Unranked: Deadly Towers
Nintendo Entertainment System
I spent of a lot of time growing up trying to unravel the knotted puzzle that is Deadly Towers. Somewhere in here, there is a good game. It is hindered by a dreadful soundtrack, frustrating game AI, a mystifying lack of direction. I have tried to redeem it many times over the years and just cannot.
Broderbund was all over the market when it came to PCs and consoles during the mid eighties. Deadly Towers came out here in America in September of 1987. It was one of the earliest RPGs on home systems and featured a mostly top/down aesthetic ala the Legend of Zelda. Even if done right, this game is still pretty long. It is filled with enemies that do not scale with you, which makes the first part of the game very hard, not a lot of direction, and hidden dungeons that will leave even the best gamer potentially utterly lost. this game is unforgiving and has a pretty high up curve in comprehension and difficulty.
So, the plot of Deadly Towers goes something like this: Prince Meyer is about to get married, but the night before he sits at a lake and a ghost comes to see him to tell him that Rubas, a “devil of Darkness,” is going to use seven bells to summon an army of monsters. The Prince must burn the seven bells and the towers, oh and defeat Rubas too. No pressure.
I like that, originally, this game was going to be called “Hells Bells.” That would have been an excellent name for this game and really fit more with the vibe of it. Of course, Nintendo would not allow the name for a couple of reasons. “Deadly Towers” sort of makes sense, but only if you get decently far into the game. I imagine a lot of people did not have the patience for that.
It was definitely reassuring during the mid to late nineties into the early 2000s that others seemed to hate this game too. I remember reading a number of websites that commented on how absolutely maddening Deadly Towers was to play. Before the World Wide Web, it was hard to gauge whether it was “just you” that hated a game, or sucked at it, or if it was actually a bad game and not you at all. I felt a lot better about how bewildering this game was otherwise when I saw other people say the same thing.
I also dated someone in the late nineties who had very few memories of playing Nintendo, but could recall a lot about Deadly Towers. She got lost in one of those hidden mazes too.
Deadly Towers was only covered in Nintendo Power once. In Issue #3 they mention changing the first two letters in any password to EF or FE and you will have every powerful weapon and armor in the game.
Okay, so we need to talk about the cover for Deadly Towers. Now, as we have discussed previously, there are many NES games that have inaccurate or straight up misleading covers. The dude on the front of Deadly Towers looks like Kerry Von Erich wearing gear from Dark Souls. Prince Myer in the actual game is shaped like an oval and has the same dead black eyes that She Ra had around the same time. It’s not a total deal breaker, but what the cover advertises is nowhere to be found in the game.
It’s like going from Superman to Puma Man.
The soundtrack to this game is truly dreadful. Like many Broderbund affiliated games, it is extremely tinny and harsh. The home screen theme is very severe and hard to even listen to. The short and repetitive over world theme is so bad that I muted the game not only while playing it for the podcast, but also while streaming it.
Deadly Towers has never been reissued as far as I can tell. Broderbund has been bought and sold a few times over the years, so I am not certain what the IPs status even would be. I think there could be potential in some kind of Broderbund collection with games like Battle of Olympus, Deadly Towers, and Legacy of the Wizard.
As I said earlier, somewhere there is a good game here, but it is very hard to find. This game drove me up the wall as a kid because I KNEW there had to be a way to complete it, but I had a very hard time finding that way. I would always end up in the secret dungeons, which happened this time as well. While I did finally complete this game sometime in the early nineties, this time around I got so frustrated with it that I gave up after a few hours.
I think this game needs a good, solid, map. I certainly don’t have the time for it, but I’m sure someone else could work on something like that. Getting lost in this game is effortless, and I found that trying to retrace my steps while dying over and over, resulting in a return to the beginning of the game, got old quick. The enemies and screens are so repetitive, with often only minor differences in object placement or color.
I have a question: How does Prince Myer get to where he is at the beginning of the game. He just sort of materializes where he is. Does he beam in somehow? He does the same thing when he dies.
This game has no save system, but does have long passwords if you wanted to continue. That is fine, but I often found transcribing them and then re-inputting them to always be erroneous in general. Maybe I just suck at handwriting (I do), but one thing I like about modern games is how they save in the background. The system in Deadly Towers is not quite as cumbersome as a game like, say, River City Ransom, but the longer passwords got, the worst that were for sure.
One of the biggest problems that Deadly Towers has, by far, is with hit detection. The older I get, the more noticeable games that do a poor job implementing it, in the past we have discussed games like Mega Man and Castlevania Dracula X in this regard, and Deadly Towers does a horrendous job. If you come anywhere near enemies, you take damage. The damage is often quite considerable.
What is even more frustrating is that you will be pushed back a lot as well. This can lead to Prince Myer ending up in another screen if you go through a door. In my playback for the podcast, I ended up crashing into enemies in other rooms, who immediately drained my remaining HP. Not good.
It is easy to get caught on pipes and walls throughout the game as well. In the early part of the game, there is a screen where getting past flying enemies, not getting caught on a pipe or wall, and not dying, are all very hard. It’s not challenging, it is terrible.
Even worse, when Prince Myer gets hit, he seems to gravitate towards edges where he can fall off, almost like he is magnetized to those edges. You then return to the main screen with only 100 HP, no matter how high your actual HP is. This is a crappy game mechanic by an industry still in the arcade mentality of trying to dupe you into putting another quarter in, which doesn’t exactly transfer to an RPG really well.
Avoiding this is very hard in some places. The combination of bad hit detection and a lot of push back makes Deadly Towers, unless you really want to play thought an improbably frustrating and difficult game, not really worth your time. There could have been a decent game in here, somewhere, but it is hard to find.