Subspace Birthday

Time sure does fly when you’re having fun. Today, I am celebrating one full year of Subspace Briefcase. Can you think of a better way to commemorate the occasion than a completely self-indulgent walk down memory lane? I hope not, because that’s exactly what you’re getting.

A little over a year ago, when the gaming universe was just settling into the throes of what we would all come to know and love as “Gamergate,” I started getting the itch to write about video games again[1]. This was not because I had anything particularly insightful to contribute to the global conversation about sexism, journalistic ethics, online harassment, or whatever had crawled up the Internet’s butt at the time, but because the whole sordid affair flat out SADDENED me. Video games are supposed to be fun, and the discussion surrounding them had turned decidedly sour. I longed for simpler days, when the online conversation about games was more cheerful, enthusiastic, and devoid of Baldwins and Breitbarts. Simply put, I wanted to make a gaming site focused on nothing but fun; a throwback to the fansites of the late ’90s and the early aughts.

Not pictured: Hundreds of other games.

Plus, I had a depressingly large collection of games which was rapidly approaching the 1,000 title mark, and I needed to justify its continued existence somehow.


A year later, I’d like to think that I’ve achieved a modicum of success in that regard. Hopefully, my modest readership has been entertained. If nothing else, from my drab first post on Dragon Force, to my recent two-parter on Code Name: Viper, I’m confident that I’ve been consistently informative.

But enough of this prattle – let’s talk about some of the highlights.


Without a doubt, the most popular piece of content I have produced is this video of Far Cry 4‘s AI going completely wonky:

Coincidentally, this also took the least amount of effort on my part to produce. The real money is in cheap laughs, kids. Take note.


A close second, however, is my interview with Kurt Kalata, the founder of the Castlevania Dungeon, which was the very site I had in the back of my mind when I started Subspace Briefcase. I’ll always be grateful to Kurt for taking the time to talk to me. I strongly recommend you check out his work over at Hardcore Gaming 101.


Briefcase Cup Match 13 - Raven Gush v. Papaya Tokuma Screenshot 2015-02-12 18-24-05

If you’ve been reading consistently, you’ve no doubt noticed that I am a lifelong fan of the great sport of professional wrestling. As I own no less than 20 pro wrestling video games, I figured combining my mutual love of gaming and fake fighting would be a great way to experiment with serialized content.


This originally took the form of RISE: DOLPHIN, a series of posts where I ushered a retired Canadian baseball player through the career mode of All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua. Unfortunately, my reach exceeded my grasp with this one, as I found myself unable to capture and summarize game footage in any consistently entertaining fashion. I cut the project short after I reached a logical stopping point – but hey, at least I had some fun producing this sweet montage (featuring the music of Lazerhawk):

I was a little annoyed with myself for letting Dolphin’s story die on the vine, so I took a second crack at serialized wrestling posts. On January 18, 2015, I recorded a three-hour CPU controlled tournament in Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PS2. This, of course, became The Briefcase Cup, a 30-post monstrosity that ultimately wound up being more about pro wrestling than video games.

Nevertheless, it was an absolute joy to write, and I got to introduce a whole new audience to Mango Fukuda, in what may be the craziest thing I’ve ever committed to print.


Time Gal Header2

Just about nobody read my post on the Sega CD version of Time Gal, which made me sad, because I think it’s one of the most under-appreciated ports of all time. I even went as far as to record the ENTIRE GAME and post it on Youtube:

I chalk it up to the fact that anybody who cares about Time Gal has probably learned everything that they ever wished to know about it by now. Oh well. You live, you learn.


While covering Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance, I produced an eight-minute montage of game footage set to the sounds of Canadian music legends, Loverboy:

I think it’s safe to say that nobody found this as funny as I did, but hey, it still picks up a view or two every now and then. Maybe it has legs.


It’s a tie between my epic lunar dodge ball battle in the PC Engine version of Super Dodge Ball

… and my legendary battle with Sevens in World Court Tennis.

The PC Engine/Turbo Grafx-16. Home of the hottest sports games on the planet.


I’d like to thank everybody who has read my work over the last year. While I’m far from setting the web on fire, I’ve gotten more eyes on Subspace Briefcase than I ever imagined I could. I’ve got no plans to stop any time soon, and I thank you for your continued support!

In particular, I’d like to thank…

  • My wife, Jenn Voss, for being a consistent source of love and support. She’s listened to every crazy idea I’ve had for this site, and only laughed in my face a select few times.
  • My brothers, Dave White and Chris White, who have apparently taken the time to read, repost, and share just about everything I’ve written. Additionally, Dave designed the Subspace Briefcase logo, for which I am eternally in his debt.
  • And last, but certainly not least, Doug Bodden, who provided me with more feedback on my World Court Tennis series than I ever cared to receive. He’s the closest thing to a superfan I’ll ever have.

Thanks again, folks! I hope you stay tuned in the months to come!


[1] I say “again” because I used to be a reviewer for a rinky-dink little site called PS2Insider, but that’s a whole ‘nother post in and of itself.


Code Name: Viper – Part 2

ViperTItleCode Name: Viper
Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Capcom

Last time, we talked about the underrated gameplay of Capcom’s Code Name: Viper. Today, we’ll be talking about its inspirations, or perhaps more accurately, its source material.

It would be diplomatic to say that Code Name: Viper was heavily inspired by Namco’s Rolling Thunder. It would be accurate to say that nearly nearly every aspect of Code Name: Viper’s design was stolen from Rolling Thunder.

Rolling Thunder Screenshot 2015-10-19 21-50-55

Originally released to arcades in late 1986, Rolling Thunder puts the player in control of Albatross, a secret agent on a quest to rescue his partner, Leila. But Rolling Thunder’s epic backstory isn’t relevant to this discussion. If you’d like to learn more about Rolling Thunder, you should read Kurt Kalata’s excellent writeup over at Hardcore Gaming 101. And after you’ve read that, head over to USGamer and listen to the fantastic episode of Retronauts Micro on the entire Rolling Thunder series. Done? Good.

rollingcoverWhat is relevant to this discussion is that in 1989, Namco decided to to port Rolling Thunder to the Famicom/NES. Tengen would publish the game in the US, in one of its infamous, black, off-brand cartridges. If the Internet is to be believed, the developer tasked with porting Rolling Thunder to Nintendo’s console (at least in part) was none other than Arc System Works. Today, Arc is well-known in gaming circles as the developer of the increasingly eccentric Guilty Gear franchise of fighting games. Back in 1989, however, Arc would have been just a plucky little upstart development house, somewhere in the middle of its first or second year of existence.

Arc’s port of Rolling Thunder isn’t bad, so much as it is drab and unrefined. The game’s color palette is remarkably restrained: everything looks like it was originally optimized to run on a CGA monitor. And in case you’re under 30 and that reference flew over your head, just take a look:

Rolling Thunder Screenshot 2015-10-19 21-50-22

Until the color green makes its appearance in the third level, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Arc had intentionally restricted themselves to blues, whites, and blacks. Thankfully, things get a little more varied and colorful as the game progresses.

Rolling Thunder Screenshot 2015-10-19 22-10-34
Say, this verdant hideout looks familiar, yet ugly.

While Rolling Thunder for the NES borders on indisputably ugly, it plays remarkably well. Generally speaking, the action in Rolling Thunder takes place across two parallel planes – a high plane and a low plane. Albatross and the legion of masked enemies that stand in his way can freely travel between those two planes by way of a perpendicular leap. As Albatross has the smallest of life bars, the player is forced to dart between both planes, around cover, and into hidden doors in order to get the drop on enemies without taking any damage. It’s a nice little gameplay cocktail which makes for some fairly exciting action. One can’t help but think that Arc had the Rolling Thunder formula fairly close to perfected. If only they had another bite at the apple, what might they have accomplished?

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-19 22-17-38
Ahh. That’s better, yet refreshingly similar.

As luck would have it, we know the answer to that question. Code Name: Viper is Arc’s second bite. You may have noticed that the last paragraph was comprised entirely of re-purposed and slightly altered sentences from last week’s post. That’s because Code Name: Viper is comprised entirely of re-purposed and slightly altered gameplay concepts and graphics from Rolling Thunder.

You see, in 1990, despite being an extremely prolific developer in its own right, as well as the owner of some of the hottest video game franchises on the planet, Capcom inexplicably decided that it needed to publish what amounted to a port of Rolling Thunder on the NES.

Rolling Thunder Screenshot 2015-10-20 22-41-23
Blue, blue, electric blue, that’s the color of this room. Oh, hey, grenades!

Perhaps this was some sort of jab at its arcade competitor, Namco? The world may never know.

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-11-17
Blue, blue, electric blue… that’s the color of this room, too. Might as well be the same room, really. Oh, hey, Molotov cocktails!

Again, if the Internet is to be believed, Capcom hired the uniquely qualified Arc System Works to do the grunt work. The end result: Code Name: Viper, which is both highly derivative of Rolling Thunder, yet refined and  improved in nearly every single way.

The similarities in both of Arc’s games are readily apparent. All you have to do is compare the sprites for Mr. Smith and Albatross:


They both fire their machine guns from the same posture;


they both share the same awkward jumping pose;


they have nearly identical falling animations;


and, hell, they are both wearing the same set of disturbingly flesh-toned, high-waisted pants. Apparently, and unfortunately, Arc felt they’d accomplished all they needed to accomplish in the realm of covert operative leg-wear.

The similarities extend beyond character sprites as well. Just compare the second level of Rolling Thunder…

Rolling Thunder Screenshot 2015-10-19 20-16-47

with the second level of Code Name: Viper:

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-30-39

Even the interstitial sequences which feature the bad guys watching a computer monitor were taken from Rolling Thunder…

Rolling Thunder Screenshot 2015-10-20 21-07-04

… though they’ve got far more polish in Code Name Viper.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 22-51-07

This is just the tip of the iceberg, really; the enemy designs, the music, the power-ups – Code Name: Viper lifted so much from Rolling Thunder that it probably threw its back out in the process.  It is for this reason that Code Name: Viper has been dismissed as little more than a ripoff, and perhaps rightfully so.

But here’s the thing: if Code Name: Viper is simply Rolling Thunder under another name, it’s indisputably the best version of Rolling Thunder on the NES. Arc’s second crack at Rolling Thunder’s particular brand of spy-themed action improves on their first effort in nearly every single way: the graphics are more detailed, the control is tighter, and the music is catchier. It’s the Rolling Thunder that Namco should have published in the first place. Sure, you can choose to view Code Name: Viper as a ripoff, but I choose to view it as an example of a developer revisiting its freshman efforts and improving upon them in virtually every single way. Capcom copied Namco; Arc merely copied itself.

Regardless of how you come out on Arc’s peculiar brand of sub-contracted self-plagiarism, it’s hard to dispute that it resulted in quality release in Code Name: Viper. It’s the closest thing to a South American vacation you’ll find on an 8-bit console, and it’s a fair shake more pleasant to look at than its drab predecessor. Skip the originator and go right to the imitator.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-04-01

Unless you’ve got a Genesis, that is… but that is a story for another time.

Code Name: Viper – Part 1

ViperTItleCode Name: Viper
Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Capcom

As anyone who walked into an arcade between the years of 1989 and 2000 can tell you, winners don’t use drugs. This of, course, is why drug dealers make for fantastic video game adversaries. Today, franchises like Grand Theft Auto sell millions of copies on the backs of protagonists who openly deal in narcotics. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, however, gamers were far more likely to be destroying drug labs than running them. Of all the games that sailed on the wave of the “just say no” sentiment that was pumped into my brain during the Reagan/Bush era, Capcom’s Code Name: Viper is indisputably my favorite.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 19-58-50

Like most games of its vintage, Code Name: Viper has the simplest of plots – you couldn’t even roll a joint with the paper it would take to transcribe the whole thing. The player assumes the role of Kenny Smith, whom we can only assume is the eponymous “Viper,” as the game never refers to him as such. An agent of “Special Missions,” Mr. Smith has been tasked by his cigar-smoking superior, Commander Jones, with destroying the seven hideouts of “the huge drug syndicate in South America.” In each location, he must also recover one of his fellow agents, who has been “hurt and captured” by the syndicate. Simple stuff, right? OR SO THE U.S. GOVERNMENT WOULD HAVE YOU THINK. But we’ll get into that later.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-02-14

Mr. Smith can do 5 things:

  1. Walk
  2. Jump
  3. Jump higher
  4. Duck
  5. Shoot

It’s a pretty basic moveset for a guy code-named after a venomous snake, but it’s not Mr. Smith’s moves that make the game so enjoyable, it’s the level design. Generally speaking, the action in Code Name: Viper takes place across two parallel planes – a high plane and a low plane. Both Mr. Smith and the legion of literally faceless enemies that stand in his way can freely travel between those two planes by way of a perpendicular leap. Each plane is also populated with various objects that effectively serve as waist-high cover for Mr. Smith’s adversaries.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-04-33
Hiding inside a box for a whole level! Syndicate employee of the month, right there.

Additionally, each stage is filled with an absolutely absurd amount of “secret” revolving doors; I’m not exaggerating when I say that nearly every entryway in this game is both concealed and rotating. I’ve seen Narcos; I know secrecy is important drug cartels, but Code Name: Viper takes it to ridiculous lengths. In addition to containing power-ups and hostages to rescue, these doors also serve as a means of hiding from enemies. By holding up on the control pad, Mr. Smith can remain inside a door for as long as he likes, during which time he is impervious to harm.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-05-41

As Mr. Smith has the smallest of life bars, the player is forced to dart between both planes, around cover, and into hidden doors in order to get the drop on enemies without taking any damage. It’s a nice little gameplay cocktail which makes for some fairly exciting action. Take a look:

Each level ends in a dead-end. Mr. Smith cannot break through these barriers until he has rescued the captured commando hidden in each stage, who, inexplicably, will be carrying high-powered explosives. As I assume that any “huge drug syndicate” with the foresight to cover half of South America with hidden revolving doors would have frisked its captives, we can only assume that these commandos have swallowed these live explosives, like so many condoms full of cocaine, and retrieved them rectally. Talk about using your enemies’ methods against them.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-13 20-41-13
Let’s see the goods, homie.

At the end of each level, Mr. Smith sits down with the commando he’s rescued, who reveals what syndicate secrets he’s uncovered. Invariably, what he’s obtained is a portion of an internal drug cartel memo, lovingly scrawled on what appears to be paper torn from a child’s wide-ruled notebook.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-13 20-41-22
You pulled a grenade out of your ass for this? Time to rethink your career choices, buddy.

At each level’s conclusion, the player is also treated to an image of an unidentified person observing Mr. Smith’s progress through a state of the art CRT monitor:

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-13 20-33-00

Presumably, this person is a high-ranking member of the huge drug syndicate, as his hands take on a slightly more nervous posture as Mr. Smith closes in on the final level:

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 22-57-54This is a nice little touch which really adds a bit of spice to the game’s otherwise sparse plot.

With each commando he rescues, Mr. Smith uncovers more and more lines of the huge drug syndicate’s TPS reports. By the time the seventh stage has been completed, the entire vile, drug peddling plot has been lain bare before us.

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-13-20


Sweet Jesus. The WHOLE world? Not just through drugs, but BY DRUGS? And COMMANDER JONES is behind it? How could he do such a… uh…

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 23-14-08

That works. Thanks, Kenny!

But seriously, that memo is great. It reads like they’ve been having problems with the new hires contacting Commander Jones to refill the toner in the copy machine. It even concludes with “pay attention to this matter.” The only thing missing is a sentence about how Darla down in coca leaf processing is running a 5k to support prostate cancer survivors, and donations can be left in the jar behind the secret door in the mail room. Let’s not even touch the fact that they divulged Commander Jones’ location for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Obviously, Commander Jones is not pleased with these developments:

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 23-23-54

HE SMACKED THE TABLE SO HARD THE MONITOR TURNED OFF. HOT DAMN! While this plot twist has very little impact, I’ve always enjoyed the way these little interstitial scenes play out over the course of the game.

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-20-29
“E” omitted due to technical difficulties.

Of course, this revelation leads to a surprise EIGHTH stage where the player must infiltrate Commander Jones’ chic Beverly Hills drug den and defeat him in a surprisingly brief, but challenging, boss battle. At the conclusion of the game, we’re treated to a brief text scroll of an ending:

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-19-01
Alas, we never got a sequel.

Yep, Kenny Smith goes full on Dirty Harry. He even gets rid of his badge:

Code Name Viper - Night 2 Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-18-06
You know, you could still use that gun, Kenny.

If you think about it, this ending could be viewed as a little bit subversive. While it’s not rare for NES games to invoke the “your employer is the villain,” trope, in Code Name: Viper your more or less working for the CIA. The game is as much a critique of the US government as it is an indictment of drug cartels. Pretty weighty stuff for something that was sold as a toy for children. SEEDS PLANTED. Well done, Capcom.

Code Name Viper Screenshot 2015-10-14 20-06-51

I’ve always felt that Code Name: Viper is one of the more under-appreciated titles in the NES catalog. It has more or less vanished from most gamers’ memories, despite having stellar graphics, a refined, yet simple, control scheme, and uncommonly catchy music. But there’s a very good reason why history hasn’t been kind to Code Name: Viper – it’s a blatant rip-off of another game. But we’ll save that for Part 2. Tune in next time!

Wizards & Warriors

Wizards_and_Warriors_NES_coverWizards & Warriors
Nintendo Entertainment System, 1987
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Acclaim

Shortly after my family welcomed a NES into our home in 1988, I was desperate to complete a game. There was only one problem: at six-years-old, I had yet to actually develop any video game playing skill. My options were limited. I had tried to conquer both Super Mario Bros. and its sequel, but found them to be to be too challenging. My mother had purchased me a copy of RC Pro AM, but my brain was not yet developed enough to understand high-level concepts like “acceleration” and “steering.” World Class Track Meet? Forget it, I was a little chubster. I lacked the physical stamina to beat that one, even using my hands to cheat. Duck Hunt? I’m not sure that one ends.

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-06 22-15-16

Wizards & Warriors, though? That game gives you infinite continues. It lets you start in the exact same location where you last met your demise. A monkey could beat it if you just gave it enough time. It was a layup; the perfect game for putting that first notch on my control pad. As such, one Sunday afternoon in the late ’80s, after several hours of intense effort, Wizards & Warriors became the first NES game I ever completed in its entirety.

Prior to this week, I probably hadn’t touched Wizards & Warriors in over 20 years. However, as I recently purchased a shiny new an Analogue NT, I thought it would be the perfect time to revisit my first NES conquest – in STUNNING HD. And you know what? It’s still fun.

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 20-38-34

I could try to describe the plot of Wizards & Warriors to you, but the game’s manual does a much better job than I could ever do. Unfortunately, most of my NES manuals were turned into a moldy mess in the great basement flood of ’91. Thankfully, the good folks over at World of Nintendo have me covered:

She’s asleep now, the Princess. But who knows what he has planned for her once she awakens… He is the Wizard Malkil. Legend has it that Malkil was once one of the greatest. So great, in fact, that even the renowned Merlin was his pupil. But alas, Malkil has gone mad with age, and turned his powerful magic to the dark side. You are Kuros, the only knight warrior brave enough to enter the woods of Elrond. Strong enough to wield the Brightsword. Powerful enough to ward off the demons, the undead, and the caverns of fire. And clever enough to discover where Malkil has hidden his prisoner.

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 20-55-18
Gotta love that “EVIL” life bar for the bosses. Really lets you know where you stand.

So, in short, you play as Kuros (a guy who looks nothing like he does on the sweet box art) on a quest to rescue the unnamed princess (of a kingdom shamelessly named after a character from The Lord of The Rings) from Malkil (a wizard whose name sounds like a 7th grader’s attempt to translate “bad murder” into Latin). I just have to laugh when kids these days complain about the quality of writing in modern video games.

After you press start, the game presents you with a cross-section of the Kingdom of Elrond (presumably ruled by Hugo Weaving), ominously labeled as “THE MAP:”

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 18-44-00

As this is a video game from 1987, we know that the unnamed princess is being held in the giant castle. However, as THE MAP, clearly shows us, in his madness, Malkil has cut all funding to the Kingdom of Elrond’s Streets and Paving Bureau. Two massive potholes are preventing us from simply walking straight to the castle. Instead, we’ll have to take the scenic route, through such exotic locations as…

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 21-07-49

The woods! Where you’ll encounter werewolves that look kind of like Marmaduke and the elusive pink bald eagle.

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 21-12-02
Not pictured: Count Chocula and Frankenberry.

The blue caverns! Home to Boo Berry™ and fire-spewing smiley faces!

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 21-14-10

The red caverns! These are surprisingly similar to the blue caverns, but with fire.

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 21-16-41
Coily, appearing courtesy of an exchange enemy program with Q*bert.

The purple caverns! If you liked the red caverns and the blue caverns, you’ll love these. It’s like a greatest hits compilation, only with bats and snakes.

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 21-24-04


The OTHER woods! You might think that these are the same woods from before, but no – the eagles and the werewolves have been replaced by gargoyles and angry cactus-throwing gnomes.

Nearly three decades later, it’s easy to mock Wizards & Warriors repetitive level design, but by early NES standards, the levels were quite stunning – not to mention large and open-ended. Each stage scrolls horizontally and vertically, and Kuros is given free reign to explore each secret-filled level to the player’s heart’s content.

But what are you looking for when you explore those levels? Well, each level in Wizards & Warriors has an identical goal: reach the exit, defeat the boss that lies beyond that exit, and rescue the distressed damsel that said boss has imprisoned. Fairly standard stuff, but there’s a bit of a wrinkle:

Wizards & Warriros Gameplay Screenshot 2015-10-07 21-53-00

Each level’s exit is guarded by an invincible palette-swap of Kuros. These scarlet sentinels are impervious to all forms of bodily harm, but they have one weakness: cold hard cash. You can’t pass through the exit until you’ve picked up enough gemstones to bribe these guards. Stashes of these gemstones (and other goodies) are hidden behind colored doors and treasure chests, which you’ll need to find correspondingly colored keys to unlock. While “bribery” is not the most heroic mechanic to build your central gameplay loop around, we really didn’t think twice about these things in the Reagan era. Kuros worked hard for those gems, after all.

On his quest, Kuros will acquire numerous magical items, which run the gamut from “extremely overpowered” to “practically useless.”

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-07 22-19-34
Indeed, I hath.

Certain items, like the above-pictured Potion of Levitation, will add height to Kuros’ jump, making the game’s platforming sections infinitely more tolerable. Compare this with the set of lava-proof boots that is, in fact, not lava-proof at all. True fact: when replaying Wizards & Warriors, I consulted an FAQ not so I could FIND these powerups, but so I can avoid them – you’ve only got so many item slots, and the last thing I wanted to do was swap out my Boots of Force, which allow Kuros to open any chest at will, for the Cloak of Darkness, which renders Kuros invisible – BUT ONLY TO THE PLAYER.

I presume that Wizards & Warriors would be incredibly difficult if not for the aforementioned infinite continues – but that’s the thing about infinite continues, isn’t it? You never really try if there’s no penalty for failure. Enemies spawn infinitely and attack with relentless ferocity, but the only incentive to avoid them is the annoyingly cheerful tune that plays on loop when your health is low (thanks to YouTube user GBelair for uploading that theme).

Wizards & Warriros Screenshot 2015-10-08 20-19-00
Malkil. The pinkest wizard you’ll ever battle.

Fortunately, the rest of the game’s music is downright stellar – especially by 1987 NES standards. One of the first games scored by David Wise, who would later provide the music for Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country, and many other classics, the soundtrack to Wizards & Warriors is pure ear candy. Just listen to this opening theme:

It’s been stuck in my head for days now. The soundtrack has also been covered by the improbably venerable Minibosses – if prog rock covers of game music are your thing, you should definitely have a listen.

It’s easy to pick apart Wizards & Warriors’ little imperfections in 2015, but the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. The game controls wonderfully, and its graphics and sound have aged spectacularly, particularly when compared to its contemporaries. Wizards & Warriors can easily be completed in about an hour, but it’s an extremely enjoyable hour. While the game is not without its failings, you could tell that its developers, Rare, really set out to expand on the “save the princess” platformer in ways that had yet to be seen on the NES. Their reach may have ever-so-slightly exceeded their grasp, but in the process, they created a bona fide classic. If you’ve got the means and the time, I strongly suggest playing it all over again.

I can’t think of any better way to conclude this writeup than by posting a video of one of the game’s final levels, which features Kuros scaling Malkil’s castle. In my mind, it’s one of the most memorable levels from the NES’ early days, and it showcases everything that makes Wizards & Warriors great – the music, the scope, the visuals – it’s all there. Enjoy!

World Court Tennis – Quest’s End

Scan0006World Court Tennis
TurboGrafx-16, 1989
Developer: Namco
Publisher: NEC

The Evil Tennis King had to know that I was getting ready to exact my vengeance by now. I’d just picked off two of his top lieutenants and his favorite quota-based hire. And if he hadn’t heard about that, he sure as hell had seen my embiggened racket looming over the horizon. All that aside, I wasn’t ready to face him just yet. I needed one more pearl, so I could get that magical ball. Incidentally, I had no idea what the magical ball did… but it had to be good, right? Otherwise they’d call it the cursed ball, or some other heavy-handed late ’80s RPG name. That’s just how these things work.

World Court Tennis - Quest Mode 8.3.2015 Screenshot 2015-10-01 20-35-15

I had to give it to the last of the of the sinister six: this side of the Evil Tennis King’s ominous castle at the North Pole, he had best secluded fortress in Tennis Kingdom. A remote mountain fortress hidden on the shores of a SECRET GROTTO. No subtlety here. I’m surprised he didn’t write “keep out” in the blood of his victims over the entrance. I give his efforts a B+. But a B+ is no match for “A” level gear.

World Court Tennis - Quest Mode 8.3.2015 Screenshot 2015-10-01 20-46-11

Rosen. Just look at this cocky bastard. That’s a serial killer smile if I ever saw one. His sweater vest told me he meant business, though. But crushing tennis flunkies was my business. And recently, business had been booming.

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Like his compatriots, Rosen wound up on the wrong end of my tennis legend. The butt end. But the scoreboard does not lie, he but up a valiant fight. I guess that sweater vest was made of a breathable knit, or perhaps a comfortable microfiber.

After forcibly seizing control of Tennis Kingdom’s economy, the Evil Tennis King had not counted on anyone amassing enough Tennis Bitcoins to buy their way to victory. He’d spent lavishly on sweet hidden fortresses when he should have been pumping steroids into his henchmen. As this game was programmed in ’88, nobody would have been testing anyway.

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I returned to the island home of the Parisian ball merchant. I now had enough pearls to go get myself a magical ball, which, as we’ve discussed, is the only thing in the universe that you can actually purchase with said pearls. As I now controlled the entirety of Tennis Kingdom’s pearl supply, you’d think I would have some leverage here. Were I a less gentlemanly tennis legend, I might have considered holding the magic ball market hostage until I got some more magical tennis apparel… but hey, Tennis Kingdom was apparently a rotational constitutional monarchy in a state of civil war. My pearls might be worth nothing in a day or two if I didn’t commence my attack soon.

At last, I was ready to seize the final piece of gear I would need to free the world from the supposed tyranny of the Evil Tennis King. What words of sage advice would be imparted to me as I acquired the felty green orb of destiny?

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Jeez. No sense of gravitas at all, huh spitcurl? Hey, why did all of the spitcurls live in isolated huts in the middle of nowhere? Were they some kind of persecuted sub-race of lobotomite? Should there ever be a sequel to World Court Tennis, I truly hope they tackle this important societal issue head on. #ISTANDWITHSPITCURL. Yes, even after he forcibly enlarged my racket. #NOTALLSPITCURLS.

I had done it. The Agassi gear. The magical ball. The large racket. I had come so far. Even if I failed, my place in the annals of tennis history had already been secured. Tennis bards would sing my story for ages. But glory was not enough. Now… now I needed REVENGE. I hopped in my inner tube and set course for the North Pole. It was time to put an end to this. Thankfully, film crews were on hand.

Yes, that’s how it actually happened. It didn’t happen like this, no sir, not at all. It certainly didn’t take me 45 minutes to beat him.

SUCCESS! I HAD DEFEATED THE DEVIL HIMSELF. I’M A REGULAR CHARLIE DANIELS, YOU SONUVABITCH, I”M THE BEST THERE EVER IS. The magical ball had suppressed Tennis Satan’s demonic serve. Without his black magic, he was no match for my arsenal of overpriced sporting goods. Truly, this was a victory for capitalism.

But I needed answers. While the Evil Tennis King had bequeathed Tennis Kingdom to me in his last official act, his authority to do so was suspect at best. What did “a” Tennis King have to say about this?

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I thank you for thinking me. I thank. Or is that think your for thanking me? I thank you know what I mean.

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I’ve already bought every purchasable item in the world. I don’t need them. Sure, why not.

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Thanks. I’ve always wanted to rule over a geographically distorted, completely flat parallel Earth. I think… but wouldn’t that make it my tennis kingdom, and not yours? And why the hell did you want me to save your godforsaken kingdom if you were just going to give it to me for a handful of jewels? THIS ISN’T ADDING UP.

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… go on.

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I’ve been known to dabble.

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Final Lap? You mean Final Lap Twin? HAS THIS WHOLE THING BEEN A SALES PITCH?

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You mean my land, right? You’re just going to take all of your Final Lap Twin money and retire to some Japanese dating sim game, aren’t you. Screw you, “a” Tennis King. This place was pretty peaceful to begin with anyway.


And so, I had solved the riddle of tennis steel (it is not the racket, but the size of the wallet that wields it), and brought the era of high tennis adventure to a close. I, STEV had become king by my own hand, and now wore the crown of Tennis Kingdom upon a troubled brow. This would not be the end of my adventures…






NEXT TIME: There is no next time. OR IS THERE?