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Throwback Thursday – Wizards & Warriors (1987)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 01:19pm 05/12/14 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a new weekly column here on Ausgamers where Kosta Andreadis opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, and amongst the photos of game developers posing in front of exotic cars, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!

The Details

The Game: Wizards & Warriors
The Year: 1987
The Developer: Rare Coin-It
The System: NES (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Watch Kosta run you through a slice of gameplay with commentary above

Many of you probably know the name Rare from the studio’s releases across multiple Nintendo consoles. For quite a while there, in the world of all things Nintendo, Rare was a pretty big deal. For old-school Nintendo fans games like Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo and Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64 helped place the UK developer near or on the same level as that of Nintendo’s own internal development teams. And as we’re talking about the teams behind Mario and Zelda, that’s no small feat. But Rare’s relationship with Nintendo consoles goes back further than the mid-90s and began with the 8-bit, Nintendo Entertainment System.

Blow Me, I’m a Cartridge

The NES or Famicom (short for ‘Family Computer’) was the console that really brought us to where we are today. Sure the Atari 2600 became a phenomenon in the late ‘70s and for a few years into the ‘80s but sometime in 1983 the industry started to collapse and before long no one wanted anything to do with console gaming. At least from a retail perspective. These were dire times for consoles, and it seemed that the industry would basically live on exclusively through the arcade and home computing markets. So when the NES launched in the U.S in 1985 it did so with Nintendo basically having to beg for shelf space. In Japan the Famicom launched in 1983 so it took two-years for western retailers and distributors to even give Nintendo the chance to put their console on a shelf in a the back corner of a small toy store in New York.

But thanks to a whole slew of ground-breaking and genre defining quality games, the system slowly became a hit. In fact as the years went on, sales for the NES were exponentially higher than anything the industry had ever seen. But it took a while to get there, and in Australia and Europe the NES launched in 1987, a full four-years after its Japanese debut. By this point the system had become a global phenomenon, and developers around the world began looking at cartridges as the way of the future. For Rare’s founders, brothers Tim and Chris Stamper, it was a way to continue the success they found earlier in the decade making games for the ZX Spectrum.

Their first NES game was 1986’s Slalom, which you can probably guess was a skiing game in the form of a downhill race where players had to dodge obstacles and other skiers. Published by Nintendo the game found success in multiple markets and started an almost prolific output from the UK studio. We’re talking around about 35 or so Rare games across the NES’s lifespan - the polar opposite of what their namesake implies. Granted, a lot of these were quick sequels and various console versions of game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! But the quality that the company later became famous for was still there.

Diamonds the Size of People
Wizards & Warriors (1987) was the second game developed by Rare for a Nintendo console. One where players take on the role of Kuros, the warrior in question, in a quest to rid the land of the evil wizard Malkil. But as was the case with a lot of early NES games, there wasn’t really much in the way of story. The only way you’d even know the name Kuros was by reading the back of the box or booklet that shipped with the game. Which surprisingly, few people did.

Playing Wizards & Warriors, the goals are pretty simple. And that is to explore each location, collect gems, find different colour keys, fight the boss, save the damsel, and repeat. For a lot of gamers in the ‘80s though, this pretty simple setup actually took a while to figure out. And that is because the game doesn’t really spell out any objective, and the levels themselves were designed in a non-linear fashion to allow for both vertical and horizontal movement. That last part in particular was not a common thing you’d find in many games in the ‘80s, and it was the sense of discovery and exploration that endeared Wizards & Warriors to hearts and minds of gamers the world over. Also, it’s NES-staple punishing difficulty.

So how does it stack up today? Well, not as good as you’d hope. For one thing almost every single jump in the game requires pixel-perfect timing and placement, and secondly no matter how many enemies you kill they almost always re-spawn immediately. Now this may not sound like a bad thing, especially if your surname is Farrelly and you like your games to be hard. That’s fine, as is having only fond memories for the NES’s numerous Mega Man titles. Well, maybe not so much that last bit. But even so the controls in Wizards & Warriors aren’t that great, and for the most part playing the game feels like you’re wrestling with clunky controls and trying your best to get the character on screen to do what pressing the ‘x’ button means they should be doing.

So from a platforming perspective the game hasn’t aged as well as the visuals, which were amazing for their time and still look great today in that 8-bit pixel graphics sort of way. They help immeasurably in elevating moments to feel pretty exciting, like exploring a forest full of trees and then entering a large tree to explore its interior. The vibrant visuals also come across best during the boss fights, which range from fighting giant skulls to giant bats. The boss fights are also the most fun and challenging portions of the game too. And when a boss dies and turns into dozens of tiny ghosts that also need slaying, they become genuinely nerve racking.

Like a lot of 8-bit games there’s not that much to Wizard & Warriors, but it was still a success in its day. It even spawned two sequels which in a way kind of turned it into a mini-saga or epic trilogy for the NES. But mostly, it helped spawn one of gaming’s most infamous cover designs. Fabio dressed as a Conan-like warrior.

Throwback Rating: Best Forgotten / A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician, producing under the name Kbit, with a debut album released in 2014.

Recent articles by Kosta:Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.

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