If there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of this game, it’s a heartfelt appreciation for what reviewers of bad video games go through. With a bad book or movie at least you have a general idea of when it will be over (with exceptions like Tree of Life, which can miraculously turn ten minutes into a century), but a bad video game has no visible end on the horizon. Also, while a great movie or novel can be in their own ways just as immersing as a great game, bad video games draw you into their own twisted, depraved universes in a way uniquely their own. Yes, sitting through Halloween 4 : Return of Michael Myers can be painful, but at least you don’t have to play through a tedious mini-game where you have to form the lynch mob that tries to chase down Michael Myers.
Sadly, by now I am genuinely curious how Spiritual Warfare ends. Plus…I can’t let it win.
Anyway, in the last episode we saw NotLink get a belt that gave him superstrength and allowed him to push aside the boulders inexplicably blocking the only path from the park into the city, which is also infested with murderous atheists. As soon as you go downtown you run the risk of getting trampled on by businessmen stomping back and forth. Also trying to kill you are…construction workers. Some of them are badass enough to leave behind dynamite, which at one point caught one of the businessmen in the blast, causing him to convert. That’s a great message for a Christian video game: converting to Christianity is equivalent to being blasted into a pile of guts on the ground. But then there are the ones who instead of leaving behind dynamite they erect barriers in the path to the next screen. They don’t really accomplish anything except delay your progress for a minute or two while you have to leave and re-enter the screen to make the barriers disappear – and of course generally adding to the game’s anti-fun/pro-suckage factor.
There are a few things I forgot to mention last time, too. One is that something else they forgot to steal from Legend of Zelda is the map function. Now the map from Legend of Zelda is pretty crude, but it still tells you where you are in the overworld and helps give you some idea where you’ve already been. Here you got nothing, and it’s made worse by the fact that the game never gives you a clear overall objective. Sure, once in a while you run across a kid with dead, soulless eyes who tells you that you have to pick up “x” item to get to “y” area and every now and then there’s a boss fight (but nothing that can be called a “dungeon”), but while The Legend of Zelda told players to look for the eight labyrinths for the pieces of the Triforce, as far as I know in Spiritual Warfare the storyline is just some kid who is going around killing as many people as possible but is hallucinating that he is saving their souls. The ways of the Lord may be mysterious, but the ways of Spiritual Warfare doubly so. The music only makes figuring all this out even worse. Like any crappy video game from the 8-bit era, it’s just one terrible, ear-shredding song, and it never stops, no matter where you are or no matter if you’re just in the overworld or fighting a boss. At least it gave me an excuse to switch in some music that better complimented the game experience.
Finally, there’s the fact that you get Bible quizzes. Instead of fairies you occasionally run into an angel, and sometimes there’s dozens of them flying around and sometimes they never show up at all, another sign of a well-programmed game. Anyway, when you touch one, you go right to this screen where a creepy pedophile with a bowtie asks you questions about the Bible. Because it’s not enough for fundamentalist parents that their knock-off game shoves its religious themes down not just your throat but every orifice, no, the game also has to try to capture all the excitement of a Sunday school lesson. Now even with my failed religious education I could answer about 90 percent of the questions; if you knew that “sin” and “salvation” had something to do with why Jesus getting crucified was a good thing and about the whole “son of God” thing you already got half the questions covered. Still, once in a while you’ll get a question like “Was the person the sorcerer Elymas tried to corrupt a proconsul or a tetrarch?” and that’s when you ironically take the Lord’s name in vain when the pedophile frowns at you like a smug, self-righteous ass. See, doing well on the quizzes actually kind of matters, because answering all the questions right in one go restores your health and since the game is usually stingy with the health power-ups dropped by enemies, more often than not you need to get a perfect score if you just give half a damn about whether or not your character dies.
(Gee, maybe the answer is Satan! This game certainly feels like it’s the Word of Satan, at least.)
I had a lot of this in my mind as I had to run across the whole downtown area – construction workers blocking my way and all – because I went to a locked room first and the key was way on the other side of the downtown map. I was hoping that I finally came across a dungeon; instead it was more side-scrolling rooms with easily killed enemies and then, suddenly, one of the most frustrating boss fights I had in my entire experience as a gamer. It starts out as another side-scrolling room with ladders, but there are these blocks that obstruct your way that randomly appear and disappear across the room. Meanwhile this guy wielding a wrench or something, who looks like one of the regular enemies, shows up, but you can’t harm him with your normal attack; instead you have to blow him up with your bombs. When you blow him up, another shows up, and in the end you have to kill three of them. Now I swear, I went through five lives fighting them and both where the bosses go and how the blocks move are all completely random so it’s really mostly luck whether or not you survive, much less if you can pull off blowing up the bosses. And it doesn’t help that the bombs take forever to explode. At least this is the only point in the game so far where the enemies don’t just start praying; you really do kill them.
After all that, you meet another angel who gives you the Breastplate, which like the armor from Legend of Zelda reduces damage by half. In addition, it lets you get into the Airport area. I was hoping you end up fighting a Catholic or Hindu pilot who tries to kill you with a plane, but what I did get actually surprised me – an Airplane! reference.
I mean, yeah, it’s one of the more obvious references you could make, but…kudos, Spiritual Warfare! Here’s hoping that the programmer who put that in there wasn’t forced to do penance for acknowledging the existence of an evil secular film. Also, believe it or not, in the Airport area and the next area I stumbled across, the Warehouse area, enemies start showing sings of actual AI, rushing directly toward you or targeting you with projectiles. Now, one of the enemies are these annoying gangsters who fire bullets that knock you backward and can reach much further and faster than any weapon you have so far, which means that in one area you have no chance of getting through except by depending on that temporary invulnerability you get from being hit, but still…actual challenge! The game is finally reaching for the stars.
Of course, since this is a Wisdom Tree game after all, my good will was short lived. First off, the Warehouse area is just a confusing mishmash of stairways and buildings you have to run through, and for all that I still didn’t seem to find anything important. Figuring that maybe I skipped an area I was supposed to go to first, I backtracked to the downtown area and found…a Bar. Because this game isn’t about the religion whose founder was known for reaching out to prostitutes and other outcasts, just going into a place that serves alcohol is enough to get the game to actually punish you (well, punish you beyond the experience of actually playing it).
First, it isn’t enough that you’re a kid sent to fight a whole city of murderous sinners on your own; you have to go to a slum to reclaim one of your items. Plus, you have this game where the whole premise is that you’re supposed to be saving souls, even the souls of all these crazy atheists who inexplicably want you dead, but you can’t go looking for lost souls in a bar! That’s Great Lesson #2 for the Christian kiddies. Third, you don’t see anything else but the empty room and the angel. Did the angel set up this whole bar just to trick you into doing something he punishes you for? That’s some Old Testament-style dickery there. To be fair, though, maybe the game designers were getting their theology from the Book of The Adam West Batman.
Well, that was all I could take for now. Will I recover the Belt of Truth from the slums, or will I end up stabbed by a crack addict? Tune in next time, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!