Review by · August 31, 2000

There has never been a more famous non-traditional warrior on the silver screen than Warwick Davis, the sword-slinging, acorn-throwing, hog-disappearing star of Willow (Last seen in Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace). Incidentally, this adventurous little cinematic experience was turned into a game for that happy little system known as the NES, and here is my review of it.

Willow Ufgood was happy. He had a wife and two wonderful children, and he enjoyed his life as a farmer. He even enjoyed his own personal hobby of magical tricks and illusions, and not even his overweight landlord could upset his ways. Well, that’s what Willow thought.

The evil sorceress queen Bavmorda was an exceedingly ambitious woman. Using her mighty army and her dark powers of witchcraft, she had gained control of much of the world, yet her age was beginning to show. Should she die, the kingdom would be placed in the hands of her brave and loyal, yet less cunning daughter Sorsha. This was something she could not allow, but the only way that she could eternally postpone her inevitable death was to seal the spirits of the air away with their own spirit’s crest. Should she accomplish this devilish task, all the forces of the earth would be under her control. This was a daring and difficult undertaking, but no earthly power could easily stand up to the might of Bavmorda’s army. Her evil quest began.

One fine morning, Willow awoke expecting another perfect day of agricultural serenity, when he was rudely informed that he had been chosen to save a child in a foreign land who was destined to become queen of Tir Asleen (Although it isn’t mentioned, this is also the moment in Willow’s life when he switched from Regular to Decaf). Armed with a sword that was far too large and some acorns with petrifying properties, this chubby hobbit-sized man said farewell to his family and began his quest into a strange and frightening world. Have fun!

The gameplay of Willow is much like that of “The Legend of Zelda.” You control Willow from above as he searches forests and caves for treasure and keys to further his quest, but you can take breaks when you get to a town if you can find a friendly inhabitant. HP and MP are included, and aside from resting at a neighbor’s house, you can heal up by finding special orbs that some enemies drop occasionally.

You fight with a sword and magic against various beasts and baddies while earning experience to gain levels. Levels are extremely important in Willow, not only due to the increased stats, but also due to the fact that each level increases the speed that you can swing your sword with. When you first start, this clumsy little guy can hardly swing at a slime before it runs away, but by the end of the game, Willow could kill a guard five times before he hit the ground.

Shields are also scattered throughout the game, and aside from raising your defense, they can also block many of the enemies’ projectile attacks. Each of the many enemies follows a different pattern of assault, and some of the later foes battle in truly creative ways (I hate amoebas).

Dungeon, forest, and castle exploration makes up about 90% of the game, but most areas are unique in their selection of angry critters and puzzles involved. There are many weapons and items that take a long time to find, and the enemies are capable of easily mopping the floor with you if you aren’t careful. The bosses provide a fair amount of difficulty as well, although none should prove too tricky if you can reach it with full HP and high enough levels. A moderate difficulty level and enjoyable battles with an incredible set of two (That’s right, two) sword moves to use gives Gameplay an 84%.

Willow was made in the NES’ prime. Although the graphics weren’t fantastic, some of the enemies were well made and showed a surprising amount of detail, considering the system. The backgrounds were also nice, but after seeing the same set of trees and the same cavern walls again and again, you begin to wonder if they couldn’t have added a few different places to explore.

Not only are many enemies palette swapped to represent the strength of that version of the creature, but the backgrounds were also swapped in order to make up for the small selection. Bosses were surprisingly small, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like them. In fact, these tiny titans had a level of mobility that many larger bosses in other games didn’t.

Speech with citizens resulted in a cut scene where you get to see Willow approach the character and even showed a portrait of the person you’re talking to. Many characters from the movie were included, and I have to admit that they did a fine job of putting their faces into an old cartridge like this. The graphics weren’t spectacular, but they got an 83%.

Music, on the other hand, was spectacular. This is one of the few games that had a soundtrack that I memorized completely just from listening to my older brother playing it when I was just a wee little pup. The quality is beyond that of many other NES games (And more than a couple SNES games as well), and the variety is impressive. From the cheerful opening theme to the haunting melody of the final dungeon, there was not a single song that I didn’t like. My only complaint would be that very few of the songs from the movie were included, but there was enough to satisfy most fans.

The sound effects are nice, too. Everything is loud and noticeable, and even though some things don’t sound like they’re supposed to, Willow was a game that didn’t have one corny little beep noise in it at all. Sound/Music gets a 94%.

The plot in Willow was slightly disappointing, but it’s hard to make a movie into a game well even now, and back then, they had nothing to use except the trusty old NES. Many key characters were removed or altered, and many sections of the movie were replaced. New quests were added to beef up the length of the game, but very few of them lacked depth and structure. There are a few where you just have to find an item or something, but did you honestly not expect that?

The dialogue is the only way that the story is advanced, but it was done very well in this method. It might not be the way you remember it, and you don’t get to see Madmartigen in drag, but the Storyline in Willow still gets an 85%.

The controls in Willow were almost flawless. Movement was quick and responsive, attacks were easily executed, and there was even a level of realism in the way that Willow couldn’t swing his sword for beans until he leveled up a few times. Since there isn’t anything else to say, I give controls a 90%.

I will admit that I liked the movie a lot more than I liked the game, but I still found Willow to be an enjoyable little time waster. It was a well-made game with very few signs of being rushed, and I felt a good deal of satisfaction when I beat the final boss into oblivion. Although I doubt it should be called a Classic game, it was still a fair competitor for its time and gets an 85% Overall.

Gameplay – Some cartography skill required. 84%
Graphics – Red bee, Blue bee, Old bee, New bee. 83%
Sound/Music – One of my favorites. 94%
Storyline – I miss Willow’s spunky little friend. 85%
Control – Smooth as a baby’s bum. 90%
Overall – A fine little cartridge if there ever was one. 85%

Overall Score 85
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Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.