Written by  :  Adzuken (861)
Written on  :  Jun 06, 2015
Platform  :  NES
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Summary

Dungeon crawling with the whole family.

The Good

The NES library is rather cluttered with obscure, Metroid-like sidescrollers contained within interconnected worlds, and I’m honestly surprised by how often I turn over a rock and come across a new one. Legacy of the Wizard was something I bought years ago with the intention of playing immediately, only to have it languish on my shelf. I’ve finally gotten around to playing it, and while it hasn’t set my world on fire, it at least turned out to be a pleasant member of the sub-genre.

Legacy of the Wizard stars a family of four and their pet as they delve deep into a dungeon that is conveniently located beneath their home to defeat a dragon. Unsurprisingly, each family member has their own strengths and weaknesses and are restricted to only using specific items. For example, the daughter, Lyll, can jump quite high and uses a mattock to destroy specific blocks. Their pet monster, Pochi, on the other hand, has limited range and jumping height, but can’t be hurt by monsters, making it good for basic reconnaissance.

In order to slay the dragon, you must first acquire four crowns and the Dragonslayer sword hidden within the dungeon. The dungeon itself sprawls out in every direction, and while it may seem at first to be nothing more than a twisting labyrinth, it’s actually separated into distinct regions that only specific family members can traverse using special items. This gives the game a dash of variety that many of its contemporaries lack, as each section plays out differently than the other. One may be fraught with peril and require sharp combat skills to get through, while another leans heavier in the direction of puzzles, which typically means moving lots and lots of blocks.

What I love most about the game is its art style. The world is almost entirely constructed from blocks and objects of equal size, and even the enemies and the family conform to this size restriction. As a result, a lot of small details were packed into them to make each look unique, and the art style comes across as nothing short of adorable. The enemies, no matter how dangerous they may be, all look rather goofy. Every character has a super-cute, big-eyed, big fisted look that is really quite charming. There’s a lot of detail packed into each family member, especially when it comes to their attire, and the small details make them look completely distinct from one another.

It’s a pretty fun and challenging romp, and it does so without becoming quite as obtuse as some of its contemporaries, such as Castlevania 2 or Goonies 2. It still has issues when it comes to communicating how things work. A lot of the items are offered with no explanation and it can be difficult to tell how to use them. This can be eased by having access to the instruction manual, but even then, some of the images don’t feel like they correspond to how the items appear in the game. There’s also no real in-game map, so it does require you to play cartographer by making your own, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly can be satisfying.

The Bad

While it’s not the most difficult game out there, Legacy of the Wizard certainly isn’t friendly. You’re given a long health bar, and as far as I know, no hazard in the game results in instantaneous death, yet it tries to wear you down slowly using a variety of tricks and traps. Dying has you dropping all the items you accumulated since the last time you set out, and you’re sent back to the homestead; a harsh punishment, especially in the later portions of the game. The map itself has a number of dead-ends and pitfalls that can have you wasting valuable life to get through. It’s evened out by the sheer number of inns scattered throughout the dungeon, but a stay at each one takes ten precious pieces of gold.

The resources that you require are mostly only found when dropped by enemies, which can lead to a great deal of grind as you attempt to replenish your supplies. The amount of gold you can carry at one time is a meagre 109 pieces. Grind itself is complicated by erratic enemy movement, the fact that even your basic attack drains from your magic (forcing you to drop gold in at an Inn to fully replenish), and the cruel habit that enemies have to drop poison instead of anything useful. The poison tends to be vexing, even when you’re not grinding, since enemies will often drop them in narrow corridors, forcing you to pick it up and take damage or waiting several seconds for it to de-spawn.

It’s also a very loose game. It’s the type of game that gives you a long health bar with full expectation that you’ll need it. Most enemies don’t exhibit any sort of predictable pattern and most family members only have short ranged attacks, meaning it’s impossible to go forever without taking damage. It’s even a viable strategy to sacrifice a bit of life to jump on an enemy’s head to get to a higher area. Tying into that is the ability for Pochi to actually climb enemies to rise indefinitely, which I’m certain is a glitch. There are also a number of jumps that are either stretched out to the max, or require you to leap under a low ceiling and into a specific block making it necessary to have your character stand as far off the ledge as possible. These aren’t hallmarks of good design and can be a little aggravating in places, but on the whole, the game works.

Bosses are a disappointment overall. Rather than having any thoughtful designs, they’re just larger enemies who bounce around and fire projectiles in your direction. The first few are bewilderingly easy to the point where you may not even glimpse them before they’re felled, while a couple of the later ones do incredible amounts of damage and spew so many projectiles that getting your own fire through the barrage is difficult. There is an item that makes them slightly easier, but it’s stashed in a secret shop that is hidden by a slightly obtuse puzzle. Even with this item, I was only able to defeat them by using the level geometry to my advantage, thus thwarting their rudimentary AI. The final boss has a bit more thought put into it and is a bit more conventional, but it only has one attack and an incredibly basic movement pattern. Like I said; disappointing.

The Bottom Line

While I have my complaints, I really like Legacy of the Wizard. While I was pretty lukewarm on Goonies II, a similar title, I found this one to have just the right amount of challenge to keep me going. It’s certainly not the most polished game in the world, it’s glitchy and parts of it are kind of rough and half-baked, but it has a sort of warmth in its design. Its fun aesthetic, varied gameplay, and satisfying exploration all make for an enjoyable experience. It’s maybe not a standout in the genre, but it’s an OKAY game in its own right, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.