Review: Deadly Towers

At the end of 1986, Lenar’s Deadly Towers was released in Japan, followed by an American release the following September. Yet, despite the release coming near the end of the year, Deadly Towers was nevertheless a best-selling title on the NES in 1987. Of course, these were early days for role-playing games on Nintendo’s console, which was yet emerging in terms of its popularity. Clearly the success of the game owes more to the dearth of available RPGs than to its content, because what Deadly Towers doesn’t have is satisfying music, sound effects, gameplay, plot, characterisation, graphics, or, indeed, anything else.

The gameplay is generally typical of NES-era, top-down adventure games. The player controls Prince Myer, a knight, who appears to be clad in some sort of bluish hoodie. The Prince of the Hoodlums has been set a task (according to the instruction manual) by a spirit, who has revealed to him (also in the instruction manual) that Myer’s Kingdom of Willner will be destroyed by an army of demons led by the fearsome Rubas. To prevent this deeply unpleasant situation coming to pass, Myer must sally forth to the mountains of the north and destroy the seven sacred bells in the sacred flame–after which he must destroy Rubas (with a sword, not the sacred flame). Prince Myer leaps into action; his coronation is on the morrow (so the instruction manual relates), and he can’t allow the festivities to be ruined by something as disagreeable as the end of the world. Morover, in Myer’s little Germanesque country, the coronation is probably heralded by the Teutonically officious execution of their ethnic minorities; Myer musn’t delay or the demons may bump off his intended targets first!

The Opening Area

Desperate to ensure that his thousand-year-rule gets off to a ringing start, Myer dons his sacred blue hoodie and picks up his dirk. There are demons to slaughter. Unfortunately for Prince Myer, staying awake all night (as the instruction manual claims he does) to contemplate the future of his kingdom has left the young dictator feeling a trifle groggy. Luckily for gamers, Lenar has a keen eye for this sort of detail, and they have made Prince Myer extremely difficult to control. He slowly plods through the land, throwing little knives that travel only slightly slower than an upset tortoise. But Myer is not irresponsible!–to ensure that each knife meets its target, he refuses to throw another knife until the first has landed. Thus, with one knife on the screen at a time, the plodding prince perambulates persistently towards his pious purpose.

Upgrades may be found–but not easily. For purchaseable upgrades are hidden in dungeons, and by hidden this reviewer means hidden. The entrances to the dungeons are completely invisible; as are the exits from those dungeons within the dungeons themselves. Within the dungeons, the exits are in different rooms than their entrances. Moreover, all of the dungeons wrap around–and, their layout is what some might be willing to call ‘excessively confusing to the point of insanity’. A player could easily blunder into a dungeon purely by accident and never find the way out–for the room the player enters in is not the room the player can exit from. Each room is full of monsters which respawn, and Prince Myer has virtually no way to recover his life. When he dies, the game restarts. He will likely die long before he reaches the exit of the dungeon: the first dungeon has 167 screens whilst the last has nearly half as many again.

Map of Dungeon 4

If Myer is slow, and his sword slower, the enemies of Deadly Towers are not at all so encumbered. Moving with great accuracy and speed, no doubt as a result of being rested for millennia, the demons flap and flutter around the screen entirely unpredictably. Curiously, Deadly Towers has an extremely well developed randomiser. Unfortunately, this renders the game nearly impossible. Enemies move much faster than Prince Myer’s floating butter knife and they also move in entirely unpredictable ways. Rewinding the game in emulation will result in different enemy behaviour each time, so that the game is teeth-gnashingly difficult even with an unlimited ‘undo’ feature. Meanwhile, the repetitive beeps and boops which pass for a soundtrack grind endlessly into the mind of the player, cutting sawtooth grooves along the neural pathways until screaming, endlessly screaming, seems the only escape. The NES was capable of wonderful soundtracks–the Mega Man games, for example, prove this point. Deadly Towers does not have a wonderful soundtrack. It is an auditory torture chamber in which the player is immersed and then ground slowly into dust.

As Myer works his way through the castle, the mountains, the dungeons, the cave, and eventually the towers, he may blunder into a secret ‘Parallel Zone’–a gateway to which exists in each of the towers. In the Parallel Zone, Myer can get equipment which is usually helpful. An exception is the double shot, which shoots two daggers instead of one, and which cannot be shut off. This might seem like a positive boon, but one of the daggers always seems to miss the intended target, leaving the player forced to wait until the other dagger finally ambles to the edge of the screen–only then can the player shoot again. The entrances to the Parallel Zone are as invisible as those to the dungeons–and their exits likewise. It is entirely possible to get lost in the Parallel Zone and never find one’s way out unless one is capable of stepping in literally every available place in the hope of finding the one place which will teleport the player out.

Memorable Boss Fights

The bosses in Deadly Towers have a load of life and take forever to kill–and the final boss has several forms with a significant degree of randomisation to it. As Myer cannot recover his life by any means other than killing normal enemies and hoping for a life-up–and as these do not exist in boss fights–the battle system may be accurately described as ‘punishing’, ‘unforgiving’, and ‘bloody awful’. The reviewer was forced to rewind battles thousands of times until, through sheer luck coupled with manual dexterity, he managed to just squeak through to victory–after which he was forced to descend the entire tower, burn the bell, and repeat the process for the rest of the seven towers which comprise the areas before the final tower itself.

A note on the combat: Prince Myer is not rendered temporarily immune when struck–not even for a moment–though he is knocked back. With monsters that move quickly, Prince Myer can be knocked into the monster itself, and again, and again, so that he can be killed from full life to naught in less than two seconds. For, once hit, Myer cannot be controlled again for a full second or more. Worse yet, the game is full of ‘Deadly Ledges’, which Myer (in his sleep-deprived state) will plunge down if he gets anywhere closer than, say, thirty yards. This results in an instant game-over as well. Monsters can (and will) knock Myer over these ledges, making the chasms far more dangerous than any enemy in the game. Also, bosses respawn–including the mini-bosses in the opening section of the game. Going back through a door that had a boss in front of it will place Prince Myer squarely inside that boss, usually killing him before the player has realised their blunder.

This is representative of the whole.

The rooms and the monsters all look the same, and the bosses are all badly-animated chimeras which leave little impression upon the player (there was a ghost, and a hydra… maybe?). The music is the NES equivalent of an industrial estate’s ambience, the difficulty level is sufficient to wring tears from the most hardcore gamer’s eyes, and the controls are the digital equivalent of trying to pilot Nate Liles through a ball pit whilst hanging on his back, shouting directions into his Lady Gaga-deafened ears. Meanwhile, the littlest Teutonic prince has no in-game backstory and what we do get–from the instruction manual–is the most barebones of outlines, none of which is referenced in the game. And when the game is completed, the player gets a single screen of congratulations in text, along with a picture of the future genocidal maniac secure on his throne, waiting to deport undesireable segments of his population to the work camps where they can be made to produce for the Fatherland and then be made to disappear.

In short, Deadly Towers is a bad game. But more than that, it is the worst game which Caspius has played in many years of playing terrible games. Avoid it–avoid it like the plague it surely is. Avoid it if you value your sanity. Avoid it if you enjoy games. Avoid it because, for a game that actually works, it is amazing how the fine people at Lenar have managed to get everything wrong. Other broken games have done worse–but they are broken. Deadly Towers is not broken and, in the end, that removes any excuses it may have had.

Box Art
Review Grade

Game Information

Title: Deadly Towers

Genre: Adventure

Developer: Lenar

Publisher: Broderbund

Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Entertainment System (NA)

Release Date: 1 September 1987


  1. The fidelity is far too high for it to be a screenshot from this lamentable game.

  2. I go to all the trouble of writing this review, as DEMANDED by our readers, and no one even comments!


  3. Do not despair, Lusi, these things take time. Besides, perhaps the readers are content to cackle maniacally behind the safety of their computer screens, relishing the thought of your torture.

  4. Since I am a reader of this site, this fine review forces me to get out of the darkness of my lurker nature, or maybe I am too lazy . This review is so freaking good, I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and then… I laughed some more xD.

  5. Great review! It makes me want to emulate a short dose of this pain and misery just to know how bad it feels to play. I can only hope this game set a strong example of what NOT TO DO EVER AGAIN, which unfortunately was surely done again and again. Perhaps a suggestion for the next classic masochistic RPG? AD&D: Heroes Of The Lance for NES.

  6. Jeeeezes, I’m not seriously going to play through all this, but I already see what you mean. You went through seven towers of this stuff?? We readers appreciate your sacrifice.

  7. Seven towers, several dungeons, the ‘main world’ AND the final tower.

    Not to mention the seven PARALLEL ZONES. Which are full towers.


  8. I think this is one of the most common “I bought this game because the dude on the front looked badass” games on the NES. I mean, whoever did that picture did a fantastic job. If only he could have designed sprites for the game…

  9. This game sounds fun as shit. By which of course, I mean that playing this game sounds about as fun as taking a shit.

  10. Wait, are we not allowed to use contractions because it makes the 2 reviews you write a year sound far more natural? Sly fox!

  11. I remember the skype call during this playthrough. Fun (read: brain-gratingly aggravating) times.

  12. @Ethos: Two per year? DECADENT! You’ll be lucky if this is ALL you ever get!

    Also, with regard to the contractions, they are largely a function of the fact that it is meant to be a fun ‘feature-like’ post (hence the extended length, as well), rather than something genuinely critical.

    Also, I had no one to proof it, so there’s that as well!

  13. MWAHAHAHAHA the dark plan succeded but what’ll happen this year? will Caspius go down the dark path again and do another top 10 worst RPG’s to review for another $1000+ ? or will he send his croanies to do it?

  14. @Drachonus: Time will tell!

    @Evilpaul: I’ve played Unlimited Saga. Trust me when I say this is (much) worse.

  15. Oh man, I remember playing this game at an aunt’s house. They had a lot more games than I did at home. I didn’t remember this game from the name, but the screenshot made me go “oh, god, THIS game!”. Yup. It was indeed a total piece of garbage. In fact, this comical review is currently the best thing to come out of its existence.

    And I agree with Lusi, contractions don’t belong in professional pieces. But unless your font choice on this site makes it hard to tell, you’ve used en dashes in all the places you should have used em dashes. An annoying criticism for a review of an annoying game! How fitting!

  16. @Mel: Those are actually the website’s version of em-dashes. The incredibly minute difference is something that is part of the WordPress code. Though it has always frustrated me to no end, there is no way to change it that I am aware of.

    Ah well!

  17. I just tried copy/pasting one of your dashes, and it came up in this field as a “–”, and when I enter an em-dash using the shortcut alt+0151 I get — (– —), which is slightly longer.

    But you’re probably right, it’s got to be some dumb coding/font thing going on. Typically two hyphens are supposed to equal the length of a given type face’s em-dash character, but I guess “–” looks a bit ugly.

    (Maybe I’ll get my answer when I hit submit and it converts this courier font to the site’s!)

  18. The way that we type it up here is two hypens side by side. But as you see in your example above, that gets turned into: —
    Unfortunately, we can’t use alt-code characters in our posts; they screw up some HTML rendering and searching.

    You’ll just have to trust me that the actual text shows two hyphens side by side instead of a single hyphen–the same way it is typed up in our professional papers at my University (where Word conveniently converts it for us). The site converts them, too. It just doesn’t do it in a particularly well-designed way. But, again, they are different.

    For example: look at the paragraph above. It contains both a hyphen and a dash. Notice how the long dash is actually longer than the hyphen? So there is a conversion taking place; it’s just not ideal.

  19. Thank you for suffering for us. I was already familiar with this game from the AVGN video. You can only wonder what the developers were thinking.

  20. @Epy: They were thinking, “Hm, in 24 years, someone who goes by the name of Caspius will want to throw up a donation drive for a website using this game as bait. Let’s make it as horrible as possible!”

    Then the other guy said, “What the heck’s a website?”

  21. @SB: I actually used a time machine to go back and do that, just so I could raise $1,000 for the site to pay its bills and buy games for our readers.


  22. @Lusi: I still stand by my assertion that the other guy asked what a website was.

  23. @SB: That was when I started singing TROLOLOL whilst shitting all over the conference table.

    And I think I got it almost right. Also, they fired me (which is why I’m not credited in the game).

  24. @ Lusi: Don’t worry I trust you. Why wouldn’t I trust a man willing to put himself through reviewing….THIS.

    I see now, my post also got converted into a single hyphen when I typed two side by side. But in the RSS feed, it shows up the way it should. The difference seems to be that the hyphen is a bit chubbier than the dashes. How….annoying.

    An annoying correction of an annoying criticism for an annoying game! plays Lion King’s Circle of Life

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