Take on the NES Library

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#171 – Ultima: Exodus

The Ultima journey on NES begins here!

The long journey awaits!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 11/27/20 – 4/7/21
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 9/10
My Video: Ultima: Exodus Longplay Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

So needless to say, this is a big one for me.  If you were following my journey through this game on my Twitch channel, you certainly saw all of the blood, sweat, and tears I went through to beat this game.  The Ultima series has been a total blind spot in my gaming knowledge.  Dragon Warrior was the gateway game for me to get interested in RPGs, but Ultima is an older series with more vintage sensibilities, particularly the earlier entries on home computers.  I’ve never been a Dungeons and Dragons guy either, so these kinds of games, while historically important, don’t sit with my interests.  But I knew all along of the three NES Ultima games and, perhaps surprisingly, I was looking forward to getting to know this series better.  It ended up being way more than I bargained for.

The Ultima series of games is the brainchild of Richard Garriott, who first got into computers through a programming class in his high school.  He and a friend convinced the school to let them do a 3-year self-study program, giving him access to the school’s Teletype machine where he eventually wrote 28 fantasy computer games while a student.  After high school he worked at a computer store and got to see an Apple II, and he immediately latched onto it and made a new graphical computer game he called Alakabeth.  The store owner convinced him to sell copies of his game inside the store.  At first, he only sold 5 copies of the game, but one of them made its way to a company called California Pacific who quickly sent Garriott plane tickets, and he signed a contract with the company to sell his game through them.  Alakabeth sold 30,000 copies and Garriott received $5 per copy, making him rather wealthy very quickly.  From there he started to develop the Ultima series.

The main Ultima series consists of 9 numbered games, neatly broken up story-wise into 3 trilogies.  Ultima I came out in 1981 and Ultima IX was released in 1999.  The series originally started on the Apple II but quickly found ports to other home computers, and naturally to more modern platforms for the later releases.  There were 3 NES Ultima games: Ultima III: Exodus, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, and Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, only with the numerals removed.  Ultima: Exodus was first released on Apple II in 1983, and then was ported to various other computers throughout the 1980s.  The NES version was first a Famicom release in October 1987, published by Pony Canyon.  The US release waited until February 1989, published by FCI.  The original game was developed by Richard Garriott under his new publisher group Origin Systems, while the Famicom/NES port was done by Newtopia Planning.  During research I also saw the group Softhans listed as a developer, but the relationship between the two developers is unclear.  Perhaps both groups are the same group, I don’t know.

Build many characters to find the ones right for you!

This was my first time playing through Ultima: Exodus and my first Ultima game ever.  This game must have sold well back at release because I had a copy of this one in my childhood collection probably from a yard sale.  I remember popping the game in once or twice and completely rolling off of it right away.  No way I was getting anywhere in this game as a kid without the manual.  I have had quite a few copies of this one while collecting, pretty much all of them in good shape, and all have been resold already.  I even have the box and manual.  This has typically been a $5-$10 cart, and now that NES game prices have been on the rise again, currently it is sitting at a crisp $12 price.

I’m deviating a little bit from my normal review format for this one.  I feel the best way to write up my review of this game is to hit the main points and features in the same order that I experienced them on my own.  Ultima: Exodus was significantly more challenging than I expected and my route to the ending was very, very long, clocking in at over 50 hours.  You’ll come to see a lot of that length was my own doing; I could beat this game much faster in another playthrough if I desired, now that I know what to do and how this game works.  But a lot of the long duration had to do with the complicated systems at play and how that works with the world itself.  Another thing: this review is going to contain spoilers of all kinds.  I’m leaving few stones unturned here, if any.  If you have not played this game before and have any interest in trying it out for yourself, then this review is not for you.  Otherwise, we are about to take another very long journey together, and there’s a spot in the party just for you.

Ultima: Exodus takes place in the land of Sosaria.  Under the rule of Lord British, there have been major attacks in this land before.  In the first Ultima game, a great warrior defeated the magician named Mondain.  In Ultima II, the villain Minax was thwarted by yet another hero.  After some more years of peace, there is a small island that is experiencing volcanic activity.  There is evil on that island that is known as Exodus, and indeed both Mondain and Minax have cast a spell on that island.  This time Lord British summons four heroes to band together to take on the threat and restore peace once again.

Before you start the game proper, you’ll need to build a party of four.  After you create your save file, go to the Create menu, then select Create again.  You can choose to use either pre-built characters or ones you can create from scratch.  I went the scratch route to get the builds I wanted, and before I booted up the game for the first time, I researched exactly what character builds I thought would help me the most.  For each character, you’ll have to pick both a race and a job.  There are five races in the game: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Bobit, and Fuzzy, and eleven professions: Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Thief, Paladin, Barbarian, Lark, Illusionist, Druid, Alchemist, and Ranger.  You can mix and match as you like.  For each character, you can choose their race and profession, a four character name, and distribution of stat points to either Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom.  You can assign 50 points total and up to 25 per stat to start.  You can create up to 20 characters per save file but you can only use four on the field during play.  If you don’t want to go through the hassle of creating characters, you can select from ready-made ones.  Just name them and add them to your party.

Behold! This rare cutscene

The manual describes which races and professions have which benefits.  Races determine how many ability points you can assign at max to Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom.  Professions determine what kind of weapons and armor you can use, as well as what kind of spells you can cast, how much MP you have to cast them, and general dexterity ratings.  My thinking in building a party was to have one character be able to max out one of each of the four stats, so everything was covered.  We’ll get into this more a bit later, but there are two magic systems in this game.  Intelligence is related to Magic Power, and Wisdom is connected to Will Power.  Creating a Fuzzy Wizard and a Bobit Cleric let me have max MP for each magic system plus access to every spell in the game.  The Dwarf Fighter gives me max strength and access to any weapon or sword, so that seemed like a good fit.  I thought the best Dexterity class was Wizard, but I already had a Wizard, so I decided to create an Elf Druid so I could have access to some of both Magic Power and Will Power spells.  (I learned recently the manual has a typo and that the Thief class holds the best Dexterity, which logically makes sense.)  With that, this was my party: JP the Elf Druid, Smash the Dwarf Fighter, Willa the Bobit Cleric, and Wiz the Fuzzy Wizard.

The game begins with a small scene of Lord British sending you forth, and from there you immediately go to the overworld map.  You start off next to both a castle and a town.  There may be enemies visible on the map as well.  If you don’t press anything for a bit, a pop up box will display some stats.  The pop up looks pretty cluttered at first.  There are three lines of stats for each of the four characters.  The first line is the character’s name followed by four letters.  Each letter represents, in order, health status, sex, race, and profession.  For instance, my lead character JP is GMED, which means good health, male, Elf, and Druid.  The next line is hit points and magic points, denoted by ‘H’ and ‘M’ respectively.  The third line is food denoted by ‘F’, and an ‘L’ for experience level.

I decided to check out the town first, known as Royal Town.  Of course, in any RPG there are plenty of people to speak with.  Many towns have similar amenities.  Royal Town features a pub, armory, weapon shop, and a grocery store.  The pub just has people to talk to and you can buy a drink for a few gold pieces.  After purchasing a few drinks, the bartender will give you a more helpful hint.  At the armory and weapon shop, you can buy armor and weapons for your characters.  You’ll need to equip them through the Status command, not incredibly intuitive.  You’ll be visiting the grocery store a lot.  As you explore you will slowly consume food, and when you run out you start losing HP instead.  Each character holds their own gold and food, but with the Food command in the menu you’ll split all the food evenly across the entire party.

Next, I explored the Castle, which has some more special locations.  Lord British sits in the throne room.  He can raise your level when you have enough experience.  There is an Inn here, which is where you save your game.  There is also a hospital in the castle.  Here you can cure both poison and colds for a small fee, as well as resurrect your character for a higher fee.  You also have the option to give blood which is interesting.  You exchange 100 HP for 30 gold.  Since gold can be tough to come by, this might be useful, if you have spare HP to give.  You only have 150 maximum HP to start, and it’s important to say here in advance that your healing options are very limited.  There’s no place you can go to sleep to restore all your party’s HP like in other game; the inn is for saving only.

Townspeople speak wisdom; you need food to survive.

Before we go much deeper, let’s talk about the menu.  Press A while on the field or in a town to bring up the menu.  Use the D-pad to navigate the menu, press A to confirm, and press B to go back.  There’s a second page to the menu that you can see by pressing Select.  Let’s go over the options.  You can talk to people with the Talk command.  Cast spells with the Magic command.  Many commands like Magic will prompt you for a character first.  If they can cast both kinds of spells you’ll select which set next, then choose the spell.  Fight lets you pick a fight with any monster or person you want, though you really want to restrict that to just monsters.  Status brings up the screen with your stats, experience, and money, and you can also choose a character here to equip both weapons and armor.  Tools gives you access to certain items you buy in shops.  Give and Get let you give an item to someone or take an item respectively.  Climb is reserved for the dungeons.  The Food command splits all the food evenly across your party.  Gold lets you swap gold between characters, either 10, 100, or 1000 gold pieces at a time.  Horse lets you get on and off your horses, which you do not start the game with.  Finally, Order lets you change the turn order of your four-person team.  There are also special commands that can be earned as you play.

With all this in mind, it’s time to start fighting.  Find an enemy on the overworld and either choose the Fight command or let them fight you on their own as they approach, it doesn’t matter.  The view switches over to the top-down battle screen.  Combat is grid-based as you’ll see both you and the enemy take initial alignments.  One at a time your characters will blink signifying their turn.  You can either move the character one square with the D-pad or perform one of the commands.  You can Fight an adjacent enemy, use Magic, or one of your Tools.  To fight, after you choose the command you use the D-pad to determine which way to attack.  You’ll do a melee attack if you are right next to the enemy, or fire a ranged attack if you have the proper weapon for that.  Some weapons like the dagger can be thrown just once, but then you are without a weapon and can only fight bare-handed.  If you press B at any time, you’ll forfeit that character’s turn and just stand still.  There’s no way to undo any menuing in battle, even part way.  Sometimes taking no action is the proper strategy, but it’s a shame you can’t change your mind and move the character once you’ve committed to attacking or a spell.  There’s also no option to run from battle, and enemies always start pretty far away so that it takes a few turns to approach the enemy if you have no ranged weapons.  Once you command all characters then each enemy will have a turn in the same fashion.

For the start of the game, I approached it much like I would any RPG.  I got some fights under my belt and gained some experience.  There are some spells that help immensely.  All spells from either the magic or will power systems are available from the start, provided you have enough MP to cast them.  With my two casters at 25 max MP, I get access to six spells each.  Two of those spells target certain sets of early game enemies, and best of all they cost 0 MP to use.  Undead and Repel both have a high frequency of failure, but when it hits it wipes out most or all of the enemies.  Enemies drop a chest on the overworld that you can open for gold.  Much of the time those chests are also booby trapped either dealing damage to you or giving you a cold or poison, in addition to the money inside.  My cleric had an Open spell that can disarm the chest for you.  It took me a bit before figuring that out.  In the meantime, after a particularly rough battle, I opened the chest only for it to be a trap chest that ended up wiping out my entire party.  Only the lead character gets revived.

Needless to say, this is where things went completely downhill for me.  To revive a character, you either need powerful magic or a chunk of gold.  The hospital can resurrect a character for 500 gold, which works roughly half the time.  If it doesn’t work, then your character turns to ash.  To fix that, you have to find a temple where you can be revived for an additional 900 gold.  Not only that, but any equipment you had also gets nuked if you turn to ash.  I tried to go that route and realized it was too steep of a cost to bother.  What I ended up doing was deleting those characters and starting over.  Each new character gets 100 gold in their pocket for free.  You can exploit this by creating new characters, giving their gold to a permanent character, resetting the game, deleting the broke characters, and repeating this over and over again for as much money as you want.  I thought about it but ultimately decided to go about it more honestly.

This is an incredibly tough encounter for the early game.

Along the way here, I inadvertently made the most critical error of the entire game.  My lead character JP got enough experience to level up, so I visited the king and got him to Level 5.  The only thing leveling up does for you is increase your max HP by 100 per level.  It doesn’t affect your stats in any way like I had hoped.  You also cannot level up beyond Level 5 initially.  But there’s another more sinister side effect here: the enemies level up with you.  Once someone reaches Level 3, more difficult enemy groups appear, and even harder groups appear at Level 5.  These enemies are immune to the Undead and Repel spells and have significantly more HP.  I did not realize what I did for a very long time and once I understood what had happened, I didn’t feel like starting the game over.  One enemy group in particular, Demons, gave me serious trouble because they can attack any character at long range, and my party makeup only allowed for one character wielding a long range weapon.  I could maybe survive with everyone alive at Level 5 with max HP, but it was hardly worth it.  Stronger enemies give more experience but the same amount of gold, and at this point, experience wasn’t doing me any good.

I eventually got everyone to Level 5 but stalled out from there.  I hit up a few more towns that I found around the map.  Some of them have guild shops where you can buy items.  You can buy a set of 5 torches for lighting up the dungeons.  Magic Keys open doors you find out and about.  The gem lets you view the map for a one-time use, can be pretty handy.  The Sands freeze enemies in battle for several turns, letting you get the upper hand.  The tent restores 100 HP per party member when used.  Aside from the keys, you can perform all these same actions with spells.  You can find stables and purchase horses for your team.  On horseback you can take steps faster than your enemies helping you avoid conflict, though I did not find them until much later in my playthrough.  Also, some of the hospitals let you pay 200 gold to completely restore the health of a party member, something that I also didn’t realize until almost the end of the game.  I mostly performed healing through the simple Heal spell over and over.  One good thing is that on the overworld you restore 1 MP per character per step, which helps immensely over the course of the game.

The information in the towns didn’t really yield anything directly helpful to me, so I was in a rut for a while.  I got out of it by acquiring a ship!  At some point in the adventure, enemies in ships hug the coastline.  If you approach the boat, then you’ll have to fight Pirates, but if you win the ship becomes yours to travel as you please.  You can move the boat in any open water including rivers.  The wind can slow you down or boost you considerably, depending on the direction it is blowing.  When not paying attention to the wind, it feels like erratic movement.  Taking to the water, I realized that the map was a lot smaller than I first thought.  I entered a few new towns and tinkered a little with some of the dungeons I found.  The dungeons felt too difficult and you don’t regen MP as quickly when walking inside, so I was discouraged from that.  Eventually, I stumbled willingly into this whirlpool I occasionally saw, and from there things finally started to improve for me.

The whirlpool transported me to the land of Ambrosia, a completely different world map than where I started.  To the south I could see the same whirlpool I rode in on, but I had no ship to get back there.  I explored around the best I could.  I didn’t mention this yet but the overworld maps and towns have line of sight functionality where you cannot see the other side of solid or dense tiles.  Trees in particular block your view to where you are practically walking in the dark even though you can pass through.  So there were lots of hidden paths that took some exploring to figure out.  The southwest corner of the map also had enemy encounters that you couldn’t see until you are right next to them, which caused me issues when demons showed up.  I eventually found my way along the western edge of the map where I found the Shrine of Strength.  I spoke to the man there who asked for 100 gold as an offering.  Figuring that this was my chance I just threw a bunch of gold at him not really knowing what I was doing.  Once I opened the menu I figured it out.  Every 100 gold I spent there increased my Strength stat by 1 point for the character that spent the money.  Now each character has a maximum stat value and the game will let you overspend gold without any increase, but fortunately I didn’t suffer from that at all.

Discover the shrines where you power up your characters.

So finally, I had my plan.  I would search out the other shrines.  I would max out Wisdom first for my Cleric to get the best healing spells.  Next, I would max out Intelligence for my Wizard to get the best battle magic.  Then I would max out Strength for everyone and finally Dexterity for my Druid.  This would take a very long time grinding, particularly when trying to battle only the weak enemies since gold chests hold the same amount of money no matter which enemies you defeat.  All that is fine and good, but now I need to figure out how to get out of here.  That southwestern path with the enemies leads to a ship that you must take over and sail over to the whirlpool.  You’ll have to battle the Pirates to win the ship, which was straightforward enough.  You also must avoid the man-o-war enemy that patrols the water.  Getting into a battle with them on the ship is almost certain death, but if you can get out you go back to Sosaria and can continue on from there.

The next step after a very long period of grinding gold and boosting stats was to start tackling the dungeons full on.  The dungeons in this game all have similar characteristics.  First of all, they are in first-person perspective.  They are pitch black, requiring either a torch or some magic spell to light the way.  Torches and spells will fade, and sometimes torches get snuffed out through wind, so plan accordingly.  Enemy encounters are random and here you cannot see what enemies you are fighting before the battle.  Each dungeon in the game is eight levels deep and you traverse the floors with ladders using the Climb command.  You can find treasure boxes on the ground in the dungeons.  There are also fountains in the dungeons.  All look alike but can have different functions.  Some cure poison while others cause poison.  Some fountains deal damage to you, and others restore your health to the max.  You can also step on traps that damage you or encounter gremlins that steal food from you.  Dungeons also have doors.  Some of them are visible and others just look like normal walls, but you can walk freely through both.  This makes dungeon exploration very tedious and it’s easy to miss things.  One good thing is that with either the gem item or the appropriate magic, you can view a map of the current dungeon floor.  I did not know this until I started writing this review, and wow that would have been incredibly handy to know.

One of the main purposes of searching the dungeons is to locate the four marks.  They are the Mark of Kings, Mark of Fire, Mark of Force, and Mark of Snake.  Each one unlocks something in the game.  The Mark of Kings lets you level up beyond Level 5 up to Level 25.  The Mark of Fire lets you walk safely on fire tiles.  The Mark of Force lets you pass through these blue barrier tiles safely.  The Mark of Snake is for moving a giant snake out of the way.  I forgot to mention that there’s an island on the map guarded by a giant snake that you might see relatively early in the adventure.

There is a bit of a trick I figured out to finding these marks in the dungeons.  Through repeated attempts of making dungeon dives I realized most of the dungeon floors themselves are irrelevant.  Sure, you might find money chests in there, but for the most part nothing else.  The good stuff is always in the bottom floor of the dungeon.  Once I got all the spells enabled, this became a lot easier.  The Cleric has the Rise and Sink spells, and the Wizard has the Descend and Ascend spells that allow you to warp up and down floors without needing a ladder.  At the bottom floor, you can also use the Cleric’s Move spell or the Wizard’s Trans spell to teleport to a random location on the same floor, which is handy when parts of the floor are only accessible by certain ladders.  Of course, having full magic is helpful for the bottom floors where the strongest monsters live, regardless of your current experience level.  Anyway, there are six dungeons in the game and it’s a race to the bottom in each one to see what you can find down there.  It’s a good idea to get the map so that you have some idea of where to look for things when you make it to the bottom. Some of the marks can also be found on higher floors, but this is much more uncommon and mostly down to luck if you don’t already know where to find them.  I originally found the Mark of Kings in the 2nd floor of a dungeon, sparing me a deeper trip for that mark.

First person dungeons are tough without proper maps.

Another mystery I solved on my own has to do with the phases of the moon.  There are these gates that appear off and on around the map.  You can step in them freely and they teleport you around the map.  There are some places only reachable through these gates.  Now I had seen the gates and stepped through them when I saw them, but it took me until deep into the game before I figured out how they work.  Near the wind indicator, there are two moons that change phase after so many steps.  Each phase of the moon represents a location on the map.  The first moon means which gate is open, and the second moon indicates where the gate leads.  By taking gates and waiting for them to open up, I matched up all the entrances and exits.  The second moon changes at twice the speed of the first, meaning that every gate can take you to one of two locations depending on when you enter.

Something else I figured out on my own very late was the mystery city of Dawn.  I had received a hint somewhere saying “Dawn appears when two new moons.”  You would think during a few months of playing that I would have seen it somewhere.  Well, it turns out Dawn is hidden in the woods where you can’t see, and it indeed only appears when both moons are new moons.   I had a hunch to check out the forest south of the castle and I nearly stumbled into it right as it appeared.  This town has all the amenities you would want.  In particular, the weapon shop contains unique weapons that can only be purchased here.  Dawn is accessible from the very beginning if you know where to look, and it’s close to the starting location.

As you may know, I am a father of two kids with a full time job and I have all the responsibilities that come with that.  I also have a very strong desire of figuring things out on my own in these games, and naturally those two things clash.  I am really proud of what I was able to figure out on my own, even if I did many, many things the hard way.  After over four months and 50 hours of playing the game, it was time to move on, and so I took every direct hint imaginable to get me to the end of this game.  It was not a completely spoiler free playthrough, but at least I have my sanity and my time back.  I have no qualms and no regrets about that.

The first thing I knew I was missing was the Mark of Snake.  I was pretty sure I had explored the bottom of all the dungeons but I missed this mark altogether.  Friends in Twitch chat helped lead me right to the mark I had missed, so that was covered.  Now I could use the Silver Horn I found to move the snake and head right into Exodus, the end of the game.  But once I got inside and got into my first battle there, I could do no damage at all to the enemies.  There was something else I was missing, actually two things, the Mystic Sword and Mystic Armor.  There are two items, the Silver Pick and the Gold Pick, that you use to dig up the Sword and Armor on the overworld.  I had found the Silver Pick in one of the dungeons but was missing the Gold Pick.  To get that, you have to steal it from the Guild in Dawn.  Just reach over the counter with the Get command to grab it.  Now guards will appear in town and you really want to get out of town right away without engaging them in battle.  There are two tiles on very small overworld islands where you use the picks to dig up the Mystic equipment.  I am not sure how you are supposed to figure all that out with just the in-game hints.  You can keep digging up swords and armor so that everyone can get one, and they are equippable by every character.  The final things I needed were the four cards.  I can’t remember if I figured this out on my own or not, most likely I needed a gentle hint in the right direction.  You have to visit each of the shrines in Ambrosia and use the Pray command (that you have to discover separately in-game) to get a card.  There is a Time Lord in the bottom of one of the dungeons who tells you the order of the four cards which is needed later.

Giant enemies like this startled me the first time!

Finally, we have reached the end of the game.  It’s time to take on Exodus!  The final castle is a winding maze of corridors with strong dragon enemies all over the place.  It is possible to pass around some of them, but you’ll need to fight through many of them.  Thankfully with the Mystic equipment you can damage them now.  Upon reaching the final corridor, I ran into an unexpected encounter with the floor, yes, the floor.  These are invisible enemies which pose a different kind of challenge.  The idea is you try and walk around and if you can’t move then you know its right in front of you and you can bash away.  You’ll need to fight a minimum of two encounters against these floor tiles.  At the very top, it looks like nothing’s there.  You must use the Pray command here to awaken Exodus.  You will now place the four cards in the proper order to disable Exodus, but we aren’t quite done yet.  The castle begins to collapse and you need to escape.  This scene was legit frightening as rocks and debris begin appearing on the path and the whole screen is shaking.  It is very possible to get blocked off completely in which case everyone dies and you have to start over.  I ended up going out a completely different way than how I entered, which I was told was VERY ill-advised.  I even took a dead end or two by mistake, but somehow I got out of the castle intact and I beat the game.  Whew, what a ride!  The finale there took me completely by surprise and it was very intense.  It is now one of my very favorite NES memories and such a neat way to end this long adventure.

I have just a few loose ends to tie up before I wrap this very long review.  I mentioned earlier that this game is considered a remake of the original version as many things were tweaked, changed, or added.  Some of the more notable additions include the following: the game can only be saved at the inn, the cold status effect was added, the give blood option was added to some hospitals, simple gambling casinos are available in some towns, the ship is allowed to slowly move against the wind, the gold and silver pick quests for the Mystic equipment were added, and the ending escape sequence was added.  Much of the dialog and hints were changed from the original version as well.  There’s one more thing that I completely missed that is new in this version.  In Ambrosia you can pluck these flowers and exchange them with Sherry in the Royal City for Compass Hearts.  You can use a Compass Heart to return directly to the castle from anywhere, including Ambrosia, the dungeons, or even in battle.  You can do this sequence for as many Compass Hearts as you want, but each character can only hold one at a time.  I suppose I either missed this flower entirely or just didn’t know you could grab it.

I also want to call attention to the speedrun of this game.  It takes advantage of manipulating the randomness in the game to skip over the majority of the content.  Here’s how it works.  The game has to be played a specific way with specific movements to set up the random number generator to give favorable results.  There is a particular moon gate that can drop you off on the inside of the island where Exodus is located.  Normally you need the ship and the quest items to move the snake and reach the castle, but with the proper manipulations, the enemy ship will spawn within the waters between Exodus and the snake.  You can then fight for the ship and sail on into the castle without removing the snake.  Even better, once you reach all the way inside to Exodus in this way, the game assumes that you have already collected the cards so you don’t have to bother rounding them up either.  Pretty nifty way to beat the game in under 30 minutes.  The World Record is currently 24:27 by Yogidamonk and I recommend watching it for the meticulous setup required to win so quickly.

Ultima: Exodus was one of the most unexpectedly evil games in the NES library.  I have a pretty good handle on what games are going to pose a significant challenge.  While I don’t think Ultima: Exodus is going to show up on hardest game lists anywhere, its difficulty in hidden mechanics and plot elements made for a rough time.  The graphics are simple but effective.  The music is surprisingly catchy.  Considering I had to hear it for so long and didn’t get bored of it, aside from the battle theme’s short loop, that is a testament to its strength.  The controls I had some issues with, particularly not having a back button for some combat decisions.  Sailing is cumbersome too as the wind really staggers your navigation, which is annoying in grid-based movement.  The gameplay is perfectly fine, but some design decisions really allowed me to dig a massive hole for myself.  Not having some RPG amenities that I’m used to, like easy healing options, compounded the problem.  This is a solid game for sure.  If you can work around the issues I mentioned or just know how to play the game better, there’s plenty of fun here.  I’ll be happy to avoid any more 50+ hour games for quite some time now.

#171 – Ultima: Exodus


#60 – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of the Lance

It’s known as one of the worst NES games, and that mostly holds up.

Love that over half of the title screen is text.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 9/29/17 – 10/2/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: AD&D Heroes of the Lance Longplay

Clearly, I am a huge gaming nerd, especially when it comes to Nintendo and the NES. Mostly I go it alone and play single-player games, but occasionally I will play multiplayer games. Tabletop gaming has become quite popular, and I do like to get together with friends to play sometimes. I don’t take it much farther than that, and so I have never been interested in Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe it’s the idea of a long campaign with a group of people that doesn’t appeal to me and my single-player ways. The NES has four games bearing the Dungeons and Dragons name and I had no interest in them. I had originally planned to skip them in this project altogether. However, plans change, so here we are with the first game in the set. AD&D: Heroes of the Lance is generally regarded as a bad game, and having played it for myself I can see why.

Dungeons and Dragons, abbreviated D&D, is a tabletop RPG that takes place in a fantasy setting. Players choose characters and team up to battle monsters and solve puzzles in scenarios devised and managed by a Dungeon Master. The game was originally published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc., or TSR, but is now published by Wizards of the Coast as of 1997. D&D split early on with the lighter game keeping the name, while a more rules-heavy experience was called Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or AD&D. The NES games fall under the AD&D banner. These two games merged back together when the 3rd Edition of D&D released in the year 2000, and this structure remains today.

Naturally, there were many video games created or spun off from D&D. It’s mindboggling how many different series and games there are under so many different names that I can’t even begin to make sense of it myself let alone try to explain it. There are different series of games that might have familiar names to you, such as the Gold Box series, Baldur’s Gate, and Neverwinter Nights. Some follow the strict D&D ruleset, while others only utilize the setting. Several games are not RPGs at all. The NES received four different AD&D games, and in order of release they are Heroes of the Lance, DragonStrike, Pool of Radiance, and Hillsfar.

This intro screen has more color than anything else in the game.

AD&D: Heroes of the Lance was released on many home computers beginning in January 1988. The NES port of the game was released in January 1991, and the Famicom version came next in March 1991. It was developed by U.S. Gold Ltd. and Strategic Systems, Inc. Natsume is also credited as a developer, but as far as I can tell they are only linked to the game’s soundtrack. The NES game was published by FCI, while Pony Canyon published the Famicom game. The sequel, Dragons of Flame, was released on the Famicom in February 1992 but did not make it to the NES.

The story is based on the Dragonlance novels written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. In the land of Krynn, people have abandoned their traditions and faith, causing the Queen of Darkness, Takhisis, to awaken evil and take power in the land. The ruins of Xak Tsaroth hold the keys to restoring the traditions and regaining balance of power, and these keys are the Disks of Mishakal. Of course, Takhisis knows of the Disks and has sent the dragon Khisanth to protect them. You play the role of the party known as the Companions of the Lance, who must venture into Xak Tsaroth to fight the dragon, recover the disks, and restore the land of Krynn. After entering the ruins of Xak Tsaroth, the warrior Goldmoon of the Companions entrusted her blue crystal staff to a statue of the goddess Mishakal, who then blessed the staff and offered her power to aid in recovering the disks. You got all that, right?

Heroes of the Lance is one of the D&D games that is not a strict RPG. Instead, it is a side-scrolling dungeon crawler. You control the entire party of eight Companions of the Lance through the maze of Xak Tsaroth. All the action takes place in the side scrolling view. You enter other rooms to different parts of the maze, and the goal is to find the entrance to the next level of the dungeon. There are only three levels in the game, culminating in the final battle with Khisanth. Along the way you will fight enemies, jump over pits, cast spells, and collect items. You can rearrange your party of eight characters in any order you choose, and each member has their own stats, abilities, and weapons that aid in completing the adventure.

Perhaps this first screen is what many players have seen the most.

The eight characters in the party are Goldmoon, Sturm, Raistlin, Caramon, Tanis, Tasslehoff, Riverwind, and Flint. Goldmoon has the blue crystal staff which is used to cast clerical spells. Sturm is a powerful knight who wields a magical Long Sword. Raistlin is a physically weak mage with powerful magical abilities using the Staff of Magius. Caramon is another powerful warrior armed with both a sword and throwing spear. Tanis is a half-elf armed with a sword and a bow. Tasslehoff is of a race called kender, and he is armed with a hoopak which can be used as a sling for long range attacks and as a staff for close range combat. Riverwind is another strong fighter armed with a sword and a bow. Finally, Flint is a dwarf who wields both a battle axe and throwing axes.

The controls are complex and they change somewhat depending on the situation. You walk left and right using the D-pad. If you walk in the same direction for a while you will start running, or you can run by holding Up combined with either Left or Right. While running you can jump with A. You can also duck while standing still by holding A and pressing Down. That isn’t intuitive, but it occasionally helps. There is a compass on the bottom left of the screen, and one of the directions lights up if you are standing by a door. You can proceed through the door by holding either Up or Down depending on which side the door is on. You must hold the button for a full second to go through the door. You can use the B button combined with a direction for the lead character to use ranged weapons. If enemies are too close then you can’t use ranged weapons, and you also have to equip them before you can use them in the first place. The Select button both brings up and exits the main menu.

Combat introduces some different controls. If an enemy is near enough, the word Combat will display on the bottom. You can’t use ranged weapons anymore when this indicator in on. You can still move, duck, jump, run, and enter the menu the same as above. To attack the enemy with the lead character, hold down the B button to swing your weapon. You need to be right next to the enemy to land any hits. You can keep the B button held to do continuous attacks. You can also attack high by holding the D-pad diagonally Up and toward the enemy, and attack low diagonally with Down. Some enemies can only be hit high or low. You will see a little circle whenever you land an attack, but you will miss about as often as you hit.

Well actually this is the screen you will see the most often.

You will spend a lot of time in the game menu. While in the menu, press A to choose an option, press B to cancel and go back, and press Select to leave the menu. The Hero Select option lets you view each character’s stats, health, and items. You also use Hero Select to move party members around. Press A to choose a party member, and press A again when a different party member is highlighted to swap the two characters. Magic User Spells lets you use Raistlin’s spells, and Clerical Staff Spells lets you use Goldmoon’s spells. More on spells in a bit. The Use command lets you use some items like potions and equip some items like bows. For example, to equip Caramon’s throwing spear, go to the Use command, select Caramon, and then select the spear. It will then appear next to the Using field on both the Use or Hero Select screen when successfully equipped. The Score option shows you how many of each enemy you have killed as well as your experience points and score. Yes, Heroes of the Lance has a scoring system. The Give, Drop, and Take commands all move items around. Use the Give command to trade items between party members just like how you switch characters around. Drop puts an item on the ground, and Take is used to pick items up. You can find items on the ground or even in the background during play. Stand near one and use the Take command to give it to whichever party member you want. You can save the game at almost any time using the Save command, or load a save file anytime with the Load command. There are three save slots that either display as Old if it has save data or New if it is empty.

To cast spells with Raistlin or Goldmoon, you have to do two things. First, you must equip each character with their staff with the Use command. Second, you have to put the spellcaster in the front row. On the screen, the top four characters are in the front row and the others are in the back row. Party alignment is also important because any of the front row characters can take damage during combat, although the lead character is most likely to take the hit. Use either of the spell commands in the menu to display the spells and select one to cast it. While exploring, if the spellcaster is the lead character, you can simply cast the last spell used with the B button as a long range attack. In combat range, you must use the menu to cast spells.

Trapping enemies and running past them is an effective strategy.

Raistlin is the only character that can use the Magic User Spells option. This option displays the spell list and the charge meter showing how much power is left in the staff. Each spell uses up a different amount of charge, and when this meter is empty you can no longer cast spells. The same goes for Goldmoon and her Clerical Staff Spells. Raistlin’s magic spells are primarily combat oriented. Charm, Sleep, and Web are all used to temporarily stop enemies. Magic Missile and Burning Hands are attack spells. Detect Magic highlights magical items in the field with sparkles, and Detect Invisible reveals invisible objects. The Final Strike spell uses up all the energy in the staff to defeat all monsters on screen, though Raistlin loses his life in the process. To use this spell, you have to put Raistlin in the lead and also be outside of close combat range.

Goldmoon can use all Clerical spells with her Blue Crystal Staff. She has two healing spells, Cure Light Wounds and Cure Critical Wounds. Protection from Evil weakens enemies near the party, while Prayer builds the party up temporarily. Find Traps shows any traps on screen, such as falling rocks. She has two combat spells. Hold Person can disable an enemy like the Charm or Sleep spells, and Spiritual Hammer is an attack spell. Goldmoon can revive defeated party members with the Raise Dead spell. If a character is killed in combat, their body remains on the ground. You can stand near it and use Raise Dead to revive the character with a few hit points. However, if you change screens before reviving the character or cause the lead party member to fall in a pit, they are gone for good. In this case, their character portrait shows a tombstone instead of being grayed out. The last spell is Deflect Dragon Breath, which causes the lead character to glow and avoid all damage from the acid spewed by dragon hatchlings. If Goldmoon is defeated, a few other characters can pick up her staff and perform a subset of Clerical spells.

There are quite a few items found in the dungeon. There are five colors of potions that do different effects, such as healing, party member protection, or holding enemies. A ring or a gem ring can be equipped with the Use command which makes the wearer harder to hit in combat. Raistlin can use a Scroll or a Wand to perform a long range attack without using power from his staff. The remaining items have no effect except for adding points to your score while you carry them. Such items are gems, coins, gold bars, chalices, and shields.

This waterfall is awfully pretty.

This was my first time playing through AD&D: Heroes of the Lance. At the beginning of my project, I put this game and many others near the end of the list which I call my snub list. Now I am bringing those games back into the fold occasionally as I see fit, and it had been awhile since I pulled one of my snubbed games into the forefront. I’m reasonably sure I bought this game at my local game store at the time when they were slow to keep up with price increases. I could bundle games and get every fourth game free, so I took advantage of that frequently. The price of this game hasn’t really moved though. I think it was an $8 game at that store and that’s in line with its current value. I have the manual for it that I got separately, although with a missing cover.

I gave the game a test drive just to check the battery, and in those few minutes I couldn’t get off the first screen. At a glance, it is an intimidating game to say the least. There are so many menu options and character statistics. Who are all these characters and what do they bring to the table? Spell casting doesn’t work right away. The first screen features a pit that I bet most players fall in right away trying to figure out what to do. I sure did. I see I can go through a door to the north and another to the south, but my character won’t go that way because I’m just pressing Up or Down instead of holding the direction button. The game has a bad reputation for all these reasons. The manual is an absolute must, and I’m guessing most people that have tried the game played without reading the manual, further souring their first impressions. I read through the manual several times, and I needed it by my side as I played before the game started to unfold.

One of my biggest gripes with Heroes of the Lance is the level layout. The compass is there to help orient you, but from room to room it can twist in various directions. Say you are in a room that runs north and south. The next room may also run north and south, so you know you are in a different room that runs parallel. Other times, the next room runs west to east, so you then start spreading out more. To make it more confusing, if this north to south hallway has an east door and a west door opposite each other, sometimes both doors lead to the same room and other times they lead to separate rooms. Both doors leading to the same room can make sense if you picture it as two perpendicular hallways that intersect, and you are simply reorienting your view by turning 90 degrees. It’s just that this is not evident at first. Most of the hallways looks the same anyway with the same drab gray colors. All this combined is the perfect recipe for getting lost. I am good at mental mapmaking, but it only took a few screens into the game before I needed to begin drawing. Even then, I ran into problems. The layout seems nonsensical at times. Sometimes the map has loops in it, and other times it appears that you are going in a direction that overlaps with something else in the level. It’s hard enough to map the dungeon without having to consider verticality. It’s ugly, unthoughtful design.

Basic platforming is also frustrating.

The good news is that there are clear, one-way transitions between the three levels of the dungeon. Go the correct way and you may see a short cutscene of your character falling to the level below. This is not a pit that kills you and you are going the right way when this happens. If you successfully map your way to that spot, then you effectively have that level solved. It’s not always easy getting there. There is one section in Level 2 that I am convinced is impossible to map out. It’s a door maze with several hallways, all with multiple doors. I started finding new items after going through many hallways, so I know I was hitting unique screens still. Fortunately, this section is not on the critical path and can (and should) be skipped completely.

Once I reached Level 3, I was running low on magic so I elected to start over. It was quick getting back there and I was in a much better state than my first try. The final level was the easiest area to map and I did so completely. It was straightforward to beat the game at that point. It took me about four hours to beat the game the first time. I knew I could beat the game much quicker than that, so I recorded a longplay. I admit, I really enjoyed blowing through the game again once I figured it all out. The second play lasted 20 minutes. The ending of the game teases you with the sequel, AD&D Dragons of Flame, which was never released on NES. Dragons of Flame did make it to Famicom, though I won’t be playing it.

Another aspect of this game’s reputation is that it is a difficult game, but I found that really wasn’t the case. The game seems so difficult at first for all the reasons mentioned here, and that’s true, it is difficult to start. You have a lot of learn and you will probably play poorly trying to get your bearings. This makes saving anywhere such a godsend. Take advantage of it by saving frequently and reloading if things don’t go well. Don’t go too long without saving so that if you need to reload you have a better chance of remembering where you are. Mapping the game on paper goes a long way as well, even if the map itself is crude like mine. Once you find the entrance to the next level and can get there from the start, you can do what I did and restart the game if things go south. The game is short with only the three levels and it isn’t a huge setback to start over with the knowledge gained. Sadly, Heroes of the Lance will permit you into situations where the game is unwinnable and you have to start over, but this is not much of a burden as it would appear. I would say the game begins like it has well above average difficulty and then becomes a low difficulty game at the end, depending on your aptitude for mapping. Suddenly a 5/10 rating seems about right!

Make sure to protect yourself when fighting the dragon hatchlings.

I know this review has gone on long enough, but I’m going to share my tips and strategy for beating Heroes of the Lance. I’m spoiling quite a lot here. I’ll begin with perhaps my biggest revelation about this game. Most of the content in this game means nothing. Other than health, the statistics do not tell you anything. The game can be beaten with only three characters and fewer than half the spells. You need to know how to kill enemies and jump a little. That’s all. Here’s how you do it. Set Caramon as your lead character and put Raistlin and Goldmoon in the third and fourth spots in the front row. Go to the Use command to equip both Raistlin’s staff and Goldmoon’s staff so you can cast spells. Most of the enemies in this game are affected by the Web spell. When these enemies are stuck in a web, you can kill them if you want or run right past them. Web didn’t work on short enemies or the dragon hatchlings, so you have to fight them. Use only downward attacks on the short enemies. You might be able to jump past them if you want to try that. The hatchlings are the biggest nuisance here. For them, use the Deflect Dragon Breath spell so you don’t get hurt by their acid and keep reapplying it when the spell wears off for as long as you battle them. They constantly back away from you in close range, so you have to step forward and take a stab or two. Just repeat that until you either kill them or move them far enough out of the way to get where you are going. In general, monitor your health and heal with the Cure Light Wounds spell as often as needed to keep your HP topped off. Save often, as much as you feel comfortable. The Prayer spell might come in handy for a few tricky screens, but it isn’t essential. At the final battle with the dragon Khisanth, first get close enough to engage him in battle. Set Goldmoon as the lead character and press both the B button and Right to throw the staff into the dragon killing him instantly. It is that simple, and it is not even a spoiler since the manual tells you to do this. Grab the disks, wait a few seconds, and enjoy the ending.

In conclusion, yes, AD&D: Heroes of the Lance is a bad game. Poor controls, sluggish movement, drab graphics, a confusing dungeon, and frivolous, unnecessary elements make for an unpleasant experience. I haven’t mentioned the music at all, which is easily the best part of this game. The composer Seiji Toda and arranger and programmer Iku Mizutani did an excellent job with the music and they both deserve far more credit than they have received. The music aside, I would not recommend this game. If you like map making, you might get a little enjoyment here, and it’s not the worst game to play solely by walkthrough if you want to go that route. As for me, I’m really pleased I conquered the game on my own. It feels like a big accomplishment, and that is such a good feeling that makes it all worth it.

#60 – Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes of the Lance

MagMax Box Cover

#25 – MagMax

This simple shooter does not crank up the fun to the max as the name might suggest.

Basic title screen but it does the job.

Basic title screen but it does the job.

To Beat: Defeat the Dragon after Level 4
To Complete: Complete 3 loops
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed 3 loops
Played: 8/20/16, 8/25/16
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10

Playing games at random like I am doing for this blog means that progression is going to be terribly unpredictable. Ikari Warriors and MagMax couldn’t be any more different in terms of time spent beating the game. While I am thankful that MagMax was a very welcome breather in terms of pushing toward the overall goal, the game itself was not all that interesting.

MagMax was released in the arcades in Japan in 1985. All versions were developed by Nihon Bussan. The arcade version was also published by the developer under the brand Nichibutsu. The NES port was released on the Famicom in March 1986. The US version was published by FCI and was not released until October 1988, nearly two and a half years apart from the Famicom release. The game also received ports to the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amstrad CPC all in 1987.

MagMax is a side scrolling shooter. The story goes that aliens conquered the Earth and put the super-computer beast Babylon over the humans. The people fight back by creating a mech named MagMax that is their only hope to take back Earth.

It's pretty slow going starting out.

It’s pretty slow going starting out.

The game has two somewhat interesting gimmicks going for it. The first feature is that as you play you collect and merge the different parts of MagMax to create a fully powered robot. You start off with a basic spaceship that eventually becomes the midsection of MagMax. You can attach the head and legs separately as you come across them. Each segment has its own gun adding more shots to the fray. There is also a wave beam gun that attaches to the head providing even more firepower. You are completely MagMax whenever all four pieces are put together.

The other feature is that there are two separate fields of play and you are able to switch between them periodically. The game starts on the surface and from time to time there will be warp holes that show up. You can choose to descend down the hole and continue play underground. Similarly there are warp holes underground that bring you back up to the surface. The surface has different enemies and obstacles than the underground. The other difference between the fields is in visual perspective. The surface is sort of halfway between side view and top down view while the underground is purely side view. No matter which side you choose, play always scrolls to the right.

The gray warp hole carries you to the underground.

The gray warp hole carries you to the underground.

When only the basic starting ship, it only takes one hit to lose a life. However, as you merge with the other parts of MagMax, both the head and the legs can be destroyed separately which lets you take a bullet and survive. You lose your extra firepower but you stay alive which is a fair tradeoff. It gives you a bit of a cushion to survive until finding other replacement parts to build back up to full strength. It should be noted that the wave beam gun gets destroyed along with the head if that part is lost.

The difference in perspective means that each field plays a little bit differently. On the surface, the full MagMax stands taller than all the enemies, so the bullets fire slightly downward and move forward across the ground. The enemies also fire across the ground, so the player hitbox is merely the bottom part of the MagMax. Bullets that appear to hit the top of MagMax actually travel behind it due to the perspective. The wave beam gun on the surface is a constant beam that drags along the ground in front of the player. This can be used to destroy enemies that are otherwise immune to standard shots.

Having to point the beam downward seems like bad robot design.

Having to point the beam downward seems like bad robot design.

The underground perspective plays by different rules than the surface. The most visible change is that having multiple parts attached gives the MagMax three distinct vertical levels of shooting the standard beam. In effect this is akin to a spread shot. The downside is that the hitbox is the exact size of the MagMax so when fully powered up the hitbox is three times larger than with the bare ship or on the surface. The wave beam gun underground provides a fireball that blasts across the screen cutting through all enemies in its path.

There are many different types of enemies to deal with. They are your typical nondescript robot ships for the most part all with different attack patterns. The surface tends to have more stationary targets, many of which are only vulnerable to the wave beam gun. The underground tends to have more waves of moving enemies that can be destroyed with any weapon. A few elements in the game have unique properties. There is an enemy type that fires a spread of cannonballs when it’s destroyed that can also defeat other surrounding enemies for bonus points. Underground there are stalactites that will fall to the ground when shot. If an enemy is hit by one of these on the way down it is destroyed for bonus points.

You start the game with two lives and you can earn more from points. There is an extra life at 30,000 points and another awarded at every 50,000 points beyond that. It does take some time to accumulate enough points to rack up lives but each one is worth it.

Lots of swarming enemies underground to blow away!

Lots of swarming enemies underground to blow away!

There are four levels in MagMax that blend seamlessly into the next during play. They are the forest, desert, sea, and automated city. At the end of the second and fourth levels you get to square off against Babylon himself. The battle is exactly the same both times and you will come across him on both the surface and underground. After the fight in the fourth stage there is a little bit further to go and then the game loops back to the beginning. Consider the game beaten when this loop point is reached.

This game was another new one for me. I didn’t have much trouble with it at all. In fact I beat the game on my very first try. I kept playing and ended up dying for good early on in the second loop. Even though I beat the game I wanted to take it a step further by playing an entire loop on the surface followed by another full loop underground. That way I get to experience the full content of the game. My second attempt was all I needed to complete that goal.

Having completed all of the surface followed by all of the underground, I can safely say that going underground is significantly more difficult than above. Almost all of the difficulty underground can be attributed to the larger hitbox of MagMax. When fully powered up, the spread firepower is excellent but with the large hitbox it doesn’t last very long. The enemies underground seem to swarm me more. I think MagMax moves slower underground but that may just be me. I did notice that having the legs increases the movement speed and I think that is more important to survival then having the head and wave beam gun. Overall the easiest way to beat the game is to stay above ground as much as possible.

You get a large swath of bullets but you are also a very tall target.

You get a large swath of bullets but you are also a very tall target.

A few days after beating MagMax I did a bit more research and found out that there is a small change even deeper into the game that I should see for myself. After completing three full loops of the game on one credit, the word “MEIGETSU” appears for a little while above the score counter. It is unclear exactly what this means or is supposed to indicate. It seems to translate to something like “harvest moon” or “great moon,” but I have no clue how that applies to MagMax at all. Either way, I went back and beat three loops so I could see the text. I did notice that the game got harder in the second and third loops, so it is possible that this message indicates that the difficulty is maxed out. I didn’t play a fourth loop to see if I could tell the difference. Anyway, now I think I have seen everything there is to see in MagMax.

The NES port of MagMax is really faithful to the arcade version. It looks and plays just about the same. From what I can tell there are only two noticeable differences. The surface view has a neat parallax scrolling effect in the arcade version where the bottom of the screen scrolls by a bit faster than the top of the screen. This effect is not present in the NES port. In the arcade version Babylon moves around a bit so his attacks are harder to dodge than in the NES version where the boss is stationary.

There is a neat minor Easter egg that I noticed right away when booting up MagMax for the first time. The default high score is set to 65,020 which is clearly a nod to the 6502 processor that the NES runs. I think that reference would have been lost on everyone when the game first came out.

The big bad boss Babylon!

The big bad boss Babylon!

I thought it was a bit difficult to pin an appropriate difficulty rating on MagMax. My decision of 3/10 was the first thing I thought off and I decided to make it stick. The game is very short clocking in at around 10 minutes. There are no continues and only a few lives, but the MagMax pieces doubling as an extra hit goes a long way toward extending each life. By staying on the surface and getting some practice it should not take very many attempts to complete one loop. It is not a cakewalk necessarily, but it is easy enough that 3/10 works I think.

It would be easy to cut MagMax some slack if it were released in the US much closer to the Famicom release. It’s not a great game for 1986 though it is acceptable, but the more than two year delay before the US release does not distinguish this game at all from its contemporaries. I know I would be disappointed if I got this game new in 1988. The good thing is now the game is both common and cheap, and it is much harder to be disappointed when both the acquisition cost and amount of time one would reasonably get out of it is so low. Overall this game is not special and it is fine to skip.

#25 - MagMax

#25 – MagMax