During the summer of 1990, Software Creations released a NES title by the name of Solstice. Based off 1984’s Knight Lore, players use a wizard named Shadax who goes from one isometric room to another. It was a long challenging action puzzle quest, with one crushing flaw — there was no password or save feature. Three years later the same firm cranked out a sequel for the SNES with a proper save system. Glendaal, son of Shadax, finds himself in a mad rush to save his imprisoned father from the vile clutches of Sonia the witch. It’s hard and a bit tricky but it can be fairly addicting and rewards those who persevere.
QUELLING A CHILDHOOD CURIOSITY
I vividly remember seeing Equinox previewed in EGM and GameFan back in 1994. The screenshots had me intrigued. There just weren’t very many isometric games on the SNES at the time. It looked like an enticing mix of adventure and action puzzle. It captivated my imagination. But as it often was back in the day, my brother had the final say in the games we rented. And unfortunately for me, Equinox never tickled his fancy enough to make him want to rent it. Thus, Equinox became one of over 100 Super Nintendo games I always wanted to play but never did. In December of 2014, after over 20 years, I finally righted a childhood wrong. 24 hours of total play time and a thousand deaths later, I was able to reunite Glendaal with his dad, Shadax. Back in ’94 I always had this gut feeling that this was an awesome game. And I’m proud to say it comes awfully close to being just that. As I sat back to watch the father and son duo reconvene in a bout of redemption, a feeling of pride swelled deep from within. Few things are as satisfying in this great hobby of ours than finally quelling a longstanding childhood curiosity. Not only that but conquering and loving every second of it. Good times.
Yes indeed, as I write this it’s Monday, January 30, 2017. Exactly 11 years ago, on Monday, January 30, 2006, I bought a copy of Equinox at my childhood Hollywood Video store. 11 years. Where does the time go?
Back in the day (mid 2000s) Hollywood Video used to house a Game Crazy within its store. They sold modern and retro games. They had a buy two retro games, get one free deal that I took advantage of multiple times. Game Crazy was low key awesome back in 2006.
Childhood curiosity purchased from my childhood store? Perfect! Man, I used to go to this Hollywood Video back in the ’90s all the time. It opened in early 1994 and lasted all the way to 2010. This shot was taken on a cold rainy Monday night in January 2006. It just captures those innocent early SNES resurrection days of mine to a tee. Driving all over town, including my old stomping grounds, to hit up all the local Game Crazy stores within a 100 mile radius, all in the good name of reclaiming bits and pieces from my childhood. This picture just epitomizes the splendor and rush of those early days. 11 years… 11 freaking years. Wow.
THE STORY GOES…
Better late than never… it was arguably worth the wait.
THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, ER, EQUINOX
7. Ghost Ship
8. Death Island
THE BIG BAD BOSSES
Don’t let the ‘LIFE’ meter fool you. One hit and you’re dead. LIFE merely symbolizes how many lives you have left. So you can imagine how intense the boss battles must be. They take a good amount of damage before biting the dust. As they turn red and face the brink of extermination, the tension mounts to a fever pitch. The first boss is Bonehead. I found him to be far tougher than almost all the other bosses due to his seemingly unpredictable and erratic pattern. It took me several tries and it may take you just as many, too.
Sung Sung is the mammoth guardian of the second world (Tori). He’s an impressive sight. Towering over our hero, I remember seeing him in screenshots back in ’94 and being secretly afraid of him. I love his design. It’s so badass. Sung Sung likes to burrow deep below the earth before popping back up to toss giant boulders your way. He’s more bark than bite, however. His pattern is easy to figure out and it becomes a matter of standing in the right spots only to move when necessary. This pattern becomes the majority of the boss battles in Equinox.
Quetzalcoatl is the end level guardian of Deeso. Deeso is a barren desert kingdom whose eerie dungeons are littered (and maybe haunted) with the remains of an ancient civilization. Quetzalcoatl, which means “feathered serpent,” is a Mesoamerican deity whose name comes from the Nahuatl language. It fits the whole ancient civilization feel of the stage. As you pelt away at the giant living statue, it breaks down one block at a time. At the very end there’s a nasty little surprise in store for you. I won’t spoil it but let’s just say you might need a fresh pair of underpants ready…
Pincha uses his claws to guard his vulnerable eyes. Shoot him when he swipes his claws and you just might nail him. Once you figure out where to stand, Pincha becomes a bit of a cakewalk. But be careful — as he weakens he can spaz out which makes his sudden movements rather unpredictable and dangerous.
Despite being the most generic enemy in the world of RPGs, Equinox‘s graphics are so impressive that even a simple looking giant blob creature still looks pretty damn cool. Especially when he turns red right before his imminent demise. Dollop is the final obstacle in your journey to collect all five strings. Once you have all five strings you can play the harp which sends you to the kingdom of Afralona. Dollop bounces around the screen, sending out smaller versions of himself. You may never look at grape Jell-O the same ever again… [Oh, Bill Cosby already took care of that -Ed.]
Eyesis [ISIS?! -Ed.] is a gigantic spinning pyramid with excellent defense. Its only weak spot being its eye up top. Your dexterity game needs to be on point as Eyesis spins around like a rampaging tornado. Once again this is another boss fight that isn’t so bad once you suss out the pattern. So far I find Bonehead to be the most effective and challenging boss. So if you can thwart Bonehead, then these next handful of bosses shouldn’t be too hard. Their bark is far tougher than their bite. Still, they all look badass and feel awesome to take down.
The troll isn’t a boss [you straight trollin’ now -Ed.] but he’s such a cool design I had to show him off. Trolls litter the overworld map. If one touches you on the map, you’re taken to a separate screen where it’s a fight to the finish. You can beat the game without fighting a single troll but it’s ill-advised. Beating them has benefits such as gaining an extra life meter whenever you’ve conquered a world. Trolls come in various colors just like in real life. Their only form of offense is hopping around. Trolls can be tricky due to their size and the small single screen so don’t take them lightly.
Billy Bones, the maniacal captain of the ghostly galleon, fires off cannonballs relentlessly until he’s dead. He doesn’t think. He doesn’t feel. He doesn’t stop. Pumping out cannonballs like no one’s business, Billy is straight up savage. He is all that stands between you and Death Island. Beat Mr. Bones and advance to Ice Palace — Sonia’s last stand.
Are you ready for the final showdown? Tough as nails, Sonia is only vulnerable in the face during a certain period of time. To make matters even worse, her fireballs move around the screen. Thankfully they can be shot down but they do require several shots to eradicate. Sonia’s cloak turns more red as her health diminishes. By the time she is a crimson red, your heartbeat is sure to be racing a million beats a minute. It took me roughly 30 tries to beat her. I came close several times but a boneheaded mistake would cost me the battle. Finally, I locked in and kicked her ass. I’ve since tried to beat her a second time but have not been able to. She’s a tough cookie. The whole game is pretty tough but never impossible, so it’s fitting for Sonia to be a stiff challenge.
Because these guys can only be killed when shot in the back (the only part of their fat bodies not covered up with armor), the slow spell is the only way to kill these bastards. For the hassle you get a green key. A key can be used only once. Gotta collect ‘em all!
Sometimes killing all enemies on screen earns you a key. Other times you’ll get a token. Either way, securing the latest key or token is a mini-rush. It’s what makes Equinox addicting — grabbing the latest elusive item to inch your way closer to your goal.
Games can easily be ruined by poor design, especially when you have such massive worlds. Thankfully, the keys and tokens are all placed in perfect position. Equinox is a giant puzzle where each piece connects. Be ready to make countless leaps of faith, including the kind where you must bend in mid-air. These mid-air jumps were always fun, albeit tricky. There’s a slight learning curve but pretty soon you’ll kick ass.
Jumps become progressively more difficult. Imagine inching yourself all the way to the edge of a platform. Then leaping as high and far as you can to barely land pixel perfect on the edge of the next platform. The jumps are doable yet rather brutal — therein lies the brilliance.
Partly what accounts for the jumps being so difficult has to do with the lack of shadows. Too many times it’s hard to determine exactly where a platform is. Therefore, seemingly easy jumps can easily be miscalculated. It takes some time and patience to work out the kinks but the game was so addictive that I found myself constantly saying, “JUST ONE MORE TRY…”
Many of the rooms have some sort of puzzle to work out. Some are easier to figure out than others, while some involve multiple gimmicks. Here you must first push a block over before leaping on top of the iron gate. Wait for it to rise and then grab the token. SUH-WEET!
Contend with a frisky ghost in uncomfortably close quarters. Then make your way to the top of the gate while avoiding the spikes to collect the token. Good stuff.
Lying just south of Deeso, Atlena is a handful of villages supported by wooden platforms. It floats above the murky dungeon world of a sunken castle.
Atlena has a stellar underwater atmosphere. Unfortunately, what these shots don’t show are the constant water currents that flow throughout. The whole level is rather breathtaking.
Gotta love all the seaweed that’s strewn about. The enormous eggs add an extra sense of mystery and intrigue. What’s inside? More importantly, is the mother lurking around somewhere? Meanwhile, the Green Devil there can only be killed with the zap spell.
Many often cite Atlena as one of the hardest levels in the entire game. I didn’t find it too tough personally, but there is a noticeable difficulty spike that occurs here.
South of Tori, Quagmire (love that name) is a swampy, fetid place worthy of its name. It’s difficult to navigate as death surrounds you.
Some of the most brutal pixel perfect jumps in the entire game call Quagmire home.
Each world has its own unique feel and vibe. Quagmire is one of my favorite levels because of its bewitching atmosphere.
The mix of greens, blues and purples blend to create a gorgeous and haunting underground universe.
Quagmire has tortuous pixel perfect jumps.
Look no further than trying to jump from a moving platform on to another platform surrounded by death on both sides. Brutal!
Each hub entrance drops you into a different part of the dungeon. A rope ladder allows you to exit if you find one particular area of a dungeon too difficult to begin with. This is valuable because other than the save spell (which is found late in the game), exiting a hub is the only way to save.
And remember, whenever in doubt, push!
Thought moving platforms were evil? Just wait until you encounter platforms that automatically slide you off unless you push in the opposite direction. Falling off at any point leads to an early death and room reset.
Equinox will test your sanity at times!
So far, so easy. So far…
Confession time: this room killed me 40 times until I figured out you can’t actually jump over the taller plant. You had to jump over the smaller one and THEN twist in mid-air to land safely on the other side. Yup, moments like this sure humble you.
Some of the more clever puzzles involve using the bad guys to unintentionally lend you a helping hand. Sometimes you can’t kill them if you want to grab a key or token. Other times you can only get a key or token after killing all the enemies in a room. It’s this back and forth mystery that makes it so much fun to play.
Thankfully enemies respawn in certain rooms (after exiting said room) if they’re not meant to be killed. Well, except for one infamous glitch crashing room, ahem, which I’ll highlight a bit later on.
7. GHOST SHIP
8. ICE PALACE
Sonia is one wicked tough ultimate boss. Remember, one hit and you’re dead (ignore the LIFE meter there). As Sonia weakens, she turns more and more red. By the time she’s a crimson red the pressure really mounts as you’re so close to your end goal — one lapse in focus can send you back to the very beginning of this long and arduous final battle!
ICE PALACE’S FATAL FLAW DEBUNKED
Before playing Equinox for the first time, I came across a post claiming that the last world has a critical flaw. If you forget to grab a key and you pass a certain point then there is no way to backtrack, thus leaving you in a dead zone. You can imagine what happens if you save right before. You would, in theory, have to start an entirely new game! I thought I reached that point of no return when I failed to acquire a certain key and found myself stuck in said infamous room. In my initial attempts to backtrack, I first scaled those two pillars there. Each time I would jump off but end up landing on the spikes. No matter how hard I tried, I could not clear the spikes. I was stuck. And screwed. Or so it seemed…
In reality, you CAN safely backtrack. But you mustn’t jump. All you had to do was simply step off the ledge and a hidden block will reveal itself. D’oh. Again, this game has moments that are sure to humble ya.
GHOST SHIP’S FATAL FLAW
THE GREAT EQUINOX EQUALIZER
With infinite lives and magic, you can die as many times as you like with the safety net of knowing you always come back. It’s nice and works well for this game especially seeing as how it’s one hit and you’re dead. Not only that, but the “difficult to make things out” perspective and questionable collision detection is thrown out the window with this code. I limited my spell usage but I would be lying if I didn’t say having infinite lives made it so much more enjoyable.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Although released in March of 1994, Equinox first appeared in gaming magazines as early as late ’92. It’s featured on the cover of GameFan’s second issue. The import version was even reviewed that same issue, but the US version would not be reviewed until some 15 issues later. Equinox fared well with the critics. EGM gave it scores of 7, 7, 8, 8 and 8. GameFan rated it 90% and 96%. Super Play, who was notoriously difficult to please, gave it an impressive 90% rating. GameFan rated this game a second time when it hit American shores in early ’94. By then GameFan had changed its reviewing system. Rather than giving an overall score, they simply tallied up the numbers from five categories (so the highest score was 50). I never liked it, and apparently neither did they or the readers as the magazine soon returned to its classic “out of 100” review format
Equinox is a game I had been curious about for over 20 years before I finally played it. I had high hopes for it as a kid back in ’94 but until you finally experience a title for yourself, you just never know if it’s truly any good or not. There’s always this sense of excitement and apprehension. One part of you hopes that it lives up to your imagination after all these years, while another part fears the worst. I’m happy to say Equinox met every bit of my expectations. From huge intimidating bosses to atmospheric lengthy labyrinths, Equinox permeates this lonely feeling of being the last man on earth. It’s just you, your mettle and the voices screaming in your head as you stare down the deadly dungeons and catacombs lost to time in which mankind was never meant to explore. Equinox is intoxicating. It’s an arduous quest sure to frustrate you as much as it will reward.
Equinox has some amazing visuals. Each world takes you on a grand and different adventure. The ancient civilization of Deeso is filled with grotesque statues leering at you, more effective than any “No Trespassing” sign ever seen in a horror movie. Quagmire takes you to a lush plant underworld with death snapping at your heels each step of the way. The airy caverns of Tori conveys this grand sense of being deep below the surface, staving off evil spirits and armored knights. The sound effects are equally as effective. Famous composer Tim Follin (best known for SNES Rock N’ Roll Racing) did some of his finest work here. The ambiance is awesome. Pushing giant marble stones across the floor never sounded more convincing. And I love the sound effect of a token dropping any time you enter a room with a token to be found. It lets you know that room has a token. Each realm is perfectly complimented by Follin’s masterful command of sound and music. The game is tough as hell. While the perspective can be a bitch and cost you many lives you feel you shouldn’t have lost, it’s not a deal breaker by any means. Especially with the code implemented, Equinox is simply mystifying. It’s one of those games where you just have to see the next room and you just have to give it “one more try.” There aren’t enough SNES games like this. It’s not quite a classic but it’s a very strong entry in the long running line of quality SNES titles.
You eventually die failing to beat it. Your grandson takes over and wins. He would have wanted it that way