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European NES box art
Little Samson, known in Japan as Seirei Densetsu Rikkuru (聖鈴伝説リックル?, Lickle: Legend of the Holy Bell), is a 1992 action platformer video game developed by Takeru and published by Taito Corporation for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Taito released the game at the height of the platformer genre's success, hoping to finally achieve a solid hit on the system with a proven formula, the same way Hudson Soft had done with their Adventure Island series and Capcom with their Mega Man titles. It was notable for having highly detailed graphics for an 8-bit game, seen in the game's menacing boss characters (which contrasted heavily with the more childlike sprites of the protagonists).
The game's setup is highly reminiscent of the Mega Man series. The player jumps with the A button and attacks, usually in the form of a projectile, with the B button. The characters health is shown by a series of bars, stacked vertically, to the left side of the screen. Throughout the stages the characters must defeat enemies and avoid pits, all the while collecting standard powerups including one ups, energy replenishing hearts, and spheres which increase the capacity of the character's health meter.
The two choices of game play the player may choose (easy, normal) dictates the level of difficulty. If the player chooses normal mode, several changes will occur in comparison to if the player chooses easy. Characters will have a limit to how much their health meter may extend (about half of their maximum in easy mode). Levels will also sport more enemies in normal mode, and should the player die playing with either the dragon, golem, or mouse, that character will no longer be selectable until the player either uses a potion on them or beats the level. Little Samson on the other hand will always be playable, and because of which, he alone can complete almost all the levels alone (exceptions being the introductory levels and the very last level).
A unique feature of the game is that the player may switch characters at any point during the level. Each character has their own health gauge, but they all share the same “lives” (if the character which the player is using dies, then they lost a life and all heroes' health gauges are restored). This unique setup makes the game's stages much easier to complete than many other similar games and allows for unique strategies when facing the game's boss characters, which the player must face at the end of many stages. When confronted the boss' health is displayed in a similar fashion to the player's but on the right side of the screen. There are two kinds of boss battles; regular bosses, and the dark prince's 4 henchmen. Normal boss battles consist of one fight against a creature Samson and co. encounter along the way. A henchman boss battle, however, consists of two phases; their cloaked form, and the boss' true form (typically a large monster). After defeating the boss the player is shown their password.
The game begins simply enough — a dark prince is freed from his seal by a thunderstorm, and begins to try to take over the world. The kingdom is in peril, and the King orders that the four heroes receive a summon. Four pigeons fly off to meet these heroes, and each reads the summon. From here, the player must navigate all four of these players through an introductory course (all fairly simple).
From here, the strengths of individual characters must be utilized to get through a variety of courses. Several bosses await the heroes, and it Is up to the player's strategy to choose which hero(es) will fight the boss. A few levels have branching exits, taking the player to different levels, although each one ends up taking the player to stages marked by skulls on the map. Here, the player fights one of the four wizards that serve as the dark prince's right-hand men, each of which becomes a larger boss when defeated (green becomes a Cyclops, blue becomes a magic-wielding knight, red becomes a giant dragon, and the yellow becomes what appears to be the Grim Reaper).
Eventually, the player reaches what appears to be the dark prince's castle, and faces a golden wizard-knight at the end (which transforms into a demonic skull). If the game is played on Easy, this is the final level. If played on Normal, the dark prince's true stronghold — a castle resting on a giant, green skull — arises, and the game continues for a few more levels, ending with a confrontation with the dark prince himself. In the end, through the utilization of all four characters, the kingdom is saved.
Although Little Samson establishes a storyline, there is not a single line of dialogue (spoken or written) in the entire game. All story development is shown through pantomimed animated cutscenes. This approach was also used in the Mega Drive Sonic the Hedgehog series, generally in the final stages of the game but more frequently in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 which was released after Little Samson.
Throughout the game the player operates one of four characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The first four stages are each dedicated to a specific character, but upon their completion the player can swap characters at any time for the remainder of the game, and often must do so in order to complete the level. The four characters are as follows:
- Little Samson (リックル Rikkuru)
- Samson, for whom the game is named, is the young human protagonist. He is a small, quick character who attacks enemies by throwing bells. He is able to jump higher and further than most characters and has the ability to climb on the walls and ceiling.
- Kikira the Dragon (キキラ Kikira)
- Kikira is the second hero. As a dragon, she has the ability to fly for brief periods of time, making her a valuable character in many jumping oriented stages. She attacks by spitting fire, which travels in a J-shaped arc. The player can increase the strength of her flame by holding down the B button for longer periods of time (if Kikira is green, then the fireball will be small; if purple it will be medium-sized; if pink, it will be large). She is initially hostile to the idea of Samson being the leader and fights him for dominance, but upon her defeat she relinquishes.
- Gamm the Golem (ガンム Ganmu)
- Gamm is the third hero. Big and bulky, he is the slowest of all the characters but his punch is stronger than any of the other characters' attacks. His size is both a benefit (he takes the least damage from enemy attacks, no damage from spikes, and starts with more health than the other characters) and a hindrance (his jumping ability is severely stunted). He is also the only character who can attack in all four cardinal directions.
- K.O. the Mouse (コウ Kō)
- K.O. is the fourth hero. He has the least health of any character, but is very quick and a great jumper, and is small enough to traverse some narrow passages that are otherwise inaccessible. Just like Samson he has the ability to climb on the walls and ceiling. He is unique in that he attacks by placing bombs.
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Allgame editor Skyler Miller described Little Samson as one of the best platformers on the NES, touting it as a "tour de force of excellent game design, attractive graphics, and pure entertainment value". He also described the game's stages as "challenging and creatively designed".