A playthrough of Capcom’s 1989 license-based action-platforming arcade title, Willow.
Played on the normal difficulty level, default settings.
Willow is one of two separate games Capcom developed based on Lucasfilms’ 1988 high-fantasy movie. But whereas the arcade version plays like a traditional side-scrolling platformer, the NES was a whole different beast – it was an ARPG somewhat like the top-down Zelda games. You can find my playthrough of that version here:
The arcade version, if I can hazard a guess here, is the far lesser known of the two. It is the only game Capcom published in the first year following the CPS-1 hardware’s introduction to not receive a port to a console. I believe it’s also one of the extreme few (along with Nemo) CPS1 games that has never seen a home port at all, even through modern emulation-based compilations. I can only imagine that licensing with LucasFilms has a lot of bearing on that. Do any of you guys know? I’m curious about that one.
The game itself is pretty good. You switch back and forth between Willow and Madmartigan as you run from left-to-right, killing anything that breathes, collecting money, upgrading at shops, and saving random babies. The control is tight – this *is* golden-era Capcom, after all – and the platforming feels natural. Just be sure to keep in mind that Willow is a “pure” arcade experience in how it hungers for your coins. It’s very hard. Maybe it’s not quite Ghosts’n Goblins hard, but if you had played this to mastery in the arcade, you would have gone broke before managing a 1 credit clear. I would’ve never been able to afford to play it as much as I practiced for this video if I had to drop a quarter per every two lives. Oh yeah, and instant respawns upon death? Hahahahaha, good one. No, there’s a checkpoint system in place. If you can’t finish off a boss in one life, you’d best figure it out. No credit spamming here – it requires legit skills and memorization of patterns.
It’s fun, but it’s also very old-fashioned in its design. I tend to think of Willow as the last true “80s” arcade game that Capcom produced. They released a couple more games in 1989, but Willow seems to draw the line of demarcation between their 8 and 16-bit era design philosophies. Willow sits with Strider, Ghouls n Ghosts, and Dynasty Wars in its traditional (though highly refined) style.
But following Willow, Capcom’s next release, UN Squadron, established the more energetic, colorful, and flashy style that defined their arcade games for most of the 1990s. Case in point: Final Fight came directly after UN Squadron. Coincidentally, Final Fight ended up being Capcom’s final official arcade release of the 1980s, just squeaking in under the wire with a December 1989 release date.
So that bit of musing on Willow’s significance in Capcom history aside, it is right on part with their other greats of the time. Just like the game play, the presentation is equally as dated yet still excellent. The sprites are on the small side and the animation is a bit limited, but the quality of the artistry on display here is fantastic. The non-digitized stills of the actors are all easily recognizable, and the backdrops in the outdoor levels really make for some sights to behold. The music is great with classic old-school FM tunes that hit the fantasy mark dead-on, and the sound effects are well done, even including a few muddled digital samples of screams and bangs for good effect. And I really got a kick out of the ending – it’s one of those games that rewards you with a big chunk of digitized speech for a job well done, and I found it really “neat.” I know that sounds corny to say, but cool doesn’t quite say it. It was “neat,” and totally unexpected. The game is already hard enough to provide a sense of satisfaction once you’ve overcome its challenges, but that ending made it feels just a bit more special. All the more so, I would think, if you’d done if after pumping tons of money into it.
It would be easy to say this was a generic fantasy platformer, but that would unkind and unfair. There’s nothing wrong with doing a game that treads familiar ground if it is done well.
And you play as a Nelwyn (midget) and as a Daikini (Val Kilmer), which normally wouldn’t be that exciting, if not for after the South Park movie I can’t help but think of the pair as the “midget in a bikini” from the TV news.
Lodge that association in your brain and I doubt you’ll ever be able to play this again without cracking a smile.
No cheats were used during the recording of this video.
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