3444 Dundee Road
Northbrook, IL 60062
$42.95, Color only
Reviewed by Peter A. Smith
Remember what life was like before the movie Star Wars? Remember when children's clothes, toys and games were based on original ideas, rather than movie characters and plots? These days, it is often the case that the toys are out before the movie, and I suspect the toy-selling potential is carrying more and more weight with Hollywood's decision-makers. This trend in movie paraphernalia has expanded (following the rules of sound entrepreneurship) to adult products, also. I must admit that the ALF slippers I received last Christmas are quite toasty, if not the most macho apparel I own.
But this is a game review, not a commentary on today's disposable society, and the product at hand is Willow. I saw the movie and liked it at lot. I was therefore anticipating great things from the game. Unfortunately, Willow is a product that lost its direction somewhere along the software path and ended up going nowhere.
Upon opening the package, I was slightly miffed at finding, along with the six pages of docs, a five-page Reference Card, a Registration Card, ads for "The Lucasfilm Fan Club," "The Willow Game" (a board game) and "The Willow Sourcebook." The Pepsi commercial at the beginning of the Top Gun videotape has hardened me somewhat to such things, but they still bother me. How much of the $42.95 cost of Willow (the computer game) went into producing these slick ads?
Anyway, I forged ahead, inserted Disk A into my Mega 4, turned it on and ...got dumped to the desktop. Oh well, some software is funny, so I disconnected my hard disk. Still nothing. The program began to load, then bam! back to desktop. Luckily for all you reviewhungry readers, I have a second system, so I inserted Disk A into my double-sided external drive of my one-megabyte 520 ST. The program began to load. And load. And the drive went "clank!" I frowned. "Clank!" I grimaced. "Clank!" I jabbed the power switch. Not being one to give up easily, I switched to an ancient (like, circa 1986) single-sided drive. Expecting the worst, I powered up. Murphy's Law can be used to your advantage...the program loaded and I was greeted with an attractive title screen.
Lesson one: Investigation has taught me that I was not alone in having problems getting this program to run. It seems Mindscape has used some sort of extended format that a lot of drives don't like. (I've used all sorts of extended-format schemes with my drives; my experience with the Willow disks was the first time I've had any trouble.) So make sure you get Willow from a dealer who is aware of the problem and who will refund your money if you can't get it to run.
Assuming you get through the loading process, what can you expect? Willow is broken up into seven mini-games that must be completed sequentially. In addition, you may play all but the final subgames individually for practice. The overall control of the game takes the form of a scroll relating the story of Willow. Some of the words on this scroll are highlighted, and clicking on them loads-in the various subgames or starts the complete game. (This is, in my experience, the first ST game to use hypertext as a control device. The Al gurus must be gaining on us.)
Loading each sequence from disk takes a long time and can get annoying. But that's not the problem with Willow. The problem is in the design of the game itself. Each of the subgames is dreadfully dull. One, the Daikini Crossroads, consists of pointing at one of two cages and pressing the controller button. If you have guessed right, you may continue. If not, you die. There are no clues to guide you, it is sheer guesswork.
Guesswork is what Willow is all about. Of the seven games, four are blind trial and error. For example, the first sequence is called Dungeons and is a first-person maze game. You have the choice of two or more of the following: going straight, to the left, to the right or backwards. Some of the passageways are stairways going up or down, some lead to cells. Should you blunder into a cell, there is no escape—scratch one life and start over. You can't see down any passageway before you select it, and there are no clues as to which of the passages are cells. The game is nothing but a mapping exercise. Later, you will come to a sequence called the Ice Caves, which is similar, aside from the fact that you cannot stop to map (since you're sliding through the caves on a shield).
The Spellcasting sequence offers 13 symbols. You must pick the right three in the right order. Pick one of the wrong ten and lose a life. Pick one of the right three in the wrong order, and you cannot finish without losing a life, although you can continue picking symbols in order to ascertain the correct three for the next try. The Daikini Crossroads has already been mentioned.
The Woods section takes a bit of thought. You run down pathways while trying to avoid Death Dogs and Nockmar Troops. Your only defenses are your magic acorns, which turn your opponents to stone. You can find more acorns if you stray from the path, but on the other hand, you move much more slowly when off the path. The problem with this section is its brevity. In the time you read this paragraph, you could have been out of the woods (or dead).
The Battle sequence is the game's only saving grace. This is a typical sideview swordfight. First, Madmartigan must duck under and jump over a variety of arrows, bombs and spears chucked his way. Then, when he reaches his foe, General Kael, the true fight commences. Controls are fairly simple: jump, duck, move and swing high, medium or low. I enjoyed this segment, but it could not offset the rest of the game. Buy DeathSword, an excellent sword-battle game from Epyx, instead.
Finally, there is the last battle. This variation of Spellcasting is an easy puzzle since you must have mastered Spellcasting before you reach it.
And thus ends Willow, with little fanfare. You have (assuming you're playing the full game) eight lives in which to get through all of this. The puzzles and mazes don't change from game to game unless you choose to scramble them. So, as you play over and over, you will get farther and farther, assuming you map correctly. Then, once finished, you may choose to scramble everything so you can play again.
It has crossed my mind that this product was intended to be a children's game. It isn't marked as such on the box, and at any rate, I wouldn't recommend it for children. Although the graphics are nice (some are digitized scenes from the movie), I'd guess that the segments would be too frustrating for younger people. For instance, it took 13 steps (looking at my map) to get out of the maze. I'd guess it took 15-20 tries to get through it. I was frustrated by then, especially considering the average one minute and 50 seconds it took between death and restarting. I doubt younger folk would stand for that sort of abuse.
For us oldsters, the obstacles in the various subgames are annoying, yet trivial. I opened the package at about 6:00 p.m. and finished playing at 10:00 p.m. I had no desire to try it again. I am afraid this product was rushed to completion, probably in an attempt to cash in on the Willow (the movie) videotape release. Try as I might, I cannot find the silver lining on this cloud.