Developed by: Wisdom Tree
Published by: Wisdom Tree
Release Date: 1992
ESRB Rating: n/a
For: NES, Sega Genesis, PC Review of: NES
Wisdom Tree represents one of the most venerable faces in Christian gaming, having been hard at work since the late 1980?s. They also hold a rather unique place in gaming history as one of the few companies to market unlicensed games on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Those games varied in quality and production values; some of them were clunky, aggravating games. And then there was Spiritual Warfare, Wisdom Tree?s most ambitious project. Drawing unabashedly from the game design of the original Legend of Zelda, this game places you in a city filled with lost souls and malicious demons, outfitting you with a wide range of fruit and other equipment. Although not without its flaws, it remains the best of the ?first generation? of Christian games and is actually a pretty decent NES game overall, a fact conceded to even by sarcastic critics of Christian gaming.
Spiritual Warfare is a Zelda-style adventure game with a play time of somewhere between 10 and 20 hours. In that course, your character runs around different parts of town, saves souls (translation: kills the baddies), grabs money and hearts dropped by the baddies, goes into buildings, maneuvers through various puzzles (including the ever-popular push-the-barrel kind) and tries to find equipment that will allow him access to previously inaccessible areas. The currency of the game consists of spirit points, and those can be redeemed in stores for better goods or equipment. The game even lets you ?pray? and convert your spirit points directly into energy, which actually can come in quite handy with a couple of the tougher bosses. Equipment in the game includes different kinds of fruit of the Spirit (your primary weapons, each with their own special abilities and limitations), explosives (aptly called Vials of God?s Wrath), and health aids (anointing oil). Spiritual Warfare?s answer to the boomerang is Samson?s jawbone, and, as expected, the Sword of the Spirit flies across the screen with all the gusto of Link?s Master Sword. In the spirit of keeping it somewhat educational, you will occasionally encounter a flying angel who asks you a set of five Biblical questions, primarily from the New Testament. Each correct answer will yield you spirit points, and getting all of the questions give you bonus points and health. The questions are reminiscent of evangelical Protestant Sunday School, and most people who went through that track will get them. One bizarre flaw in this game, and the single greatest object of frustration for me, was the password system. Spiritual Warefare has the longest game save passwords I?ve ever seen, requiring an astounding 32 case-sensitive alpha-numeric entries. Writing down those passwords was such an ordeal, and the risk of getting something wrong so great, that almost seemed faster to just start the game from scratch.
Spiritual Warfare is an 8-bit game designed primarily for the original NES, and although it won?t be confused with the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3, it compares favorably to games from the earlier years of the NES lifecycle. The various regions in the game are all uniquely designed and there is a respectable variety of lost souls to save as well. The character sprites in the game aren?t overly elaborate, but they are respectable and have just enough color to give you a pretty good idea what they are. I also found this to be one of the better-programmed of the Wisdom Tree games; there were very few glitches or hiccups to speak of.
For a game that is otherwise pretty solid, the soundtrack is disappointing. While the sound effects are decent enough, the game features only one in-game soundtrack, a medley of gospel hymns that feels out of place, not to mention repetitive. This is particularly disappointing in later portions of the game, for example, when the hero descends into a demon stronghold to confront greater evils. It is here that more appropriate mood music could really have created an atmosphere of tension and made this game pretty good. Instead, the same singular soundtrack persists. On a brighter note, I do like the use of the Hallelujah Chorus theme after answering Bible questions correctly, a bit later appropriated beautifully in Catechumen.
I found surprisingly little difference in the overall feel of the controls of Spiritual Warfare versus Zelda, which is a real positive. Like Nintendo?s Hyrulian adventure, your character moves around with the directional pad, and the B and A buttons are mapped out to primary weapons and secondary equipment, respectively. The controls are responsive, and the hit detection is pretty reliable. The menu system, which is where you configure your B and A button items, is easy to use and even has a handy caption bar that tells you what your stuff does.
I suppose some segments of Christendom might take theological issue with parts of the game, but other than that, it?s really hard to argue with the game?s appropriateness. It was a Christian game designed to be a game Christian parents could feel safe letting their kids play, all the while knowing that their kid was also learning more about the Bible. Spiritual Warfare delivers on all of that. True, there is violence of a sort in the game, but it seems such a minor gripe when you consider what the game tried to accomplish. This was a game that let you blow up demons and take Bible quizzes for the right to buy bigger weapons to blow up more demons. Doom, eat your heart out.
As a lifelong fan of adventure and role playing games ? and given that those genres remain relatively empty in Christian gaming ? there is much to like about what Wisdom Tree tried to do with Spiritual Warfare. Playing the game through, you really begin to see the amount of attention and care that went into crafting this game. It?s just a really fine production. And although the sound lags a bit behind the rest of the game, the other facets come together quite nicely to create a game that deserves better than simply being labeled a Zelda clone. Spiritual Warfare is a good NES game on its own merits. I?ve heard stories of non-Christians who disparage the game for its Christian content but still wind up playing it through anyway. That speaks volumes. And for those of us who are Christians, the Christian content of this game makes it even better. The passage of time has diminished the visual luster of this game, but don?t call it extinct just yet. The game remains a little pricey, but to this day Wisdom Tree will dutifully sell copies of the game in NES, PC, and Sega Genesis formats through their website, which can be accessed via the sidebar on the left.