Thursday, March 10, 2011

At Random: Wizards & Warriors X: Fortress of Fear

Acclaim's Wizards & Warriors series was a popular NES franchise developed by the famous UK developer Rare Ltd., and was infamous for featuring Fabio on the box of the second NES title.  The series featured the thrilling adventures of the brave knight Kuros and the evil wizard Malkil, but the line died out before the 16-bit era got underway, and following Acclaim's bankruptcy the ownership of the IP has been unclear.  But there was one additional title produced that is often forgotten today: Wizards & Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear, released for the original Nintendo Gameboy in 1989:

Once again, Kuros sets out to fight the evil wizard Malkil and rescue a princess.  I played this one on the GameBoy Advance to start with, which imposes a color scheme that unfortunately puts Kuros in pink armor; the screenshots here were generated using the Visual Boy Advance emulator (and its Game Genie feature, without the benefit of which I would likely never have defeated the wizard.)

The 64K Fortress of Fear cartridge is a bit simpler technically than its NES brethren -- the action scrolls only from left to right, without the vertical climbs seen in the larger console cartridges.  The bosses are smaller and simpler, and the animation is less subtle -- for example, Kuros' dangling foot is missing after he dies, and his positioning is sometimes a bit sloppy:

To keep the action visible on the original blurry Gameboy LCD screen, the level layouts are sparse, with lots of white space and uncomplicated patterns in the background.  There also aren't nearly as many special items to find as in the NES W&W titles -- most treasure chests contain extra gems or temporary shielding, useful but not critical.  Only the Boots of Jumping are truly necessary, to navigate some of the broader gaps in the landscape.

But Fortress of Fear is not a simple left-to-right scrolling action game either -- at the very start, for example, it pays to backtrack to the left a bit to find an extra life for Kuros and a key for one of the many treasure chests that lie ahead.  The levels are generally compact and short, but many have alternate pathways with hidden treasures and extra lives, so thorough exploration is well-advised.

Of course, the extra passageways can be ignored for the most part.  An impatient and skilled Kuros can traipse through the levels efficiently, taking on the bosses and progressing quickly through the map.  Some bosses are fought directly, like this largeish vampire bat that forces our hero to keep moving around the platforms, striking the enemy when possible:

While others summon minions to provide the knight's challenge:

At last, Kuros reaches Malkil's domain.  This final level is the only one with any degree of enforced complexity -- it's a bit of a maze, with multiple doorways to explore, some of which lead to loops, so simply marching from left to right will not ensure success.  Finding Malkil is a bit of a challenge, but taking the path of most resistance will generally lead the player to the final confrontation.  

Fighting Malkil is even more difficult -- he tends to hover near our hero, throwing short-range bolts of energy, or appearing right on top of Kuros, doing serious damage.  It's largely a matter of staying out of range of his lightning bolts and striking from behind as often as circumstances will allow.  But fortunately Kuros will immediately revive to continue the battle -- so the true challenge here involves finding the extra lives secreted throughout the levels, and keeping as many of them as possible in reserve before facing down Malkil.

With the evil wizard dispatched in an anticlimactic fizzle, our brave knight takes off his armor and embraces the lady fair, who doesn't exactly look delighted.  But we will presume she is amenable to this, or else she figures that Kuros' sleepy expression means the exhausted knight is pretty harmless:

Wizards & Warriors X is not an easy game -- it's much more difficult than I remember the original Wizards & Warriors on the NES being, perhaps to make up for its relatively brief length.  But it's definitely part of the series, and fans are advised to check it out.

You can find Wizards & Warriors X: Fortress of Fear for sale, very reasonably priced as long as you don't insist on a brand new copy, here:


  1. Bellissimo gioco, ce l'ho da diversi anni.. ogni volta che ci gioco mi riporta indietro nel tempo in castelli oscuri dominati da ragni e scheletri malefici... grandissimo gioco, lo amo...!! lo custodisco gelosamente...!! ;))

  2. Thanks for stopping by! I've taken the liberty of Google-translating to English -- retro gamers are the same worldwide:

    Great game, I have several years .. every time I play it takes me back in time in dark castles ruled by evil spiders and skeletons ... great game, I love it ...! I keep jealously ...! ;))