Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! it’s a plane! It’s….
And she’s here to say that one of the most reviled NES games of all time is… actually pretty damn good. Yes, I fucking said it! Seanbaby is a fucking hack! Do you wanna fight about it? Well I hope not because I’m not willing to pay travel expenses to challenge random strangers to fights over video games. Also I have weak girly HRT muscles.
Anyway yes, I not only enjoyed this game but I think it is among one of the most underrated games on the system AND showed a lot of innovation and creativity for its time. I just want to remind everyone that this game was originally released in 1986, only about 9 months after Zelda 1.
That is not to say that Deadly Towers does not have some terrible design decisions or oversights, but I have yet to see many who give credit to many of the game’s stronger points in favor of placing it on the same tier of trash as licensed LJN shit. There is no reason for this to have been rated as the worst NES game above shit like Action 52, The Uncanny X-Men, or just about any licensed movie tie in. At the very least, Deadly Towers is overhated.
I’m not one to do things the easy way though, as I would like to make a case that this game is not only genuinely good, but almost as good as Zelda 1. I ultimately will put Zelda 1 ahead of Deadly Towers simply because the former is far more polished and well designed, but Deadly Towers has it beat out quite significantly in scope and depth of gameplay.
When looking at the graphics of Deadly Towers, most or going to point out all the dreary and dull pastels yet will miss the fact that this was a game using 3D perspective graphics and allowing eight directional movement. You don’t see that type of shit in Zelda 1 now do you? Given that this was uncommon in games at the time this resulted in your character not moving when you hold the diagonal buttons towards a wall. Later games with this feature would have you move along the wall in the diagonal direction you are holding, but Deadly Towers would simply have you stop in your tracks. So no, it’s not a bug, it’s a lack of a feature that wasn’t common at the time. This game was released in 1986 after all.
The same excuse can also be used to defend the sprite work given that there are some enemy models that look like Atari 2600 sprites and or random blobs. There are some rooms or enemies that have pretty cool designs though such as the bosses. Music wise, the compositions aren’t all that bad but the arrangements could have been a bit better. I quite like how the dungeon theme will add different countermelodies or instruments depending on which room you are in, which sorta makes up for the track itself not being too great. There are some tracks that are pretty cool such as the intro theme and the foreboding tower theme.
The overall presentation does show that there was some serious effort put into the game, and the same can be said about the gameplay. Unfortunately intentions don’t always have the best results seeing as how some areas really could have used some animations. Myer really could have had a frame that shows him stabbing or throwing his sword so it doesn’t look like he’s firing them out of his crotch, different color potions should have been different colors when on display in the shop, and most importantly, there should at least be SOMETHING to signify the entrance to a dungeon (and a map that fills itself it with preferably the ability to fill out the entire map like in Zelda 1).
I get that the dungeon entrances are supposed to be trap doors, but it would have been far better to have an animation of a trap door opening up when you step on it; maybe have it stay open after the first time you fall into it. I was able to overlook this given that there are maps available online that show how to navigate dungeons and where the trap doors are. If one was playing this back in the day then it definitely would have made things a lot more difficult, but the intention was always for players to create their own maps using graph paper. Yes it’s a dumb intention but Deadly Towers is FAR from the only game to do so.
Now let’s talk about that gameplay. Many people tend to consider Zelda 1 an RPG, and if one is going by that logic than so is Deadly Towers. Granted I don’t consider either of them RPGs but there are some similarities present. Deadly Towers has a very large emphasis on obtaining better weapons and armor. It naturally goes without saying that prince Myer starts the game out pretty fucking weak. Your HP can be drained in a matter of seconds, you are easily knocked all over the place, you can only have one sword on the screen at a time, and dying gets you sent back to the first screen and you lose all your money. Does this sound familiar at all to you?
Probably not because that’s still very vague, but let me just fill in the blanks a bit more. Most people who complained about the fact that your sword is too slow fail to realize that this was intentional. It was made to make the player realize that rushing in Leroy Jenkins style will get your ass kicked. It is also made to make the player prioritize close combat. Yeah, this is a game where having a turbo controller helps a lot.
If one didn’t get the connection yet then I’ll just spell it out for you; If Zelda 1 is the Skyrim of the NES then Deadly Towers is Dark Souls. Oh don’t give me that look this comparison actually makes sense for once. Both have you venturing to other worlds from a central area with steep penalties for death, both prioritize equipment and methodical tactics over quick reflexes, both will slaughter you in an instant if you ever get even the slightest bit cocky, and they even have a similar aesthetic. Face it, if Deadly Towers were made today, people would be calling it 2D Dark Souls… and it would probably be a lot more polished. Actually that would be pretty badass wouldn’t it? A remake that keeps the same basic premise but polishes it up a ton. Hell even an improvement mod would be nice. Not that I don’t enjoy the original game but it could definitely use a remake. But that’s a whole other article topic.
Despite Deadly Tower’s reputation as one of the hardest games on the NES (a system known for having some of the most difficult games of all time), the biggest difference between it and the Souls series (or at least Demon’s Souls as it’s the only one I played and assume the rest of the games are like) is that Deadly Towers is a lot easier overall. Deadly Towers actually starts out brutal in terms of difficulty given how easy it is to die and the fact that there are no bloodstains (this game didn’t have battery backup so that couldn’t have been possible). You also lose all your items AND have to backtrack through the castle in order to get to the bell room at the base of the towers.
Your goal is to scale the seven towers and slay the bosses at the top, then return with the bells that you burn in the holy flame before fighting the big bad Rubas. This may seem straight forward enough but what makes things interesting is that you can clear these dungeons in ANY order. In fact, the most efficient strategy isn’t even to clear any specific dungeons but rather to obtain the most powerful equipment from each tower’s parallel zone (a hidden section of the tower that has the same design as their respective tower but harsher enemy layouts) or secret room (a single room with an item but also a swarm of enemies that will tear you apart in seconds unless you are fully stocked on potions and are well equipped). These sections each contain powerful armor and weapons that can’t be found anywhere else in the game and will help level the playing field. In addition to the standard “stronger sword, shield, and armor” you can also find gauntlets that increase your throwing speed AND a double shot that allows for two swords on screen (in addition to the inferior parallel shot that fires two swords at once both parallel to each other but won’t reload until both swords are off screen).
There is a larger emphasis placed on getting better equipment than making it through the levels, and the fact that many approached Deadly Towers as a pure action game likely lead to a lot of the frustration this game was infamous for causing. The biggest hurdle this game has is grinding up ludder for the initial equipment and then getting all of the special hidden equipment in dungeons. Afterwards, the rest of the game is a cake walk. The bosses all have simplistic patterns that can be exploited like in most NES games and the brutal challenge at the start fades once you have all the best equipment. Granted it certainly is satisfying to mow down all those enemies that gave you so much trouble before but I kinda wish Rubas wasn’t such a pushover.
But of course, the likely reason for this was because back in the day, there weren’t online guides to look at that told you everything; you had to discover it on your own combined with the fact that you cannot re-enter the towers after you defeat a boss. Chances are it is entirely possible to beat this game without the set of super strong equipment, and that the game was intentionally balanced in a way so that one CAN still beat it if they put in a lot of effort into grinding up for the next best stuff, being fully stocked up on potions, AND memorizing the boss patterns just enough to narrowly take down Rubas (and it likely wouldn’t be easy since you have to fight two bosses before him).
And I also do need to make the confession that I used save states while playing to bypass a lot of the repetition… but I did the same with Castlevania III when I played it for the first time a few months ago. But the thing is that I do want to play through it on an actual NES sometime where I need those restrictions. I enjoyed the game enough that I’d be willing to do so. I had genuine fun with this game and found it to be quite addictive.
So the questions is whether or not I would recommend it to someone who has never heard of it? I would probably say yes if you can handle a steep learning curve and some rather jankey design flaws. However, I do think that Deadly Towers is most interesting when you keep its age in context and it is best recommended to those who think about that as there are plenty of areas where it has NOT aged well.
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