Wizards & Warriors, developed by Rare
, was released in December of 1987 for the NES. The game stars Kuros
, a powerful knight who enters the woods of Elrond. Legend says that a powerful wizard named Malkil has has gone completely mad during his years and turned his powerful magic to the dark side. Malkil has his base on the castle IronSpire where he has imprisoned a young and beautiful princess. It is up to Kuros to save the princess once and for all. In order to do this, Kuros must make his way through 8 unique levels, while collecting items and defeating enemies along the way.
Wizards & Warriors sports some of the most responsive controls on the NES, which is a good thing, as platforming elements feature heavily in the game's design. While the 8 main levels must be tackled linearly, the gameplay within them is more open-ended. The primary goal in each level is to collect enough gems to bribe the guardian knight, a mysterious character who guards the entrance to the next area. Gems can be found within treasure chests or items, hidden within secret areas, or just lying on the ground. Occasionally, gems also appear upon defeating enemies. Once enough gems have been collected, the guardian knight allows passage to the exit, where Kuros must defeat a deadly boss enemy to complete the level.
In order to collect enough gems to pass the guardian, Kuros must find and use a number of special items, the most important of which are the three keys hidden within each level. These color-coded keys (blue, pink, and red) correspond to doors and treasure chests of the same color. Finding one key usually opens a door that leads to the next, and so on. By the time all three keys are collected, Kuros usually has enough gems to clear the level. Keys cannot be carried from one area to the next, so the process begins anew with each new level.
There are also a number of items available which bestow special abilities to Kuros. These special items are hidden away in treasure chests, and unlike keys, can be retained permanently. Examples of these items are the Dagger of Throwing and the Battle Axe of Agor, which add long-range attacks to Kuros' arsenal; the Potion of Levitation and Feather of Feather Fall, which greatly bolster his jumping and falling actions, respectively; and the Wand of Wonder and Staff of Power, which grant the ability to perform special magical attacks. In addition to these, there are also a number of other unique items hidden away with the game.
While platforming elements play a huge role in gameplay, Kuros must also contend with a whole bestiary of relentless foes. In fact, the attacks come so often, there is almost never a single moment throughout the course of the entire game in which Kuros is not defending himself. In most games, this constant onslaught would be cause for great frustration. And in fact, Wizards & Warriors would very likely not be remembered fondly by anyone if not for its one greatest feature - the inclusion of infinite "continues". Any time Kuros loses his last life, the game can be continued from that exact spot. The only repercussion is a loss of points - everything else in your arsenal (keys, gems, items) is retained. This simple mechanic not only alleviates much of the frustration caused by the relentless enemy attacks, but also allows any player to finish the game. This may sound run-of-the-mill by today's standards, but in the NES era it was a godsend to gamers who were likely all too familiar with the dreaded "game over" screen!
Wizards & Warriors certainly holds its own as a well-made action-platformer, but the one element it is most fondly remembered for these days is probably its soundtrack. In fact, the music of Wizards & Warriors is consistently cited as one of the best soundtracks of the 8-bit era (and perhaps beyond). The title screen tune sets the tone with its appropriately medieval flair, but dig deeper and you will find that the soundtrack also includes a number of other memorable melodies, each of which has its own unique mood and feel.
Despite its fairly generic premise and over-the-top box art, Wizards & Warriors actually proved to be successful enough to warrant two NES sequels: Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II
(1989) and Wizards and Warriors III - Kuros: Visions of Power
(1992), as well as one Game Boy sequel: Wizards and Warrios X: The Fortress of Fear
. While these games may have (arguably) improved the formula, it is the original game that it is still remembered best by most gamers today, thanks to its clever level design, character growth, solid gameplay, memorable soundtrack, and of course... infinite continues!