Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Wizards & Warriors was a ground-breaking game for the Nintendo Entertainment System that laid a foundation of sword-swinging, spell-casting, medieval fantasy video gaming fun. From this foundation would spring a trilogy of games that melded classic platform elements with adventure and even role-playing ingredients, resulting in an enjoyable experience that may have hit its climax in the second cartridge in the series: Ironsword.
Released in 1989 by legendary company Acclaim with a hand in its development from noted Rare Ltd., Ironsword continued the tradition of emphasizing item-finding goals and precision jumping in the hero’s quest to conquer distinct worlds, defeat enormous boss enemies, and generally interact with a richly detailed fantasy environment.
It did not receive the noteworthiness that it perhaps deserved, but Ironsword did, and still does, have a following. Was it deserving of praise and distinction?
Ironsword follows the adventure of Kuros, the series hero, as he travels through four elementary realms in order to reach a fifth, final obstacle. In each new level, he must seek the element-related spell to defeat the elementary boss. On his way, he may find food to increase his energy, sustain blows from baddies, defeat monsters by the sword, acquire new and better items, and even drink some ale along the way.
Combat is unique, compared to most other games: The player must literally bump into enemies the right way in order to harm them. As Kuros courageously leaps into battle, he may sustain some bumping around like a pinball en route to slaughtering his foes. However, by purchasing larger swords, he can defeat foes more effectively. And at certain locales, he can play a Pachinko-like game (select the mug into which a falling skull will bounce into) to increase his money (found in treasure chests and midair) in order to make these purchases.
The Wizards & Warriors series has a distinctive atmosphere that must be experienced firsthand to truly appreciate; suffice to say, it looks fantastic, especially for an 8-bit entry. There is a variety of enemies, each of the elemental areas is enormous and distinctively distinctive (fire level with magma flows and volcanic explosions, yes), and Kuros… actually, Kuros looks a little funny, but his jumping is fluid at least.
Ironsword has a classic soundtrack. The title screen theme may truly be among the all-time most memorable, haunting, awesome background music selections for the NES home console system. The levels themselves have great music as well, but the sound effects may be the audio weakness of Ironsword. Although there is the occasional exciting “whoosh” or “slash,” there are more little bumps and nondescript thuds than anything else. This is a game that leans heavily on its music and does not put forth much effort into creating a great arsenal of noise.
Creativity and Innovation
Ironsword honestly does not stake claim to too many innovations from its predecessor and successor, so it technically and honestly cannot take too much credit for any of its idea. However, the series as a whole is definitely unique and original, with their fantasy adventure elements supplemented by a focus on precision jumping and item collection quests. The overall feel is different, too, from everything else out there.
Ironsword has its fans, and for good reason: It is an engrossing experience in a creative universe with constant action and epic elements. However, its two biggest drawbacks are its difficulty level, which is immense in time and challenge but fortunately there is a password system to at least return to a level with previously gained items; and its hit detection issues, which mean that at times a player will not understand why Kuros just died and the enemy did not seem to be phased at all, despite the enormous Diamond Sword he wields. But despite these weaknesses, it is still a cultish classic-like game in the NES pantheon, worthy of four stars out of five.
To read reviews of other classic video games in the NES console pantheon, refer to NintendoLegend.com.