Wednesday, March 7, 2012

8BE-Holy Diver
Irem decided to
"ride the tiger!"
Wait. Isn't Holy Diver a Ronnie James Dio song? Are you trying to tell me that in 1989 Japanese company Irem released a game based on a (ball rocking) Ronnie James Dio song?

Yep and yep. Commence with headbanging. 

Considering the game was only partially localized and never released in the US, details surrounding Irem's Holy Diver are sparse. The game opens without any cutscenes or backstory, dropping our familiar-looking protagonist outside a ruined church in a thunderstorm. And why do I say "familiar-looking protagonist?" Compare Holy Diver's game sprite to images from the Ronnie James Dio video:
Dio is Holy Diver
Coincidence? I think not.
Further play shows similarities beyond mere coincidence. Holy Diver is, beyond doubt, a Ronnie James Dio-inspired NES game.

Holy Diver is a Castlevaina/Metroid clone. The game is an insanely difficult side-scrolling platformer (a la Castlevania) with RPG power-up elements (a la Metroid): collectible Magic Spells upgrade Dio's attack. And right off the bat, the baddies running amok on the first screen of Level 1 echo red-hooded druids from Dio's video.

Stage 1 is an amuse bouche for the knuckle-breaking difficulty of the overall game. After picking up the block-busting bracelet baddies are relentless and legion. Good thing Holy Diver offers infinite continues. The stage's Goat Man boss, however, is a pushover. Use Twin Fire magic and shuttle Ronnie to fiery volcano.

For defeating the Goat Man in Stage 1, Dio receives Blizzard magic, and in true video game fashion, Stage 2 requires its constant use. Blizzard freezes the lava flows (and lesser enemies) allowing for safe passage through the fiery hell.

Once you get the hang of using the Blizzard spell, Stage 2 offers little challenge. It's pretty much Stage 1 + Waterfalls of Fire. Be sure to pick up the health extender powerup on the way. Defeat the parasite-looking Level Boss to gain powerful Breaker magic.

Level 3 Boss
Did Georgia O'Keefe design this boss...?
Stage 3 is where Holy Diver begins to rock as hard as Ronnie James Dio. Baddies spawn everywhere, many of whom are invulnerable. Here Dio picks up his second item of the game: Jump Boots. They change the gravitational center of the room in one of four directions depending on your magic...just kidding. Jump Boots make Dio--you guessed it--jump higher.There's also a feather-looking powerup which gives more magic points.

Two worms guard the end of the Stage, but as long as you filled your magic, its all copacetic. Two hits of Breaker magic work better than DDT (the pesticide, not Jake The Snake's finisher).

Golem danceThe reward for besting Stage 3's vagina worms is Overdrive magic. Overdrive circles Dio with two orbs of Rock n' Roll death, pulverizing the baddies in your path. It becomes SOP for the rest of the game, especially at the start of Stage 4, with lots of perilous jumps and flying baddies.
a friggin dragon
Two kickass things appear in Stage 4. First is the Magic Staff. The stage forks about halfway through, offering a vertical and horizontal path. Taking the vertical rewards Dio with the Magic Staff, which cuts all MP use in half. It's kind of a big deal.

level 4 boss
Kickass #2 comes immediately after. Following the horizontal pits Dio against a dancing Golem (the 2nd hardest baddie in Holy Diver). The reward for sending said Goelm back to clay is the ability to turn into a friggin dragon! A friggin' dragon!

The joy is short-lived, though, because the boss here makes auto-defenestration seem like a reasonable course of action. The battle pits Dio against a Spinning Pillar of Death above an endless chasm. The Pillar takes a ton of hits to kill and any misstep = no more Dio. Be prepared to waste a few continues on this dude. Use Breaker and Overdrive, and, Dio willing, you'll pass to Level 5.

I'm not fluent in Japanese, but I'm pretty sure "Akuma no Kyuden" translates to "sweet holy moses this stage is a burning hell." The stage is chock-a-block full of powerful drones, most of whom take dozens of hits and who shoot an unending stream of projectiles. Good luck--you'll need it.

The stage boss is an equally difficult floating skull. Shoot the Brain part with Breaker or Overdrive to save your crucified friend, Zakk W.(?!), and receive Thunder--Holy Diver's most powerful magic.

Face o DeathRight off the bat, Stage 6 splits into two paths, a shorter path to the left and a longer path to the lower right. Being that both paths are crazy difficult, I recommend the powerup-rich right path. After the two paths re-converge, shit gets real. First is a Golem gauntlet. My advice harkens back to NES shlassics ("shitty classics") like Top Gun and Karate Kid: Run the eff away! Use Overdrive magic, jump over the sumbitches and run like hell!

A series of acid-barfing demon heads guard Holy Diver's final boss. One hit knocks Dio into a pit, so use you most powerful magic and time your jumps with precision.
FInal Boss 1
If, by luck, you manage to defeat the vomiting faces o' death, and then survive the swarm (literally) of baddies as you ascend to the stage end, Holy Diver's boss seems, by comparison, like a damp Q-tip. Use a few well-placed shots of Thunder magic to destroy the ├╝ber-Metroid's  limbs and (once your MP depeletes) use Twin Fire to finish the job. Easy peasy, nice and easy.

Final Boss 2
Of course, no final boss ever dies after just one battle, right? The Fetroid's ("faux-metroid" ["fetid metroid?"]) second form has it flying through space. Dio, naturally, takes his dragon form. Remember how Holy Diver's North American release was never finished? Here that becomes painfully clear. Although the Boss moves around the screen, it's hit target remains at the exact center of the screen. Lay on the fire button to send it back to Zebes.

Holy Diver, though not of equal quality to Castlevania or Metroid, is one hell of a game. The levels' intentional placement of jumps and baddies makes for equal parts frustration and fun. The graphics are rich in Castlevania's Gothic vein, and the gameplay is varied enough to keep it interesting through to the end. It can't be stressed enough: Holy Diver is friggin' hard (that's what she said). In the pantheon of NES-Hard games, Holy Diver deserves to be spoken in the same breath as stalwarts Ghosts'n Goblins and Battletoads.

And for those not convinced that Holy Diver was indeed modeled after the skull-shredding death metal of Ronnie James Dio and his contemporaries, let me elucidate with the game's closing crawl:

Closing crawl

Turns out our protagonist's name was "Randy R." (not "Ranay," as some would say--compare the lowercase d of "difficult" to the d in "Randy.") Randy's brother, saved from crucifixion in Stage 5, is "Zakk W." Both Randy Rhoads and Zakk Wylde were guitarists for Ozzy Osbourne (who Dio briefly replaced in Black Sabbath). Add the fact that King Crimson and Slayer are also name-dropped in the credits and the case is pretty solid for Holy Diver being the video game cousin of Heavy Metal. Heck, the game's title font matches the font on Dio's Holy Diver album!

A heavy metal NES game? Rock and Roll!

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