Wizards & Warriors is a platforming video game developed by Rare Ltd. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was published by Acclaim and released in North America in December 1987 and in Europe on January 7, 1990. It was also released in Japan by Jaleco on July 15, 1988, under the title Densetsu no Kishi Elrond (伝説の騎士エルロンド, Legendary Knight Elrond). In the game, players control Kuros, the "Knight Warrior of the Books of Excalibur", as he sets out in the Kingdom of Elrond to defeat the evil wizard Malkil, who holds the princess captive in Castle IronSpire, located deep within Elrond's forests. During the game, players make their way through forests, tunnels, and caves, battling hordes of enemies and collecting treasure, magical items, and additional weaponry to get past the obstacles and hazards that lie in their path. It was Rare's second game released for the NES, after Slalom.
Wizards & Warriors was featured in early video gaming magazines such as Nintendo Fun Club News, Nintendo Power, and VideoGames & Computer Entertainment in 1988 and 1989. The main characters Kuros and Malkil would make appearances in the animated series The Power Team (part of the TV video game reviewing show Video Power) and Captain N: The Game Master. The game would also be novelized for the Worlds of Power series of NES game adaptations, created by Seth Godin. It received general praise for its graphics, sound, difficulty, and arcade-style gameplay. Criticisms include the presence of unlimited continues, which allow players to restart the game right where they previously left off while retaining all items that were collected before. Retro Gamer called Wizards & Warriors "a unique experience for NES gamers in 1987, and technically well ahead of other games for the console at the time". The game also spawned three sequels: Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II, Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power and Wizards & Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear.
Wizards & Warriors pits the story's hero Kuros, the "Knight Warrior of the Books of Excalibur", against the main antagonist, the evil wizard Malkil. He was considered one of the greatest wizards in the land, such that Merlin was one of his students. However, the aging Malkil has gone mad and has started using his magic for evil. As a result, Malkil has captured the princess and holds her prisoner in Castle IronSpire, deep within the forests of Elrond. The game's protagonist, the brave knight Kuros, is summoned to venture through the forests of Elrond. He is armed with the legendary Brightsword, a sword that is powerful enough to beat demons, insects, undead, and the other creatures which have fallen under Malkil's spell. With the sword, he ventures out through the forests of Elrond and the various caves and underground tunnels and to Castle IronSpire, where he must defeat Malkil and rescue the princess.
Wizards & Warriors is a platformer in which players control Kuros as he makes his way through the forests of Elrond to Castle IronSpire, where he must defeat Malkil and rescue the princess. After starting the game, the map is briefly shown for players to look at; afterwards, gameplay starts. Starting in the Elrond forest, players must explore the trees – both on top and inside – to find items and to make it into the caves and tunnels. There, players start collecting the various magical items and treasure; they must make their way through caves filled with ice as well as lava. Afterwards, players fight through a second set of forests before arriving at Castle IronSpire, in which the player must go over the castle in order to enter it. The castle consists of a series of mazes in which players must use keys to open doors and possibly find other damsels which can be rescued. At the end lies the final confrontation with the wizard Malkil.
Players use the control pad to move horizontally and to crouch. Kuros can attack enemies by using his Brightsword or with other weapons and magic. He can also attack enemies while in the air or while standing by simply holding the sword in position. The objective of the game is to collect the various weapons and magic as well as the gems and treasure along the way; players use these items to make it past the enemies and other obstacles and hazards. Players collect gems in order to "bribe" the creature who guards the entrance to the next level; if players do not have enough gems, they cannot progress to the next level. At the end of each level is a boss creature which has been empowered by Malkil's black magic. Bosses have an "Enemy's Black Magic Power" meter which shows how difficult the boss is, how many hits are required to defeat it, and what type of weaponry needs to be used. Kuros has a life meter which decreases as time passes and when he sustains damage from enemies. Players loses a life when Kuros' life meter runs out, but upon restarting they keep all the items they have obtained up to that point. The game ends when all three lives have been lost, but players have the choice to continue and restart at the level in which they lost their last life; upon continuing, players keep all their items obtained up to that point, but their score goes back to zero. Along the way, players can replenish Kuros' life meter by collecting pieces of meat scattered throughout the levels.
Along the way, players pick up many items which will help Kuros along his way. Acorns, torches, and treasure chests contain objects for players to collect. Chests are color-coded and require a key of that matching color to open the chest; the same color-coded keys are used to open doors of matching colors. Some weapons and magic items are replaced once the player collects a new item, but others remain throughout the course of the game. Items include the following: "Boots of Force" which can kick open chests and doors; magical potions which temporarily grant Kuros invulnerability, extra speed, or extra jumping ability; gems to help bribe the end-of-level guardian; a shield to protect from enemy attacks; the "Potion of Levitation" which allows Kuros to float upwards; the "Dagger of Throwing" and the "Battle Axe of Agor" which are thrown at enemies and return like a boomerang; the "Feather of Feather Fall" which slows Kuros' falling speed; the "Wand of Wonder" and "Staff of Power" which shoot out balls of ice and fire, respectively; the "Cloak of Darkness" which makes Kuros invisible to enemies; the "Boots of Lava Walk" which allows Kuros to walk on the lava; "Exploding Eggs" which destroys all on-screen enemies; "Alarm Clocks" which stops all enemies for a brief period; knife and axe upgrades and an item simply called a "horn" (trumpet) which had many players confused as it appeared to be useless, its purpose was to reveal hidden doors to gem caves in some places. Other valuable treasures increase the player's score and include coins, orbs, chalices, and entire hoards of treasure. Rescuing the damsels in the levels also increase the player's score.
Wizards & Warriors was developed by UK-based video game company Rare for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released by Acclaim in North America in December 1987; it would later be released by the same company in Europe on January 7, 1990. It was released in Japan by Jaleco under the title Densetsu no Kishi Elrond on July 15, 1988. The game would be Rare's second NES release, after Slalom. The game's soundtrack was composed by video game composer David Wise.
Wizards & Warriors was reviewed in Nintendo Fun Club News – the precursor to Nintendo Power – in which a brief overview of the gameplay was given. The game would be featured again in Nintendo Power's November–December 1989 issue, where it was chosen as the best game to use with the NES Advantage controller, saying that the joystick would allow players to concentrate on other strategic gameplay elements. In 1989, Wizards & Warriors was nominated by the magazine for "Best Graphics & Sound" and "Best Character" (Kuros) for its "Nintendo Power Awards '88", but it did not win in either category. It also received coverage in a 1989 issue of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment. The reviewer lauded the game's challenge and need for problem solving – more particular the need to use different items aside from the Brightsword in order to defeat some enemies and progress in the game, and the need to find hidden rooms where required items are located. However, he noted that the high level of difficulty is offset by the ability to continue at exactly the same spot in which the player left off. Overall, the reviewer praised Wizards & Warriors for its "excellent graphics and sound", arcade-style gameplay, and overall challenge. German magazine Power Play praised the game's good graphics, sound and extras, but criticized its "stale gameplay".
In a retrospective of the entire Wizards & Warriors series, UK-based magazine Retro Gamer gave a positive review of the first title, saying that "Kuros's first adventure was a unique experience for NES gamers in 1987, and technically well ahead of other games for the console at the time." The review said that the game, while a platformer, placed much emphasis on finding treasure and items. The review said that most gamers found fault in relatively easy difficulty level, most symbolized by its unlimited continues in which players can continue at the point right where they left off. According to the retrospective, in 1988, Rare showed Wizards & Warriors to Zippo Games, who was touring Rare and their NES library. Rare asked them to develop a sequel to the game, which would become Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II. In another retrospective of Rare as part of the company's 25th anniversary, GamePro looked back on the game, calling it "unique at the time" due to the unlimited amount of continues players received.
Wizards & Warriors has received scant coverage from modern video gaming websites. Video gaming website GamesRadar named the opening theme for the game as "Game music of the day", noting that the theme "suggests, from the moment you turn on the game, that knights, wizards, goblins and who knows what else are about to collide in a battle so epic it's destined for a Frazetta painting." JC Fletcher from Joystiq called the game "a simple action-platformer about a guy in thick armor who kicks open treasure chests in order to bribe knights". He also notes the variety of good and bad items such as the "Staff of Power" which inflicts much damage to enemies and conversely the "Cloak of Darkness", which he says "makes Kuros invisible to you but not to enemies". He said that the game has an arcade feel, with unlimited continues, a high-score list, name entry for high scores, and good music. Houston Press' Jef Rouner lauded the game's music and animation, and noted its high difficulty level, especially during boss battles. IGN listed Wizards & Warriors at #56 on its "Top 100 NES Games" list, reviewer Sam Claiborn said that the game was inspired by Dungeons & Dragons-type RPGs, but it went further in incorporating action platforming elements along with more traditional RPG elements. Columnist and comedy writer Seanbaby humorously criticized the game for items that did not work as intended, including the "Cloak of Darkness" and the "Boots of Lava Walk".
Wizards & Warriors was published as a standalone handheld game by Acclaim in September 1989, as part of a series of handheld ports by the company which also included WWF WrestleMania Challenge, Knight Rider, 1943: The Battle of Midway, and Rocky. Kuros and his nemesis Malkil were featured – along with the title characters from Kwirk and BigFoot, Tyrone from Arch Rivals, and characters from NARC – in the 1990 animated series The Power Team, part of the video game reviewing show Video Power. Malkil appeared in an episode of Captain N: The Game Master called "Nightmare on Mother Brain's Street" where the world of the game was referred to as "Excalibur" and not Elrond.
Wizards & Warriors was one of the eight games that were novelized for the Worlds of Power series of NES game adaptations, published by Scholastic Corporation; the novelization was written by the series' creator Seth Godin, under the pseudonym "F. X. Nine". The book was the only one in the series in which no effort was made to edit out the protagonist's weapons on the cover. However, on the cover, Kuros' loincloth was airbrushed on both sides in order to more completely conceal his underside – which is more visible on the cover of the game itself. The novelization is about a boy named Matthew who is having trouble using his imagination for a creative writing class, when he accidentally brings his father's knight figurine to life. He is then spirited away to the land of Elrond to help Kuros defeat Malkil. As with the other books in the series in which nobody actually "died", all of the creatures that they killed were made from the lives of the people of Elrond, and whenever a creature was slain, a person was returned to their normal state. Further in the novel, the two save Kuros' sister in the pink caves. While Matthew was invulnerable at the start of the mission, as the two drew closer to the evil wizard, he becomes more vulnerable to the attacks of Malkil's villains.