Year of Release: 1989
Date Reviewed: 6-24-98 ("Old Era")
Taking note of such Atari 2600 semi-blockbusters as E.T. and Tron, the officials at Nintendo quickly set about converting numerous popular films into video game format. Such pictures as Ghostbusters II and Back to the Future were among the many motion pictures that received this honor. Yet, the honor of this distinction is only skin (or plastic covering) deep, for both of the above mentioned games were quite pathetic. In their case, the unappealing nature of the games was due to a ridiculous level of challenge, though there were any number of other reasons for the failures of movie-based games. Even the best of this genre (Top Gun stood alone atop this particular heap prior to 1989, in my opinion) were, at best, slightly above average.
Then, Capcom caught on to something that had clearly never occurred to many dimwitted movie-based game designers. That is, they realized that a game based upon a film does not necessarily have to be an action game. Willow was not an action film -- it was an adventure film. Thus, Willow the game was not designed as an action game, and the result, compared to all other film-based games of its time, was pretty damn good.
The plot of this game has little to do with the film upon which it is based. Evidently, there are two spirits, -- one of the air and one of the earth -- each of which possesses a crest. If these two crests are unified, the person who brings them together will gain an incredible power -- not unlike Ninja Gaiden’s demon statues, but the spirits are not evil beings. Two sorceresses, Bavmorda and Fin Raizel -- who both also held integral roles in the film -- were entrusted with the weighty obligation to guard these crests -- moreover, to see that they were never united. Bavmorda, however, became enthralled with the idea of usurping the power of the crests for herself. To that end, she placed a hex on Raizel, changing her to the form of an opossum. However, Bavmorda still had to seize the two crests. Though she was the guardian of one of them, it apparently was not in her possession. Anyway, at the game's beginning, Bavmorda sends out her armies of men and beasts to, for one, take the crests, and, for another, stop any resistance. It is at this point that Willow Ufgood -- the hero of both film and game -- sets out to save the crests, and, in effect, the world. It seems a prophecy has foretold some coming heroism on his part.
Willow is, in all interface-related capacities, comparable to Crystalis. That is, the player can equip one sword, one shield, and one magical artifact at a time. Fully girded, Willow walks around a world whose perspective is the same as most previous Adventure games, fighting monsters and interacting with other characters, in the vein of so many other heroes of his kind.
Also, it is important to note that this game contains no stores. Recuperation, weapons, and shields are simply found wherever they are. Most swords and other important items are given to Willow by the more magnanimous of the townsfolk he encounters. Suffice it to say, this game contains no currency, and no setting in which it is necessary.
The magical artifacts, however, are a bit less stereotypical than the rest of the game’s interface. The first of those acquired are the film’s magic acorns, which turn anything at which they are hurled to stone. Also, there is the healmace, the spell of lighting, the specter spell (by which Willow transforms into a strange blobby organism), Cherlindrea’s famed wand, the Crest of the Spirits (which doesn’t do anything, as Willow neither knows how nor wants to unleash its power), and any number of other spells that presently escape my memory.
The graphics of Willow are bright in overworld settings, and dark in all caves and “evil castles”. Though the color palette is appropriate for each setting, much of the overworld and many of the caverns tend to be repetitive in appearance. The lack of landmarks easily makes for disorienting regions. Thus, it is far too easy to get lost in the wilderness between all the game’s destinations.
If there is any one detracting factor of this game that supersedes all others, it is the freedom it takes with the film’s world. This contention, however, makes no debasement of the game’s plot. The overriding plot, and legendary nature thereof, are, in my estimation, superior to the paranoid witch hunt of the movie. Rather, what upsets me is the way the film’s many characters are treated within the game.
Many of the minor characters are completely removed from the game. This includes Burglekutt, the funnily tyrannical tax collector, and the timid Meegosh, who appears in almost the entirety of the film’s beginning thirty minutes. Also, the roles of other very relevant characters from the movie are completely minimized in the game. Madmartigan has virtually no personality, appears only three times, and never unleashes his brilliant swordsmanship. In one of these appearances, it is clear the programmers attempt to compensate for his impertinence by lifting a speech directly from the film that is hopelessly out of place in the situation. The Brownies, who served as a marvelous source of comic relief in the film, appear only once in the game to share some information, and are not entertaining at all. Neither the High Aldwin nor Razeil guide Willow in the least, and Raizel seems completely indifferent to the problem at hand. Willow, due to the fact that he never speaks, is not the triumphant figure conveyed in the film.
Was the translation of Willow from film to NES a mistake? Certainly not. This game simply attempted to integrate the film’s well of diverse characters into an environment where their relevance was suspect. Willow’s aptitude in all things adventuresome diminishes his need of guide, swordsman, and sorceress. This being the case, the characters, as they were portrayed in the film, had no reason to be kept in the game -- with the exception of Raizel and Bavmorda, that is. However, the action of Willow affords it a very enthralling value, and the story will seem superb to those who have not seen the movie. This is certainly not the best of the NES Adventure games, but well worth playing, if but as a reminder that a movie can, under certain circumstances, spawn a decent video game.
My Score: 7
"Magic is the bloodstream of the universe..."
I'm sure that's true, but I CAN'T FIND BURGLEKUTT!!!!!!!! WAAAHHHH!!!!!!
All the way to Nockmaar and still no Burglekutt...
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