|Design:||Hiroyuki Kawano and Seigo Ito|
The 1980s had some great games and also some great kids fantasy adventure movies. Princess Bride, Krull, Dark Crystal, Legend, Labyrinth, Beastmaster, Sword and the Sorcerer, Neverending Story I could on for some time and if I did it wouldn't take me too long to get to Willow. Showcasing the ever-likeable Warwick Davis as the titular Willow and co-starring Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, the movie was the brainchild of (1980s) George Lucas (the one we still like). It wasn't a huge success, but it was nonetheless popular enough to warrant several video game adaptations across a number of platforms. Of course we're here to look at the arcade version, which was by Capcom.
The game puts you in the roles of dwarven trainee wizard/farmer Willow Ufgood and outlaw/swordsman-for-hire Madmartigan on a quest to protect the holy baby, Elora Danan, from the evil witch queen, Bavmorda — just like the movie. The game is essentially a platformer, with Willow being able to fire magic missiles and Madmartigan flashing his foil in a similar way to Strider. Both characters are able to charge their weapons to unleash more devastating attacks and knowing when to charge, run and jump is vital if you want to survive more than a couple of levels. Slain enemies drop coins, which you can spend by walking into the owl-like shop keeper (a creature whom I do not recognise from the films, to be honest). Among the usual supply of keys and health bars are new spells for Willow. Once purchased, these spells appear as additional segments on his charge bar, so by holding the attack button for specific amounts of time you can select the spell you require. In later levels, this includes things like an area of effect attacks and even the ability to freeze enemies. You can also free the brownies, Rool and Franjean, who run along side you and attack, much like a Force bit in R-Type or Option in Gradius.
At first glance it would be easy to write this game off as a pretty, but generic movie tie-in and a poor cousin to other Capcom platformers, such as Ghosts and Goblins. However, the platforming is very tight and both Willow and Madmartigan control brilliantly. As well as standard jumps, pushing up and jumping will get you some extra height, while holding down and attacking performs a useful sliding tackle. When you have platforms that are way above your standard jump height, you can get to them Shinobi-style by pushing up and jumping. All of which means the controls are surprisingly versatile for a game of that period. Another good plus point is that this game does an above average job of portraying its source material, helped by the gorgeous 2D sprites. I mean check out the image above, right. Brilliant for 1989. As ever with old arcade games, Willow is brutal. Not only does it constantly throw enemies at you, it has a fair degree of pattern recognition to perfect and the platforming is up there with the best of the genre. Playing this game legally is basically impossible, because it was never ported and each home version was a actually different game. Even Capcom's own NES Willow game was different, taking a more Zelda-like approach to the movie adaption. So in lieu of playing it, here is a complete playthrough video: