Few games are as unplayable as Deadly Towers. Though it was seen as a novel gaming experience back in 1987, retrospective looks have widely deemed it as the most frustrating game on the NES, and in some instances, the worst game on the console (and boy, is that saying something).
Deadly Towers is supposedly an action RPG, with players taking control of a warrior prince who’s out to destroy in evil force within the titular Deadly Towers by burning the “Seven Bells” in a sacred flame.
Problems immediately arise as soon as players step foot in said towers. Our hero has little health, moves at a snail’s pace (while enemies can move across the screen in an instant), and his only means of attack is by throwing swords (which he has a limitless supply of), with only one sword able to be thrown at a time. You have to wait until a sword passes through the screen or hits an enemy before you can throw another.
One of the biggest issues with Deadly Towers is that it’s beyond confusing. The tower in which the game takes place is an absolute maze. And of course there’s no map to speak of, so you’re just going from one garish room to another, hoping you’re making some kind of progress. This is made all the worse by the fact that you often can’t tell what is and isn’t a doorway to another room. Sure, there are a lot of entrances/exists that look as such. But just as frequently you’ll be walking near what appears to be a wall, only for the game to suddenly load another room. Worse still, there are some entrances to rooms that are marked by what I can only describe as scratches at the bottom of the screen, with these same scratches also marking many bottomless pits that lead to instant death! If that isn’t a cheap and poorly thought-out trap, I don’t know what is.
The enemies are an uninspired assortment of blobs, orbs and generic spider and bat monsters. As stated, they move much faster than our hero, and can often drain all of your health in a matter of seconds. In case that wasn’t bad enough, the enemies knock you backwards considerably whenever they make contact, which can send you into another room or off a cliff. I’m not exaggerating when I say I experienced multiple instances of getting knocked back by an enemy into another room, only for an enemy in that room to knock me into yet another room, with the process bouncing me around like a pinball until I died.
Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of Deadly Towers is that, upon death, you start all the way back at the beginning of the game! You do receive a password upon death (a password which, strangely, is already imputed, leaving the player only to press start), but these passwords are ultimately useless. You still start back at the beginning of the game, losing any money you’ve acquired along your journey. The only thing you retain is the boosted maximum health you gain by grabbing health-boosting power-ups. But here’s the kicker; you don’t start out at the new maximum health level. No matter how many health-boosters you pick up, you’ll always go back to the start of the game at 100 health. But hey, you can slowly farm enemies in the vain hope that they’ll drop enough hearts to get you to your new maximum health.
Deadly Towers is not a fun game to play: Between the slow character and attacks, swarms of enemies, labyrinthian level design, unknowable pathways, misleading traps, and constantly restarting the game, Deadly Towers is nothing short of a painful gaming experience. But it’s also butt-ugly to look at, with grossly colored environments being “complimented” by the aforementioned uninspired character designs. And the music is as obnoxious as anything else in the game, consisting of a single track of music that is not only constantly playing, but doesn’t even loop! Instead, the music starts over every single time you enter a new room, so get used to those first few notes. You’ll be hearing them a lot.
Longtime gamers often look back at gaming’s yesteryear with nothing but delight. That’s probably because they’re reflecting on the Super Marios and Mega Mans of gaming’s early years. But there’s also the ugly side to the retro gaming, especially when it comes to the 8-bit era (and the 32/64-bit generation). Gaming was still young, and there was plenty of experimentation to be done. While some of these ideas soared to greatness, others just feel archaic. But Deadly Towers is a game that feels so prototypical and unfinished in every way, that it might just be the poster boy for this uglier side to retro gaming.