North American cover art
Deadly Towers is an action role-playing video game developed by Lenar and exclusively-licensed by Irem as a software title for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was released in Japan on December 15, 1986, and in North America in September of the following year. One of the earliest published role-playing video games for the NES in North America, Deadly Towers was a best-selling title in 1987.
In Japan, Deadly Towers was titled Mashō (魔鐘), literally meaning "Evil Bell". It is a pun of the word mashō (魔性), meaning "devilishness", and in keeping with this theme, the Japanese cartridge contained a red LED at the top which illuminated when turned on. Irem intended the game's English-language title to be Hell's Bells, but Nintendo of America refused to issue the game a Nintendo Seal of Quality unless Brøderbund changed the name.
On the moonlit eve of his coronation ceremony, pensive Prince Myer sits at the lakeside to ponder the future of the kingdom. Suddenly, a shadowy kami called Khan rises from the lake and coalesces into the form of a man. Although he doesn't identify himself, the figure greets Prince Myer by name, and informs him that Rubas, the "Devil of Darkness", is preparing to overtake Willner Kingdom by using seven magic bells capable of summoning an army of monsters.
To ensure peace, Khan says, Prince Myer must travel to the northern mountain to burn the Seven Bells in the sacred flame, burn down the seven bell towers in Rubas' magic palace and, ultimately, defeat Rubas himself.
Presentation and gameplay
Rubas' palace is presented in one-point perspective. The screen scrolls sideways only, except in bell towers, where the screen scrolls vertically. Prince Myer can walk in eight directions, and attacks by throwing a sword. The player earns coins (a currency called ludder) by killing monsters, and can trade ludder at shops in the dungeons for new equipment. The shops are in fixed locations throughout the dungeons, but their inventories may change.
The palace has ten vast, labyrinthine dungeons. The first dungeon-maze has 167 screens, and the tenth has 235. There are 7 bell towers, at the top of which are bosses.
Hidden throughout the towers are invisible portals to a secret area called the Parallel Zone, where the player can find equipment superior to that available in the shops.
Broderbund's relationship with Lenar was facilitated by Scott (Kenji) Tsumura, who worked for IREM and eventually worked for Broderbund to form the Kyodai Software division. Alan Weiss, the Nintendo Producer at Broderbund, managed all product development and worked with Lenar to translate the text of the game. Weiss kept the strange name, Prince Myer, to try and make faithful conversions and not "Americanize" it. The name, "Deadly Towers," came from Ed Bernstein of Broderbund. In response to the difficulty level of the game, Weiss stated: "We did a lot of testing of the game and we didn't actually find it that difficult at Broderbund, and I think we wanted something more challenging than previously published titles to round out our portfolio."
When released in 1987, the game became a best-selling title in North America. As one of the first Japanese action role-playing games to be published in North America (alongside Rygar), Computer Gaming World described it as a new kind of role-playing game that differed from both the console action-adventure games (such as Castlevania, Trojan, and Wizards & Warriors) and American computer role-playing games (such as Wizardry, Ultima, and Might & Magic) that American gamers were previously more familiar with at the time. Deadly Towers was particularly notable for its permanent power-up mechanic, which at the time blurred the line between the power-ups used in action-adventures and the experience points used in RPGs.
Despite the game's commercial success in its time, however, the game has received a more mixed reception from retrospective critiques. In the Video Game Bible, 1985-2002, author Andy Slaven reports that he found the game's varied levels entertaining, whereas Sean Reiley, writing in 2001 for his comedy website Seanbaby.com, dismissed it as the worst Nintendo game of all time. Joystiq suggested the game be released to the Virtual Console, despite that "Deadly Towers is the most frustrating game on the NES. It may be the most frustrating game of all time."
- Adams, Roe R. (November 1990), "Westward Ho! (Toward Japan, That Is): An Overview of the Evolution of CRPGs on Dedicated Game Machines", Computer Gaming World (76): 83–84, "While America has been concentrating on yet another Wizardry, Ultima, or Might & Magic, each bigger and more complex than the one before it, the Japanese have slowly carved out a completely new niche in the realm of CRPG. The first CRPG entries were Rygar and Deadly Towers on the NES. These differed considerably from the "action adventure" games that had drawn quite a following on the machines beforehand. Action adventures were basically arcade games done in a fantasy setting such as Castlevania, Trojan, and Wizards & Warriors. The new CRPGs had some of the trappings of regular CRPGs. The character could get stronger over time and gain extras which were not merely a result of a short-term "Power-Up." There were specific items that could be acquired which boosted fighting or defense on a permanent basis. Primitive stores were introduced with the concept that a player could buy something to aid him on his journey."
- Arnie Katz, Bill Kunkel, Joyce Worley (August 1988), "Video Gaming World", Computer Gaming World (50): 44, "Designed by the same crew that produced the best-selling Deadly Towers."
- Ciprian, Jason (4 September 2009). "Deadly Towers Famicom Flashback: Let There Be Light!". MTV Networks. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
- Reiley, Sean (2001). "The Worst Nintendo Game #1 - Deadly Towers". Retrieved 7 March 2011.
- Tieryas, Peter (8 January 2014). "Talking Deadly Towers NES with Broderbund's Producer, Alan Weiss". Kotaku.
- Andy (2002). "Nintendo Entertainment System". In Slaven, Andy. Video Game Bible, 1985-2002 1. Victoria: Trafford Publishing. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-55369-731-2. OCLC 50185883.
- Fletcher, JC (August 2, 2007). Virtually Overlooked: Deadly Towers. Joystiq. Accessed from May 13, 2013.
- Deadly Towers Instruction Manual. Brøderbund, 1986.