Cons: Poor combat mechanics/weapon collisions and design/color choices
A side-view platformer in the strictest sense of the word, Wizards & Warriors revolves around climbing and jumping from one platform to another as you work towards the end of each level. There are a few RPG/puzzle elements thrown in, such as collecting a few different items to help you progress or locating different colored keys to open the corresponding chests and doors. Unfortunately the story is cliche, having an evil wizard kidnap some maidens; and you, as a brave knight, are tasked with defeating him and rescuing the maidens. Oh yay.
One of the first things you notice is that the collision detection and the method of attacking leaves much to be desired. Swinging your weapon just feels off, and half the time it doesn't seem to make contact with the enemies anyway. This is only compounded by the fact that you are constantly swarmed by annoying little flying enemies who usually respawn as soon as you kill them, leaving you flailing about wildly with your sword and getting hit anyway. You can also just run or jump through most enemies without swinging and they will still fall to your sword, which just seems like a hacky work-around that was tossed in to offset the bad swinging mechanics.
The graphics themselves are decent, having enough detail to easily distinguish what each item is and tell enemies apart. However, many of the designs and color choices lead me to believe the designers were on an acid trip. I mean honestly, we have things like neon pink spiders and one enemy that looks like a blue yeti with a dog's head. Some of the scenery looks nice, especially parts of the cave levels, but again the layout and color choices in places is bewildering. Random locked doors stuck in the middle of tree trunks, platforms tossed about haphazardly, etc. There's also a limited amount of variety to the levels; you have cave levels, forest levels and castle levels at the end. They're all pretty similar and there's really nothing unique about any individual level.
There's also a lot of maze-like scrolling and climbing, searching for keys to go in doors and search for more keys, back-tracking in circles... it gets tiresome and really detracts from the gameplay. On top of that you have to collect gems laying around the levels or in treasure chests so that you can bribe the guard on each level to let you continue to the level boss. By time you're on the last level, this is a really obnoxious and time consuming process. The bosses vary in difficulty, but are overall pretty balanced and fun encounters.
I actually liked the background music in Wizards & Warriors, it's one of those games who's music just sticks in my head many years later. Dark and baleful, it helps bring about the sense of urgency and danger that you would expect if you were tasked with saving the world. The sound effects are most average, but usually befitting the situations they are used in. Being a NES game, there's really not much to write home about in the way of sound to begin with though.
One last thing to note is that the constant swarm of enemies flying around you coupled with the buggy swing mechanics would normally make this game ridiculously annoying and hard to play. I guess their way of solving that was to give you an unlimited number of continues right from the start. You continue from whatever level you last died on with your complete inventory intact, so even if the game gets to be too much you can always just push through it given enough play time.
Overall, I was disappointed with Wizards & Warriors as a kid and even more so today. It's slightly below average across the board, except for the background music. I wouldn't bother picking it up as there are much better action/platform games available for the NES like Darkwing Duck or any of the Mega Man games.
"Thou hath rescued thy princess. Thy search hath ended." Thank goodness.