Wizards & Warriors 3 (NES) review
"The problem comes from the nature of your terrible hops. Kuros can change direction in air, but I found myself gritting my teeth every time I left the ground, hoping he would do as I told him. He’s quite slow to respond. And since you have to make some rather long, precise jumps throughout your adventure, this is a pretty big problem. If you make an especially long jump and don’t release the ‘A’ button just before you land, you’ll even launch immediately into another (perhaps fatal) hop."
I’ve always liked magic and knights and wizardry in general, so it makes sense that I would want to love the Rare-developed Wizards & Warriors series for the NES. It tells the tale of a traveling warrior named Kuros who dreams of the day he can at last put a stop to the evil schemes of the wizard Malkil. What’s not to like about that? Unfortunately, the games never quite live up to that premise. They suffer from just about everything that can go wrong with a platformer, and there’s not much they do right. Knowing all of this, I still was stupid enough to buy Wizards & Warriors III when I saw it at the local game shop.
Subtitled Kuros: Visions of Power, Rare’s final foray into the Acclaim-published trilogy picks up where the second concluded. High atop a mountain, Kuros finally comes face to face with his evil nemesis and beats the tar out of him. The wizard, exhausted from the battle, can do no more than summon his spirit. In this unearthly form, he knocks the unsuspecting warrior from his precarious perch, then hightails it to the stupidly-named town of Piedup. Because he flew, he has a head start on his rival. He takes advantage of that time and claims the throne as his own (despite the feeble protests of King James, who apparently has no retainers or bodyguards). By the time poor Kuros arrives, things are right back to the way they were at the start of the second game: a mess.
Obviously, your goal in this game is to stop Malkil. To do so, you’ll need to survive a gauntlet of horrible gameplay. Is it possible to do so? Sure. But the real question is this: why would anyone in his right mind want to?
Consider how things open. You are Kuros, equipped with armor and a sword while standing in the streets of a predominantly yellow-hued Piedup. Shuttered windows and unlikely doors line the walls of buildings that appear to have been built on stilts. Here and there, offering repose from a sea of mucus, you’ll note garish pink buildings towering above their peers. This is your level hub, a wretched eyesore that should never have existed on a system capable of Castlevania III and its ilk.
Still, the cringe-worthy visuals are the least of your concerns. As you might expect, the ‘A’ button jumps and the ‘B’ button deploys your weapon. All well and good. The problem comes from the nature of your terrible hops. Kuros can change direction in air, but I found myself gritting my teeth every time I left the ground, hoping he would do as I told him. He’s quite slow to respond. And since you have to make some rather long, precise jumps throughout your adventure, this is a pretty big problem. If you make an especially long jump and don’t release the ‘A’ button just before you land, you’ll even launch immediately into another (perhaps fatal) hop. That’s not the worst of it, though; Wizards & Warriors III also features some abysmal hit detection.
Early in the game, you’ll find yourself in a spike-lined hallway, forced to move right as the screen scrolls from your left. A slight fumble and you fall to the bed of spikes, at which point you are forced to retry the whole area if you want to succeed. And if you want to finish the game, you do. There really isn’t any alternative, even though you could just wander around Piedup for a while looking for a suitable place to vomit.
So you go back into the stupid hallway, determined this time that your jump will connect with a platform on the other side of the deadly gauntlet of spikes. You manage to make it a few jumps further when suddenly, a spear comes sailing from your left and knocks you off your perch. Yet again. Each successive attempt grows more frustrating because you know that touching the edge of a ledge isn’t going to get the job done. You have to land almost perfectly or you just pass through. Impatience only increases the likelihood that you will fumble somewhere. Later challenges, such as a vertical shaft you must climb with the assistance of arching half-bubbles, simply compound the problem further.
But let’s say you get to the end of a ‘challenge’ (as these little exercises are called) and get to face the boss. It’s here that another flaw comes into play: your puny weapon. You see, pressing the ‘B’ button alone is not enough. This will merely cause Kuros to make a pose that Fabio himself would envy. Does it harm enemies? Considering the game we’re talking about, of course it doesn’t. While still holding the ‘B’ button, you must then press the direction on the d-pad that you wish to swing your blade. Meanwhile, you can’t move at all and are therefore a sitting duck. I’m sure it’s supposed to give the game a deep battle system, but instead it just irritates.
So, why bother with the challenges at all? Why give them your time when they’re so damn irritating? Because you have no choice. Everything revolves around finding statues, returning them to guilds, taking tests, then repeating with new powers. In its most positive break from the tradition established by its two predecessors, Wizards & Warriors III grants you the ability to change class on the fly… provided you’ve completed the right challenge and gained the new clothing you need.
What appears at first to be an extremely non-linear game is in practice just the opposite. When you first enter Piedup, it can be overwhelming. You can jump around all the buildings like a buffoon, marveling at how your hero moves almost exactly like Bender from the Futurama cartoons and trying to fight the urge to just go watch one of those episodes, or you can find a statue and return it to a guild for a challenge, boss encounter and new uniform. If you enter the wrong door without the thief’s clothing, you’ll wake some slumbering oaf who won’t let you pass. Not that you’ll likely repeat that error, seeing as how you have to first have to waste your time collecting enough gold to buy a key and test it on random doors.
Speaking of that, this game actually has a lot of trial-and-error gameplay. I wish that instead, Rare had truly gone for less linearity. It’s stupid to give gamers so much freedom, yet punish them for taking anything other than one narrow, obscure path through the game. To make matters worse, there’s no continue system, and no passwords. You’re apparently meant to endure the whole game in one sitting. There’s even a high score table! This despite the fact that a first trip through the game (with a FAQ or without) is likely to take you several hours.
So as I asked near the start of this review, who would actually want to bother going through such a game? When I picked it up, I was determined to give it a fair shake, to fly through to the end and have a good time doing it. But with this many flaws, the game feels more like a chore than anything else. Sure, you can adapt to the klunky controls. You can play for hours and plot the perfect path through the game so that you avoid its repetition. You can wear sunglasses so you’re not blinded by how ugly everything is. You can even put in earplugs so you don’t have to listen to the few redundant musical selections (the only thing one can say in their defense is that they sound vaguely medieval). Me, I’d rather not make so many concessions for a product I’m supposed to have fun playing. Retro gaming can be fun. Just make sure you avoid Kuros.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 30, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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