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Spiritual Warfare (NES) artwork

Spiritual Warfare (NES) review

"It's all quite cool, but odd in that the setting is contemporary (obviously that would explain the forklifts I mentioned above). Link never visited a bar and got thrown out. Link never went through the junkyard. So even if this is a clone, it covers some new territory."

When you hear the words 'Zelda clone', what comes to your mind? Do you picture rolling green hills with monsters descending from mountains, a la Willow? Or perhaps you think of traipsing through the dungeons in Alundra. Maybe your mind shifts to even more recent titles like Soul Reaver and Dark Cloud? Any of the above might be true. But unless you're a true lover of games odd and mostly forgotten, you probably have never thought of one of the best of the clones, a cartridge from Wisdom Tree known as Spiritual Warfare.

You'll know it if you see it in the store. There's a soldier in the middle of a mist, swinging his sword at cloudy apparitions. It all looks creepy, yet there's the knowledge that this is a Christian game, one meant to entice children into loving the scriptures, to entice parents into shelling out $50. That was the original intent, anyway, but now years have passed and surprisingly, this is one game that stands the test of time.

In Spiritual Warfare, your job is to...witness. You're not saving the Princess, you're not bringing the chosen one to the confrontation with the evil witch, and you're most certainly not sucking the souls out of people. But souls are involved, as you're trying to win people to God. To do that, you're going to wander through all kinds of areas: a park, the slums, the warehouse district, downtown, the beach, the docks, and finally the prison, under which lies the greatest of all evils. Of course, this witnessing gig is quite difficult, so along the way you're going to be collecting the pieces of the Armor of God.

If I haven't made the game sound appealing yet, it's because the concept driving it isn't all that fresh. However, the gameplay rises beyond that. Things start out simple enough, in the park. You move from screen to screen and watch as they scroll, Zelda-like. Enemies rush toward you and you shoot out God's words, which cause them to drop to their knees in repentence. At this point, it's likely a demon will fly out. You can silence it with more spiritual words. Then the praying person flickers out of sight. Sometimes, something stays behind, mana points. You can use those to buy stuff. Fruit of the Spirit, vials, whatever. But where do you shop? Without a clue, you continue wandering through the park, coming to one barrier after another, clearing away brush and trees, looking for an escape. Then you find the tunnel, and you venture inside, and when you finally come out one boss encounter later, you have the belt of truth. Suddenly, you can move boulders. You can proceed to the next area.

If all this sounds like The Legend of Zelda, well, good. You've been paying attention. See, I meant what I said about this being a Zelda clone. You progress through an area, you find a roadblock, and eventually a trip to a dungeon or whatever--they're small in this game, last one excluded--provides the solution for which you were searching. With a new piece of the Armor of God, you can reach new areas.

Collecting that armor isn't all the game has for you, though. You're also collecting the Fruit of the Spirit. In reality, these are weapons. There are numerous kinds of fruit, each a different thing like grapes, bananas, apples, or whatever else. Each has an attack pattern and each can be strengthened if you find more of its kind, up to four. Also, the fruit is deviously hidden throughout what proves a rather large world. You really have to explore carefully to find everything.

As you explore, foes will make it difficult to proceed. You might not think there's a challenge here, but there really is. There are the demons that fly out of converted souls, cars, forklifts, coals, and other hazards. You really have to keep on your toes to stay alive. Fortunately, you can play Bible trivia along the way for much-needed boosts. And you can buy upgrades in shops.

But the real fun, as always, is in the exploration. Like The Legend of Zelda, the game also rewards you for backtracking. Follow the railroad tracks halfway around the world to find a hidden portal, or a heart. Warp about and find secret rooms. It's all quite cool, but odd in that the setting is contemporary (obviously that would explain the forklifts I mentioned above). Link never visited a bar and got thrown out. Link never went through the junkyard. So even if this is a clone, it covers some new territory.

Not only does the game cover new territory, though, but it does it in style. The graphics are laughable by today's standards. A few frames for any character, with different characters recycled all over the place, sometimes without even the benefit of a pallete swap. But there's a level of detail that is surprising. You can never really wonder where you are. The woods look like the woods, docks like docks, and so forth. Everything comes together in a coherent fashion that despite its Christian background still manages to feel darker in some ways than a game like Willow or The Legend of Zelda.

Then there's the sound to consider. This category depends entirely on your preferences. As you walk about, familiar tunes will pipe through your television speakers. They're songs you've heard in church, if you've gone. And they don't sound half bad considering the system's restraints. Some of them are as catchy as any secular tune. But at the same time, some players will resent the Christian influence. It's here in Spiritual Warfare, just as it is in any Wisdom Tree title.

With that said, there are still plenty of reasons to play the game. The way in which it is set up successfully duplicates a lot of things that made The Legend of Zelda fun, more elements than you might think. And there's a good challenge. It'll take you quite a while to progress to the game's end, whether you're trying to collect everything or not. The map is cleverly laid out in a way that makes exploration exciting, even when you're backtracking.

But again, this isn't a game for everyone. If the Bible absolutely sets your teeth on edge, you're going to have a hard time enjoying Spiritual Warfare; the Bible trivia and the hymns assure that, not to mention the occasional presence of an angel or demon. If, however, you can ignore that or if you actually have convictions in such areas, then Spiritual Warfare is likely to be one of the most rewarding game experiences you've ever had. It has depth, it has graphics, it has sound, it has gameplay, and there's a password system to back it all up. If you find it for sale somewhere, give serious consideration to buying it.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)

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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