Willow for the NES

Willow was a 1988 film starring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, written, in part, by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, so did it’s video game counterpart suffer the same fate as many other movie to NES titles? Well fans seemingly had luck on their side as the job went to Capcom, the company who brought us the Mega Man series, so it seemed as though everything had fallen into perfect order. But would Capcom be able to translate the story of the movie into an enjoyable game, or slaughter it instead?

In both cases the main character, Willow, must overcome many perils to protect a baby who is destined to grow up and bring peace to the lands, which are currently ruled by the evil Queen Bavmorda. Willow treks a long way meeting many dangers along his journey, yet he always surpasses them with help from acquaintances. The video game follows it’s movie counterpart closer than many other NES games did and does a really good job of leaving the main plot in tact, while taking it’s own liberties to make the game fun.

The game play is action/adventure and you may immediately find yourself comparing it to The Legend of Zelda. Starting off with simplistic analysis of the sound and animation of entering/exiting dungeons and caves, which are highly reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda. But most notably the maps are cut into sections and once you go any of four directions the screen will scroll in that direction, again, much like The Legend of Zelda.

Yet this game also has a heap of Crystalis thrown in with it’s simplistic and strictly “hunt down” weapon selection, they’re more a part of the story so there are no stores to sell you weapons nor armor. The game also uses a leveling system much like Crystalis, being that there are only 16 levels. With such few levels spread out between 0 and 99,999 exp, you’ll find yourself doing quite a bit of grinding, rather than gaining experience along the journey.

You would think that such a leveling system would be well backed by a plethora of monsters to sustain the need to gather such necessary exp to fight the handful of boss battles, and this is true, but also not. I found that sometimes monsters won’t respawn in a section when they’re suppose to, while in other sections monster will always spawn. I’ve also found sometimes there are key points that you need to walk over to cause the spawn event.

As I hinted to early all items within the game are merely collectables, which break down into: weapons, shields, magic and items, all of which are key ingredients to survival and progressing through the game. In some cases items can easily be completely passed over while trying to progress through the game. Sometimes you will even find yourself doing the normal RPG backtracking to talk to a few NPCs to unlock obtaining a certain item.

But sadly Willow is plagued with a faulty, at best, save system, using passwords instead of a battery backup, which causes you to start at the last heal point, on the exact amount of exp it took to obtain your last level, without anything equipped. This means any further progress you made on the trek or exp toward a level, regardless of whether you’ve entered the password or hit continue, have now been voided back to a certain state, yet all items will be retained. This disjointed style of game play is so inhibiting and frustrating that I literally took a year away from the game, before finishing it to a point where I felt I could justify a full review on it.

I loved Willow the movie, I love both games this one reminds me of, and I also enjoyed almost anything Capcom put out on the NES, but Willow falls short (pun NOT intended). Maybe that all boils down to Capcom’s lack of experience (pun intended!) with making RPGS, yes they made a few but Capcom isn’t well known for them. Even so, are we to believe that Capcom’s version of Willow was possibly the best movie to NES adaptation? I would say yes, because it could have been dreadfully worse!

Posted November 4th, 2012

About the author

Samuel Floyd

first fell into video gaming with the Atari 2600…in the mid-90s! Always late into the system wars, Samuel enjoys that as he acquires them when they’re cheap and the hot titles of yesteryear are bountiful. Samuel loves RPGs, his favorite being Crystalis for the NES.


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