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Wizards & Warriors (NES) artwork

Wizards & Warriors (NES) review

"Wizards and Warriors is regarded by many as a classic. I was in that group until I recently replayed the game with an analytical eye and a critical mind. Where before I had seen testosterone-laden Conan-esque platformer goodness, I now see a sloppily made platformer with an ill-fitting color pallet and dull levels and objectives. One may question how a show like Video Power could justify endorsing it so heavily. "

Wizards and Warriors is regarded by many as a classic. I was in that group until I recently replayed the game with an analytical eye and a critical mind. Where before I had seen testosterone-laden Conan-esque platformer goodness, I now see a sloppily made platformer with an ill-fitting color pallet and dull levels and objectives. One may question how a show like Video Power could justify endorsing it so heavily.

It begins and you are thrust into a massive forest full of dying trees and horrifying stock enemies. Mashing the B button is only instinctive, but you find that it's less than effective. Kuros doesn't so much swing his sword as much as flail it about like he's swatting at flies. More creatures approach and you jump, duck, and run to get around them. You accidentally jump into a bee, squinting your eyes shut in expectation of damage only to see that the bee has been vanquished. Here's an interesting tidbit about this game: your sword can deal damage without using the B button. It seems Rare gave the sword deadly collision detection even when stationary, and it's actually more effective to try to joust your enemies to death rather than mash the B button. This renders your main attack completely worthless until you can get a subweapon to throw. Even then, you will still spend a fair amount of time jousting non-boss enemies instead of engaging in any skill-based combat.

This might almost work but for the inconsistent collision detection. Sometimes ramming your sword right into an enemy doesn't phase them, but then that same enemy will hit your shield and die. This especially holds true with bats. Sometimes they will hit your sword and you will be the one taking damage.

Our Sword of Awkwardness slays another unfortunate target: the game's action aspect. Combat feels wonky and needlessly, perhaps even accidentally, complicated. Rare could have easily made the sword swing properly and deal damage as it collides with an enemy rather than having Kuros madly wave it at enemies.

You eventually find a door guarded by an armored doorman who requests an admission fee of 50 gems. It's here that you discover the game's first objective. Despite the fact that the interface suggests this to be a fantasy-adventure game, one with swords, sorcery, mythical creatures, and fair maidens, it now feels like a franchise platformer that wants to look like a dark RPG. The idea of collecting gems feels more at home with a cute character like Mario than with an armor-clad knight.

This clash of styles can be seen throughout the game. The environments and music tell a tale of despair, honor, evil, and triumph. Many of the levels are darkly set and the music, especially the boss music, feels malefic. Then you get to the color pallets. Enemies come in three colors: maroon, pink, and powder blue. While fighting maroon gargoyles may keep the dark atmosphere in tact, fighting pink spiders and powder blue bats does not. This also extends to some of the environmental graphics. While many of the environments maintain the dark atmosphere, there are some, like bright green caves, that feel out of place. With the color pallet being as limited as it was, it calls to question why Rare went with some of the most nauseating, out-of-place colors when darker shades of red, green, and blue would have sufficed.

The fantasy aspect suffers a horrendous blow. A fantasy-based game profits most from being imaginative, yet 90% of the enemies you fight are stock creatures you will meet in just about any other game: bats, bees, spiders, eagles, even animate flames. With so many creatures in mythology and folklore, and ones to draw upon from pen and paper RPG's, why did Rare settle on ones so tame? It becomes worse in the second level, where they thought that all they needed to do to create an enemy was slap an evil face on something like a rock or a wall. I will say that the level features some of the most evil cave walls I've ever faced.

The lack of imagination doesn't stop there, as the levels also lack imagination. You start off in a forest and head to a cave. After the cave is another cave, then a third cave. You eventually find your way to a second forest, then to the outside of a castle. Once inside the castle, you find that it's exactly like the caves except with different interface. Every cave level plays the same and feels like someone just swapped the color pallets and repositioned the platforms. There's very little to distinguish one from the next.

Back to our doorman. You collect all the gems you need, the doorman steps aside and the maroon-colored door awaits you. You walk up to it and nothing happens. You push up and still nothing. Perhaps it's locked. You turn around and search the level and eventually happen upon a pink key, remembering you saw a pink door somewhere. You enter the pink door to find a powder blue key that eventually leads you to a maroon key. This is not just the objective of the first level, but every level. The objectives consist of incessantly searching each level for keys that eventually lead you to the key that unlocks the door to the boss, but only if you've sufficiently paid the doorman. These long bouts of collecting and searching become very tiresome quickly, and many would probably find themselves shutting the game off before they complete the third level.

Every level feels sloppily made, almost as though it were randomly generated. Platforms are all over the place without consideration and lend nothing to the challenge. This means you essentially hop around from random platform to random platform, occasionally finding a little nook or cranny until you happen upon on the keys you need to complete the level. Very few are the challenging platforming events, and even then rising to the occasion is no large task.

Then again, the entire game is like that: no large task. It might seem difficult at first because the game swarms you with enemies. In the first level it's bees. Later levels swarm you with bats, gargoyles, or flames; flying enemies that will come in large quantities and hover around you until either you've killed them or they've killed you. Killing them will summon more and more and more. It's an endless cycle of enemies swarming you. If you die or get a game over, you will spawn right where you died. The number of continues in this game: infinite. Think about that now. That means you basically have infinite lives. It really captures the feel of playing with a Game Genie. There's almost no challenge at all. The only consequence of getting a game over is that you lose all of your points. That's it. With no real consequence, there is no challenge, and that means dodging becomes becomes far less important. This also means very little skill is required to beat the game. All you need is patience and persistence.

The only true challenge is a few of the boss battles. If you die at a boss, you still spawn there, but the boss's health is fully restored. Some bosses are still easy despite this, but there are a few that are still really damn hard. The one in the second level comes to mind. You start out at the beginning of a hallway and have to run the gauntlet against a colony of pink bats. As you pass one, it will swoop down and attack you. The further you advance, the bigger and tougher the bats become. The first few can be easily dealt with without losing life, but the last few can be tricky. These guys wear you down until you get to the hanging pink nightmare at the end, a giant neon bat that looks like it flew out of a 1980's nightclub. Dealing with him isn't so hard if you can get to him with a decent amount of life, but having the scores of other bats wear you down first makes him one of the only true challenges in the game.

Wizards and Warriors is a sloppily made and unimaginative fantasy platformer with hardly any challenge whatsoever. A platformer becomes tiresome without precision and careful design. The levels feel very ill-planned, almost slapped together, and the objectives make the game feel tedious. Put that together with unbalanced difficulty--the fact that the game is loaded with enemies to try to make a game with infinite lives challenging--and the end product is a dull exercise. Even the dark fantasy atmosphere is not spared from this game's flaws with boring levels and enemies. Fantasy is all about imagination. Without it, it feels tame and pointless. Wizards and Warriors fails to deliver on almost every aspect, and only wins points for having worthwhile boss battles. Beyond that, it's a game far away from being recommended.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (December 26, 2010)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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qxz posted December 26, 2010:

JTD, I am also one of those guys who thought Wizards & Warriors was great gaming in the mid-1990s. My own recent playthroughs have tarnished my opinion of the game to some degree, though not as harshly as yours. I'm actually rather curious as through which perspective you were looking at W&W.

P.S. If you gave Wizards & Warriors a rating of 3, it might look like a 6 or better compared to its immediate sequel, the thoroughly broken Ironsword.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted December 27, 2010:

I never considered the angle at which I looked at it, but I think it would be from today's standards. Even judging it from then, I think it still doesn't quite hold up. It might have been a 5 or 6 then, though. I think I liked it much more as a kid mainly because I didn't know how to analyze a game back then. I only thought, "Hey, I can actually beat this game," and that meant something to me then because beating a game was a rare occasion. These days, not so much.

As for Ironsword, I do plan to go through that one again. I liked it as well as a kid, what with it being my first NES game, but I'm not sure how I'll feel about it today. I do like that it's more challenging.
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overdrive posted December 27, 2010:

That's why I loved the game growing up, Joe. Its easiness. It was a game that I could go through and beat in a couple of hours, so I played it a lot. When I reviewed it, it was based on its own merits after not having played it for a number of years. I couldn't really understand why I liked it so much in the past.

As for Ironsword, I remember that game being, there was this point a bit before the Earth monster (maybe when you enter the Earth level) where you suddenly can't continue anymore or something like that, isn't there? But I LOVED the music in the area for the final boss. This light, airy happy-sounding stuff that was completely out-of-place for a final boss fight.
There it is. Not exactly apocalyptic end-of-the-world stuff.
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qxz posted December 27, 2010:

I don't disagree that Wizards & Warriors is a game that's easy to complete. However, I find W&W's difficulty to be inconsistent -- especially if trying to complete the game on one credit -- but that's only because the enemies in the game cough up random goodies upon their deaths. I've had rounds where I've been able to make it far into the game due to a rather generous supply of health-restoring meat and red invulnerability potions; only once have I beaten W&W on the first credit. More often than not, I often have trouble making it past the third cave level before the dreaded "game over" screen.

Having said that, I'm the only person (so far) on HG whose opinion of Wizards & Warriors is positive, but only a hair's width. If I'm playing W&W for any length of time, it's only because I treat W&W as a quick, arcade-style experience.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted December 27, 2010:

As for Ironsword, I remember that game being, there was this point a bit before the Earth monster (maybe when you enter the Earth level) where you suddenly can't continue anymore or something like that, isn't there?

There's a part where you can really get stuck and it can seem like you can't get out, but you actually can. I was actually stuck at that scene as a kid for few months.

And yeah, I remember that final battle. I never did beat that boss without a Game Genie. I came very, very close once.

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