Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 01/05/09

Try it, and you'll like it. Play through it, and you won't.

Legacy of the Wizard is like a piano that has been set on fire: It’s really neat at first, but there soon comes a time where it’s really not very fun to play anymore, and in fact becomes hazardous to your health.

The basic premise of the game is that an evil dragon who had been sealed away by a wizard is getting ready to return to terrorize the land, and it’s up to the wizard’s descendants to defeat the dragon with a special sword that can only be obtained with the combined power of four magical crowns.

Obviously this wizard chap was lacking in the intellect department, because he buried the sword deep underground where his family would never find it and handed over each crown to a big, ugly monster for safekeeping. Gee, thanks, Gramps.

You, the player, get to take on the roles of five different members of the family. There’s Xemn, the brutish father; Meyna, the wizardress mother; Roas, the worthless slacker son; Lyll, the high-jumping daughter; and Pochi, the dino-puppy that can't really do much of anything but is immune to enemy attack (the monsters think he's one of them). Non-playable family members include Jiela, the grandmother, who provides you with passwords to continue the game; and Douel, the grandfather, who twitters at you obnoxiously when you inevitably enter your password incorrectly.

Each family member has different attack and jumping capabilities as well as a different selection of special items that he or she can equip. Certain areas are only accessible by certain characters, so this is not like Mario 2 where you can totally blow off all the other characters and float through every level with the princess.

No, you need to take Xemn, Meyna, Lyll, and faithful little Pochi through a tremendous dungeon filled with traps, puzzles, and oodles of enemies while useless Roas sits at home picking his nose until you’ve recovered all four of the crowns, at which point you’ll get Roas off his lazy butt, fetch the sword, and then get burned into oblivion by the evil dragon’s fire breath.

Assuming you even make it that far.

Now, Legacy of the Wizard is a platformer, but it’s also a Zelda-esque fantasy RPG of sorts that entails tireless exploration and the collection of special items to be able to proceed through various areas. Trying out the different family members, delving into several new areas of the dungeon one after another, picking up money and keys from defeated enemies, and collecting those first few helpful inventory items all have a strong appeal if you’re just playing around and seeing what the game has to offer.

When you first start playing, you’ll surely take some time to become accustomed to the game mechanics, quickly figuring out that you can fire in eight different directions and that each shot drains your magic power (when you’re out of magic power, you can’t attack anymore). You’ll discover that grabbing onto a ladder in midair is about as difficult as grabbing onto a greased chimpanzee. Immediately afterwards, you will learn that you can take falling damage, a lesson that the game will take every possible opportunity to remind you of. You’ll also figure out that you can, in fact, climb on enemies’ heads and use them as stepping stones.

Getting a feel for the game mechanics, along with the extensive exploration you’ll be doing, should be enough to keep you focused on things other than the plot of the game for a while. It’s once you begin to play seriously and go after the crowns that the game becomes troublesome.

While in the “aimless exploration” phase of the game, you’ll most likely make brief forays into one part of the dungeon and return to the family’s house on the surface once your health and magic start to run low. Once you get deeper into the dungeon, backtracking to the house becomes impractical and you’ll need to start relying on the numerous inns along the way that are inexplicably thriving in the monster-infested dungeon to recharge your health and magic. However, you cannot save your game progress at an inn. So, if you die (especially easy when confronting the bosses who guard the crowns), you restart waaaaay back at the family’s house.

Retracing your steps is irritating because of the high probability that you will get very, very lost if you aren’t keeping a map, especially with all the secret passages. Even seasoned Metroid players may have trouble finding their way around. Most secret passages are not at all intuitively hidden and require either dumb luck or near-infinite patience as you prod each and every brick to test whether it’s solid. On top of that, the enemies always respawn, so the longer it takes you to find your way, the more health and magic you’ll lose, and the faster it’ll be until you need to make an unwelcome detour back to an inn or the house to rest.

Of course, the secret passages you’ll most likely find by accident are the false floors that look solid but really aren’t, which generally land you in a horrible pit filled with horrible spikes. While the spikes do a little bit of damage instead of killing you instantly, maneuvering over them—especially when the spikes aren’t in just a straight horizontal line—can be difficult because you begin to bounce incessantly once you start taking damage from the spikes, and even the trick that lets you avoid taking damage (holding up on the control pad as you move) will not always work.

Of course, by the time you finally leave the spike pit and climb your way back up, you’ll have forgotten where that hole in the floor was and fall through it all over again.

Then there are a few moments of truly atrocious level design that must not have been playtested. For instance, to get to the crown that only the high-jumping Lyll can reach, you must jump across a gap that is placed so close to the ceiling that Lyll bumps her head on the ceiling in mid-jump—because she jumps so high—and every single time falls short of the opposite ledge, landing on the next screen below and needing to climb all the way back up to futilely try again. The solution to this and other parts of the game like it always feels like cheating, as though you need to come up with some game-breaking solution the designers never thought of—probably because they didn’t actually think of a solution at all.

I’m not complaining that Legacy of the Wizard shouldn’t have secret passages and fake floors and tricky jumps—they’re great obstacles—but they sometimes feel unplaytested and generally seem to have been added to annoy rather than challenge.

The area of the dungeon that only Xemn can get through is a perfect example of this. One of Xemn’s special items is a power glove that allows him to push around a certain kind of block, and his area is saturated with puzzles that require moving these blocks out of the way to form a clear path to the exit or that involve jumping on one of these blocks to move it through the air to a high-up ledge on the other side of the room; this is all well and good, but the controls are about as clunky as an orangutan attempting to drive stick shift.

To push these blocks, you need to first equip the power glove, then hold down the jump button as you hold the direction on the control pad that you want the block to move. Maybe I never quite mastered the art of block pushing, but I found the controls lacked a certain elegance (especially when you need to keep unequipping the glove every time you want to jump on a block with the risk of pushing it in the wrong direction), and sometimes blocks would mysteriously get moved in a direction that was the opposite of where I was trying to make them go. If the mechanics here were more streamlined, this element would have been a very clever addition to the game, but as it stands, it’s more often a hassle than anything else.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Xemn’s area consists almost entirely of block-moving puzzles that generally take an inordinate amount of time to plod through (especially if you need to keep backtracking to the family’s house when you run out of health, magic power, and/or money) and are designed so that it’s possible to get yourself irrevocably stuck without any way out aside from hitting the Reset button.

Not cool.

What else isn’t cool is that the bosses are not tied to specific crowns—that is, regardless of whether you start out by collecting Meyna’s crown or Pochi’s crown, you’ll always fight the spider boss first, the undead boss second, etc. While I suppose that any character could technically defeat any of the bosses, certain characters are better suited to fighting certain bosses. The last guardian is arguably tougher than the final boss and can kill you in about two hits, so it’s excruciatingly aggravating to discover that, after however many hours of game time, you HAVE to fight him with whatever character collected the last crown, even if that character is terribly outclassed.

If there would have been some indication about this so that you could plan the order of crown collection more wisely, this might have been okay. Once again, though, the execution falls short.

After you’ve collected all the crowns, you can send Roas, the least qualified adventurer in the family (even less qualified than the dog!), to get the fabled sword and slay the dragon. Equipped with one of the crowns, Roas can utilize designated teleportation spots to transport him to… whatever part of the dungeon is least convenient at that moment. After endless trial and error of teleporting to all the spots in the dungeon that would have been massively helpful to jump to if the other characters could use the crowns, Roas will finally show up in the room with the sword. After claiming it with absolutely no fanfare, it is then time to kill the final boss.

And there are few final bosses I’ve ever met who have been so tedious. Unless you're playing dishonestly (which, by this point, you probably are), you essentially need to run up to the dragon, hit him once or twice at close range, and then quickly backpedal so you don’t become Roast Roas. Repeat, ad nauseum. It’s a decent challenge at first, but when you consider that you have to basically repeat the exact same pattern without almost any variation about twenty times in a row, and also that you can’t use any of your special healing elixirs in the battle, any fun soon evaporates, especially if you have to try more than once.

There are some redeeming features to the game, though. There’s a dynamic powerup system in place so that enemies are more likely to drop money, health refills, etc. when you start to run dangerously low on them. The sound effects are right-on, and the music is enjoyable, pretty complex, and energetic, sounding a little something like two parts Mega Man and one part Castlevania, although it does become a little obtrusive in some areas after you’ve heard it loop for the umpteenth time. The graphics are colorful and diverse where they need to be, and the well-detailed backgrounds give each area a unique feel and do occasionally serve as good location markers if the level design starts to all look the same as you’re exploring the vast dungeon.

And the exploration aspect is, at least at first, one of the selling points of the game. Trying out different characters, seeing where they can go, and searching for items that they can equip to access new locations are actually compelling reasons to play. But the fun degrades over the course of the game to the point where it’s mere drudgery to play by the end.

After the surprise of what each new area has to offer wears off; after it takes you fifteen or twenty minutes to get to a new location that you haven’t visited fifteen or twenty times already; after you need to buy an item to proceed that is so expensive that it requires near-endless grinding for gold; after you’ve trapped yourself in a puzzle room with no escape a few times; after you’ve become hopelessly frustrated looking for a secret passage into the next area; after you’ve spent most of your afternoon working your way to a boss who kills you in about thirty seconds, making you start all over and possibly want to restart the game; and after you find that the final boss is just a tedious exercise in repetition…

…After all that, your will to live will be utterly broken. If not that, then your game cartridge.

Legacy of the Wizard had a lot of potential, but occasionally quirky game mechanics and a lack of polish and good planning in some places seriously hold the game back. Still, the game is good fun, up to a certain point. Just don’t play it for too long unless you’re not bothered by losing your way and losing your mind.

Rating: 4

Product Release: Legacy of the Wizard (US, 04/30/89)

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