Magic Sword arrived in arcades in 1990 and parted more than a few brass tokens from my pocket. It is, at its heart, a hack ‘n slashers side-scrolling paradise pitting them against hordes of monsters in a giant, multi-floored tower. The graphics also boasted sharp, lavish backdrops, detailed bosses like high flying dragons, and effects for fiery heat and explosive magic brought plenty of flashy excitement to the screen back then.
Each floor could be a short trip, or a grueling fight, to find the key to unlock the exit to the next floor. In between each one, as our heroes ran up the stairs, a short snippet of dialogue would play out to add a little story to the relentless button mashing. The music was decent stuff, but a few tracks were really cool with long, strung out synthesized notes for that creepy exploration feel even though there really wasn’t anything creepy about the game.
Magic Sword was as bare bones about its action as any other arcade game. Players were restricted to playing a muscular, blond pony-tailed hero guy. Upgraded swords were dropped after boss battles. Keys were out in the open, treasure was in breakable chests, and all you had to do was mash the attack button and occasionally jump up on platforms over pits of flaming mystery matter. In addition to a few special bosses, a variety of monsters attacked you ranging from skeletons to moai heads with glowing gems attached to them that came out from the walls. There were also flying monsters like strange, purple things that floated in every now and then. You could also take a lot of damage and heal up if you found food hidden along the way along with a few other power ups such as increasing your attack power to godly for a few moments.
Capcom did add a few things to churn the formula up such as imprisoned NPCs that you can free and who would tag along driven by AI. You could collect keys to free them, but could only have so many making you have to choose who to bring along.
Among them, ninjas had projectile attacks, clerics could protect themselves with a shield, and a valkyrie-type armed with a crossbow helped out. Hidden doors allowed players to skip batches of floors to get to the top faster, and there were even two different endings that players could pick from when facing the evil Drokkmar. Will they take the power for themselves or come out as the great heroes?
Later, the game would end up on the SNES in 1992 and it was an okay port, though the plain jane action probably didn’t do it too many favors in the face of other games that offered a lot more. It also didn’t have the two player co-op that the arcade game did. Magic Sword would also return as part of Capcom’s collection series years later on the PS2 and Xbox which were largely arcade accurate giving a new generation an excuse to give it a try.
The awful box art for the SNES game didn’t do much to help the SNES ad itself which was about as exciting as a blank wall. A few screenshots, some text, and there wasn’t much else to get players who might have never played this game in the arcade to get too excited about it. It’s too bad. I had a lot of fun with it in the arcade for when I just wanted to scratch that itch for heroic combat without too many frills. And the final boss didn’t quite look as goofy.