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'Archon' on the NES

A Retro Review

You know what’s a neat game? Archon.

This little game was released to numerous platforms, but the one I played, the only version I ever played, was on the NES. It was made by, like, eight guys. It’s super simple, and it’s really fun.

The setup makes it look like it’s chess, but it isn’t chess, not by a long shot.

There’s a light side and a dark side. The light side has heroes—archers, knights, valkyries, unicorns; and the dark side has monsters—manticores, banshees, trolls. The wizard and sorceress can cast spells like revive, heal, imprison, and when two pieces occupy the same square, you fight, like a fighting game… a really simple fighting game, you just hold the direction you wish to strike or fire a projectile, and mash A. The survivor gets a little life back, and the loser is, well, dead.

You can win the game one of two ways: Either you defeat all the other player’s pieces, or you occupy all five glowing squares. Furthermore, when you meet up on a square, the color of the square determines which side has more power; it’s good to fight on lighter squares if you’re light and darker squares if you’re dark, but half the squares change from light to dark as the turns progress, so there’s also neutral ground, and sometimes you have to fight on your poor color, utilizing all of your button mashing abilities to win; timing is key.

This is both a one-player and two-player game, and for no reason I can determine, it’s fun as all hell. You scream, you cry, you mash buttons, and you taunt the other guy while trying desperately to stab the dragon while it’s spewing fireballs. I’ve played Archon hundreds of times, and to this day, I still like popping this sucker into my Nintendo.

A game will last all of 15 minutes, but it’s an intense 15 minutes.

The Good

Surprisingly, the music, graphics, gameplay, controls, and animation are all terrific considering how old the game is. It’s just fun. It’s stimulating. You get into it, and while there’s really no strategy involved, you end up doing everything possible to win. Sometimes, when I’m a knight—I’m usually the light side—and I have to fight the dragon or shapeshifter, I feel like all of my muscles are tensed and my eyes are about to pop out of my skull, and then when I die, I scream out “Oh!” like the Italian that I am. I even wanna give a “What’s a matta’ you!”

The Bad

Archon is, perhaps, overly simple and repetitive. It really doesn’t matter which side you choose. Both are essentially the same; the golems and trolls are interchangeable. The djini and the dragon are interchangeable. The knights are like goblins, etc., and the greatest portion of the gameplay really comes down to luck.

There are obstacles in the arena—the fire, the daemon heads, the tombstones—and their placement is totally random, so sometimes, you appear on the battle screen, and you’re immediately blocked off, unable to fire off a shot or dodge a blast.

Archon is certainly not the best game the NES has to offer, but it’s far from the worst. It’s an average game that’s really fun to play for 15 or 20 minutes, but after that, you’ll wish you were playing something more recent like Mass Effect or Skyrim.

It’s a game, like, back when video games were games that were played on a television. I give it a C+.

If you’ve never played Archon, give it a shot. You may wanna have the grill on and a six pack beside you, as well as a back up game for when you’re done, but I promise you’ll have a ton of fun for 15 minutes!

On a side note: Archon is one of those games I wish would get some kind of reboot; I've seen a home brew version of it that looked neat. We need more games that are just games, but digital. Games are supposed to be fun; they’re supposed to bring people together for an activity—whether that activity involves, dice, cards, or controllers—and an Archon reboot could do very well.

It doesn’t take too much skill or knowledge to make a 16-bit version of this game with a few more arenas, spells, attacks, and maybe a four-player mode. I mean, the wizard and sorceress can summon elementals, which appear at random as either earth, wind, fire, or water, so why not an Archon 2 that’s based on the four elementals instead of just light and dark? That’s just off the top of my head… but what do I know, right?

Anyway, thanks for reading, and be sure to donate. There are plenty of old games I still need to buy, so that I can review them!

Be sure to check out more of my reviews, too. You can find them all here on my website’s “Video Game Reviews” tab, which links up to all the reviews I’ve written here on Vocal. Stay tuned for more!!!

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