tofu and words

[Review] Lady Stalker

posted / kw

Original release year: 1995

Completed: October 20th 2021

I was browsing my usual retro game store one day, when LADY STALKER called out to me in hot neon pink letters. Pulling out the box, the cover artwork also looked interesting, and the screenshots on the back seemed to promise some sort of action adventure. I was 100% in.

Lady Stalker was released in 1995, and it is an isometric perspective action adventure game. You play as Lady, a spoilt little rich girl kept locked up in her father's basement so she won't cause trouble. She has a gardener, Yoshio, and a cook, Cocks, to take care of her. Yet, she is bored and desperately wants to run away. Yoshio shows her a book with an old legend about "Death Land Island" and how it was once overrun with monsters, ruled over by King Baron who used the island for his experiments. He placed booby traps everywhere and invented a machine to make monsters into GIANT MONSTERS.

The island has since been taken over by humans, but the legend lives on and is used to attract tourists... but there's been more monsters around lately, and people seem to be disappearing...?

And so Lady escapes and goes to the island looking for treasure and adventure.

I can't talk about this game without mentioning the game booklet. It is massive (47 pages!) and starts off with an introduction - not of the story of the game - but an introduction of the game director, his brilliance, and how AMAZING this game is going to be. Likewise, the booklet ends with a section presenting the staff (with full colour pictures) and production notes again going hard about how brilliant the game design is and how clever the puzzles are.

The story is perhaps the weakest part of the game, there isn't much to it, it gets very repetitive, and there are no big twists or surprises along the way. It's a shame, with a title like LADY STALKER, I was expecting clever writing with lots of gags and running jokes, but was left disappointed. They obviously put more effort into the isometric "3D-feel" of the game than the story.

This game uses the isometric perspective for all it is worth. It took me a while to get used to the controls, because being able to walk in 8 directions on an isometric field using a D-pad gets complicated.

The game progresses more or less like any other adventure game. You start out in a town, and make your way to the next one, and there will be dungeons and challenges to complete in-between. The battle system is a real time action system, but the encounters themselves are random (and extremely frequent). When the battle starts, you have to run around on the isometric field physically hitting the monsters. Yoshio and Cocks eventually join you to form a full party (it took way longer than expected to reach this part, I feel like I went through at least half the game as only Lady, and I was worried I'd somehow missed the opportunity to form a party...). Lady does not know any magic, she's a martial artist, and her weapons of choice are boots and whips. Though you can't control them directly, Yoshio and Cocks can both cast magic (and fight with a kitchen knife and a shovel). The battle system was pretty enjoyable, the difficulty went up when I got the full party, and it forced me to ensure I always had enough healing items on hand. Game over in this game really meant game over. And saving is only possible at designated save points, so there were lots of frustration over lost progress making my way through dungeons.

And thus I ended up spending a lot of time on item management, which was made complicated by the fact that you could only buy 1 item at a time from shops, and each character could only hold a maximum of 5 of each item. It took a few sessions to really get comfortable with this clunky inventory system, and every shop visit was a pain in the butt.

My favourite part about the game was the quirky dungeons. The booklet describes the game as a "theme park attraction", and boy did they cram Death Land Island full of attractions. Lady and her party got to ride mine carts, snow sleds, cable cars, flying carpets.... the first dungeon throws a random word puzzle at you, but other than that, MOST of the puzzles in Lady Stalker have some sort of isometric trickery to them where you either have to find the right hole to jump through to land on the correct spot on the level below, or find the correct thing to pick up so you can climb onto a hidden platform. There are mazes where you can't see your character or the path at all, and there's even a game of hide and seek where you have to walk off of the game field all together. It got a tad bit repetitive, especially since all the rooms and hallways are super-sized for maximum battle encounter possibilities, but I found it enjoyable nonetheless. The sound design also deserves a mention for their quirky as heck effects.

Even though the story itself wasn't that engaging, there were so many unexpected events and locations. You never knew what was going to happen next, and that kept me going. Like when you are given a complete darkride-like tour of the very first dungeon, or when you turn mouse-sized and find cheese and fleas inside a monster's bed.... the game is filled with inventive scenes and fun moments, but they are too far apart to make this a classic. I think I would have a hard time recommending this game, unless it was to someone I knew had a specific interest in quirky Super Famicom games.

Would I have played through this whole thing off stream? Probably not. This game requires a friend or two so you can take a break and laugh at the stupid puzzles. This is the kind of game I'd be playing with a friend, passing the controller back and forth for each game over. It would be perfect for that sort of gaming.

Overall a pretty memorable experience, but a very forgettable story. Fun dungeons, and characters, but it gets too repetitive. I'll give this a 3 out of 5. It's a decent enough game, but (sadly) leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn't live up to the hype from its own booklet, which is a shame.

I should mention that this is a sequel of sorts to a game called LAND STALKER, which was released for the Sega Mega Drive. It would be interesting to see how they compare...

My full playthrough of Lady Stalker is uploaded to my YouTube channel, you can watch it here!