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Saturday, May 14, 2022

Deadly Towers

One of the first NES RPGs to ever be localized, it's also one that's a common target for caustic reviewers, beginning with internet comedian Seanbaby famously deriding it as the worst NES game ever made.  That's a bit hyperbolic, of course; there are far worse NES games.  But that doesn't mean Deadly Towers is some kind of hidden gem - it earns pretty much all of the criticism it's gotten.  Each of the game's towers is an enormous, convoluted maze with a room count well into the triple digits, with nearly every screen being packed to the brim with monsters.  To make matters worse, you're a rather large target, and virtually every screen has you taking a cheap hit from an enemy as soon as you enter and/or features ledges you can easily fall or get knocked off of, resulting in instant death.  Even the game seems to be aware aware of this; each death dispenses a password and then, upon pressing Start, you're immediately dropped back at the start of the game, retaining all the powerups and gear you'd collected save for your money (which is reset back to 50).  It's also easy to stumble into invisible warps that take you to new areas (and even some 'beneficial' items do this), making navigation even more of a pain.  Combat isn't much fun either - you can throw a single sword at the start and are completely defenseless until it lands or goes offscreen; once either happens, you can throw another, so defeating nearly all enemies is just a matter of getting up next to them and spamming your sword until they die.  Upgraded swords behave the same, just traveling faster and doing slightly more damage, so there's virtually no variety to the combat.  The graphics are serviceable for a 1986 Famicom game, if rather uninspired, and the music is decently composed, though the fact that the tracks are so short and reset to the start every single time you enter a new room means you'll get tired of them quickly.  I'll cap off this review by saying that while early Japanese RPGs tended to be pretty rough, Deadly Towers came out several months after The Legend of Zelda did in Japan and a month after in the US; as to which holds up better, well, that's a no-brainer.

Developer: Lenar, Tamtex
Publisher: Irem, Broderbund
Platform: NES
Released: 1987

Legacy of the Wizard

The fourth game in the Dragon Slayer series; a name not very well known in the west, but Japan knows it as one of the first action-RPG series ever made.  That said, each game in the series is a very different experience, from top-down dungeon crawls to tactical combat experiences.  Legacy of the Wizard is certainly no different, having you control five family members who each have differing abilities, and navigating a rather enormous maze in search of a magic sword that can slay an evil dragon.  Each family member gets a different set of items to utilize, and with these, they can reach a section of the dungeon no other can and retrieve one of the four crowns; Xemn (the father) gets a glove that can push blocks around; Lyll (the daughter) can destroy blocks with a mattock and leap to absurd heights; Meyna (the mother) can fly using magical wings; Pochi (the family pet) is a monster and therefore ignored by nearly all other monsters in the dungeon (even being able to use them as platforms); and finally, Roas (the son) is the only one who can wield the Dragon Slayer sword, necessary to defeat the final boss.  It's a game that definitely requires the manual or a strategy guide, as there's very little text in-game and no explanation given for what all the items actually are or how they work, but there's a surprising amount of fun and depth to be found here.  You'll also need to master some very precise jumps and quirky controls (especially for the block-pushing with Xemn's glove), but the charming graphics and an amazing soundtrack by Mieko Ishikawa and (of course) Yuzo Koshiro keep it fresh even despite some irritating design elements.

Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Nihon Falcom, Namcot, Broderbund
Platform: MSX, MSX2, NES
Released: 1987, 1989

Friday, May 13, 2022

Willow

Willow is based on the 1988 fantasy film of the same name, which probably brings to mind a lot of other mediocre-to-terrible movie tie-ins.  However, Capcom always put their all into everything they did in the NES era, licensed games included, and several of theirs are still regarded as classics today (Ducktales in particular got both a rerelease on the Disney Afternoon Collection and a remake by WayForward in recent years).  Willow is certainly no exception to that rule, either, taking the format of Legend of Zelda and adapting the film's plot to it in pretty fine fashion.  It works in a bit of an experience system, as well as some slightly more sophisticated swordplay - if you press the attack button while moving you'll do a forward thrust, and pressing while stopped will do a slower sweeping slash that covers a wide area, potentially knocking away multiple enemies.  Throughout the game you'll also find new equipment and spells to bolster your abilities, and battle some surprisingly tricky bosses.  Per Capcom standards, the game also has wonderful animation, detailed graphics (I like how the wind blows the grass and trees while in combat) and some quite good, atmospheric music.  A less talked about Capcom NES game, but that doesn't mean it isn't great.

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: NES
Released: 1989