bones when they are struck, hitting you if you are remotely close to them. Goemon will not last long fighting them unless you QUICKLY retreat. There are also small ponds that are possible to jump over, but you have to be pixel-perfect. Forget Jigen, you need Lupin! If Lupin gets captured, you can forget about getting through this stage. Quite a few parts require one of Lupin’s gadgets like the bomb or the rocket pack, and reuniting with a captured teammate is rare in the pyramid. Hopefully, you have a lot of bulletproof vests at this point. I didn’t have enough, apparently, mostly because of the next point.
If you are defeated at the pyramid, you must go back to the car ride. You also lose all of your gadgets, but that happens at any level. The trouble is finding the bombs, scuba gear, and rockets necessary to traverse the tomb. The maze, finding the items, and the general bullcrappery are what caused me to get stuck on this game for months! To give you an idea, I first attempted this in June and retried almost once a week until I beat it in August. But I did beat it!!
The way I beat it was less than heroic. If a character gets captured, the new character respawns on the far left of the section. Normally, this means the beginning of the section, but with the pyramid, sometimes you need to go left! There was one section that required two rockets and a few bombs, though Lupin was struck by an enemy in that same passage. Restarting as Goemon, I was at my target door! Now I didn’t need to gather supplies; the name of the game was changed to kamikaze!
After passing through the gold corridors, I happened across the final boss with only Jigen left. Two stone guardians come to life to fight, though if you are careful enough, you can activate one at a time. After a lot of meticulous maneuvering, it is possible to bring the beasts down! As it turns out, Clarisse was with Fujiko for reasons, and a glowing bird pops out of the coffin. Video games!! Strangely, it reminds me of the episode from A Woman Named Fujiko Mine where Fujiko, Jigen, and Lupin are attempting to find a glowing peacock from a pyramid. Over twenty years foreshadowing…
The game was fun, though definitely more challenging than it had to be. I can tell they were really trying to capture the spirit of Lupin the 3rd, but ‘frustration’ may have been the wrong emotion to go with. It’s hard to recommend to anyone, since I might only go back to it to play the first level; after that, it doesn’t feel rewarding. Nothing else quite matches riding the roofs and that catchy music!
The first level certainly does its job of drawing you in. The rest of the game, especially the final level, is too punishing for my tastes. Lupin should be the character of choice with the gadgets, though the limitation to his attack capabilities and necessity in the final level makes him more of a last resort (the Raphael of the first TMNT games, which is something I never thought I would write). There are better games out there.
My arbitrary score based on nothing is 6 out of 12.