At a Glance: Spiritual Warfare attempts to tackle the difficult topic of religion in a medium not known for its intelligence or ability to deliver messages of a profound nature. Religion is not an easy subject to approach, especially in an environment known for its simplicity. That's why Spiritual Warfare is not just a landmark title in the annals of video game history, but it also an important addendum to no less than the Bible itself. While many theologians of the era were confining themselves to the realm of books, debates, and sermons, the bold people at Wisdom Tree were part of an elite few who observed that the NES gaming platform was where the real spiritual growth and development was taking place. While the churches were static in their willingness to change, an undercurrent of radical religious thought and expression was being nurtured in the 8-bit world thanks in part to revolutionary and thought-provoking titles like Noah's Ark and King of Kings (the inspiration behind Metal Slug and similar titles). Spiritual Warfare is perhaps leader of the pack, boasting non-linear exploration, in-depth quests, Bible trivia, fruit-based low intensity conflict, and the fight to save souls. This game attempts to cut through the thick layers of doubt and hopelessness we often shield ourselves in, leaving us exposed to the greater glory of God. In charging the player with no less than carrying out the Lord's Will, we become more than just players, but soldiers in the most awesome war of all! Sadly, though, even with its strengths, the game is not without fault. Its message often suffers from a lack of clarity.
Platform: NES (Download Emulator here - 192k)
Download: Download ROM here - 48k
Game Plot: The city - your city - is plagued with a flood of sin and demonic possession. The people have given up on morality, instead choosing paths of homosexuality, violence, madness, savagery, greed, and unsafe bicycle riding. As a vessel to the Will of God Almighty, you are to wage a spiritual war to save the people of this modern Sodom and Gomorrah from themselves. You will not fight alone, for the angels are at your side, ready to guide and help you as only they can, by selling you weapons and honing your Bible trivia skills. And the saved, God bless them all, are there to help you as well. It seems their faith prompted God to shield their innocence from the marauding sinners and sodomites. But these good Christians are few, and so you will be on your own a great deal.
As such, there is some law and order remaining, both in the form of the saved and those who are required to operate the trains and pawnshops. It seems all parties respect their neutrality in this holiest of battles. Whether the fact that the train conductors still demand a ticket means that God has no sway over them or that God works through the natural order of the universe, I haven't the intellect to fathom. I just know that those poor souls keep the rails moving even when surrounded by a world of madness. The pawnshop is perplexing as well, because it seems to have an agreement worked out with Heaven. If you are to lose your way while playing the game and commit a sin, the angels will punish you by removing an item of importance and putting it up for sale in the pawnshop. I don't recall any stories like that in the Bible, but times are much different now, and so God and the angels would logically have to employ new methods.
The overall goal is to collect six pieces of holy armor, which will aid you in overcoming the source of this demonic infestation. Acquiring this armor will not be easy, as each component is guarded by a different endboss. However, as you complete the suit of armor, you will note that each piece gives you a new ability. For example, the Belt of Truth imbues you with not just the power to move boulders, but also the power to move garbage cans, suitcases, and barrels. The Breastplate of Righteousness reduces your damage in half by apparently protecting half of your chest from the vicious attacks of your enemies. There are even shoes that let you walk on lava, provided your faith in God guides you that far into the game.
Weapons: The primary weapon God has given you in this holy war is an unlimited supply of fruit. Eventually you get a sword, but you're going to spend most of the game chucking fruit at people. Truly it is a miracle of the highest sort when your hands can dispense more fruit than even the most plentiful of trees. While you could turn this amazing gift towards feeding the starving, you will instead use it to transform sinners into praying children. These children will then disappear, presumably into the Kingdom of Heaven. Is there nothing good fruit can't do right?
Some of you may argue that this is a rather horrifying concept. That transforming your enemies into children, through the miracle of fruit, does not in fact save them, but rather replaces them with some one else. A concept such as that would be more in line with a nefarious alien takeover, where people are abducted and replaced with sinister doppelgangers. Spiritual Warfare depicts no real transformation of character, instead salvation occurs instantaneously through bodily contact with fruit. Are we to believe that the quickest route to salvation is to simply turn to sin and hope that we ourselves are on the receiving end of a barrage of holy fruit? I have to question the ambiguous method in which enemies are smote. Are they being saved quickly and without any sacrifice on their part, or sent to Hell? And if they are in fact being sent to Hell, why are they converted into praying children first? That, to me, adds insult to injury, and suggests God is completely insane. Wisdom Tree should have thought this out more clearly.
Perplexing fruit aside, you are also equipped with a near inexhaustible supply of "Vials of God's Wrath." Contained in designer bottles that would make any perfume manufacturer jealous, God's Wrath seems to be a napalm-like liquid that produces an exploding effect capable of destroying piles of junk, wooden barrels, forklifts, enemies, and not much else. What is fascinating is that even when the explosive flames devour your enemies, they still revert to praying children, and then of course are transported to either Heaven, by way of unearned salvation, or the infernal depths of Hell.
You can buy new fruit and upgrade existing fruit supplies through makeshift stores run by angels. The favored currency used by the angels are spirit points, represented by doves. You acquire spirit points by shooting people with fruit or blowing them into praying-child-shaped smithereens. While one would think that God would simply provide you the tools necessary to get the job done, it is quite evident that his Kingdom is definitely not communist in nature. This is an important inclusion, because you will battle businessmen along the way, and that might suggest that this game opposes capitalism. Obviously, including a capitalist market dispels any communistic assumptions. But this, too, sends a bizarre message. We clearly see that the hero is not altruistic, but profiting in a strange way through his even stranger work. Profit plays a central role in motivating the player to save more people. Is this in line with the Bible?
There are also location-based weapons in the form of dynamite bundles. Located inside some buildings, and outside as well, these explosives are unique in that they combust upon mere contact with fruit. You will need to detonate the dynamite strategically in order to solve some puzzles and to also get close to some enemies - particularly the Arab terrorists you will encounter along the way.
All and all, the arsenal is satisfactory. While it isn't as intimidating as one would hope, it is an ideal example of the Lord's modus operandi. Fruit would seem useless, albeit delicious, if not for the fact that, through faith in God, the fruit is more deadly than any bullet. Unless of course it was a bullet fired from the gun of someone who has faith in God. But nonetheless, fruit is indeed all you need if God is on your side. Most people would expect something other than fruit, so you have the element of surprise on your side. In fact, just imagine the thoughts running through someone's head as they collapse to the ground after being hit in the face with holy grapes. I think a fate like that would really make you reflect on life and the way you lived it.
Enemies: The enemies of the Lord are powerful and many. They wait at every turn to endanger those who choose to follow the path of righteousness. Here are a select handful of the enemies you will encounter on your daring journey.
Demons: These wretched wraiths will occasionally spawn out of the body of a defeated enemy, and pursue you through any obstacle. You will need to act quickly to defend yourself, and that means always being ready to rapidly strike twice with your fruit, so as to defeat the demon before it ever gets close.
Cult Members: Draped completely in outfits of crimson, the color of the devil's flesh, these dark servants have ensnared themselves in the neighborhoods to corrupt the citizens in their homes. Agents of hate and horror, they rape minds until what is right seems to be what is wrong, and what is wrong seems to be what is right.
Rapists: Clad in blue jeans and wife beater shirts, these vulgar men roam the parks looking for women to violate. They sport goatees, sunglasses, and knives, so be careful! It has yet to be determined if they will merely rape you, cut you, or subject you to a satisfying combination of the two. However, there is no room for such curiosity and exploration in the Kingdom of Heaven, so stick to business.
Cavemen: In perhaps the last stage of sin, man regresses to his most primitive form. It is not known if these primitive men are part of an alleged lost race like Homo erectus, but if they are, then I think this game has seriously perjured itself. The idea of putting something that validates evolution in a game based around Christianity is truly outrageous.
Homosexuals: Don't let their metrosexual looks confuse you - these abominations are out to destroy you. Dressed in pink suits, they congregate in bars where they spread their vile AIDS contaminant. Getting AIDS would seriously impede your quest, as there are no power-ups that restore t-cells. Slap some fruit in their eyes.
Bicyclists: In one of the stranger moments, you will have to take on possessed bicyclists who ride wildly around with little regard for safety. In the name of God, put the breaks on their insane joyride!
Union Workers: Easily one of the more menacing threats out there, these lazy workers are scattered throughout the warehouse, downtown, and interior areas. Known to throw wrenches, blast the ground with jackhammers, and chase you, Union Workers represent a serious threat. Furthermore, the colorful language they use is disrespectful. You should pray for these men.
Dogs: Impervious to every weapon in the Lord's Arsenal, canines represent the strongest threat to salvation. Neither fruit nor the Vials of God's Wrath can harm these acrimonious beasts.
Arab Extremists: When moving about downtown, you will encounter bomb crazy Arab terrorists attempting to cripple the city's infrastructure by placing large amounts of dynamite. They themselves are immune to the dynamite, but you aren't, so be careful and ready to shoot from afar. I'm not sure these guys are actually Arab, but I thought it would make this review a lot more edgy if I went ahead and said that they were.
Teenage Vandals: The ignorance of youth is easily exploited, and Satan has done wonders with these young rebels. Armed with spray paint, they mark their territory just as the Beast marks his victims. How natural it is that they emulate the dark master they serve, attempting to conceal the light of salvation behind a thin veil of spray paint.
Cars: Mindless and indifferent, the traffic roars back and fourth through the roads with reckless abandon. Gone is any respect for the sacred edicts of the highway transportation system, for these gasoline-powered steeds roar east and west, north and south, with no discernable respect for laws, lanes, pedestrians, or God himself. If the River Styx were a road, these would be the boats with wheels that drive on it.
Winos: Located primarily in slums, the winos can be identified by their drab attire and bottle of booze. These are foolish men who replaced God with alcohol and ended up drunk instead of saved. How foolish!
Businessmen: Greed can do nasty things to men. It can even turn them into mindless savages that run back and fourth through the streets. I don't know if I'm out of line here, but it sure looks like these businessmen have big noses. Could this be a subtle insult towards the Jews? Would Wisdom Tree do such a thing?
Old Men: The wrath of age has driven these men insane, and set them on an endless mission to climb up and down the same irregularly wide ladders until you save them with your fruit or holy bombs.
Gangbangers: Various parts of the city are overrun with gang activity. Gangbangers come in different colors and fight in different manners, but stand out thanks to their ghetto looks. Some gangs are armed with guns while others prefer knives or hand-to-hand combat. If you end up on gang turf, expect to have to defend yourself like any good Christian: through prayer and throwing fruit.
Other threats include prisoners, prison guards, and what I assume are joggers, just to name a few.