Just you try running from Marathon to Athens with eagles pecking out your guts

The Battle of Olympus (1991) NOTX

It’s one of those moments that I wished I’d recorded, or even better, wished I wasn’t too prosaic to convey to you what it was like, but please let me try and picture the scene for you. You can just lie back and doze really, because that’s exactly what I was doing in a beautifully air-conditioned hotel room in Greece when suddenly I was awoken and told by my missus to come to the window, quickly.

I was straight over, of course – sure, this was the middle of the night, but I thought it had to be some kind of spectacle that wasn’t to be missed. Someone had drunkenly fallen in the pool, for example, or a Mythos beer truck had turned over and was spilling its beautiful local beer everywhere.

But no, instead what greeted me was the most spectacular thunderstorm you could ever imagine. We had a great view from the room balcony of many other parts of the Greek island of Zakynthos, normally covered in 25 degree sun of a September which is about as much as my pasty white body can take before I start becoming two-tone. Here though, and without rain even, it was lightning strikes every two or three seconds.

Strangely, you couldn’t hear a massive amount of thunder, meaning it was almost serene. The night sky was just flashing like a good ’un out there, quicker than you could breathe. It was an astonishing sight, and I know I haven’t done it a single bit of justice there, but one thing I would say is that it’s no wonder the Ancient Greeks and people like them believed in gods.

No kidding, I can see why they revered and spoke about a god like Zeus, throwing lightning bolts around like nobody’s business. Now, I’m no historian, and I do only have a rudimentary grasp of Ancient Greek mythology so bear with me, but some of the stories and icons truly are fascinating. What I can tell you is that those boys and girls – sorry, gods and goddesses – certainly weren’t on our side. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the name Prometheus, who actually was one of the good guys. In a similar vein to the class swot helping you cheat on your test by sneakily slipping the answers to you, Prometheus stole the gift of fire from the gods and imparted it to humanity. That meant we could have warmth, technology, the ability to live. This angered the gods, of course, and old Zeus responded with a bit of style. 

I suppose for him, killing endless goons with lightning bolts got old eventually. I don’t think it would ever get old for me, but you must remember that he’s immortal, and he’d been doing it an awful long time. Instead of zapping the defendant to bits, which would have been trite, he condemned Prometheus to a dark fate of binding him to a rock and having his liver regrown and eaten out by eagles every day, without fail.

It’s the kind of thing a Bond villain would try but always see it blow up in their faces – but old Zeusy is around too long for that. No chance of a fair trial either; I believe there is a Greek goddess of law and order called Eunomia, but Wikipedia tells me she is a “minor” goddess, and also probably the daughter of Zeus (aren’t they all). So Promy was out of luck.

God, it wouldn’t do you to go up against nasty folks like that. So why, then, does your nameless hero take up arms against the gods in The Battle of Olympus for NES? Well, naturally, he’s out to save his woman. It’s as understandable a motive as any, and who knows, if he was that lucky, he might meet busty Aphrodite on his travels and forget all about his old missus.

Or on the other hand, he might suffer another cruel fate, that of Heracles (you may know him better as Hercules) who, in a goddess-fuelled pique of madness, slaughtered his own children before slaughtering his wife Megara. I doubt any of that was considered for the Disney animated film. But for its straight-to-video sequels, who knows?

This game would draw immediate comparisons with Zelda II, which if we’re truly honest is a bit of a damning indictment, but I just refer to its side-scrolling nature and how you need to augment your abilities and healthbar to succeed. Not to mention, you’ve got a teeny little sword to fight enemies with, plus a shield that won’t block squat.

I should say, to Olympus’s credit, the characters you converse with in the Greek houses (always without doors, better to keep the houses unfinished – tax reasons, you see) speak a far better standard of English, no ‘I AM ERROR’ nonsense here.

You can find items and tools that will increase your abilities and unlock new areas of Ancient Greece where you can go, which is always a winner. You can also expand your health meter or indeed restore it by finding – what else – nectar of the gods. They ain’t gonna be happy with you stealing their nourishment, but then the likes of Poseidon would revel in throwing massive floods and earthquakes at humans, not to mention giving us the occasional Kiss when we use the toilet, so you shouldn’t have any sympathy for them.

And you know, for me, nectar of the gods represents the Friday evening pint of Guinness, with a nice dose of hygge, one of those beautiful Danish words that cannot be readily translated into English, in this case meaning a feeling of cosiness, perhaps more specifically that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re about a third of the way through that first Friday afternoon pint and you’re starting to get a good buzz. Of course, this is always followed up the next morning by the elixir of life, which is usually a very cold water or Coke Zero in my case. 

In actual fact, the gods of Ancient Greece will broadly be on your side in this game, from Zeus on down, though you will be doing battle with medusas, cyclops, centaurs, minotaurs and the like. See, this is what Casual Friday used to be in Greece before the Brits and the Irish took over. Anyway, get through all of those beasts and you’ll reach Hades in the underworld as your final boss.

Not that I ever made it that far, of course; there are very large passwords you can input that will save your progress, but certainly if you play The Battle of Olympus I’d recommend you use a guide, and better still if you can use save states because there is a bit of a difficulty brick-wall early on. It’s easier than Zelda II though, and the game is actually pretty manageable by NES standards.

Yes, I never beat the game, but that’s because I’m no kind of god. I have told some women before that I’m the reincarnation of Eros, but a bit of Greek mythology banter doesn’t tend to go down well in the sweaty dive bars I used to fish in. Well, no matter, this wannabe Greek god is off the market for them anyway.

And there hasn’t been a Battle of Olympus game on the market since the NES and Game Boy days, which is a crying shame. Oh wait, no it isn’t, we’ve got God of War and proper Zelda games these days for our godly needs. Oh well, I suppose we all get consigned to ancient history eventually.

21 March 2023

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