As the 16 bit era was coming to an end, Namco had one more title to add to the library of games for the consoles that had welcomed most of its development. With a massive marketing campaign that included previews, interviews and all sorts of articles in magazines like Gamepro and Hobby Consolas (two heavy hitters back in the day in my region) the Japanese developer which had brought us Pac Man released in 1995 a fighting game by the name of Weapon Lord both for the SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.
With a market saturated with Street Fighter clones and ruled by the same fighting franchises, Weapon Lord came as a breath of fresh air (even though two of the main designers had worked for Capcom for many years). The game was centered on the weapons of the fighters, each one with its own unique moves and skills making it perhaps the first weapon to weapon game, before the concept even existed. Though it offered a small roster of characters to choose from, the number of techniques and combos for each of the challengers were very hard to master, remember and apply effectively, in fact, “hard” is a word that you will read a lot in this review. Among the innovative techniques included in the game, there were weapon breaks, thrusts, parries and many others.
The first few times you play the game, you will notice that the gameplay is rather slow, especially if you compare it to other fighting games of the 16 bit era, which does makes sense if you consider all characters are barbarian-like and wield massive weapons, right? Nevertheless, once you get deeper into the game atmosphere you will be glad that the pace is rather calm, considering how much faster you could be defeated if that wasn’t the case. But there is one more aspect where the slow speed is convenient: the pace gives you a few extra seconds to plan your strategy and use a guard drop move, a weapon breaking technique or some other intelligent approach.
Combos generally put me off, but they are the bread and butter of this game, you will need them if you want to get anywhere. What is more, combos performed at the end of the fight will reward you with decapitations, disembowelments, mutilations and all sorts of gory stuff for our twisted pixelated minds. At first, all movements will be rather hard to perform, but as you spend more time with the game they will feel almost natural. What I do suggest is for new players to pick one character and stay with him/her until they feel fully comfortable, this ain’t a button smasher type of game, and you need patience with it.
Fighting games are well known for their lack of good stories, of course there are quite a few exceptions but those are just that and not the rule itself. After all, all we want to do is rip the other player’s head off, right? Why bother with a good background story? Fortunately, that’s another differentiator of Weapon Lord, the story is both original and good: it turns out that back in an ancient age there was a Demonlord that couldn’t refrain from conquering many lands. During his rampage in what appears to be a real estate agent’s wet dream, he meets a shaman that warns him about some children that will be born on the night of the Warrior’s moon and are destined to kill him. The demon couldn’t care less for the shaman’s prediction and goes about his business, but one day, 25 years later, the warriors do come for his life and he welcomes them by hosting a championship where he can defeat them all. Badass, eh?
The story of each one of the challengers is shown only when you manage to beat the game in arcade mode, Korr who is the “Ryu” of the game is a swordsman looking for his lost brother, Bane is a barbarian seeking redemption, Zorn a thief who happens to have a living shield (how cool is that, eh?), Divada is the game’s witch, Jen-Tai an amazon, and Talazia a princess. Finally there’s Zarak, the Demonlord in the flesh. While the past of the characters is only revealed when you finish the game in arcade mode, finishing the game in story mode will show you the fate of the character after defeating the Demonlord, but beware: depending of the difficulty level that you are playing in, you will get to see different endings for each one of the fighters, so in order to beat the game “properly” you have to master even the highest difficulties which is something almost impossible to do.
The graphics are pure perfection. It is a very strong sentence to start the paragraph of a review for a retro game, I know, but it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t put it that way. The SNES version took advantage of the bigger colours palette, but the Genesis port doesn’t fall behind. Each one of the sprites are marvelously crafted, the characters look big and are so detailed, that sometimes you would think of the game as an animated Conan The Barbarian comic book strip. The backgrounds are fully loaded with details and each one of the stages look really different from each other. The animation plays its part in the graphical orchestra of Weapon Lord, with blood exploding everywhere when a character is hit, sparks flying when two weapons clash and flabbergasting finishing moves that will make you stare at the screen to count how many guts there can be in a human body.
Having reviewed the graphics, the sound part would be rather harsh. I split it in two parts, the first one being the sound fx of the weapons; sounds like the “clang” when two swords collide and the effect of the steel penetrating the flesh are awesome but the digi voices of the characters let me down. In the second part is where things go dark, I don’t know if the SNES version has the same flaw, but at least on the Genesis the voices strike me as full of echo, with very poor quality. On the other hand, the backtracks add to the experience with a mix of percussion, heavy rock midis and some modern tunes.
Verdict:- Weapon Lord never received the recognition it deserved, mainly because it was released too late, -barely a few days before the PS One – and to its difficulty, which put a lot of people off. As for me, I will still think of this game as one of the best and most underrated fighting games of that wonderful era, together with Eternal Champions. This holidays, treat yourself with this game, you may end up hating it, but chances are you will become a hard core fan.
Second Opinion:- Weapon Lord's a funny one. It's weapon-based fighting long before Soul Calibur set the world alight by the same publisher on the mighty Dreamcast, but always gets overlooked for one reason or other.
Transbot digs it, as it shows the frailties of all you fleshbags out there - which is nothing but LULZ for this 'bot! Think of it as Samurai Shodown meets Mortal Kombat and you'd be on the right track.
Transbot Scores:- 7.5 out of 10