Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Willow", NES, 1989.

The movie Willow was pretty great at what it was: a tour de force tech demo for newly-developed morphing special effects, an in-house answer to "what would you get if you recycled Star Wars as high fantasy?", and a showcase for Warwick Davis' formidable acting chops without the Wicket teddy bear prosthetic drag factor. (And something nice to remember Val Kilmer as before he got old and fat.) Three entirely distinct video games were adapted from this film -- the top-down RPG NES version advertised here as well as a platforming arcade game and a collection of minigames for the PC. Though the movie was a Lucasfilm property (and hence now part of the deep Disney back catalogue!), I felt it missed out by being outsourced in this way, never justly being adapted properly into a Lucasarts style game -- which is to say, a SCUMM adventure game! (A few other Lucasfilm properties like Captain EO and, say, American Graffiti suffered this fate, but I don't know that anyone but myself will ever regret the absence of a Radioland Murders adventure game.) That said, these other adaptations leave a wealth of sprite materials for potential re-use by enterprising fangame creators. I like to believe that if I keep tooting this horn every few years, surely someone will eventually pick it up, so I won't have to. Just where is the Willow fandom, anyhow? (The conventional wisdom has it: look for the slashfic. And here, perhaps even more than usual, I must say... I'd rather not.)
P r e p a r e   f o r   a
Travel back to a time of sorcery and magic when the evil Queen Bavmorda ruled the land under a reign of terror.
According to legend, a baby has been born who will destroy the heartless ruler. But the queen vows she'll slay the child first!
As Willow, the baby's chosen protector, you must face the deadly challenges of mysterious forests and villages while battling the Queen's Nockmaar army. In the meantime, your fate depends on collecting an arsenal of swords, shields and magic for the ultimate confrontation with Queen Bavmorda!
So prepare yourself for the only action fantasy with wicked graphics and playability. From Capcom U.S.A.
Travel through mysterious forests and villages, accumulating weapons and magic.

In retrospect, these generic badnasty names (Nockmaar?) are difficult to take seriously when seen in print. As you can see, if you can remember back a week, this ad is laid out just like the first of our two Bionic Commando ads, only with a greater emphasis on architectural sketches around the box art (itself with a great emphasis on Warwick Davis' comely lips!)
The text lets us know that this movie takes place in the past, but if its setting isn't Earth, I don't see why that need necessarily be so -- Star Wars, after all, takes place "long ago", so why couldn't this one take place in some distant, low-tech, perhaps post-apocalyptic Canticle for Leibowitz future? The big reveal at the end when Bavmorda's castle crumbles, uncovering... the Statue of Liberty! This perhaps also explains Willow's entire race as a hardy breed of radiation-blighted stunted survivors. Or am I overthinking this?
I must say, the prospect of collecting an arsenal of shields doesn't fill me with enthusiasm. Apparently this game is "the only action fantasy with wicked graphics and playability"; what is an action fantasy, anyhow, and are there other ones with less wicked playability?
In that brief (yet somehow interminable) moment in my '20s when I had both free time, loose morals, and false nostalgia, this was one of the games I looked up to power through, having missed it the first time around. It was intriguing, contained much that did not originate from the movie, and contained an early boss fight a couple of hours in that would tie up the whole game if certain Game Genie codes were enabled. This game was one of the first times I ran up against an explicit grind wall of "You can't cross this bridge until you reach Level 7!" which was somewhat deflatory of my enthusiasm for what the game had to further offer, as it felt I needed to see a lot more of what I'd already experienced thus far before I'd be allowed to progress. I begged to differ.
I like the way that the screenshot caption acts as a species of nonplussed TL;DR summary, functioning to describe the game if not exactly hype it.