Willow box art for the NES“After we roll out the action figures and lunch boxes, we’re making a game!”
For as long as there have been video games, there have been games based on movie licenses.  For the most part you would think that these licensed games would rule, right?  I mean if a movie has a terrific theme and/or story, shouldn’t it be easy to expand upon that experience through the interaction of a video game?  After all, the story and all is already written, so all the developers have to do is put forth their energy into the design of the game itself.  Well unfortunately the fact of the matter is, 99% of all movie licensed video games, for lack of a better term, “suck”.  Which is why I didn’t expect Willow (NES) to be worth much of anything (especially since I thought the movie was fair at best).  Boy, were my expectations wrong…

Tales of dreams and imagination
In Willow you star as the appropriately named ‘Willow Ufgood’, whose destiny it is to set forth upon the land and defeat the evil queen Bavmorda.  Along the way you befriend such colorful characters as the roguish ‘Madmartigan’, the comical brownie duo of ‘Franjean and Rool’, the beautiful fairie queen Cherlindrea, and the troubled ‘Fin Raziel’ who has been transformed into an opossum by Bavmorda’s wicked magic. All of these characters help you along your way, as you travel from town to town defeating evil, exploring caverns, and collecting items, all the while becoming more powerful with swordplay and magic.  Although starting out rather weak, by the time Willow meets up with Bavmorda he is a force to be reckoned with.

Willow for the NES by Capcom

Younger gamers may not appreciate them, but the graphics in Willow are great

What a wonderful world
Graphically, Willow is a triumph.  The environments vary from lush greenery to desolate desert landscapes, all of which are drawn wonderfully.  When enemies attack you, the trees, grasses, sands, bridges, and other elements of the environment begin to wildly animate, which really adds to the threatening feel of the attack.  This is quite an original feature, and one that I can’t recall ever seeing in a game before.  It must also be noted that the towns, castles, towers and other establishments look nice as well.  I was especially pleased by the appearance of Cherlindrea, who had cute little fairies flying all over the screen while she spoke with you.  That was quite a nice effect, and once again, one that I don’t recall seeing before.

It’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to. I like it!
As equally impressive as the graphics, is the soundtrack to Willow.  From the intro screen to the end, the music is some of the best I’ve heard on the NES.  The compositions are catchy and sound great, and they definitely enhance the experience by ten fold.

Is it as good as Zelda?
Like a lot of other NES RPG’s that came after it, Willow can be compared to The Legend of Zelda in that it has the same overhead perspective, one screen-at-a-time movement, a little character with a sword and a shield, and so on.  However unlike Zelda, Willow is somewhat on the easy side, mainly due to its linear gameplay.  It’s this reason that I’m not recommending the game more than I am.  If it were a little less linear it would have been perfect, but as it is it falls a tad short.

Willow on the NES

Willow’s nemesis, Bavmorda.

Another problem that you may encounter due to Willow‘s low difficulty level is the fact that you’ll progress faster than the game itself allows you to.  What do I mean?  Well, sooner or later you’ll find yourself needing to be a higher level than you are before you can continue in the game.  Which means you’ll end up defeating an enemy, walking off screen, then back to fight the same enemy over again just to raise your level.  This was no more evident than it was with the Fin Raziel puzzle, who you have to turn from an opossum back into his original form.  When you first get the chance to help him out you’ll be around level 9 (or less) and to change him back you have to be level 13.  An increase in the game’s difficulty surely would have fixed this.

With the aforementioned problems being considered, I do have to say that this is one game that will leave you satisfied when you finish it.  At the closing screen, I felt really good about the hours that I had put into Willow, and I knew without a doubt that it was something special.

Bottom Line: A visually and aurally impressive RPG that I enjoyed as much, if not more than, The Legend of Zelda.