Solomon's Key


Source // Wikipedia

The first time came across Solomon's Key was reading its entry in the 1001 Video Games book. The author of that entry makes it clear that Solomon's Key will kick your arse from the start, and won't stop kicking it at any point.

Games were harder back in the day, that is fact, don't try to argue with it. Solomon's Key takes the piss.


I'm playing the NES port and this is the first screen of the game, an introductory puzzle to give you an idea of the mechanics that you'll need to get to grips with to make any progress.

You play as a sorcerer named Dana, and have the ability to create and destroy blocks. You can create blocks to reach other places or trap enemies, and destroy blocks to drop them to their deaths, or else out of your way. That's a simple idea to get behind, isn't it?

Also at your disposal are spell-like items that allow you to cast fireballs around the level, for example, which is handy for dispatching enemies. I guess. Never got that far.

Each level requires you to collect a key to unlock a door, and then get to that door to reach the next level. Along the way, dispatched enemies and collectables add to your score. It all sounds so delightfully simple, doesn't it? It looks it. It sounds it. In fact it looks and sounds like a great game both on paper and on screen.

So why couldn't I get out of the first level?

This will be my one and only memory of Solomon's Key. Not being able to destroy this goddamn block, for whatever ridiculous reason (I'm going with my own stupidity, as always).

I went to YouTube to get some kind of idea as to what I'm doing. Bad idea. Not because it didn't help, but because expert players make me look like I've been dragged out of the stone age and are controlling this game with my mouth.

"Oh, you just do all that hopping about, yeah, you switch what the power up is before collecting it? Sure, yeah, didn't know you could do that. Jump up and collect the bell. That's a collectable? Ok. And then just destroy that block and fall down like it's any other hole in a platform game. Great."

I immediately turned the game off.

Fun Times

Didn't stop watching though. Watching in awe. Watching dumbfounded. Just... there's no words to describe it. To complete Solomon's Key it appears like you just have to know what to do - exactly. Put a single foot wrong by creating or destroying the wrong block and you could find yourself in a level that is impossible to finish.

Mess up your timing and end up losing a cheap life to an insta-kill enemy? Well I hope you've got no plans on reaching the later levels (there are 49 main levels and 15 secret ones), because if you run out of all three lives then it's game over, no restarting half way through, no saving your progress. One run or nothing.

Oh, and just to make it more of a challenge, the time limit constantly ticks down and is called your Life. Thaaaaaanks.

All of this and it still looks fun. It isn't. By God it isn't. I don't want to play it ever again, and I never got out of the first room, but it is fun.

Final Word

How can that be? How is Solomon's Key as impossible to make a decision on whether it is fun or not as it is to complete in the first place? I can clearly see why it has made it to the list, but I'm still annoyed that it is so ridiculously difficult.

If you want to find out for yourself, please do. You can do so online if you want, and I recommend that you try it. I really hope you get further than I did, because I am utterly incompetent, and you don't want to be worse than that.

Just know what you're getting into, that's all I'm saying.

Fun Facts

At a Game Over on the NES, a Game Deviation Value is displayed, which is a means to show you how well or poorly you performed on your run. Or you could just look at how painfully low your score was in comparison to anybody else.

Solomon's Key, developed by Tecmo, first released in 1986.
Version played: NES, 1987, via emulation.
Version watched: NES, 1987 (AtheneEM)
Arcade, 1986 (ben shinobi)