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Virtually Overlooked: Deadly Towers


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Welcome to our weekly feature, Virtually Overlooked, wherein we talk about games that aren't on the Virtual Console yet, but should be. Call it a retro-speculative.

Deadly Towers is the most frustrating game on the NES. It may be the most frustrating game of all time, although we're sure that there's some Koei number-crunching Chinese war game out there or realistic PC submarine simulator that's much, much harder. You go into those things expecting a convoluted mess; you go into an NES action-RPG expecting at least to understand where you are or what you're supposed to be doing before you die. Deadly Towers doesn't afford you the luxury. Why do we suggest that others should play it, then? Because we had to.

Why the game hasn't been announced for Virtual Console yet:

Presumably, a tester must go through the entire game before it is certified for Wii release. Since this is impossible, Deadly Towers can never be released on the Virtual Console. That begs the question of how it was released the first time. We have a theory that it gained sentience through force of will, burst out of the developers' computers and demanded to be pressed onto cartridges.

Why we think it should be on the Virtual Console:
Like Athena, Deadly Towers is a case study of what should be a great NES game turned into something more suitable to warn children about the dangers of playing video games. As bad game connoisseurs, we find this game (#1 on Seanbaby's list of worst Nintendo games-- Athena was #20) fascinating, since it's just so potentially okay and so wrong in execution. Here are a few of the great ideas in this game, and how they're used for great evil.

  • A variety of enemies: on the surface, this is a sign of a good NES game, but Deadly Towers puts them all on the screen at once. At any given moment, you've got bouncy-ball things, animated Slinkys, bats, fireballs, walking fireballs, and these little dragon things that appear behind you, all swarming you and poking away at your lifebar. Oh, and your sword is about 3 pixels long and doesn't knock anything back.

  • Eight-way motion and firing: We're impressed that developer Lenar actually drew the hero sprite from six different perspectives in order to enable eight-way movement: it must have taken minutes to render the doughy, featureless Prince Myer facing so many different directions. But remember the bouncy-ball things? They bounce straight up and down from our perspective, not from the game's-- meaning that when they should be several feet to one side of Prince Myer, they're actually directly in his face. It's pretty much impossible to cross these things, and they require about 20 hits to kill.

  • Expansive, non-linear world design: it's pretty easy to imagine how this can go awry in the hands of a bad game. To put it bluntly, you never know where the hell you're supposed to go, the environments all look exactly alike (especially in the dungeons, which consist entirely of featureless square rooms), and you die before you can figure it out. If you've ever wanted to feel completely hopeless, this game will enable it.
  • Hidden passageways: It's cool to have lots of secrets in the game, except when you already don't know where you are or what you're supposed to be doing. In that case, walking near a wall and being warped into a shop selling items whose purpose you don't know just induces panic.
The main reason we would like to see Deadly Towers on the VC is that we can't figure out why we owned the thing. It ended up in our house somehow, and we totally played it for the five minutes that it is possible to do so. Is Deadly Towers some kind of barnacle that attaches itself to game systems? Whatever it is, it's certainly not a video game that would be purchased using real currency. We want a new experimental group of potential buyers. We want to see how it ends up in other people's houses.

In this article: broderbund, deadlytowers, irem, lenar, nes
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