‘Deadly Towers’ Famicom Flashback – Let There Be Light!

“Deadly Towers”; it’s a title that often provokes looks of disgust (among other things) from gamers that are old enough to have owned a Nintendo Entertainment System. In spite of this, twenty-three years after I played the game for the first time, I’ve finally found some kind of a redeeming value about the worst game that I have ever played.

Quick history lesson: When Nintendo brought the Famicom to the United States one of the things that they changed in their licensing deals with the publishers was control of the manufacturing rights for the actual game cartridges. In Japan, the a handful of publishers had the right to manufacture their own carts, and sell them in whatever form they wanted to, as long as they were playable on the Famicom.

However, in the U.S. Nintendo placed firm restrictions on cartridge manufacturing, and they were the only company that could legally produce the game paks. It’s a really fascinating story, but it explains why Famicom games come in a rainbow of colors, as well with additional technological advances (like Konami’s VRC7 sound chip), and most NES games came in a very standard grey, with the exception of the non-licensed games from Tengen and Color Dreams, among others.

“Deadly Towers” was one of those grey cartridges, and it has managed to sit atop my worst games, since it was released for the first time in the States in 1986. Prior to its release here, the game was released on Nintendo’s Famicom in Japan, with one key difference, which ups its awesomeness factor slightly.

I recently purchased a Famicom, and along with my eBay purchase came an assortment of 8-bit RPG games that I’ll most likely never get around to playing, much less understanding. Mixed in with that bunch of games was a copy of Irem’s “classic” “Deadly Towers,” and, much to my chagrin, I had to pop it in, and play a little it in order to test it. Before I put it in my Fami, I noticed that it had a small, plastic circle in the middle, towards the top of the cartridge, which looked like a plastic button, but didn’t do anything when I pressed it. However, when I placed the game in the Famicom, and turned in on, and BOOM, like a beacon of hope, a bright red light was now shining from the cartridge.

It was as if the game itself was telling me, “Stop, don’t play this.” It was the same crappy game, with horrible controls, and no real point, but this version, for whatever reason, had its own light. While this is an innovation that wouldn’t have made sense for most of the life cycle of the NES, it’s still kind of intriguing to find something so unexpected from a game that I had written off since I was eight years old.

The Japanese always get all the cool stuff. Even their really bad stuff is better than ours.