For better or worse, Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore set its sights on being a spiritual successor to a pair of CD-i games. Long before they were YouTube fodder, younger Trev played both Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, on real CD-i hardware, no less. Those games are arguably more intriguing for the vague speculation on how they wound up outside of Nintendo hardware rather than actual gameplay. Still, I can report that they are nowhere near the travesties many vocal critics claim them to be. Did someone at Seedy Eye Software (great pun) think similarly? Arzette looks to celebrate the best of those ‘90s CDs while polishing their rougher edges into a new adventure.

One area where they missed the boat, though, is the plot. Neither of those CD-i predecessors could lay claim to brilliant stories, but Arzette doesn’t even seem to try. The overly long starting tale would be complete trash, except it’s a deliberate spoof. But the characters you meet as the titular princess searching for the eponymous jewel shards elevate it. There are definite touches of “it’s so bad it’s good.”

From the animation, drawing, and vocals (including some original voice actors in new roles), it’s clear that Arzette is a celebration of cheese. This random patchwork of kingdom residents will leave an impression from their exaggerated movements, over-the-top voice work, and just bizarre problems that serve as side quests. It’s a drive to see who you’ll bump into next, even more so if you’re familiar with the source material.

Of course, the bread and butter is the actual gameplay, which does enough to keep you invested as the initial novelty begins to fade. The pair of original Zelda games Arzette draws inspiration from were more in the style of The Adventure of Link on NES. So, your action-adventuring will take place from a side-scrolling perspective. The variety of enemies will need dispatching in different ways. Also, plenty of secrets, some visible though initially unreachable behind dark tapestries, others well hidden, wait to be found.

The gameplay progresses in a fine, if unexceptional, way. I found it had points where direction was in want, where I had to retread areas looking for how to trigger what came next. Part of this may be my playing the game while dealing with COVID-19 when my brain had a more-than-usual fog. 

The proceedings get a boost from the ton of faithful nods, ones those who only know these games from YT might miss, but those of us who’ve played the real deals will smile upon. Of course, being able to play with a proper controller helps. The CD-i paddle (of which publisher Limited Run has a retro-inspired variant for sale) was never up to snuff.

Beyond the drive of quirky characters, there’s also the desire to see which areas you’ll unlock next. The hand-painted backgrounds of the CD-i games stood out positively, and the same is true in Arzette. They even brought in someone who did art and background paintings for the originals. Augmenting the visuals is some fine music. While the vocals may draw much of the press, the soundtrack is strong. It made returning to familiar stomping grounds less annoying, and I found some of the tunes getting stuck in my head. Yet again, Arzette looked at an aesthetic stand-out from the games inspiring it (CD-quality music) and imitated them. If anything, the tunes fit better here, absent the Hyrulian themes.

Even with all these positives, I find myself wrestling with the question, “Had I not had a fondness for the CD-i games, how much would I enjoy Arzette?” After some time, I can say that I would still have some definite enjoyment, albeit less. The (at times aimless) gameplay didn’t go far enough to truly grab me where I could say, “this is great,” but neither did it do enough wrong to discourage (though thoughtlessly having a single save file came close). These results are probably the best I could hope for, given the source material. Arzette is no Hotel Mario homage, after all (though that game does get a small reference).

Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore parodies a pair of uncanonical Zelda games while ensuring its experience is more than a one-note joke. The realization of these efforts makes for a good game, but one whose appeal may be limited. Still, the attention to detail here demands respect. How about following up on this release by mocking CD-i’s top-down take, Zelda’s Adventure, next?