Just about all the magic you'd anticipate your Super Nintendo and TV to make when they got together is conveniently found in a cart titled Equinox: honkin' big sprites, meticulous gameplay, ambitious faux-symphonic music, and those cute Mode 7 graphics, though ridiculous by today's standards (and, admit it already, pretty ridiculous back then too). You try not to get nostalgic over these things but fire up the ol' 17 watt beast, wait through the company credits and when the clouds depart from the screen revealing the game title and a 16-bit bird's eye view of the ocean, you're suddenly hit with one fat salty whiff.
The game's copyrighted to "Sony Music Entertainment", back when they still had to remind teenagers that they weren't new to the electronic business (remember those days?). At first, I thought they were hinting that they were owners of a kickass sound library - very much in the same way Yuzo Koshiro is awesome enough to get his own credit on title screens of games he works on - and that does makes sense, because if you were out on the prowl for a sweet door slamming sound effect, look and listen no further.
It's not only the quality of the sound that Equinox excels at, but how thoughtfully each clank, conk, and bonk is released, as a harmonious elegance through its economy. The game is a series of underground dungeons, each one equaling the castle of Solstice, Equnox's prequel, in complexity and challenge. As you walk the hallways beneath the surface, you're often accompanied only by reverberating footsteps. Whenever you throw your weapon against the wall, it makes this odd "Shh!" and then silence again. And the music - mysterious and pounding, earthy and ethereal - approaches the speaker and then crawls away, like an out of control Brian Eno record.
Enemies are occasional, often only serving as part of a larger puzzle. I'd associate this game with Landstalker: same genre, three-quarters isometric view, atypical graphics. But whereas Landstalker toes the line between challenge and frustration, Equinox is balls out insidious. By the third dungeon, the game begins to screw with you: platforms lined up diagonally behind each other so the top most one hides all of the others, leaps of faith, hoping that you have the perspective right, and rooms full of platforms that look like they're on the same level though you know it can't be that easy. And it never is.
Equinox's addictiveness lies in its unwilling to give the player a moment's peace, always ready to challenge and surprise. The game constantly outsmarts, and you're always back for more. As you're wandering the halls, admiring the architecture, you have to hope the puzzles you gave up on earlier can only be solved with an item you haven't found yet. In fact, most of the puzzles can be solved the first time you encounter them, but only after some observation. (Really, who would think of jumping on top of the door and then from there onto the higher platform?!)
I remember seeing commercials for this game and going on and on about it on the bus during a field trip. Regarding the Super Nintendo, where it sometime feels like all the games worth playing are the ones already exposed, it's quite fine that I got what I wanted: giant monsters, underground lairs, and a lot of jumping up and down and throwing knives. So there's still treasure out there. Just keep your ears to the ground.