Test your Bible skills
I may be one of the few people in the world who can be upsold on Kusoge (crap game). I was minding my own business, spending all my money at the local game store. The clerk there, perfectly aware of my infamous lack of taste, pulled out a boxed copy of King of Kings: The Early Years. Usually, I don’t collect boxed NES titles, but the price was right, and he made a convincing argument. I did need another subject for my column. I also could probably use more Jesus in my life.
Perhaps this was God speaking through my friendly neighborhood game dispenser. He led me to the promised kusoge, and it was my sacred duty to play it. I lasted about an hour because, while God may provide, He has no guarantees on quality.
King of Kings: The Early Years was part of Wisdom Tree’s infamous run of games based on the Bible. Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Nintendo had a lot of (very illegal and anti-competitive) rules that it placed on retailers and publishers. If you wanted to sell Nintendo games, you couldn’t also sell unlicensed cartridges. Color Dreams figured out a way around it: Jesus. They rebranded to a Christian-themed company and began developing games based on the Bible.
Christian bookstores didn’t have to worry about Nintendo for a few reasons. First, they didn’t typically carry video games, so they didn’t need to worry about Nintendo withholding anything from them. Secondly, both they and Wisdom Tree didn’t need to worry about getting sued, because Nintendo wouldn’t want to be known as the company that brought the hammer down on Jesus. Also, if they did, Jesus has great lawyers.
King of Kings released in 1991, the same years as Bible Adventures and Exodus: Journey to the Promised Land hit consecrated shelves. It shares the most in common with Bible Adventures in the way that it features three unique games. So, we’ll go through all of them.
The Wise Men
When Jesus was born, a bright star lit up the sky, and these three guys are told to follow it. You play as the Wise Men, who travel on the backs of camels to lavish baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The camel spits, which is appropriate, because that’s what camels do aside from just retaining water. Their spit is laced with a deadly venom that is only effective against certain animals. Which animals? I don’t know. The only classification I can give you is that it’s effective against the animals that are weak to spit. It’s otherwise completely arbitrary. Porcupines? Impervious to hork. Birds? Saliva is deadly against them.
For the animals who aren’t impressed by your steed’s expectorations, you can use fruit. Scattered around some of the stages are various fruits like grapes, pears, or apples. Your camel can eat these, then puke them out with a press of the select button. If an animal or obstacle endures your camel’s spit, you can bet that it hates fruit.
However, it doesn’t matter how much of the wildlife your camel kills, The Wise Men is still excruciating. Wisdom Tree obviously developed King of Kings with the goal of Bible plus video games, and everything beyond that just wasn’t a priority. The game uses no invincibility frames after you take damage, and enemies tend to pop up in spots to exploit this. You’ll often find them at the edge of platforms or beside walls where you can get stuck. It doesn’t help that the camel won’t jump unless conditions are perfect, so it’s completely possible that you’ll latch onto an enemy and just have your health drained.
I struggled through level three. After I finally toppled level five, I checked the manual to see how much pain I was in for. Fifteen levels? Fuck that. Jesus can have a crappy birthday for all I care.
Flight to Egypt
In the next game, Mary and Joseph are taking baby Jesus to… Egypt, I guess. My Bible camp days are failing me here. I absolutely do not know this story.
This is a good place to note that you restore health in King of Kings by stepping on scrolls. The scrolls will give you a quiz on various parts of the Bible, which I’m always bad at. Thankfully, there aren’t that many questions, so I had most of the answers memorized after suffering through The Wise Men. Even still, I definitely have not learned anything about the Bible, since these questions completely lack context. This might be educational if you’re, like, trying to memorize the Bible, but not if you’re just trying to learn from it.
Mary and Joseph are climbing mountains with the assistance of their ass. Their ass is stout and mighty, capable of a kick that is a lot more reliable than camel spit. Flight to Egypt is actually not all that horrible, but it’s still painful enough. The mountain starts getting all these slopes, and the ass doesn’t have great traction. You have to hop repeatedly up certain inclines, which King of Kings doesn’t seem to understand makes dodging obstacles next to impossible, so it happily drops boulders and enemies on you while you attempt to get up these slopes.
I made it to level eight this time. My greatest frustration was constantly having my ass kicked off the edge of a waterfall by a duck. After enough mallard abuse, I checked the manual to see how many levels were in this game. Twelve of them? Fuck that.
Jesus and the Temple
This is another story I don’t know. Apparently, Mary and Joseph are returning from Passover and they “noticed” that 12-year-old Jesus has gone missing. I’m sure there’s actually something to this story, but the description just makes it sound like someone losing their child in the supermarket.
I was struggling through the first level when I gave up. There are apparently eight levels in this one, but my willpower has been whittled down to a useless nub. God has tested me, and I have failed.
To be fair, Jesus and the Temple had no chance of being the secretly good part of King of Kings. The first level has you jump into a river and swept downstream. The water always terminates in a bottomless pit, but the jumping controls don’t like it when your character is being pushed, and King of Kings continues its habit of putting enemies right next to pits. So not only are you mashing the jump button, trying to get Joseph to leap over a pit, but there’s also an enemy there waiting to stun-lock you to your doom.
That’s to say nothing of the music. It’s been extremely bad and very repetitive throughout all of the included games, but it’s the worst in Jesus and the Temple.
So, fuck that.
King of Kings has some weird technical prowess behind it. The pixel art really isn’t that bad, and it uses effects like pseudo-parallax scrolling. Someone knew how to get the best out of the NES, while another someone didn’t care to apply it in any competent way. I say “someone” because the entire development team decided to take an Alan Smithee on this one, and there are no credits.
It’s also amusing to me that King of Kings is one of the few Wisdom Tree titles not to get ported to any other system. A number of their NES titles quickly moved over to the Sega Genesis and DOS. Not King of Kings, though. Maybe that’s related to sales or something technical that I can’t glean from just playing the game. However, it’s worth noting that Bible Adventures and Spiritual Warfare do have some redeeming qualities, and King of Kings is just awful. Maybe not sacrilegious, but definitely a test of faith.
I lasted just over an hour with King of Kings. I normally aim to actually complete the kusoge that I tackle, but there was just no chance here. I’d like to point out that I spent double this time on Mary-Kate and Ashley: Winner’s Circle just recently and actually finished it. So, what I’m saying is, between Mary-Kate and Ashley and Jesus, Mary-Kate and Ashley deserve your worship.
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