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Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (NES) artwork

Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (NES) review


"Given Wisdom Tree's notoriety in retro circles, their take on the mediocre puzzler Crystal Mines should not have been any good. Yet while most of Wisdom Tree's games copied from other genres and forced Bibilical stuff in, most of Joshua's hundred levels create small stories so it doesn't feel like just an action puzzler. Though the puzzles are quite good too, as Joshua blasts around with his trumpet (how Jericho was destroyed, you know,) collecting five question blocks and adequate..."



Given Wisdom Tree's notoriety in retro circles, their take on the mediocre puzzler Crystal Mines should not have been any good. Yet while most of Wisdom Tree's games copied from other genres and forced Bibilical stuff in, most of Joshua's hundred levels create small stories so it doesn't feel like just an action puzzler. Though the puzzles are quite good too, as Joshua blasts around with his trumpet (how Jericho was destroyed, you know,) collecting five question blocks and adequate treasure to reveal the exit to the next level.

A typical level of Joshua has many different Philistine enemies, whose color indicates how he moves around the screen. Judiciously blasting the dirt can force an enemy to go where he loops harmlessly, or where he can be crushed by a falling boulder. Many enemies must be killed this way; Joshua's trumpet can only kill the guys who look like him: bearded, white robed, less tubby. Thankfully, though touch means death, nobody shoots, but weird floating witch heads which bash around randomly go faster if shot, and purple mutants--and the deadly weird blocks that turn ordinary enemies purple--reflect Joshua's musical notes, which leads to that cute death scene where he covers his eyes with an accompanying down-scale.

Power-ups also appear and are obvious and delightfully purple: a shovel breaks all boulders, notes give Joshua's trumpet range and volume, a sonic beam shoots through to a wall, lightning gives speed, and a crown negates the nasty purple block death. The exit, when Joshua's collected enough, is also easy to spot once Joshua's got what he needs, though some levels, often behind suspiciously useless-looking wall clumps, contain a portal to a bonus level chock full of goodies. There, Joshua runs a gauntlet where he must pick up items in a certain order, which gives a tune more pleasing than just points.

At first it's just a matter of shooting through dirt and carving out just enough to drop boulders on enemies, so Joshua can fire around for other semi-hidden questions. Power-ups are either visible or overkill, and Joshua can pick up falling jugs and coins with ease. Then boulder piles hide the best stuff, and Joshua doesn't have enough trumpet bombs to hack through everything. Especially not the cement blocks, which can crush treasure. There's mud Joshua can't walk over. It regenerates, the blue producing jugs when bombed (with a BIG trumpet) and the orange just being a swarming nuisance. Other levels have mazes of fake walls, or small puzzles to get that extra gold piece. Crows act as explosives, and some dirt and walls aren't quite what they seem. Everything's its own color or shape, as opposed to Crystal Mines's exercise in earth tone overkill.

The first fifty levels are pretty forgiving. Each has a mirror image in the next fifty, where power-ups and time to complete the level are scarcer. The treasure count needed to advance is greater, and Joshua starts somewhere awkward where he could get trapped. Bombing minimal treasure or letting it get crushed may kill a level. Here's where reconnaisance pays--players need to discover secret doors in the whole level--or its equivalent in the first fifty--and pinpoint nasty places the questions weren't the first time around. Linear levels, despite apparent simplicity, prove especially annoying here.

Thankfully, a password every level make the necessary trial-and-error relatively efficient. Combining this with exact play to bagging enough treasure makes for a rewarding challenge to put all this together. The final level has Joshua firing from below to release a drip of boulders through two holes, shooting and pushing them to zigzag upwards to safety, tiptoeing to grab gold coins from under cement blocks, dodging more cement to get questions in a dead end, then looping back to bomb some mud with time winding down before zapping the secret door and bombing the final purple panel blocking the exit. The few NES puzzler final levels that are more impressive technically are no fun to explain.

Through this, Jericho's soliders march in unison guarding treasure, or a goat may lie to the side waiting to ram Joshua when he "sees" him. Joshua sneaks by, comes back and blows them away with a trumpet bomb, or even waits patiently for mud to grow back so he has enough treasure. He may barricade purple enemies into a corner with successive trumpet-bomb drops. Perhaps he has to juggle one boulder on his head to stop several temporary onslaughts, or he needs to fire away carefully with his super-trumpet to clear the board. Or Joshua may need to just outwit enemies in a maze, relying on if they move clockwise or counterclockwise to duck in makeshift dead ends. More shooting is usually not the answer, and often Joshua needs to push boulders around just so for maximum mobility while still squashing enemies.

This leaves the talking ("Good job, Joshua" and "Be Courageous, Joshua" for completing/starting a level--with emphasized syllables, no less) as an afterthought. Joshua is so solid technically that the quizzes every five levels--with accompanying pictures--are just an after thought, but it's all so well done that players are able to concentrate on the game. Instead of "go here, shoot, bomb" it's "ambush this heathen." And while Joshua doesn't have the drama of David defeating Goliath or Noah piling animals like a triple-decker sandwich, its beautiful and practical schemes make it easy enough to learn, and the hidden parts of each level leave it playable once you've forgotten them.

Rating: 9/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (January 31, 2010)

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randxian posted February 02, 2010:

Noah piling animals like a triple-decker sandwich

I literally laughed out loud for a few moments after reading this. Once again, you've managed to write a professional looking review with plenty of useful information about an obscure game.
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aschultz posted February 05, 2010:

I missed this. Thanks. I had that line in my head after playing Noah's Ark & trying to review it and failing. Though there's the worry a line like that may feel too forced.

Your review this week was more than okay too.

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