Video Game Review: Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors II (NES)

When I received my first Nintendo Entertainment System during one of the Christmases of my youth, I figured that Santa had brought me the end-all-be-all of gifts.  As it turned out, Santa must have also got it for my father.  My dad muscled into my NES time for the first few years I owned the machine.  I woke many times, in the dead of night, to find my dad in my room playing a newly rented or even purchased game.  My father's game of choice usually included swords and wizardry of some sort.  I can't imagine the gasp he let out upon seeing the Fabio-clad box of Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II. 

This one.

The game features everything a fantasy fan would want in a Nintendo game; swords, armor, a dragon, treasure, spells, beer, and gambling, to name a few.  If Ironsword also featured titties, backstabbing, and the suckling sounds of oral sex, it would practically be Game of Thrones.  Ironsword was the first game my father and I really played together.  When I say "play,"  I mean "tore through with a ravenous desperation reserved only for emaciated lions staring at three-legged zebras."  Dad would often flex his parental muscles in the guise of "sharing" to keep the controller for an extra turn.  Every time one of us made a breakthrough in the game, we would scribble our password down on one piece of paper.  We held that paper in the highest regard, much like Professor Henry Jones held his Grail diary.  We were never able to beat the game, but I played it so much that, even today, I remember all of the trick jumps and secret room locations.  The strategies to beat the levels have been seared into my memory.    But as much as I love this game, sometimes the beautifying goggles of nostalgia can put extra sheen on items from our childhood.  As it turns out, nostalgia hadn't clouded my mind about the quality of this game.   

Pretty bad-ass title screen, right?

Story:  This part is pretty straightforward.  You play as Kuros, who, as in the first game, is chasing after the evil wizard Malkil.  This time, Kuros is leading his chase in the land Sindarin.  The evil wizard Malkil has assumed the forms of the four elementals (Earth, Wind, Water, Fire), each holding a piece of the legendary "Ironsword," and has placed each one in the path of Kuros.   As you control Kuros through each land, you will encounter many fury-inspiring enemies on your way to IceFire Mountain.  Can you defeat Malkil again??!?!?

"Giant skulls with spider legs?  Fuck it, I'm out."

Control & Gameplay:  When I think about the controls of Ironsword, one word comes to mind: precision.  You better be precise with your ability control Kuros' jumping in the game, lest you be doomed to replay a level over and over.  The game is fraught with seemingly impossible-to-reach ledges, each requiring a specific movement or starting point.  These trick jumps are made more difficult with the constant barrage of blood-thirsty, low-level enemies that randomly generate in your vicinity.

If a creature is going to attack you underwater, it makes sense that one would be a zombie.

One of the game's biggest down points is the movement of the sword.  While Kuros is standing, he doesn't swing his sword so much as he flicks it a bit.  In order to vanquish your low-level enemies, you basically need to jump into them, so as to ram the pointy end through them.  Not all is hopeless, as Kuros can also collect spells and magic boosts to aid in your quest.  The spells can be found locked away in treasure chests or in the stores scattered about the land.    Each of the elemental bosses requires you to find a specific spell to defeat them.  Once those boss-beating spells are found, your sword will fire a projectile for as long as your magic meter will allow.
Currency comes in the form of gold and jewels, which is a given considering that this game takes place during a midevil-like period.  Some enemies, when defeated, give up jewels.  Some of the locked treasure chests also contain, you guessed it, treasure!  Keys can be purchased at some stores, or they can be found like much of the jewels...just laying about.  Whom is leaving all of these jewels and keys all over the place?  I think syphilis hollowed out the brains of the Sindarins.  Since there aren't any other humans walking about, I'd say it nearly wiped out the human population.  Except for the bearded shop keeper. 

"I must free the land of Sindar...HOLY SHIT, LOOK AT THAT GIANT DIAMOND."

Speaking of the shop, not only can you pop in and purchase some chicken legs and ale to replenish your health, you can gamble away your money!  If you manage to guess which cup the skull will bounce in, you can earn some easy "bones."

Graphics:  Though very textured and richly colored, the graphics for this 1989 NES title held up because of the level design.  Each level had an elemental theme, as well as mountain-side and cave areas.  The level design helped Ironsword stand out in the NES pack, as many titles still had a muddy brown and green mess in this respect.  Because of their size, the boss designs are also prominent.  The bosses take up nearly half the screen!  This feat was performed by creating the majority of the boss into the background, thereby letting moving pixels operate on the boss without using too much memory to function.

"It...looks like a big joker playing card..."

Sound:  Though the songs are on the short side, the pieces are very memorable.  They do very well to set the tone for this fantasy adventure about wizards and magic and swords and manly men.  The music pieces were so well written that they've been "reimagined" into quite a few other genres of music, including techno, metal, and even a sweeping classical orchestra remake that is worthy of a major motion picture soundtrack.

 

Fun Factor:  Sure, it may get annoying dying over and over.  The music looping may even get under your skin (due, in part, to dying over and over).  However, this game is cleverly-designed and is a hearty challenge.  But, if these details still have made Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors II sound bland, consider this: there are hidden rooms all over the game!  Some hidden rooms have treasure, some have extra lives, and some have Sindarin artifacts of high point value.  So, if you want to find these rooms, you must jump on every platform, in every corner and next to every wall.  And seriously, what's more fun then finding hidden treasure?  

When you use the "Asp Tounge Spell" in the shop, the shopkeeper just starts throwing chickens everywhere.

The Verdict:  I can't recount the countless hours I've spent playing what is considered, by today's standards, a relatively simple game.  All I know is that, despite those countless hours, I enjoy playing Ironsword today as much as when I first received it.  If you have never played this sequel to Wizards and Warriors, I insist you try your hand at leading Kuros to his ultimate triumph.  On the NES-era scale of gaming, I give this game...

  NES Cartridges out of

 

You will see this screen a lot...

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