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Phillyman

Summertime Retro Recollection: Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

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655.jpgAh, summer. When the days are endless and warm, the crickets converse at night ("a/s/l?" "a/s/l?"), and I reminisce about the school-free afternoons that afforded me hours of guiltless video gaming.

I've been talking a little bit about the games I shared with--and swiped from--other friends. But summertime socializing can turn dramatic and sour thanks to awkward love triangles, petty rages over badly-coached ball games, or a water balloon assault. So with summer comes the need to separate from your companions to cool down and game alone.

In the summer that followed my grade six career, I played the heck out of the second Wizards & Warriors title, "Ironsword." Like its predecessor, Ironsword is an NES action/adventure title starring Kuros, a knight who--

Wait. It's required by law to analyze the box art for Ironsword when reminiscing about the game, so let's get that out of the way.

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The Ironsword cover is still celebrated as a prime example of box art that's simultaneously epic and cringe-inducing. And given the fact Fabio is standing under the word "Ironsword" and fixing the outside world with a sultry look, it can be argued that Ironsword also boasts the industry's most misleading box art.

Truth is, when you pop Ironsword into your NES, you don't control a half-naked Fabio on his quest to disrobe fully before a busty wench and find some brass polish for his WWE championship belt. You take charge of Kuros, whose character sprite is literally covered from head to toe in impermeable armor. Even when he's helmetless, Kuros appears to have some kind of grey substance grafted onto his skin, and only his eyes peer out at the rugged fantasy world. The guy's so intense about his modesty that Queen Victoria would probably tell tell him to chill out and loosen his top a little.

On the other hand, Kuros's enemies are relentless. He needs all the protection he can get. Ironsword was developed at the tail end of the '80s by Zippo Games, but it still bears the mark of Rare. Like most of Rare's NES-era handiwork, you can count on Ironsword for some solid adventuring before the game gets itself mired a bog of frustration. I adored the game as a girl (and I'm not beyond admitting that maybe, maybe I had a crush on the box art), but I never finished it. I never came close.

You don't have to look far beyond footage of the first level to see why I got stuck. The enemies in Ironsword just never let up. The game brings back the evil wizard Malkil for a second go at Kuros, and the old fart obviously means business.

Much like the original Wizards & Warriors, Ironsword's levels are sprawling and aimless, perfect for exploring--if you can stay alive long enough. More often than not, Kuros has to climb like the dickens to reach his goal. There are four realms to conquer, and each one is divided into two halves. The first half of each level usually involves finding a trinket belonging to that level's animal guardian. The appeased guardian will then let Kuros pass to the second half of the level, which involves taking down

that are based on the four elements (Wind, Water, Earth, Fire. What, you thought Rare was going to bother deviating from the four basics?). When Kuros beats an Elemental, he can access a piece of the Ironsword, the weapon needed to put Malkil back to bed on IceFire Mountain.

Alas, Malkil was not mine to beat, though I did get quite far into the fourth realm--Earth. What stopped me? I had no idea what that level's animal guardian was asking me for. The guardian of the 648.jpgAir realm was an eagle who wanted her egg back. The guardian of the Forest realm was a frog whose palette demanded a golden fly. The guardian of the Fire realm was a dragon who wanted a crown. And the guardian of the fourth realm was a badger--or a bear, I never could tell--who apparently wanted a tankard of booze. I never found it.

But I persisted, at least until the game had to go back home to the video store. For one thing, the soundtrack is pretty remarkable. Back then, we had to suffer for our listening enjoyment; we couldn't just jump on YouTube (shakes fist). And I really liked the animal guardians, as well as the Pachinko-style game Kuros could play in any of the stores scattered throughout the four realms. Kuros would guess which cup a skull was destined to bounce into. More often than not, it was a waste of gems, but victory was glorious.

In fact, even if you're inspired to fire up Ironsword and it proves too intense, at least stop by one of the shops and blow your stash of gems. Once you're tapped out, the merchant will scruff Kuros and throw him out physically. Hey, Kuros trying to save the world, you penny-pinching ingrate! At least let him nibble on one of those chickens that you harvest from the mountain's bedrock.

And even if Ironsword just doesn't grab you at all, at least experience it through its commercial. If a testosterone-driven warrior comes screaming into your bedroom from another dimension, you should thank God if all he wants is to hand you a video game.

(Screenshots from SydLexia and Gamewad)

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