The WiiWare folder: King Arthur’s World

King Arthur's WorldWhile driving amongst the frozen snowbanks of Massachusetts today, I had an epiphany. Or a revelation. Or something.

Basically, I wanted to play a new, updated, wonderfully 2-D version of Jaleco’s Super Nintendo maserpiece King Arthur’s World on either the Wii or the DS.

Since I’m a sucker for video games (Nintendo in particular), I figured this could be the beginning of a series of meandering short posts about games for old Nintendo systems that would do well on the company’s new systems. Call it the WiiWare folder, but in King Arthur’s case, I’m willing to make a DS exception. Just this once.

In the King Arthur’s World you control King Arthur. Various types of troops (engineers, wizards and archers, to name a few) can be summoned from the king’s tent to tackle a variety of enemies, obstacles and all other manner of nastiness, scum and villainy. The goal of the game is pretty simple: proceed from the starting tent to the finishing point, which is usually treasure. If Arthur is slain along the way you lose. You’ll know he’s dead too, because the death knells of characters in this game are a cross between Star Wars’ Jawas and the mini Bruce Campbells from Army of Darkness. The screen also snaps back to his present location so you can witness Arthur’s debilitating doom first hand.

The game is part strategy, part puzzle and there’s even a degree of M.C. Escher thrown into the mix to top things off (the famed artist even gets a hat tip from the cover art). I see a certain degree of King Arthur’s World in LittleBigPlanet, but since that title has been delayed until at least late 2008 (with a possible reschedule to that maligned “delayed indefinitely” month), I figured a title like Jaleco’s sidescrolling Arthurian strategy game was due for not only a Virtual Console rebirth, but maybe even a WiiWare overhaul as well.

There’s always a balancing act with remakes though, and developers should take care to keep the humor, strategy and ingenuity that permeated the original intact. Just as CAPCOM is doing with the new Street Fighter HD title, so too should whoever takes up the mantle of King Arthur’s World–that is, keep it 2-D and polish the heck out of it. And keep it accessible too, just like the original, which was one of the few third party Super Nintendo titles to take advantage of the SNES Mouse. And when I say polish I don’t mean just graphics, because online needs some love too. How about head-to-head battles with user created castles? Storming the castle was one of the cool things about the original, and scrolling from gate to castle keep in the moments after the next level is revealed was almost as fun as heading back to the starting tent to devise a strategy to storm it. A brief confession: my “strategy” in many levels entailed creating as many 5-man Knight squads as the game could handle; I would then send these squads leftward — the game went right to left — and see how many made it to the other side. Either that, or create a catapult and adjust the trajectory “just to see what happens.” But that was also part of the fun; there were many ways to complete a level, and the only instruction you are ever given is how each unit in your arsenal works.

Or how bout a 2-D sidescrolling MMORPG? Or Animal Crossing’s online social networking meets King Arthur’s World’s quirky unit building and castle storming? What if you could level your units and give them new skills? What if this dynamic was fully customizable, leading to completely new units (warrior archers?) that your online allies — you have friends, right? — could hire on to sack an enemies tower? Again, an accessible menu system and point and click control interface would be found throughout.

Of course, this would all be done via the touch screen or with the Wiimote. The control you’d have over your units as they traversed the countryside to certain doom (you forgot to bridge that chasm, didn’t you?) would be leaps and bounds above what yesterday’s clunky controller could provide. In fact, this is the kind of game that could probably be controlled with the IR camera and the A button, and nothign else. That’s pretty accessible. The increased memory and processing power of either system would mean more than the four worlds found in the original too (I’ve actually heard that the DS is four SNES’s taped together with a pencil included, and that the Wii is at least eight).

My closing argument is pretty simple: Any game that has you hurling flaming rocks at an advancing sheep-hungry giant ogre while Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries blasts in the background is a winner in need of a Virtual Console rebirth, at the very least.