Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Magic Sword (Super NES, 1992)

Magic Sword is an arcade beat-em-up from early 90's Capcom. They went on to make other (better) medieval-themed beat-em-ups like Knights of the Round and King of Dragons, but this one was a good start. I played it in the arcade a couple times as a kid and it was fun, but I didn't get very far. The Super NES port is easier, so we'll see how I do.

First, a look at the box art. The North American box art features a Big American Beefy Boi protecting a hot woman with his big American sword. That demon looks horrendous.

The Super Famicom box art is considerably better, with all of the characters represented. We also get a cameo appearance by Igor from Young Frankenstein.

"I'm in disguise" he says when reached for comment.

One very notable thing that drew me to this game early on is that you can choose what stage you're going to start at...mostly. There are 50 altogether, each a floor of this massive tower. All of the selectable floors are right after a boss floor.

This is a pretty standard beat-em-up. It takes place on one plane of movement (rather than letting you move in and out of the background) and involves some jumping, but not too much. For the most part, you just need to be aggressive with your slashing as you proceed from left to right.

Another cool thing about this game is the variety of NPC allies you can get to join you (one at a time). Here's the archer/amazon, the woman from the cover. She's the first one to appear, and unfortunately one of the weakest. She fires arrows from a distance. You can level up your NPC allies by collecting items, which turns them into more potent attackers.

Here's another ally, the aptly-named "Big Man". He throws axes and does a lot of damage, but he's slow. Essentially the reverse of the archer. This game would be exponentially cooler if it allowed two-player co-op and had a character select, but alas neither of these are the case. You've got to play as the hero no matter what, and the allies have to be CPU-controlled. They follow your lead pretty well, at least.

The first boss is the first of many Manticores... though technically I think this is a chimera. Manticores are similar though. I need to brush up on my Dungeons and Dragons monsters.

Victory gets you TONS OF GOLD. It's great how these giant coins just rain down everywhere after a boss fight.

This is the most important part; each boss upgrades your sword. I'm guessing that skipping levels and starting at a later floor is a bad idea because you'll be stuck with the starting weapon at first.

The ninja joins the "party" as I fight bears. The ninja is fairly decent, using throwing stars to unleash damage at range.

Something I really like: Between floors, the hero has something to say, and it's different every time. Here, he tells his mysterious ninja buddy that it's important to be safe and have fun. Also, don't do drugs.

What the? Moai statues? When did this turn into Gradius?

 A fearsome foe draws near: The Ball and Chain Trooper. They have more reach than most enemies, so caution is needed. This would be a good time to mention the magic meter: In the lower-left, there's a meter that fills up as you don't attack. Hold off on attacking for a couple seconds and it'll fill up, which causes your next slash to send a fireball at the enemies. It's an effective distance attack, though you have to forego it if you're doing rapid-slashing.

The tower gets more hellish as you move onward. Here, our heroes brave jets of flame.

The Gold Dragon is an admittedly impressive boss for 1990. The arcade version of this game pre-dates the existence of the Super NES, meaning that this was created during the era of the NES. Wow.

Here's a shot of the magic fireball I mentioned before. The ninja's shuriken wave is also visible.

I've heard of slaying the dragon, but this guy is taking it to a whole 'nother level.

The ninja backstabs our hero with shurikens! THAT JUDAS! I KNEW IT WAS A BAD IDEA TO- oh, nevermind, ally attacks go through you without doing any damage. Well, that's a relief. 

The next ally I stumble upon is Igor the Sorcerer. He attacks with the Circle weapon from Space Megaforce, only he can launch it at enemies at will like Wood Man's shield. Very good character here, and a keeper for the rest...with one exception.

Ally characters are acquired by opening the doors in the background; chests on the other hand usually contain heals or gold (points). Sometimes they're traps, however, and the frequency of this increases as the game goes on.

Some of the floors are extremely short. This one has the exit on the first screen. I figured something was amiss, especially considering the before-level message was that "the royal knight is imprisoned on the next floor". So I proceeded past the door into the level itself to see if I could find the royal knight in question.

Here he is. He was behind the sole door on this floor, and he's AWESOME. Hands-down the best character in the game, and a worthy replacement for the sorcerer. Too bad I never got to check out the bomb-throwing Thief or the undead-scorching Priest... or get more use out of the earlier characters in general. This is one of those games where it's better to stick with the character/powerup that works once you find it.

The next boss is wearing a unicorn horn on his head. Big E, is that you?

He transforms into another Manticore. I said there'd be a lot of Manticores in this game. I think this is around as far as I got in the arcade version as a kid, floor 12 out of 50. I also vaguely remember jumping ahead to later levels and not faring too well. 

The Knight is a pretty rad character, which I mentioned already. He attacks by throwing spears, and as he levels up, he throws an array of spears that fan out a bit and do severe damage to everything in their path. With three of them firing at once and traveling through enemies to hit other enemies beyond, it's a bit like a Spazer/Plasma beam combination if this were a Metroid title.

Unfortunately, magic fireballs don't open chests from a distance. That'd certainly help for avoiding traps. 

 More importantly than all of that, check out a sample of the music (arcade version). This game has a kickass soundtrack.

 "The Demon Pits"...because we can't say Hell.

Interesting. Meanwhile, the white mage type character is strong against undead.

Next floor gives us some purple, which is an unexpected dose of pastel colors. I'm almost halfway to the top of this tower and haven't encountered any major resistance...yet.

That treasure chest is completely unreachable! What kind of developer trolling is this?

A star-field is in the background of this area. Not sure if we're supposed to be in space or if this is just a nighttime view. Given that there's a meteorite in the room, probably the former. Weird. The boss here greets us by calling us mortals, which is the go-to insult for douchey game villains.

 He sics his "sons" on our heroes, and it turns out they're both giant worms. Yikes.

Victory here is a matter of discovering that you can jump higher if you hold Up while jumping, since it's the only way to get onto the platforms in this area and escape. The worms themselves aren't too bad, especially with the Knight launching spear-waves.

At first I was all "sweet" and had visions of a sword made of fire. Unfortunately...the Flame Sword is pretty much just a broad sword with a reddish tint.

It does have a slightly more powerful magic range attack, at least. Now we're cooking.

The next area is full of rotating blade-chains...and slowdown. Massive slowdown. The SNES was clearly being taxed by this game, at least in 1992. Later games on the system found ways to avoid this kind of thing.

Nowadays we have entitled people complaining about occasional framerate dips and calling game developers liars because something doesn't have a consistent 60 FPS or whatever, but back in my day all we had was slowdown...and we were cool with it. It was just "bonus dodge time" when it happened. It's like Matrix bullet-time.

Things get serious on floor 29, as a green dragon shows up as a regular enemy. The good news is that, since it isn't a can run right past it.

The Knight finally gets benched as I acquire a new ally: The Lizardman. This Gargoyles refugee is a fearsome fighter, unleashing Spazer-like triple swords in a straight-ahead pattern. The Knight is a better ally overall (best in the game, really) but the Lizardman takes second-place. He's a lot more stylish (and I don't know where to get another Knight), so I'm sticking with him.

The next official boss is a multi-headed dragon. 

The Lizardman's straight line of shots turns out to not be much of a detriment here, as the boss stays lined up with us for the most part. Was concerned that losing the Knight's attack spread would be a problem, but so far so good.

The next floor is peculiar, with some sort of cave drawing in the background. I figured this game would be a big dumb arcade beat-em-up, but I feel like it has a layer of substance to it.

 Floor 39 is the END OF THE LINE for most adventurers. Most adventurers don't have a lizardman, though.

The upper floors tend to be very short and not all that big of a difficulty jump. There are more spikes, but that's about it. One exception is floor 40, where this flying mage drops meteors on your head while repeatedly backing just out of range like some kind of trolling MMA fighter.

The highest level sword fires lightning bolts when the magic meter is full, which is fun to play with and decimates foes.

Floors 49 and 50 are both boss fights. The first is this wizard who transforms into...

 ...yet another Manticore! This fight is fairly easy, despite the spikes. It helps that the slowdown kicks in, but the boss is predictable regardless.

Win, and the Big Key gets brought in by a couple of sprites. I tried to swat them, but it didn't work.

The hero is psyched for floor 50! What awaits?

...a very wavy screen.

This stage is full of annoying imp-heads that fly in and zap you faster than your character can move to react, unless you constantly anticipate their arrival in advance and fill the air with range attacks.

The final boss is...odd-looking. Given that button-mashing has gotten me this far, I don't anticipate too much difficulty here.

He's definitely the most formidable foe in the game, but there's a pretty clear path to victory:

Stay left and repeatedly jump n' shoot. Much like the average voter, he doesn't go all the way to the left.

Win and you get the orb that the bad guy got all his strength from. You can choose to accept it or cast it into the fires of Mount Doom. What does The Lizardman think, though? The hero's lucky that reptillian bastard hasn't already taken him out.

Accept the orb and our hero becomes... the guy I just defeated. Well, that's a bit on the nose for a "power corrupts" metaphor. Let's see what happens if I don't accept the orb:

"Evil is vanquished for now". Yeah, I can't see that lasting long.

The credits are super-weird, as was a Capcom tradition back then, with lots of clearly made-up names in the developer section. Also, Special Thanks go out to Poo, who has done a lot to keep Capcom in business.


  1. Man, I don't think I like EITHER box art this time. LOL @ Igor though.

    Use lever and buttons to select? I get the buttons, but what lever?

    Ninja be all "WE destroyed the dragon yo"


  2. Magic Sword
    I agree with you that the Japanese box art is better. Interesting how much the different box arts say about the national cultures being targeted.

    I agree with you the Gold Dragon looks really advanced for the era. Also, this game's fighting system seems quite unique to me.

    I like how your buddies get continually better. Smart of you to stick with the Knight who worked with you so well.

    Man, chest traps are just the worst!

    This music is metal.

    "Slowdown is like bonus Matrix-time." I love your attitude!
    Now we recognize slowdown as a programming problem. As a kid I was like "whoa, space-time is changing!"

    Oh, you switched to the Lizardman. Well, that's all right, he DOES look more badass and intimidating.

    I would have the same feeling as you about the cave drawings adding depth. As a kid I would've been like "whooa spooky!" They've done a much better job mixing up environments than games with palette-swapping of different caves and towers around the world!


    1. One of the weapons in Mega Man X2 causes slowdown when you use it charged-up. It's supposed to be a time-slow weapon anyway, but the slowdown seems very legit because it often continues longer than the effect does.

  3. "I remember waiting for Super Castlevania 4 to come out on the SNES. It had amazing graphics for the time but after being used to the difficulty of the NES versions, it was way too easy. I beat that game only a few days after getting it, which was a little disappointing. The game was still fun but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Especially considering that all the previous versions were much more difficult.

    Regards: Eve Hunt

  4. Fantastic blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?