Wizards & Warriors (NES) review
"One of the first NES games I ever played was Acclaimís Wizards and Warriors. Back then, I thought this game was flat-out spectacular. Yeah, it was a bit on the easy side thanks to a system that gave you unlimited continues, but all that meant to me was that Wizards and Warriors was a game I could pick up and beat on those days where I just didnít feel like enduring the heartbreak of losing my last life fighting the final boss (Iím looking at you, Blaster Master!). "
One of the first NES games I ever played was Acclaimís Wizards and Warriors. Back then, I thought this game was flat-out spectacular. Yeah, it was a bit on the easy side thanks to a system that gave you unlimited continues, but all that meant to me was that Wizards and Warriors was a game I could pick up and beat on those days where I just didnít feel like enduring the heartbreak of losing my last life fighting the final boss (Iím looking at you, Blaster Master!).
To make a long story short, I had a great time playing Wizards and Warriors back in the day. Sadly, as I found out after blowing the dust off this relic, that day is long gone. While I could still see why I used to enjoy taking control of well-armored knight Kuros and sending him on a one-way trip to the bowels of evil wizard Malkilís lair, ready to do or die in order to save his harem of pixellated beauties -- the fond feelings I used to have just werenít there anymore.
Maybe it was because of the repetitive nature of this game. When a game only has eight levels, many of which can be beaten quickly by an experienced player, having only a scant few designs really hurts. The first and fifth levels both take place in forests, while the second, third and fourth all place Kuros in subterranean caves. To be fair, the third level is a bit different (itís a lava cave, as opposed to a plain old cave), but still, itís similar enough to make one wonder if Malkilís diabolical plans involved boring Kuros to death long before hero-boy even approaches his castle.
The levels arenít just repetitive in appearance, but they also all have the same goal. To get to the boss room, Kuros must bribe an invincible guardian with a set number of gems -- making the bulk of each level little more than a gigantic scavenger hunt. Youíll open each level by running around and snagging every gem you can find while looking for keys. Each level has up to three of these devices, with each one opening doors and treasure chests of its color. Chests contain either a bonanza of gems or items of varying levels of usefulness, while the doors lead to rooms potentially containing more gems, keys and chests.
This formula works really well during a couple of the longer levels. The final cave level and the main level of Malkilís castle have no shortage of secret rooms loaded with gems AND are vast in size, making it quite fun to meander around in search of your next big haul. However, the whole ďget gems to fight bossĒ concept falls flat in the smaller regions. In many levels, it simply doesnít take much time at all to see all the sights, meet your quota and get shuttled to the boss fight.
Most of the boss fights add little to the game, as theyíre pathetically easy to overcome. The one exception to that rule is the diabolically tough Skeleton Changeling that shows up at the end of the first level inside of Malkilís castle. Starting out as a microscopic líil guy, he skitters back and forth along the floor of his chamber tossing bones at you. Dissolving its life bar (an easy task) isnít the end of the fight however, as your foe merely increases in size, causing the battle to begin again. All in all, this skeleton has four forms, with the final one being quite tricky to avoid at times. Itís no surprise this fight stands out, especially when you consider that most of the other boss fights simply require you to pound your opposition into submission while applying a minimal amount of evasive maneuvers.
At least youíll have a good shot of dodging the attacks of bosses in Wizards and Warriors. Perhaps my greatest pet peeve with this game is the way the actual levels are designed. Youíll essentially be besieged from the minute you start play until the instant you turn the game off -- with the boss battles almost serving as breathers. Itís impossible to not take a fair amount of hits from the hordes of spiders, bees, bats, goblins and other assorted meanies strewn throughout the land. After a while, those hits add up and youíll watch the soon-familiar sight of your brave knight collapse as he twitches the last ounce of his life away. Kuros will do his ďdeath-jitterĒ move plenty of times under your control, but fear not -- YOU wonít be penalized. Not only does Wizards and Warriors give you unlimited continues, but you also get to start from exactly where you died with ALL your possessions intact. In other words, this game does little to discourage a player from losing lives, meaning that you really donít have to exhibit much skill at all to beat this game. The only setback youíll ever suffer from dying is in boss rooms, as those battles start from scratch when Kuros is resurrected, erasing any damage youíve done.
To be honest, at times I feel youíre ENCOURAGED to bite the dust on occasion in Wizards and Warriors. While there are a couple of simple, but nice, pieces of music in this game (the one that debuts in the first room of the lava cave is especially sweet, as is the intro/conclusion melody), the tune that plays when your life meter is running low is one of the worst to ever grace a home system. A cacophonous array of sound, this particular soundtrack selection has induced me to kill Kuros off more than once just so I could start a new life and get a few minutes respite from that hellish noise.
But I still found a number of enjoyable moments in my return to the world of Kuros and Malkil. As I mentioned before, a couple of the longer stages are quite fun to work through, while the Skeleton Changeling does a lot to make up for the less-than-inspired bosses that close out most levels. However, one part of Wizards and Warriors stands out above all others as far as Iím concerned.
After clearing the second forest, youíll find yourself standing outside of Malkilís abode. You need 50 gems in order to bribe the doorman, but a quick glance at the grounds tells you that a mere fraction of that amount is within reach. So, whatís a resourceful adventurer to do? The answer lies in the hordes of ledges and arrow-shooting devices placed all along the outer wall of the castle. You must take control of Kuros and cautiously leap from one ledge to another while dodging arrows and gigantic ants that seek to hinder your progress. This castle is absolutely HUGE, forcing you to make dozens upon dozens of jumps to make it to the top of any of its three towers. Youíll be forced to explore the entire exterior of the castle to get the sufficient amount of gems AND it will take forever as you WILL fall from ledges more than once and have to try again, but youíll love every second of it.
To put it simply, with the exception of a couple boss fights, this stage is the only part of Wizards and Warriors where you actually have to show some sort of skill to survive. Mistiming jumps while scaling the castle (an easy feat, especially since many of the ledges periodically retract into the wall) can easily mean youíll have to start over from the beginning. A skilled and careful player can be done with this level in minutes -- a bumbling oaf could take an hour or two....and still not be done.
If more of Wizards and Warriors was like this stage, Iíd probably still possess the same fond feelings for it that I had back in the day. Sadly, although those sentiments did resurface from time to time, I found myself overwhelmed by boredom for much of the game. The simple truth is that a repetitive game with little actual challenge just doesnít hold much of a thrill for me anymore. In fact, for parts of this game, I was left wondering why Iíd loved it so much in the past.
Community review by overdrive (April 22, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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