Milon's Secret Castle is a platforming game for the NES released by Hudson Soft in 1986 in Japan and 1988 in North America.
The game takes place in the land of Hudson, where an evil warlord has arrived from the North and has robbed the people of all the music instruments that they use to communicate. Players take control of Milon who is tasked with entering the secret castle to save Princess Eliza. To do so the player must venture through multiple rooms and slowly work up the four floors of the castle. The game has a music theme to it as the people are supposed to communicate with musical instruments.
Gameplay is based on exploring several rooms on each of the 4 floors in the castle and defeating the demon on each floor to advance up. The game is a platformer, but unlike many members of the genre, it's not based on moving from right to left, but explore bite sized rooms of a large castle. Milon, the main character, explores each of the many rooms, collecting money and other items, attempting to find the key and exit the level. Each room is littered with enemies, which Milon can take out by shooting them with bubbles. Enemies will all respawn over time. To progress, Milon will need to discover the plethora of secrets in each level, as almost nothing in the game is obvious.
While this may sound fairly simple, the game is known for being extremely difficult. This is largely because of a barebones manual and its heavy reliance on "secrets" to progress in the game.
Many of these secrets have little or no logic to them, such as shooting secret blocks that look no different than other blocks, using specific items in specific, unmarked places, and requirements to wait for mysterious item respawns. The player is given one life and the game ends upon dying. There are no save points, but the player is able to continue after collecting the first crystal ball by holding down the start button at the title screen (not in the manual). Many levels were designed to lead a player one way, when the real path was actually hidden in the most non-obvious place possible. This leads to a lot of blind shooting and collecting in hopes of finding keys and musical instruments to progress. Enemies will infinitely respawn making it important to clear each room as quickly as possible, and avoid their quick, random patterns.
Boss fights are extremely one-sided taking dozens if not hundreds of hits to defeat any of the bosses and unlike in most 8-bit platformers where getting hit would give the player a few precious seconds of invulnerability Milon is open to attacks immediately after getting hit. To regain health, Milon must gather hearts, which are randomly dropped by enemies. After defeating each boss, a crystal ball appears that strengthens Milons bubble or increases its shooting distance.
Several hidden items can be found by breaking blocks that assist Milon in his quest:
- Honeycomb - adds an extra bar to Milon's health meter.
- Hudson Bee - creates a protective shield around Milon.
- Umbrella - allows for rapid fire bubbles.
- Music box - advances Milon to the bonus stage.
- Coins/Money - can be used to shop at the hidden shops.
In order to beat the game players must do the following as is quoted from the manual. This is the only real direction given in terms of how to beat the game:
"Enter the Castle and solve the puzzle of each maze-room. Find and save the hidden money and 12 helpful items. Destroy each of the seven demon-monsters lurking in the Castle and collect seven crystal balls. the crystal ball is your key to advance to the next level of the Castle. After completing everything above, you must find two secret items to save Queen Eliza. Those two items are for you to find....!"
Game Boy Version
The Game Boy version is the same game but with fixes to a couple of problems from the NES version. An in game item menu and password system has been added for feathers. After-hit invincibility fixes the problem of an enemy quickly draining Milon's health upon contact. The Game Boy version does have framerate issues when there are two or more enemies on screen.