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Wizards & Warriors

Year released: 1988
Company: Acclaim/Rare Coin-It
Genre: Action

I will admit it: I never really gave this game a fair shake. I never played my friend's copy, I never rented it, and all of my judgements had come solely from observation and not experience. Well, when I did finally make the effort to play the game, I was both surprised and satisfied of my convictions.

As the story goes, one of the world's brightest and most powerful wizards, Malkil, has gone mad. Malkil is such a great magician that he was actually Merlin's teacher (although Frik might have something to say about that). In his insanity, Malkil kidnaps seven or so damsels and hides them away (as opposed to taking over the world - to each his own, I guess). So, it's up to Kuros (that's you) to step up, infiltrate Castle Ironspire, defeat Malkil, and rescue all aforementioned ladies of the court. I think the one hook that stands out in my mind about this whole thing is that Malkil wasn't initially evil, he's just senile. It makes you stop and think just how many video game villains there are (I can think of a few) who could plead insanity.

Anyway, Kuros moves at with relative ease. His jumps are steady, his pace is quick, and many of his items can be implemented without much difficulty. The real error made is that Kuros can't swing his sword in mid-air. Granted, the sword is considered "active," so any enemy who has the guts to charge Kuros from the front will still get skewered, but the problem is instinctive: Most video game heroes have the ability to punch/fire/etc. while jumping, and it's somewhat awkward to not be able to do that with this game. The hit detection is solid, but a grievance can be made about the Pause mode. When the game is on hold, any potions you're using are still, in effect, running. So if you're invincible when you pause, walk to the kitchen for a bite, and return, chances are the potion has worn off without being used. (This problem is also found in RC Pro-Am, another game by Rare - if you pause just before a race, it'll immediately start when you resume play.)

As for the game's presentation, it does have quite the medeival feel to it. The font choice was excellent, and the backgrounds and level layouts are done quite well. However, the enemies need work. Many of them are extremely cartoonish (especially those wacked-out werewolves who look like they're making faces at you). Kuros is animated extremely well, though, and his death scene is quite inspired. As far as the audio goes, however, the game is best played with the television on Mute. There's no way around it: Wizards & Warriors has some of the most insipid, irritating, and repetitive music this side of Hydlide. It's all composed fairly well, but it's just way too grating on the ears. And a special mention should be made to the low-life alarm music (which you'll hear a lot). It's the audial equivalent of the Chinese Water Torture: Play it over and over and over until it drives your victim to mental collapse. A simple beep or buzzer could have sufficed and given the player much more of a grasp on his sanity.

Music aside, I think I'd probably like this game a hell of a lot more if not for two complete fumbles made by the programmers. First of all, the enemies come at you from literally all angles at once. You simply can't hit all of the enemies, and as a result you take a lot of hits. Some enemies, like the gargoyles inside the castle, approach you in such a way that they're impossible to line up a good shot on. Since the "Dagger of Throwing" can only be thrown to the left or right, any and all enemies that attack from above or below have almost a free run at you.

Another problem that even overshadows the first one is the fact that your life force drains on its own. Granted, this life loss is fairly slow (about 1 unit every 10 seconds), but when this is taken into account with the above complaint, you've got a lifespan that hovers around a minute, 2 at best. Considering that three lives is all you get - no 1-ups - you're struggling to get past just the first level. Granted, you are armed with infinite continues, and when you continue you start right at the point where you died, but that shouldn't figure in. The biggest problem with it is that it could've been avoided in a number of ways. For instance, instead of a draining lifeline, have a time limit. Same effect, different method. Better yet, get rid of the limit altogether. With the amount of exploring required in each level to acquire the needed keys, gems, and treasures, an infinite timespan to do it would be extremely welcomed.

This game can be fun, if you can tolerate all of the problems that can be found in this game. The idea of exploration added in to the action certainly appeals to me, but it would've been much more fun if Kuros wasn't so fragile. I give the game low marks only because it was a good idea gone horribly wrong.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 12
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 13
Overall Score: 60%