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Spiritual Warfare

Genre: Action/RPG Developer: Wisdom Tree Publisher: Wisdom Tree Players: 1 Released: 1994

By now you probably know the tale of Wisdom Tree, that merry band of unlicensed game developers committed to taking the evil from games and giving Bible-based entertainment back to the little children. And while their main hunting ground was Nintendingham Forest, they gave a few coins to the huddled masses of Segashire. One of those was Spiritual Warfare, a port of an NES game. I use the term “port” in its most literal sense: there is practically no difference between the two versions. Wisdom Tree took their 8-bit game and slapped it on the Genesis without any sort of enhancements. To those of use who expected better presentation when a game crosses the divide, they offer only a jolly smile and a doff of their cap before slipping back into the woods.

Let’s envision the day when Wisdom Tree first began designing Spiritual Warfare for the NES. Those well-meaning outlaws probably lined up in front of a target labeled “Neat Christian Adventure Game” and began shooting arrows. Eventually one of the arrows flew true and scored dead-center; the cheery renegades rejoiced…but prematurely. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that they hit the wrong target – one called “Zelda knock off.” And so began the story of Spiritual Warfare, the NES game on the Genesis that tried hard to be The Legend of Zelda with a Christian spin.

I’m serious when I say it was a clone of the first Zelda game. In fact, Warfare stuck tighter to its, uh…inspiration…than, Crusader of Centy did to Zelda III. Warfare even had the same style of screen transitions. Don’t get me wrong: that’s not to say there’s nothing new here. Did Link throw fruit at pagans to convert them or answer a bowtie-wearing angel’s Bible questions in return for health and currency? Of course not, but it’s thanks to these truly ludicrous breaks from the established formula that Warfare tripped over its own feet.

Wisdom Tree tried hard, there’s no question. The adventure encompassed a substantial world brimming with secret rooms, hidden items, and even a few memorable boss battles. On the NES, I have no doubt that such a game wouldn’t be so bad at all. But with a move to the Genesis comes higher expectations, and in the end Warfare was left jumping up and down, trying to brush the bottom of a 16-bit chin-up bar with the tips of its 8-bit fingers. Hardly any onscreen colors, lack of sprite detail, laughably simplistic animation, and an awful black background throughout killed any chances of immersion. The bleepy MIDIs were only a weak shadow of their classic source material, leaving gamers no choice but to reach for the volume dial – especially when combined with nondescript sound effects. This thing was a train wreck, folks, and it quickly became more a question of “is there anything redeemable about this game?” than “is this game any good?”

My answer is this: some who play it may find some positive aspects. I bought Warfare not only because I wanted to own all four Wisdom Tree releases, but also because I thought it looked fun. To me, much of it was fun. It wasn’t very long, but while it lasted it was a comforting romp through the land of ‘80s homebrew video games. Although the quiz angel was tacky, I accepted the challenge of trying to get all of the questions right; although the concept of converting inmates with an explosive sword was silly, I hammered at the buttons and chuckled as demons surged out of their souls. As the single-screen ‘ending’ played, I was pleased and generally happy with my purchase. To most people, though, there’s no point in chasing it down when Landstalker, Crusader of Centy, and Beyond Oasis exist for the same system. (A password length reminiscent of Kings’ Bounty doesn’t help anything, either.)

In the end, Spiritual Warfare was doomed to be left in the past as nothing more than a quirky side note in gaming history. But Wisdom Tree was asking for it. Their inability to generate a halfway believable concept (even by the loose standards of an industry that thrives on supersonic hedgehogs and plumbers who bounce on turtles) and their total lack of effort when it came to upgrading their work for a more advanced system simply slapped a big “PAN ME” sticker on the front of this cartridge. Maybe someday, somewhere, someone will create the Christian adventure game we’ve all been anticipating for so long. One so good it will wash out the bitter taste left in our mouths by the sub par efforts that went before it… like this one.

SCORE: 4 out of 10

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