The Super Nintendo was home to a wide variety of platformers from Super Mario World to more obscure fare like Magical Pop’n (more on that one in the future). The early to mid-90s was the genre’s heyday, and it really seemed like there was no stopping its dominance. By the time 1995 rolled around, the SNES was in its dying days and there were several titles that were left in Japan. Some might say a few of these games are among the best on the system. One of the more interesting ones that was left behind was Violinist of Hameln.
Started as a manga written and illustrated by Michiaki Watanabe, Violinist of Hameln, which ran from 1991 to 2001 in Japan, follows a violinist named Hamel as he travels north to fight against a demon kingdom that is terrorizing the world. Hamel isn’t your typical hero. In fact, he’s an asshole who delights in taking advantage of those around him and is only really concerned with himself. Along the way he somehow manages to put together a party of adventurers in typical fantasy story fashion to help him along on his quest to fight against the demon kingdom.
Our two protagonists enjoying a nice stroll in the beginning of the game
While this plot outline may seem to be the perfect setup for your typical RPG, the development team at Daft decided to make the game into a 2D platformer. This doesn’t work against the game, though. The plot may be heavily condensed, but the gameplay ends up being solid.
One of the more unique mechanics in the game is the companion character, Flute, a cute 16-year-old girl who is also one of Hamel’s main companions in the manga. In the game, she has the ability to change into various costumes to solve platforming puzzles. Need to get cross those spikes on the ground? Have Flute transform into a ostrich and run. Looking for a way to break down a wall in your way? Flute has a robot costume for that. A new power up is found in each level. By the end of the game, you’ll have a total of 16 different costumes for Flute to use.
Flute’s robot costume can break down walls
These interactions with Flute not only serve a gameplay purpose but also flesh out Hamel’s character. As mentioned, he’s a jerk who loves to use people, so in the game this is represented by using Flute’s costume abilities. Hamel will usually ride on top of Flute as she’s walking across obstacles in her costume. While she’s in the robot costume, Hamel can jump on her head to cause her to punch her arms out to break walls. Outside of her costume, Hamel can pick up Flute and throw her into enemies or obstacles. A feminist our man Hamel is not.
The music gives the SNES’s famous sound chip a workout with its reworked versions of classical compositions, such as Bach’s “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” which is played on the title screen. There’s really nothing the SNES can’t handle in terms of music. It sounds amazing and lends the game an atmosphere that makes it stand out from the rest of the SNES line up.
It’s not a perfect game by any means. Level design can be a bit bland at times, and while the music is mostly good, there are some tunes that are uninteresting and repetitive inside of levels, such as 3rd stage’s castle theme. Also, Flute has 16 costumes which may seem like a lot, but several of them are really just variations on the same basic mechanics (jump higher, walk on spikes, break walls, walk on spikes and break walls, you get the idea). I don’t want to spoil all of them though, because there are some fun designs to be found later in the game.
That’s using your noggin
The game also suffers from having the camera completely fixed on the character of Hameln so anytime he jumps or goes for a platform that is out of frame you get a bit of motion sickness. Compared to Mario or Mega Man, which both feature a more fixed camera, it makes the gameplay feel sloppy, especially when you miss a platform and the camera swings up and then back down to follow you to the ground.
Length-wise it’s pretty typical of most SNES platformers. It will probably take you around 3-4 hours on your first playthrough. It’s not an overly difficult game, so it should be smooth sailing for most of the playthrough.
As for rarity, there is a fan-translation available. If you’re looking to pick up a physical copy, used carts can typically be found for around $30. Boxed copies can be had for around $60 or higher.
Violinst of Hameln is a decent platformer that’s made stronger thanks to its unique companion costume puzzle solving mechanic. If you’re looking to find out more about the story, I’d recommend hunting down fan translations of either the manga or the 25 episode anime series that aired in 1996. If you’re looking for the complete story, though, the manga is definitely the way to go.