Tag Archives: wizard

FGC #325 Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power

Everything is painThis game is cursed.

I’ve told this story elsewhere, but I own this game because I made a very poor decision as a child. I saved up my allowance for weeks, finally scraped together a little over ten bucks, and decided I would purchase a “used” videogame from the local rental hut. Mega Man 4 was available, but I decided that, since I had already played and beaten that game, I would pick up Wizards and Warriors 3, a game that promised three different “classes” for Kuros. Maybe, like my beloved Final Fantasy, I would have a fun time with these JRPG elements. I didn’t. I got the game home, played it for maybe a half hour, and returned to my mother sobbing, begging that we return the wretched game that literally made me cry. My mother did no such thing, and I learned a very valuable lesson about never trusting Rare Ltd. ever again.

Of course, since I had a whole twelve (or so) NES games when I was a kid, I played W&W3 continuously (bad blood is still allowed to be fresh blood), and did eventually beat the game. Now, some decades later, I decided I would share my W&W3 skills live on a stream, and showcase the misery for all to see (and to find out how much of a game I hadn’t played in years was still stuck in my head). And I did play through the game on a stream last Friday night with some very special guest stars (or the usual guest stars), and a good time was had by all.

But this game is still cursed, so, naturally, the audio got messed up, and the recording is pretty much just my microphone. It’s the whole of Wizards and Warriors 3, with me occasionally agreeing to comments that can no longer be heard. In one particularly surreal bit, I ask BEAT for a rundown on the indie rap scene, and then, a few moments of silence later, I agree that that sounds very interesting. It’s almost as terrible as Wizards and Warriors 3.

So, in lieu of having a video of my complete playthrough, we’re going to claim that that was a “live exclusive experience”, and here’s a consolation list of reasons Wizards and Warriors 3 is terrible.

This is a supremely glitchy and ugly game

That's not how you treat a ladyRight off the bat, practically everything is wrong with Wizards and Warriors 3. Animations for characters don’t seem to make any anatomical or kinetic sense. It’s impossible to visually distinguish between antagonistic and helpful NPCs (protip: they’re all appalling). Kuros (our hero) occasionally takes a moment to flash some leg at the audience. No part of this game is coherent, and it’s immediately apparent to even the most casual viewer.

What’s worse is that this game is swarming with glitches and things that may or may not be glitches. There are “gatekeeper” invincible monsters that can stretch the length of the screen, and… are they supposed to do that? It… doesn’t look like it. Similarly, it’s easy to push any NPC off the edge of the world, and giggle as they fall into oblivion. In fact, if you shove an opponent off any platform, and said foe isn’t already using their “jump” action, they will fall forever, presumably eventually perishing somewhere near the Earth’s mantle. I saw that happen on an episode of Batman once, and it looked… unpleasant.

Everything, practically from the moment you press Start, seems to be fragmentary, and the punch line is that, apparently, the game is unfinished. According to some sources, Zippo Games completely sold out to Rare Manchester during development, and most of the staff wound up quitting thanks to an overwhelming feeling of “you used to be cool, man.” Wizards and Warriors 3 was thus rushed out the door, and slowly made its way to the hands of poor, uninformed children. Thanks, Pickford Brothers (the original folks behind Wizards and Warriors), you’re on the list!

Your HP or your GP

We don't serve your kindWizards and Warriors 3 is a game not unlike Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest or The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. You have a large area to explore, and you can access newer, more interesting (lie) areas through acquiring intriguing (also a lie) upgraded abilities. It’s a Metroidvania! And an insult to that entire genre! But what really separates W&W3 from the Metroidvanias of today and yesterday is that there is no way to save. There are also no passwords. There’s no level select code. There’s nothing. You have three lives, you cannot acquire more lives, and there are no continues. Even if you Game Genie your way into additional lives, the game isn’t even programmed to display a life counter value greater than three. And once you’ve spent those three lives, you’re right back to the beginning, even if you spent the last four hours of your life attempting to make progress.

(Do you understand the tears now?)

Your only options are the limited meat items scattered across the map, or spending every last cent you find on food from various shops so you can keep Kuros’s health topped off. But you also need keys, because treasure chests and (mandatory) doors always seem to be locked. So you’re forced to either budget for an indefinite amount of damage that could leave you stuck back at the title screen, or blow your cash on those keys that you’re probably going to need to progress anywhere. How does a first time player make the decision between forward progress keys or saving progress with a pile of meat? I know what I did, which is demand that this game be traded for Mega Man 4 this instant. It didn’t work out.

Combat is optional and/or obligatory

DorkThere are three main areas to Wizards and Warriors 3 (huh, wonder if that was deliberate): the castle, the town, and the underground. Kuros also has three corresponding forms: knight, thief, and wizard. If you remember to always wear the appropriate disguise in the right area, you won’t have to fight a single random “monster”. Okay, that isn’t exactly true, as there are these floaty green dudes in the underground that will kill just about anybody, and there are a few birds that are absolute dicks, but other than that, the game pretty much plays by the rules. This means that, despite Knight Kuros’s kickass flying axe, you pretty much never need to use any combat skills in W&W3.

Except for the boss monsters.

The bosses are mandatory, and, aside from a really simple knight and worm, all of them follow the same pattern of “stand on top of Kuros at all times”. Assuming you’re not ready for these bosses (and why would you be? You literally don’t have to fight any other thing like these creatures in the entire game), you’re likely to lose some of those precious lives the very minute you open their boss doors. Oh, and never mind that you get stuck with the supremely underpowered thief class for a couple of those battles, because you apparently can’t change forms while inside a room. You’ve got limited resources, and very aggressive bosses. That is not a good combination for anyone that actually wants to enjoy this game.

Oh, and the “upgraded” form of the worm boss is… two worm bosses. That’s just lazy.

The best part of the game is also the worst

Comin' atcha!The very reason I bought this game at all is the advertised “guild” factor. Kuros can adopt different personas, and wield magic as a wizard, or swing around a giant key like a Sora thief. This is good and right, and adds some much needed diversity to the Wizards and Warriors formula (which previously only saw a hero that could jump, swing a sword poorly, and occasionally become invisible). And, since this game is a metroidvania, the acquisition of new “ranks” in these guilds/costumes means access to new areas. Also, acquiring a flight ability, no matter how dreadfully slow, is always a good time.

Unfortunately, to earn any of these skills, you have to complete guild challenges. This always involves fighting a random boss somewhere in the world, collecting a statue, returning to the guild with said statue, running through an obstacle course of dubious graphical fidelity, and then fighting another boss. Each of these challenges is exactly the same, though with increasing difficulty through the ranks. And when I say “difficulty”, I apparently mean “we just made the platforms smaller, and threw in a couple of practically unavoidable traps.” Since these obstacle courses reset from the start every time you fail, this means the average player will spend something like 70,000,000 hours attempting to jump between moving platforms over either poorly rendered spikes (thief challenge) or absolutely nothing (wizard challenge). After clearing all of these challenges, actually being impaled is more fun than dealing with the magical doors-directly-to-spikes again.

There’s a hateful inventory system, too

Way to go, prezThere are key items in Wizards and Warriors 3, and you may only carry four at a time. Under normal circumstances, this would just be annoying, but could actually lead to some decent gameplay moments. You must stay on target with one task or another, and attempting to collect everything on the map in one go is discouraged. That can be okay. Regrettably, in this case, the game is still a glitchy mess, so it’s entirely possible to get four random key items, and thus be unable to pick up a fifth item that you actually need to progress to unload said four random items. For an easy example, it’s very easy to get guild statues out of order, but it’s impossible to challenge the guilds with said statues out of sequence. Got the golden thief statue before silver, and need that (golden) key to get rid of the rest of your crap? Sorry, you’re screwed. May as well reset. Back to the beginning, again.

What’s more, a number of key items exist exclusively for the benefit of wise men that provide such useful information as “kill the dragon” or “you need to go in the giant, imposing door to reach the final boss”. Thanks, guy, I really didn’t need to run all over Piedup with this stupid rosary pendant to learn that valuable nugget of information.

This dragon is stupid

Look at this daffy thing.

Three heads are better than one?

The Bad Ending sucks

This ends poorlySo after earning all of the guild ranks, rescuing and lying to three princesses, conquering the dragon, and maybe bribing some old men into taking arbitrary trash off your hands, it’s time for the final boss. Malkil, Kuros’s eternal rival, has conquered the strangely vertical town of Piedup, and sits on the throne in disguise as the king. Before the final battle, Malkil offers Kuros a choice: fight to the death, or join together, and rule this hamlet in tandem. Should Kuros choose to join his antagonist… he is vaporized immediately. Game over.

In any other game (Dragon Quest comes to mind), this would simply be annoying. Oh well, that was the wrong choice, time to reload from the most recent save. However, W&W3 still only provides exactly zero continues and/or opportunities to save your progress. So it’s possible to battle through the whole game, reach the finale, and lose everything to one poor selection. This should be treated as a war crime, and, if more people had actually played W&W3, most of the Rare staff would be in jail by now.

The Good Ending sucks

Just bad all aroundAnd should you actually have enough health and lives to finish off Malkil the Happy Evil King, the ending isn’t exactly a reward. Kuros is sucked into a time warp (apparently a magical portal that Malkil can now summon at will?), and, while you’re assured that Piedup saw the return of its true and just King James, Kuros is never seen again. The obvious sequel hook is some manner of reverse Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and the concept of Knight Kuros becoming Laser Knight Kuros is a promising one. But we never saw another Wizards and Warriors, and the franchise seems to be all but forgotten.

Actually, wait. That is a happy ending. Rot in hell, Wizards and Warriors 3. You ruin everything.

FGC #325 Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was even ignored for the recent Rare Replay collection on Xbone. How bad do you have to be to be forgotten in favor of Digger T. Rock?
  • Number of players: I don’t even want to imagine a world where a two player experience was shoehorned into this nonsense.
  • Favorite Costume: Thief, with the crowbar, in the castle.
  • Regarding the stream: I am disappointed that the audio from that adventure is lost forever. I appreciate everyone that participated, and I had a really fun time recording it while playing one of the most loathsome games in my library. All that said, if you missed it, we spent most of the night recounting unrelated favorite tweets, so no big loss.
  • Say something nice: It is kind of fun to see how many NPCs you can “ride” and/or push off the world into oblivion.
  • smexyDid you know? Oh God, I just realized where I recognized the Pickford Brothers name from! These are the people responsible for Plok, too! And they worked on the worst Marvel/LJN games. It’s weird how these two are tangentially involved in a number of games that influenced my childhood… for better or worse (mostly worse).
  • Would I play again: I was amazed during my live playthrough at how much of this game is still second nature (I only really needed a FAQ to remind myself where that dragon was hiding). That said… God, I never want to see this thing again. The pain still feels fresh…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rolling Thunder 2 for the Sega Genesis. I believe that is some manner of weather pattern? Is this a Weather Channel simulator? That might be fun. Please look forward to it!

Ugh
I still have nightmares…

FGC #172 Pinball Quest

Questin' Time!It takes a lot to get my attention. I’ve slain dragons. I’ve cast magical spells that would cross a wizard’s eyes. I’ve helped lesbians turn into a crystal pillar that holds up an entire world. There is very little in the world of gaming that gets my attention anymore. I have flown through the skies as the majestic hummingbird, danced with the deities, and one time I got a kangaroo to punch a monkey. And, through it all, it’s all been pretty much the same genres and “game styles” over and over again. Sure, I might be slaying the entire Greek Pantheon this week, but it’s still pretty much “just a beat ‘em up”. Is there nothing new under the sun?

And then there’s Pinball Quest. Pinball Quest is one of the most oddly original games I’ve ever played, and, what’s more, it was released over a quarter of a century ago.

Pinball Quest, as you might be able to guess, involves some pinball. If you’re just interested in pinball, here you go, three pinball boards of varying skill and complexity. Nothing that hasn’t been seen before or since, and, yeah, the boards are pretty alright. Nothing special, nothing El Dorado, but it’s a fun pinball time from the era that still held some affection for “pinball… on your TV!” That part is pretty basic.

Then there’s RPG mode. RPG mode is exactly what it says on the tin: pinball in a RPG setting. It’s bonkers.

In a way, RPGs and Pinball games should work well together. RPGs are all about how you suck. Wait, no, that came out wrong. What I mean to say is that the combat in RPGs, the basic meat and potatoes of the genre, is entirely based on the fact that you will take damage. Pew Pew?This isn’t a Mario or Mega Man game where you could conceivably never take a hit; no, you’re getting smacked around by the first slime you see, and it’s your responsibility to make sure the party stays healed and healthy. In a way, this is an expression of the basic chaos of battle. You’re going to get a few scrapes and bruises, Gilbard is going to faint, but, in the end, (hopefully) you win. Pinball is very similar, in that you have the randomness of “where’s the ball going to go?” Sure, you try your best to hit those bumpers or whatever silly gimmick exists on the board, but, inevitably, that ball isn’t going to go exactly where you want it, and, sometimes, it’s going straight down the middle. Flick the flippers all you want, there’s nothing you can do, Gilball’s gotta die. Do your damndest, hope for the best, and plan for the worst. The pinball and RPG motto.

Pinball Quest’s RPG mode, meanwhile… well… in some ways, it’s much more an Adventure-style game, like Zelda. Each level is a different board arranged something like your typical double-decker pinball machine. Usually there’s some obstacle or gimmick on the lower portion that will grant access to the upper portion (like breaking the right gravestone [bumper] in the graveyard area, or pestering an ogre that will usher your ball into a minecart in the mine area), and then the second portion features a boss and flunkies of some kind. Ram the boss with the ball enough times, and you’ll be granted access to the next level. Repeat six times or so, and you will have defeated the evil king and rescued the princess. Actually, yeah, this is a lot like the original Legend of Zelda. There are even angry skeletons!

Get 'em!And, really, this would be a “Zelda type” if you had absolutely perfect pinball skills (or save states). After all, the gameplay isn’t Fight/Magic/Flipper, it’s much more of an overhead “dodge and stab” affair, with bosses that attack your flippers and a constant need to pelt the monster du jour with your weapon (which just happens to be “you”). This is much more “includes RPG-like elements” than “RPG”.

Except…

You’re gonna lose.

Actually, technically, you kind of can’t lose this game. It’s only possible to get a “game over” on the first (and, technically, “lowest” board), and, even then, you’re given an immediate chance to continue with very few repercussions. You lost, you suck, but the save point is right here, get back in there, soldier! On every other board, you’ll simply be returned to the next previous board, and, if you can nail the “exit” location on your first flip, you’ll be right back in the battle again. Even if your skills aren’t that great, though, you can re-defeat the boss du jour, and move on in that style. Sure, it’ll waste some time, but you’ll make it back… eventually.

But let’s say you’re a human being that actually doesn’t like having his or her time wasted. Well then, we’ve got some items for you! DON'T STEALBetween each stage is a shop, and, since you (naturally) accrue gold from every defeated monster, you can spend that cash on one of two types of items. You may purchase more powerful flippers, which will kill bosses faster, or you may purchase extra balls, which will cause you to immediately “return” to your highest level when you’d otherwise tumble down the gutter. Pick your poison! Are you the confident type that blows it all on a stronger sword, or do you stock up on phoenix downs in anticipation of a costly blood bath? Play the role of the ball, and plan for your game.

And, after a fashion, Pinball Quest proves to be a “real” RPG. The gameplay might be bopping around the adventure board all afternoon, and fighting wizards, demons, and succubae might show up in a few other genres; but what’s important here is that you, player, are planning ahead and determining how resources are spent… in a pinball environment. You’re going to need that potion, and it doesn’t matter if you’re using the fight command or flicking a ball at a perfect angle, it all winds up being an RPG in the end.

And we haven’t seen anything like it in 25 years. More’s the pity.

FGC #172 Pinball Quest

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, though, admittedly, kind of late in its lifespan (that would be defined as “anything after Castlevania 3”).
  • VIVA!Number of players: Thanks to controller passing, the “standard” pinball boards all allow for up to four players. RPG mode is, as ever, a solitary affair.
  • Favorite Standard Board: Viva Golf is pretty fun, as it includes more moles than Caddyshack, and the anime figures seem to fit into the course rather well. What? I have a peculiar fondness for the late 80’s Japanese aesthetic.
  • Favorite RPG Mode Boss: The boss of the fifth stage initially appears to be your kidnapped princess, but transforms into a deadly succubus after a few (maybe accidental) hits. I realize that this has become something of a standard trope in recent years (decades), but it seemed fairly original in 1990.
  • Speaking of Princesses: Ya know, there’s nothing that codifies the heroic Ball as male or female. Feel free to claim this is one of the few gender progressive NES games… even if you are rescuing a princess (yet again).
  • An End: Oh, and the finale sees the hero and princess trounce a gigantic (compared to a pinball), apparently sentient magnet.
    What?

    And here I thought gravity was the ultimate enemy.
  • Did you know? The box art for Pinball Quest shows a reflected skeleton warrior. Given the skeletons only exist for the first level, I’m going to assume the box artist did not get very far in this game.
  • Would I play again? Hey, sure. If I’m in the mood for pinball, I may as well knock over some turtles while doing it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Scope 6 for the Super Nintendo! Oh boy! Bazooka action? Wow! Please look forward to it! Not at all sarcastically!