Playing the Lame Vol. 20

So I injured myself. How are you?

Anyway, I’m only a week (or so, depending on when this gets posted) late this time around, partly because I somehow managed to injure myself, partly because I’ve been occupied with the start of a new quarter in college, and partly because my life is a goddamn mess. I mean, on the plus side, my composition teacher doesn’t harbor a secret desire to fuck my brains out, I don’t summon women in various states of undress by shooting myself in the head, and I can’t raise the dead by committing metaphorical suicide (bonus points to anyone who gets that), so I guess there’s that.

Anyway, enough about me. So how’s your week? Make any new friends? How’s the wife and kids? Good, good. So, let’s talk about a bad game, shall we?

The game we’re looking at this week is an odd one, in that I’ve heard from plenty of people and places that it’s one of the worst games ever, but I’ve never actually played it until now. I OWNED it, somehow, but never played it. See, when I was a kid, I didn’t own an NES, I owned a Sega Master System, which should explain my fixation on the terrible games for that system over any NES titles. I didn’t end up acquiring an NES until years after the fact, as a friend of mine just kind of handed me one with about fifty games and said “Here, do whatever you want with it”. Well, after I shook off the brainwashing triggers Sega Visions had implanted in my brain telling me to KILL THE UNCLEAN ONE, I played a few of the more notable games for the system, beat Dragon Warrior and Empire Strikes Back, and then put it in my closet.

Yes, for the record, I have beaten the NES version of Empire Strikes Back but have not beaten Super Mario Brothers. No, I don’t know how that works either.

Anyway, when Deadly Towers was suggested, I went digging through my box of games and lo and behold, there it was, in what would pass for pristine condition considering the game is almost as old as I am. I found that kind of baffling, considering that I loves me some bad games and yet had somehow managed to avoid this one despite having it in my house for something like fifteen years, so I figured, hey, bonus, and fired the sonofabitch up.

Ten minutes of blowing into the NES later, I tried again and this time it actually worked! Though I almost wish it hadn’t.

PLAYING THE LAME, VOLUME 20.

Name of the offending title: Deadly Towers.
What system was this forced upon: The Nintendo Entertainment System.
Who was responsible for this crap: Irem, who have developed some good and great games, including R-Type, Disaster Report, Steambot Chronicles and Hammerin’ Hero, developed this mess. Broderbund, who have ALSO developed some good and great games, including Lode Runner, Where in (location) is Carmen Sandeigo?, Prince of Persia, and Choplifter!, published this mess. So I can understand why you might be confused.
Date this abomination was foisted upon us: September of 1987.

A BRIEF LAYOUT OF DEADLY TOWERS:

I haven’t done a soundtrack in a few updates, so for the record, I’m listening to In This Moment, specifically the album The Dream. It’s basically metal with a female vocalist, but the music is generally interesting and the singer is good enough on her own merits, so for whatever reason I’m finding it interesting, if only because the band managed to pull off a cover of Blondie’s “Call Me” without making my ears bleed. On a technical level, the singer, Marina Brink, isn’t as proficient a singer as, say, Amy Lee of Evanescence, but she makes up for that by being in a more interesting band, and also not having a huge forehead. Sorry, Amy, you look like a gray alien. That shit’s a fucking fivehead.

Ahem. Moving on.

There are, if we were to really analyze this whole “playing horrid games” concept, three notable and inevitable problems with writing a consistent column on the topic:

1.) sooner or later the whole endeavor becomes a race to the bottom,
2.) games can be equally bad for entirely different reasons, and
3.) bad is a relative concept.

The first problem is obvious, if no less inevitable; sooner or later you’re going to hit a wall where you’re basically going to be spending your weeks playing Acclaim games over and over because there’s really nothing else that’s worse than anything you’ve played up to this point except for one of the hundreds of movie licensed games Acclaim produced for what felt like an eternity (and probably will feel like that again if I write this column long enough). The second problem is also obvious, if you think about it long enough. Maybe a game is wretched because the controls are so bad that you’d have more success playing it if you taped the controller to your hand and boxed with your TV. Maybe a game is an abomination because it’s ugly and badly written. Maybe a game is bad because you’ve spent the past decade listening to people talk about how awesome it was until you wanted to take their shoes off, tie the laces together, and beat them to death with the newly made shoe bolo. You know, whatever. The third problem seems like it would be obvious, but as I can safely tell you, it is most surely not. There are plenty of games that are absolutely terrible, of this there can be no doubt, but it falls to the player to decide if Batman: Dark Tomorrow is a worse game than The Bible Game, and the title of “WORST GAME EVAR” is ultimately going to come down as much to problems with the game itself as it is to the emotional response it generates in the player and the sort of negative nostalgia it inspires, depending on how old it is.

I bring this up because Deadly Towers, astonishingly enough, is an example of all three of those problems at once.

Now, let’s get this out of the way up-front: Deadly Towers IS a bad game. I’m not going to deny that. I don’t really think ANYONE would deny that, frankly. Five minutes spent with the game is enough to tell you that it’s a festering boil on the ass of the NES, so believe me when I say that lancing it in the name of comedic rage is really merited in this case. Pretty much every bad game list ever written puts it SOMEWHERE in the list, from Seanbaby to the asshole with Tourette’s syndrome and beyond, and yes, the hatred is absolutely justified, as the game is pretty damn awful. That said, an awful lot of rage and bile has been directed at the game at various points by various people, and frankly, I’m not really certain it deserves it. I mean, yeah, it sucks, but lots of games suck and don’t generate the kind of hatred Deadly Towers has accumulated across its existence.

I guess what I’m saying is that, while the game sucks and all, I don’t really hate it nearly as much as I thought I would.

WHY THIS GAME SUCKS:

So, Deadly Towers sees you take on the role of Prince Meyer, who as the game begins is apparently to become king. He’s pondering the fate of his kingdom one night when a spirit named Khan appears to him and tells him a wizard named Rubas intends to use seven bells to summon an army of hellish beasts unto the land of Willner. Meyer, realizing how terrible this would be for his coronation ceremony (having demons shit in your celebratory cake would probably be a dining faux pas of epic proportions), decides he’s going to go out and break all of these bells. Because you should always listen to random spirits who come to you and tell you that someone’s planning to take over the world. Yep. Anyway, Meyer takes up his Short Sword and opts to go fight his way through the Seven Towers where these bells are kept, in an attempt to end Rubas’ shit and keep his coronation demon-shit-cake free, which is where we begin the game.

So here’s Prince Meyer.

He looks like Medieval Megaman, but whatever. As heroes go, he’s not the most embarrassing I’ve ever seen, so kudos for that, I guess. Meyer starts the game with a short sword, which the manual informs you that “you have no confidence in”. Now, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but since Meyer is one ceremony from becoming king and all, maybe he could fork out the dosh for a decent weapon and all, but hey, what do I know? I’ve never run a kingdom, so I obviously know nothing about how the finances of the sole monarch of the land. It’s entirely possible that Meyer, who is single-handedly heading off to save HIS ENTIRE KINGDOM, simply couldn’t justify “infinity plus one broadsword” in his monthly budget reports and had to settle for something just above “magical shovel handle of ass-banging ménage-a-trois”. I wouldn’t know, because I’m just a lowly grunt, so let’s assume that the best Meyer could afford was a crapass sword and bright blue tissue paper armor and move on with our day, yeah?

So, the game essentially has you wandering from one tower to the next, killing anything that gets in your way, collecting money and buying items along the way until you save the world. Fine. It’s essentially The Legend of Zelda in thought and deed, to the point where Meyer even throws his sword out like Link as an attack, but we’re not judging the game on its originality (and thank God for that). In simple terms, you’ve played Deadly Towers AT LEAST once in your life, if not twenty or thirty times like I have. That’s not even meant to be a condemnation of the game, to be fair, so much as an observation that when the game came out it wasn’t especially original, and time has not made it more so. Even if you somehow irrationally hate the Zelda series in its entirety, you could still pretty much dig up Golden Axe Warrior, Aztec Adventure or Golvellius: Valley of Doom and still get more or less the same experience you would in Deadly Towers, with significantly less suck. Well, in the case of Aztec Adventure, MARGINALLY less suck, but whatever.

Now, as we noted previously, Deadly Towers takes a lot of shit for being bad, but it was, in all honesty, a very ambitious game. The Legend of Zelda had only come out some eleven months prior to the Japanese release of Deadly Towers, and while Shigeru Miyamoto and company had a clear understanding of what the NES could do and how to do it (being employees of Nintendo and all), the folks at Irem… not so much. Deadly Towers was, literally, their second NES game, and the first game, Sqoon, was a goofy shooter featuring a submarine. Going from “goofy novelty shooter” to “large world action RPG” when you’ve no real idea of how to DO that isn’t easy, I would think, and to be fair, the CONCEPTS in the game aren’t all that bad. Meyer can earn money, called Ludder (which, on the sliding scale of stupid money names is somewhere between Zenny and Potch), which he can use at shops to buy items. He can also acquire all sorts of gear, like stronger weapons, better armor, sword upgrades, necklaces, and so on, to help him in his battles against evil. The game world is rather large, all things considered, and between the various different rooms to visit and the secret passages to find, there’s a lot to the game. Finally, the game gives you passwords whenever you die that retain all of the gear and money you’ve acquired, so that even if you completely bite it, you can go back into the game, from the beginning, with your stuff intact and try again.

So, yes, Deadly Towers gets an A+ for effort, even if all of the above sounded like it was basically stolen wholesale from Zelda. But those points are almost immediately revoked once one sits down to play the game, because HOLY WOW, it’s pretty brutal.

Now, in fairness, a lot of the issues one could have with the game come down to the fact that the game really wasn’t meant for impatient ten year olds, and as such, a kid wasn’t going to get what the game was trying to do, nor would they want to. The game is hard as hell to start; you get one hundred health when you start the game, and with the shit armor you start with, you lose about twenty of it every time something hits you, and your sword does abysmal damage to EVERYTHING. You’ll have to spend hours camping out locations, killing things to earn back health that take ten to fifteen hits to kill just to earn one Ludder or ten health, and having to start from the beginning (even with your gear intact) should you die is maddening. This isn’t like Zelda, where the beginning of the game is a central area near many locations you need to visit; the beginning of the game is the literal BEGINNING OF THE GAME, meaning you could spend an hour or more just getting back to where you needed to be. The game also pretty much makes you map out the Towers you visit, as there’s no way you could possibly figure out where in the hell you’re going or where you’ve been without a map because the locations are rather large and don’t distinguish themselves well from one another. Couple that with secret rooms that literally pop up out of nowhere and are usually filled with enemies that can ruin your shit in about two hits, and the game is especially tedious and mind-numbing unless you’re really LOOKING for that sort of experience.

But, okay. I’m thirty now, so a Nintendo-hard, tedious game is hardly a problem for me, so I can look at that like it’s a challenge of sorts. Old Nintendo games are a special kind of hell, and people praise all sorts of obscenely hard games for being classics, so whatever. Deadly Towers doesn’t really fail in those respects, depending on what you’re looking for from it.

The presentation, on the other hand, isn’t one of its strong points.

The game, as you can see, doesn’t exactly look “impressive” or even “good” at this point, and wasn’t particularly good looking when it came out, either. You can kind-of sort-of identify what the sprites are supposed to be, but the sprites are still fairly unpleasant looking and weren’t stellar twenty years ago, either. Further, the game has this annoying tendency to USE THE SAME ROOMS OVER AGAIN IN DIFFERENT COLORS, which only contributes to the whole repetition factor. The music isn’t any better; it’s an okay little ditty, to a point, but the music is basically just the same tune, played at different points depending on the room, looped ad infinitum as you play. The effects, such as they are, are also very rudimentary and are in no way memorable except in the worst ways imaginable.

But, hey. So the game is overly challenging, requires you to make maps and make slow progress, looks like shit and sounds about the same, and is basically a rip-off of Zelda. So what? Plenty of NES games are hard as nails, require hours of investment to make progress in, look like ass in this day and age, and feel exactly like other games. We can look past that, right? We’re not so petty as to hate a game for being archaic, derivative, and ugly, are we? I mean, the original Dragon Warrior is a bear by modern standards in every sense of the word, so SURELY we can forgive a game for not aging well, yeah?

Well, if it played good, sure. Deadly Towers doesn’t really do that, either.

First off, one of the main reasons the game is hard as nails when you start it up is because Prince Meyer’s sword sucks like Charybdis (go look it up). See, like Link, Meyer can fire his sword at enemies, which is good. Unlike Link, Meyer can fire his sword in eight directions, which is better. However, ALSO unlike Link, Meyer gets no actual sword to use, instead using ONLY the fired sword projectile, which is REALLY REALLY BAD. See, Link got a sword to use at close range and a fired sword projectile to use when his health was full, which was useful, while Meyer ONLY gets to fire his sword and has no close-range weapon. Now, you’re saying, “That’s not so bad,” and you’d be correct, except that LIKE Link, Meyer can, in the beginning, only fire one sword bolt at a time, and the sword flies REALLY SLOW. So, if you miss, you’re waiting like ten seconds to fire again. Once you’ve upgraded the sword a bit you can fire two bolts at once and the sword flies fast, mitigating this somewhat, but this is complete ass, and any one of a number of things could have been done to correct it. I mean, IT’S A SWORD. Let the guy swing the fucking thing or something. Come on, work with me.

Then there’s the fact that the game has a significant issue with making you get hit for cheap reasons. Okay, now, if an enemy has an erratic movement or attack pattern, I can accept that; you have to introduce a challenge somehow, and making enemies that don’t fall into easily understood patterns is one of those ways. I don’t really think it’s cool to do that to the player in the first dungeon when death is four hits away, but whatever. I can also understand if an enemy ignores stun damage from my attacks, for the same reason. But if I walk into a room and instantly get hit because you placed an enemy on Meyer’s spawn point, then you’re a goddamn jackass and you should be fucking ashamed of yourself. YOU KNOW where Meyer is going to spawn when he enters a room, YOU KNOW where the doors are located, and YOU KNOW how to avoid having this happen, so doing it anyway smacks of either laziness or outright douchebaggery, take your pick.

There’s also the matter of how the temporary invincibility system works, or in some cases, doesn’t work. Now, Zelda occasionally had issues where an enemy would pin you into a corner and hit you repeatedly until you died because you couldn’t escape, but Deadly Towers practically makes that into an art form. Meyer will be hit into a corner by enemies that home in on him and then pummeled into oblivion because he couldn’t move past their sprites and couldn’t kill any of them in time to escape, and while being in this position once or twice might be forgivable, this is a possibility about every fifth room. No, game. Later sections also introduce bottomless pits for Meyer to fall in, and enemies LOVE to hit you right into them, because fuck you, that’s why. I mean, in a game like Castlevania where the challenge is in memorizing enemy patterns and the whole game is two hours, that might be forgivable, but in a game where it can take you an hour to get back to where you need to be only to die in five seconds and repeat the process over again because ONE asshole knocked you into a hole? Fuck that noise.

Even beyond the cheap and somewhat frequent deaths, the game also has some other weird and stupid issues that make it annoying on top of being frustrating. The game is played from a two-thirds view, not a full overhead view like Zelda, but instead of enemies moving relative to their position (IE up and down in their own space) they move relative to the screen, meaning that enemies that float in place really don’t. This is great to discover when you bumble into one and need to kill ten to refill your life. Once you get used to that and what it means in combat terms, you THEN have to get used to what it means in item collection terms. See, if you kill an enemy who’s flying along the background wall, and they drop an item, YOU CAN’T FUCKING GET IT. Period. Now, okay, Zelda had this sort of issue if you killed an enemy over a rock or water or something, but the game ALSO offered a way to fix that problem in the Boomerang. No such luck here; if Deadly Towers offers a way to retrieve unreachable items, I never found it, and I’m sorely tempted to think it doesn’t exist. This, by the way, is great when you kill a bat or a very tall slime pile and said enemy drops a healing item you desperately need… OUTSIDE OF YOUR RANGE. Why, you ask, is this great? Because THIS HAPPENS CONSTANTLY. The game literally LOVES to put enemies outside of your reach so that anything they drop is unreachable by you. Of course, most of these enemies often can’t even hit you, so one has to ask the question as to why they’re even in the game in the first place, but considering what we’ve gone through up to this point, I don’t think there’s an answer that doesn’t contain the words “drunk” or “hatred of human life”.

And THESE people gave us R-Type, ladies and gentlemen. How in the hell did THAT happen?

CLOSING COMMENTS:

All that said, Deadly Towers isn’t really the worst game on the NES, let alone the worst game ever. I mean, it’s bad, certainly, and aggressively so in some respects, but it’s simply not bad enough. It lacks the active insanity and stupidity of something like ALF, doesn’t feel as rushed, sloppy and cheesy (though only barely) as something like Universal Studios Theme Park Adventures, isn’t as openly offensive as something like Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, and isn’t as all around bad as something like The Ring: Terror’s Realm (which will be featured here at some point, rest assured). For something to be the worst ever, it really needs to just spit in the face of the player openly and actively, and while Deadly Towers IS bad, it’s not really aggressively bad so much as it is bad by ineptitude.

It’s pretty much in the top ten, though, so if that helps you sleep at night, rock on.

Anyway, J. Rose has loaned me his copy of Monster Seed, and as I’m looking the list over, that appears to be the next game I’m to go after, so expect that in a few weeks, approximately, as I’m going to take the next column and make it into a brief review column, partly because Monster Seed, being an RPG, will take a while to get through, and partly because my life is a goddamn mess. After that we have three requests left: Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions, Budokan and Alien Versus Predator: Requiem, and I’m not expecting any of them to be worse than anything in the top three at the moment, so once again: if you think you can find me a game that will make me suffer more than Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, ALF or Universal Studios Theme Park Adventures, I challenge you to do it.

Or if you want to just see me slag something, that’s cool too. I’m open to whatever, really.

Anyway, I’m Mark B, and you’re not, so be sure to thank whatever higher power you believe in for that in your prayers tonight.

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