I gotta tell you, this particular review has been sitting in the hopper from the day we instituted the Extras section. I have no idea why I’ve taken this long to actually sit down and type it up, but we’re here now. I do have some pretty deep nostalgia for this game, as I played it a lot as a kid, but never managed to beat it until recently, so if there’s a bit more of a hint of oversentimentality here, there’s a reason. But, you didn’t come here to listen to me wax nostalgic about a 20-plus year old adventure game for a console nobody owned, so let’s just jump right into Laser Lords for CD-i.
Laser Lords features you as a nameless protagonist summoned from a highway into space by a giant lizard man who tasks you with foiling Sarpedon, a sorcerer/wizard…guy who is attempting to come into possession of a crystal that would give him control over the Void. Needless to say, this is the kind of deep, thought-provoking plotline you’d expect from a CD-i game, but rest assured, things take a turn for the weird.
Now, as I said, I played this game a lot as a kid, and as such, my thought process wasn’t developed enough for an adventure game like this, so I never quite figured out where to go and oftentimes got hopelessly stuck because I couldn’t piece the puzzle together or didn’t understand some of the references. That being said, HOLY MOTHER OF BALLS THIS IS NOT A GAME FOR CHILDREN. Drug addiction, man-on-woman violence, gambling, prostitution, politics, religion, and even euthanasia/assisted suicide are amongst the topics that get run here, and I am REALLY glad my parents never actually watched me attempt to play this because they would’ve probably shit a brick at the idea of me playing a game where scoring dope for a junkie or playing Russian Roulette are involved.
Seeing as this is an adventure game instead of a straight-up action affair, the clunky CD-i remote is not quite the hindrance it is in other cases. The top buttons make menu selections and handle things like conversation options, and the bottom buttons are mainly used for what little actual combat there is in this game. Aside from starting conversations, you can also take items that are lying around, buy items, check your inventory and your word bank, and beamup to your ship when you’re in a pinch or want to head to another planet.
You’ll be putting about seven different worlds here, each with a different theme, Luxor is an Egyptian-style planet, and Tekton is a world entirely populated by robots, for example. You’ll often have to go between the worlds to accomplish tasks, like taking a sword found on Luxor to the planet Argos to kill a character who can only be damaged by that particular sword. Now, to start, only five of the worlds are accessible; Hive and Woo cannot be reached until you’ve acquired certain items way later in the game. A hefty chunk of gameplay here involves the conversation system, and to its credit, Laser Lords provides voice acting and a pretty unique setup of using clay figures as character portraits, which is a pretty good example of how to utilize the CD-i’s capabilities without resorting to tried (and failed) methods like FMV. You basically navigate between keywords in the conversation, clicking them to move the discussion in different directions. You also have the ability to memorize keywords later, which is useful for things like passwords and asking about other characters. I would recommend taking notes while playing, as well, because often times, the solutions to puzzles, while relatively simple, aren’t always obvious. The secret specs you need for an engine? It makes sense you need to take them to Tekton, but less so that you find them on stone-and-mortar Argos, and there’s no in-game system to notify you that Object X needs to be brought to Person Y on Planet Z.
You can upgrade your character for combat, such as it is here. Each planet has a mantra/anthem of sorts, with four parts to learn from different characters on that planet, like the Commercial Code on Argos, and learning these mantras increases your life meter. On Argos, there are trainers that can teach you new moves like the sweep kick and other hand-to-hand tactics. You can find swords, as well as a handgun on Fornax that weirdly enough, can only be used on that planet. Having said that, there’s still not a hell of a lot of strategy to the fighting here, it’s mostly a matter of finding out which move you can spam the easiest and going to town on your enemy with it, and by and large, actual fights are few and far between. You have nine lives, which seems rather generous, and you can save your game (also something that didn’t occur to me as a kid), but odds are, you’re going to burn through at least one or two lives through accidentally walking into the wrong room or committing the wrong action that insta-kills you.
I should point out that while Laser Lords comes from the era of What Adventure Games Should Be, it is entirely possible to screw yourself over and render the game unwinnable. For example, if you punch somebody that you’re not supposed to, instead of fighting back, they will disappear entirely, and if you accidentally clobber an NPC who holds an important item or teaches you a major keyword, well, you’re kinda boned. In another spot, on Fornax, you’ll happen upon a guy claiming his foot got stuck in the floor and asking you for your pistol to blast himself free. Now, if you’re fool enough to give him the gun (remember, I was a little kid when I first played this and assumed everything was on the up-and-up), he will rob you for your ship receipt, which you need to actually leave the planet, so you’re stuck on Fornax. You also need to be careful in conversations, as mouthing off about the wrong topic will cause certain characters to either attack you outright or otherwise refuse to cooperate later, like the philosophy professor on Argos who gives you a test you can easily fail without even knowing you have one shot at it.
Despite the rather adult-oriented content here, it’s not all melodrama and dark gritty grit; there’s very much a tongue-in-cheek spirit on display here. Lexandaller, the dangerous and unhinged warlord on Argos, for instance, is built up to sound like an eight-foot-tall mountain of a man, and when you actually happen upon him, he turns out to be a midget with a terrible stutter. Oh, and the name of his faction? STATQUO, who are determined to keep power away from the underground movement known as USURP. On Fornax, there’s one particular character that insists to buy your face from you, insisting that an alien would pay top dollar for it. Now, you CAN do this, but I don’t recommend it. I do want to give the voice actors here a lot of credit, most characters’ voices fit their gimmicks very well, and the delivery is very solid on the whole; there’s not really any moments where you hear a line of dialogue and think “um, I don’t think that was meant to sound like that”, which is always a plus. Graphically, things are kind of blocky and outside of conversation screens, NPCs look generally unspectacular and mill about in circles, but this game is definitely more about the journey than the sights along the way.
I thoroughly enjoyed Laser Lords, though again, I should reiterate that at least part of that enjoyment is seeing through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, moreso than even a lot of other games for me. I can’t say with complete metaphysical certitude that I would have liked it as much had I never played before, but even so, it’s still a pretty fun adventure romp, and on the VERY off chance that you actually own a CD-i, I would say this is one of the top titles on the CD-i roster by a large margin, even if that sounds like damning with faint praise. It’s not for everyone, from both a gameplay and a content standpoint, but I still recommend it for anyone in search of a pretty weird adventure title, Non-Lucasarts Division. Just remember, DO NOT look in the lunchbox. Trust me. It’s a bad move, Starman.
Enjoyable adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, good use of clay figures and fun voice acting.
You can occasionally get confused figuring out what exactly you’re supposed to be doing, it is possible to effectively break the game and make it unwinnable. Also, you don’t own a CD-i.