I remember thinking pretty highly of Wizards & Warriors back in the day. I’ll admit some of my fondness for the game stems from its Worlds of Power novelization. This cheesy novel starred a boy named Matthew who is transported to Elrond and accompanies Kuros on his journey to defeat Malkil. Somewhere along the way he also falls in love with Kuros’ sister Grizelda. It was cheesy wish fulfillment and I loved it at the time. But revisiting Wizards & Warriors now I can see it for the ambitious but flawed mess that it is.
Wizards & Warriors was released in 1987 when the platformer was king and boy does it deliver. Every stage in the game, be it a cave, forest or lava is comprised of platforms both big and small. The object of every level is to collect a set number of gems to bribe the knight guarding the boss to let you pass. It sounds simple but is anything but. Navigating each stage will test your platforming skills from the onset. It is also made all the more difficult due to the sloppy controls.
With as much jumping around that is necessary in the game the controls needed to be tighter. Kuros tends to slide around, especially after landing a jump. It is annoying enough that certain items like the potion of levitation and feather of feather fall are mandatory to make the game tolerable. Kuros standard attack is all but useless as well. You aren’t so much swinging your sword as you are flailing about helplessly. Killing enemies with the sword instead of your other items is more of a happy accident rather than skill. They seriously dropped the ball in terms of basic functionality which brings the game down considerably.
Yet in spite of that I still like Wizards & Warriors. There is plenty to like within the game itself. Despite the wonky controls traversing each level can be fun, especially the late game. Each stage is a sprawling series of platforms that become more elaborate as you progress. Later levels like the outer castle straddle the line between true challenge and frustration. But by that point the game rightfully expects you have some skill to tackle the challenge before you. There are a wealth of secrets in every level, many you’ll stumble into accidentally. It encourages thorough exploration, especially as the gem requirements increase in every level. What also makes the game fun is the wealth of secondary items you can collect.
Wizards & Warriors has a ton of optional pieces of equipment to find. Many of these almost seem as though they were taken from a Dungeons & Dragons handbook. The dagger of throwing and axe of agor make combat tolerable. The previously mentioned levitation potion and feather are absolutely indispensable. My favorite is the boots of force. Not only does it let you bypass colored keys by kicking chests open but they double as weapons too!
There are just as many that are completely useless. The cloak of darkness is one of the worst items in video game history. This useless trinket supposedly makes Kuros invisible to enemies. Instead he becomes invisible to you while enemies still attack him just fine. The boosts of lava walk allow you to walk on lava but you still take damage. They are also only useful (I use that word loosely) in one level. Both staff weapons are decent but pale in comparison to the boots of force. Most of these options would be decent situational filler if they didn’t replace the boots of force which is far more useful.
Most of the items are found in specific stages and if you miss them you’re screwed. Wizards & Warriors isn’t so much difficult as it is frustrating. Enemies spawn infinitely, from all sides, and aggressively follow you. With your pathetic attacks it is impossible to avoid taking damage frequently. Rare wisely give you infinite continues because you’ll need them. With no way to earn extra lives and life restoring chicken scarce death comes frequently. You can brute force your way to the end but I would have appreciated a better balanced game overall.
Wizards & Warriors is in dire need of polish as it has some good features bogged down by weak execution. I still like it somewhat but don’t think I would recommend it in the end.