The last few games I’ve reviewed for the Vectrex haven’t exactly knocked my socks off, so I decided to revisit one of my favorites. Fortress of Narzod can’t really decide if it is a fantasy or science fiction game. The name “Narzod” would work just fine in either a low rent sci-fi or fantasy film. (My apologies if you’re reading this and your name happens to be Narzod.) In the game you pilot a hovercraft (sci-fi element) in pursuit of an evil wizard (fantasy element). But, whether fantasy or science fiction, Fortress of Narzod excels in every area, making this one of the must-have games for the Vectrex. Narzod is one of the few 8k games for the Vectrex system, and the added memory really shows in all aspects of gameplay.
Your purpose is to fly your hovercraft up to the fortress of the evil wizard Narzod, passing three stages before finally entering. Once you’re in the fortress, you then battle the Mystic Hurler who, according to the manual, even Narzod fears. So, that begs the question: am I there to battle Narzod (which never occurs) or rescue him? Perhaps I’m evil too, and this is an errand of mercy. More likely, this is a case of the manual’s writer not conferring with the writer of the description on the box. This seems to happen somewhat frequently with Vectrex games.
Premise aside, this is a vertical shooter with excellent 3D graphics. The game’s overlay provides a nice depth that adds to the 3D feel. The approach to the fortress is well rendered, your hovercraft looks great, and so do the various enemies. It even looks good when your hovercraft explodes, which is fortunate, since that occurs pretty regularly. The game’s designers must have realized that it was challenging, as you start with five hovercrafts. How many games give you five lives to start? Not many. At the conclusion of each level, you’re informed “You May Pass” and I sighed in relief every time I saw that. You can then fly up through the portal and begin to battle the next onslaught.
As you begin the game and you’re treated to a nice rendition of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” The rest of the game’s sounds are mostly shooting and explosions, but I never got tired of them.
Narzod offers challenging gameplay with a frenzied attack of enemies. The 3D environment is put to good use, as your own shots can ricochet off the walls. This permits some clever lines of attack, but it also allows your shots to bounce back and hit you if you’re not careful. It is frustrating to realize at the moment of impact that the shot blowing up your hovercraft originated with you.
Ground attackers take multiple hits from a distance to be killed, but can be dispatched with only one shot at close range. Flying attackers, called warbirds, leave carcasses behind after you shoot them. These can impede your movement, but also block enemy fire until they wither away. You can also employ some strategy in deciding if you want to shoot the missiles enemies fire at you. In early stages it makes sense to do so, but in later stages the missiles break into smaller projectiles, only increasing the threats you face.
Narzod features a total of four levels. There are three roadway approaches to the fortress and then a level inside the fortress walls. I hate to admit this, but I’m going to confess I have yet to make it inside the fortress. The warbirds on the third level are brutal. And yet, after quite a bit of gameplay, I’m not frustrated. This game just keeps me coming back for more. Its fast-paced gameplay and great graphics keep drawing me in. I believe that, had the Vectrex’s life not been so short, Narzod is an excellent example of the spectacular games we might have eventually seen on the system. As it is, if you only ever play one Vectrex game, Narzod is worthy of your consideration. And, if you make it to the Mystic Hurler, take a photo and send it to me. I’d like to see what that guy looks like, aside from his rendition on the back of the box.