Flying Warriors (NES) review
"These warriors fly about as well as I do when I put on a cape and jump from the roof. "
It always bums me out when I come across a game that has great ideas but fails in the execution. Itís one thing to play something that lacks quality from top to bottom, but when you can see glimmers of a great experience that was simply muddled by terrible design decisions, thatís just plain frustrating. Unfortunately, thatís exactly what I found in the case of Flying Warriors, a game with a really cool and unique combat system that ultimately fails on multiple levels.
The game begins with our hero, Rick Stalker, getting some final pointers from his master, Gen. This is the in-game tutorial, a rarity for NES games, and it spends all of its time explaining the finer points of the one-on-one combat. While I can understand the need to explain the complex fighting mechanics, itís strange to lead with them, since the bulk of the game is played as a generic side-scrolling action title. It would be like me giving you a taste of a delicious (okay, maybe passable) cake, only to take it away and serve an undercooked steak that must be consumed before you can move on to what you really wanted to eat.
Flying Warriors blends genres in ways that could be interesting if everything wasnít so stilted and flawed. Rick can talk to NPCs, earn money to spend in shops, and level up as you would in any RPG. He can explore the levels, which offer a rather large amount of freedom and numerous spaces to discover. However, thanks to the liberal use of pitfalls, exploring is a less than appealing prospect. Quick and cheap deaths wait around every corner. Rick will fight enemies in these areas, but most of them can be defeated with one swift kick. These enemies pose little actual threat, but they enjoy knocking Rick into those ubiquitous pits or whittling him down thanks to their sheer numbers.
The control scheme makes exploration scenes quite frustrating. This game actually changes quite a bit depending on the difficulty level and control level you set before starting the game. Playing on standard settings makes the platforming levels easier to contend with, but takes away all of the depth of the one-on-one battles. For example, using the master controls gives Rick two attack buttons: kick and punch. However, jumps are performed by pressing Up on the D-pad. This wouldnít be a problem, but you canít jump diagonally. Instead, you have to jump up and correct Rickís path in the air, which makes platforming feel stiff and unresponsive. Selecting standard controls allows Rick to jump with the A button like a character would in a normal game, but he loses access to his standing punch. Neither choice appealed to me. I felt like I was fighting the controls the entire time.
This becomes especially frustrating in the tournament battles, because Flying Warriors has an interesting control scheme and the experience is once again hindered by the execution. These versus fights are handled much like they would be in a fighting game. Flashing indicators appear on the fighterís head, body, or feet, and these points need to be defended or attacked, depending on which side of the attack youíre on. In standard mode, simply pressing the D-pad forward will automatically block a strike. Things are much more interesting on master mode, where the D-pad needs to be pressed in the direction of the body part thatís about to be attacked. This makes battles a lot more interesting, but no matter which setting you choose, the controls are often unresponsive to the point that Rick may just stand there doing nothing as you hammer on the attack button, desperately trying to exploit an enemyís weak point.
If you can get a handle on one of the available control schemes, then youíll find that Flying Warriors offers a rather lengthy adventure. The story is told through cutscenes, although things rarely make sense. Youíre never told why Rick can transform into a spandex-clad super hero, and the other Flying Warriors only come into play when Rick enters the Dark Dimension, allowing him to tag out with one of his companions. Unfortunately, this game has a limited number of continues, and the plethora of perilous pitfalls can sap those rapidly. That devolves the game into a combination of memorization and luck, and the goal becomes trying to get through the early stages as flawlessly as possible so you can see what happens next.
Graphically, Flying Warriors holds its own. The sprites are large, and the whole game sports a gritty, mid-Ď80s style. The game features a nice selection of marital arts styles that are shown off during the various tournaments during the adventure. These different fighting forms all have varied animations that look authentic, and when you couple this with the transformed version of Rick and his compatriots, you have quite a bit going on under the hood.
With more precise controls and unlimited continues (or zero pitfalls), Flying Warriors could be amazing. The combat system attempts to create realistic and exciting martial arts battles, but the poor controls make these fights look like a comical slapping contest, with two grown men flailing their arms and legs at each other. These warriors fly about as well as I do when I put on a cape and jump from the roof.
Freelance review by Julian Titus (July 15, 2013)
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