Thou Hast discovered …

25 Years of NES Part 7:  Wizards and Warriors

Wizards and Warriors is not a game often mentioned in best on the NES discussions.  With good reason, the game is kind of a mess.  Players assume the role of Kuros the warrior as he fights literally through hell to save a Princess from the evil wizard Malkil.  Published by Acclaim in 1987 and made by Rare, makers of Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie, Wizards and Warriors is a standard NES action/adventure game.  It is an unexciting but enjoyable mix of Metroid and Ghost and Goblins.  There are, however, a few things that make Wizards and Warriors stand out a bit from the crowd.

The game controls rather well.   There is nothing exciting about the way Kuros moves, but it is better than many games on the system.  It avoids the wonkiness of NES trash like Might Bomb Jack or Legend of Kage, where the jump button sends the player flying all the way across the screen.  It takes its jump physics from Mario, with the ability to alter the trajectory of the jump after you hit he button.  The jump is especially important considering how pathetic Kuros sword is.  Pushing the B button swings his sword, but it has no range or reach.  Luckily, he holds the sword out as he jumps and runs it into enemies.  He can also hit enemies with his feet, making the jump a superior weapon than the sword swing.  That alone creates an interesting game play dynamic.

The levels are not flat plains like the Mario, more like mini Metroid maps.   Each level is a small area that the player is free to traverse, with the objective not reaching the end, but finding the gems needed to bribe the door guard into letting you pass.  Yes, Rare fondness for collectathon bullshit was prevalent even back in the NES days.  Not that this example is particularly egregious.  While the exploration elements of the levels are fun, that fact that you cannot progress with enough gems is annoying.

That is only annoyance number one.   To go along with your sword, you get several sub-weapons to use.  First is the most important: the throwing dagger.  Much like the boomerang from Zelda, the dagger comes back after you throw it and is definitely your best offensive tool until you get the throwing axe, which is just an upgraded dagger.  Then there are the other upgrades.  Like the Feather of feather Fall, which is just as useless as it’s name is stupid.  Or the boots of Lava walk that do not actually let you walk in lava in the one level that has lava.  Or the cloak of darkness, which makes you invisible.  Unfortunately the enemies do operate on sight, but the player does.  So with the cloak on the player cannot see what he is doing, but the enemies can still get attack him.  What’s especially great is that the game seems to know these items are useless and loves to put them at the bottom of climbing areas so if you fall you fall in them.

Significant flaws aside, Wizards and Warriors is a fun game.  And unlike most NES games, which are “NES Hard”, Wizards and Warriors is pretty easy.  This is not necessarily a bonus, but for an afternoons distraction you could do much worse.  Plus the soundtrack is awesome.

But Thou Must

25 Years of NES Part 6:  Dragon Warrior

As successful, as the NES undoubtedly was there were also a few failures for Nintendo.  Dragon Warrior is probably one of the bigger ones of the era for them.  Not that Dragon Warrior is a bad game or that is was overall an unsuccessful one.  Known as Dragon Quest in Japan, and everywhere else now, the game started a phenomenon there.  Well maybe the sequels were the start of the phenomenon, but the point is that the Dragon Quest series is and has been the most popular game series in Japan for a long time.  However, all the Japanese success of was reaped by Enix, its creators.  Enix did not have an American arm at the time, so Nintendo handled the American release.  And the American release was a failure.

There are some very good reasons why the game failed in America.  First, it was three years old by the time Nintendo brought it over.  Three years is difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2.  While many people rightly prefer SMB to its sequel, graphically there is no comparison.  Also, Dragon Warrior was an RPG, a genre not familiar to the NES audience.  Sure Nintendo had success with the more exploration driven Legend of Zelda, but most of the NES’s library was action heavy.  Introducing new gaming concepts in an ugly and outdated game does not sound like a recipe for success to me.  Nintendo, with all their past success blinding them, put a lot of effort into publishing a game that had passed its sell be date.  They made some graphical and mechanical tweaks to make the game more playable and look less old.  They clearly put a lot of effort into the top-notch translation, probably due to the high amount of text in the game.  It also got a full on Nintendo Power, that much celebrated monthly NES commercial, promotion.  But it landed with a thud anyway.  Before long free copies of the game came with a Nintendo Power subscription.  That is how I got my copy.

I do not know that I can actually recommend that anyone go back and play Dragon Warrior today.  It is archaic and simple.  There is little there other than a history lesson.  However, there is enough charm in the translation and the game is short enough that I do not recommend you avoid it either.  The game’s hero, Erdrick, must rescue the Princess Gwaelin from the DragonLord.  Like the much-loved Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior gives a quest and leaves you to your own devices as to how to accomplish them.  You can see the DragonLord’s castle from the starting point, but it is quite the ordeal to make it there.  The game is as simple as RPGs come.  Each fight is the hero one on one with whatever monster you are fighting.  While you have some spells, you only useful option most the time it to attack.  You can buy new armor and weapons, but it is actually easier to just use the stuff you find in the dungeons.

While the story is that generic save the Princess, defeat the bad guy shtick, there are some things that make it interesting.  Like the fact that you rescue the Princess about halfw

ay through.  You can talk to her at Tantegel Castle.  She just needily demands your affection, but constantly rebuffing her is kind of fun. (Dost thou love me Erdrick?  No.  But thou must)  When you finally reach the DragonLord, he gives you the option to join him.  Accepting his offer does not end well for the hero, but it is a nice option.  Dragon Warrior is simple and not exactly fun, but it is definitely interesting.