#585: Little Samson

The NES’ rarest game is also a rare gem

june gloom
5 min readMay 17, 2024

Initial release: June 26, 1992
Platform: NES
Developer: Takeru

The Nintendo Entertainment System, in 2024, maintains an almost totemistic identity as a symbol of not just a bygone age, but an almost wholly different way that we created and looked at video games. A game like Mega Man or Castlevania are far cries from today’s Call of Duty or, indeed, Far Cry. And yet the system continues to have a hold on peoples’ imaginations, not just for the nostalgic value, not just for the aesthetic qualities (or lack thereof) of the games on it, not just for the big-name games that sold like hotcakes, but also for the lesser known gems that fell through the cracks at the time but are now worth their weight in gold, if not more.

Screenshots courtesy of Mobygames

Enter Little Samson. Titled Holy Bell Legend Lickle in Japan — one of those cases where the English localization is just better — this little platformer title came out late in the NES’ lifespan, but like many other NES games released in the sunset era between the release of the Super NES in 1991 to the end of official NES game releases in 1994, it takes advantage of the system’s technical capabilities to create one of the most graphically impressive NES games on the market. But due to poor marketing and poor sales, the game kind of quietly disappeared from shelves. In the years since it has developed a reputation as a rare collector’s item, with loose copies going for around $1,800 and new, untouched copies clocking in at an eye-popping $18,600 according to pricecharting.com.

Of course it’s silly to spend that much on a piece of plastic that, as we speak, is rotting away. Emulation is the future of retro gaming, despite what Nintendo thinks, and it’s simple to just fire up FCEUX or what have you and play a ROM of a game that hasn’t been sold in thirty years or more. So Little Samson is more easily accessible now than it ever was in 1992. Let’s get into it.

The game starts rather dramatically, with a wordless cutscene first showing a thunderstorm releasing some sort of evil from a mountain, and a king sending out a series of royal letters in response. These letters are sent, I assume by carrier pigeon, to four individuals — a young warrior (the titular Samson, though his corresponding letter in the pause menu is L, a reminder of his Japanese name,) a dragon named Kikira, a golem named Gamm, and a mouse named K.O. The characters’ names and backgrounds are entirely confined to the manual; indeed, the game itself features no dialogue whatsoever. Upon meeting the king they are tasked with defeating the evil sorcerer who escaped his mountain prison, and thus begin a long journey across a variety of environments to the sorcerer’s sinister floating castle. Samson’s primary weapon is spherical bells, which he throws, but he also possesses a larger magical bell that can contain the rest of the crew as they travel, allowing them to swap as needed.

At its core, Little Samson is a straightforward platformer. It plays perhaps most like Mega Man, control-wise, though other than being able to play the first four levels in any order, it’s otherwise very linear. You can swap between the characters at any time, Castlevania III style, and they each have their own skills. Samson is straightforward, a relatively fast mover who can climb walls and hang from ceilings, but the bells he throws can only go left or right. Kikira the dragon can temporarily float in the air, similar to Princess Peach in Super Mario Brothers 2, and she also spits fireballs that travel in an upwards arc. Holding down the fire button allows her to charge her fireballs, for extra damage. Gamm is big and strong but not very agile at all, and his primary purpose is to tank his way through enemies and walk on spikes. K.O. the mouse can move on any surface like Samson, but has all the durability of tissue paper. He can leave immobile bombs that explode, which are quite damaging but require a little finesse to use.

Little Samson is surprisingly simple for how nice it looks; item drops are limited to small or big hearts that restore health, heart containers that raise your max health (to a rather surprisingly low limit for how many that drop,) potions that you can save to restore health on demand (but you only get one per character) and of course the prerequisite extra lives. The levels are designed to be beaten by Samson, but the other characters are there to take some of the stress out of it — K.O. can use shortcuts, Gamm can just walk over spike fields, and Kikira makes platforming sections a breeze.

What really makes Little Samson stand out is just how good it looks. The jump animation on Samson alone is fantastic-looking; many of the sprites, both enemies and player characters, just have incredible animation, giving the game an identity of its own. The bosses are appropriately wicked looking, contrasting the cutesy designs of the protagonists; the giant dragon alone looks like an angry xenomorph with wings (while its arena is shamelessly ripping off the dragon boss from Mega Man 2.) And can we talk about the Bronze Age aesthetics of this game? I don’t think it gets mentioned much of how it looks almost Greek in style for most of the game, especially the ruins full of columns.

The game has pretty decent sound design, though music is limited — rather than an individual theme for every stage, each of the characters has their own theme that plays while they’re active. Only towards the end do stages have their own music. The themes nevertheless are pretty solid — I’m partial to Kikira’s theme especially, an incredibly Capcom-esque little tune that illustrates just how much this game owes aesthetically to the Blue Bomber. (It’s not a surprise: Takeru, also known as Sur Dé Wave, had a lot of former Capcom employees on its staff, including Akira Kitamura, the original creator of Mega Man and director on the first two games.)

Little Samson isn’t the most innovative or original title in the NES catalogue, but it’s a solid play that’ll burn a couple hours of your time.




june gloom

Media critic, retired streamer, furry. I love you. [she/her]