Brutal: Paws of Fury logo

Reviewed by Gareth Lofthouse

Like Hollywood sequels, the software industry will churn out game after game based on the same tried and tested formula. It's not always a bad thing - after all, some sequels make vast improvements over the originals - but there comes a time when repackaging the same goods is going to leave the audience jaded.

In gaming, no genre is more repetitive in its content than the beat-'em-up. The popularity of its most impressive incarnations has lead software houses to come back for more rich picking with games that vary little apart from slightly enhanced graphics and bloodier special effects.

Years after the beat-'em-up birth, however, even the laziest developers have been trying to give their new combat games a vaguely fresh twist. Spectacular metamorphosing finishing moves, international locations and a greater range of bizarre characters have been wheeled in to inject new fighting spirit into the proceedings.

With robots and streetfighters behind us, Gametek are going for a new angle with a game featuring cute but deadly critters as its muscle-bound contenders. Named Brutal: Paws of Fury, this new title steers away from the realistic visual approach of Mortal Kombat in favour of more humorous, cartoon-like charicatures.

The simple storyline bears a Far Eastern flavour with lots of sayings from bogus mystical teaching padding out the ten characters' backgrounds. Choosing from creatures like Kung Fu Bunny, Tai Cheetah or Kendo Coyote, players fight it out in a competition to find the world's best fighter.

Graphically, Brutal is only slightly above average, with reasonably well drawn characters playing out the action against varied but impressive locations. In compensation, however, the game's contenders have been made more lively with the addition of characteristic gestures and moves.

Anyone who experienced the ludicrous disappointment of Rise of the Robots will know that beauty is only skin deep, however. What really counts is whether Brutal can provide anything in terms of a challenge that hasn't already been offered by previous beat-'em ups.

Brutal Paws of Fury steers away from the realistic visual approach of Mortal Kombat in favour of more humorous, cartoon-like charicatures

Thankfully, the cosmetic novelty of fighting with furry creatures is not the only difference about the game. One original touch, for example, is the fact that players must learn special moves as their character gains in experience through winning fights.

Whereas it's possible in Mortal Kombat to use all the special moves immediately, this game makes acquiring them more challenging and satisfying. After defeating two opponents, players rise in rank and enter a training session in which they have three chances to learn a joystick sequence. If they successfully imitate it they have access to that move from then on.

There are a vast number of these moves to be learnt, and greater experience yields more powerful and spectacular combinations. This approach could do much to give the beat-'em-up the durability it traditionally lacks, thanks to the long-term rewards it provides.

Putting the fighting moves into practice is also satisfying. On earlier levels a few simple kicks will get you far - possibly too far - but more variety and imagination becomes necessary on higher levels. Thankfully, no move is so complex that it's impossible to string a series of them together in a fluid attack sequence.

Of course it's possible to play against a friend with different characters and alter difficulty levels, of which there are plenty to choose from, and there are the usual karate sound effects accompanying the action.

Furry but flawed

Unfortunately, Brutal is let down by some irritating flaws, one of which occurs in the mountain scene where characters die if they fall off the edge of the combat platform. The problem is that the Lion opponent that inhabits this location has the habit of careering off the edge before the player has had a chance to touch him - or at least that's so in earlier levels.

The inclusion of a password system for each character is vital, especially when you've gained access to a good range of special moves. The fact that this currently doesn't seem to work gives further cause for concern.

Final word

The game's modest appearance does little to inspire excitement on the first viewing of Brutal Paws. The cartoon characters make an appealing change in the genre, but the quality of the graphics doesn't match up to top selling rivals on the Amiga. Surprisingly, the game overcomes the handicap by combining a few innovations with enjoyable gameplay. Training to acquire a broader repertoire of moves did much to solve the problem of giving a combat game a long-term challenge, and it's highly in keeping with the martial arts' theme.

A word of warning for those who eat this type of game for breakfast: I'm no ace gameplayer, but by starting on an easy level I managed to acquire all the special moves to progress through the game until I almost finished on its highest difficulty - and that was on my first game.

This problem can be avoided by starting the game on a higher level to start with, because it then becomes hard to get each of those powerful advanced moves. Nevertheless, considering how experienced most players are in this genre, the developers should have made Brutal a bit tougher from the outset. This is not a damning criticism, however.

What's more worrying is the fact that the password system didn't work, which seriously detracts from the long-term playability. Providing Gametek sort this and a few other minor flaws out, however, this beat-'em up could be a worthy addition to your game shelf.

Brutal: Paws of Fury logo

A flatulent cheetah and a bogey-flicking rat, sadly amuse Steve Bradley, but is Brutal actually any fun to play?

Some of the characters in this cute beat-'em-up possess astonishingly untutored personal habits, if you leave them to their own devices for a brief moment.

The crocodile sniffs loudly before releasing phlegm with a whoosh; the cheetah holds in his stomach and breaks wind violently before making an obscene hand gesture, while the rat pointedly picks his nose, before flicking the booger on to the flor. And the Dali Llama fiddles with his underpants - not the rat's but his own.

Publishers GameTek reckon that Brutal: Paws of Fury is aimed at the younger fan of the noble art, though quite how shallow of year you're supposed to be remains unclear. The youth of today, and that includes even the under-10s, play all manner of beat-'em-ups, from Super Street Fighter to Mortal Kombat, and I'm sure most of them could paste me against the wall.

No, by producing a simple, cartoon-style beat-'em-up with relatively few moves, surely GameTek are aiming more towards the parents of the kids - the people that haven't had a hope in Hell of learning special moves and combos in the sophisticated grapples.

You can only laugh at a flatulent cheetah and a gobbing crocodile for so long.

Brutal is undeniably cute, with handsome cartoon-characters and simple, yet appealing, backgrounds. Each animal differs in speed it can move - the most obvious polarity being the lithe Rhei Rat and lumbering Ivan the Bear; the latter seems to kick or punch the opponents minutes after you've accessed the move.

Profiles tell you what they're like and all that kind of nonsense. In the single-player game, the aim is to move through the belts, of which there are 15, ranging from the white belt, through to become the almighty Grand Master.

As you progress, you get to choose from more characters - the Dali Llama is the hardest in the kingdom, but you need a black belt before you can become him (yes, someone who plays with their underpants - somewhat unbefitting for a supposedly mighty-warrior).

By far the most interesting option here is the mountain-top, wooden ledge bout in two player mode. The ledge is tiny and the bouts often last only a few seconds, and you can win by simply ducking an opponent's drop kick and watch him disappear off the edge.

But Brutal isn't much of a challenge and it's certainly not a game for anyone who has the slightest idea about how to play beat-'em-ups. The paucity of moves ensure that the gameplay quickly becomes one-dimensional, a fact that even the characters' amusing quirks can't quite overcome. You can only laugh at a windy cheetah and a gobbing crocodile for so long.

Brutal: Paws of Fury logo

Indizierungen und Beschlagnahmen haben inzwischen nicht nur das Prügelgenre in Verruf gebracht, also ging man bei Gametek auf Nummer Sicher: Hier sprechen nicht die Fäuste, sondern samtweiche Teddypfoten!

Wie hat man sich so eine jugendfreie, ja geradezu kindgerechte Digi-Klopperei nun vorzustellen? Ganz einfach: Statt Kombat-Mörtlern oder Streetfightern rangeln zuckersüße Knubbeltierchen um Ruhm, Ehre und die Möglichkeit, ihrer laut Anleitung äußerst pazifistischen Lebensphilosophie im fairen Zweikampf Ausdruck zu verleihen...

Soweit das edle Ansinnen, in der Praxis stehen sich dann freilich doch wieder zwei Joystick-Kämpen vor dem bzw. am Monitor gegenüber, während Solisten den CPU-Recken so lange auf die Nase hauen, bis der Vorrat an feindlicher Lebensenergie erschöpft ist.

Recht originell ist dabei die Fähigkeit der vor Matchbeginn beliebig anwählbaren acht Charaktere (von den zehn Recken der originalen Mega Drive-Version sind Psycho Kitty und Chung Poe der Konvertierung zum Opfer gefallen), im Spielverlauf nett anzusehende Rundum-Kciks, Feuerwürfe und dergleichen ins zunächst dürftig bestückte Hieb- und Tritt-Repertoire aufzunehmen; das erzielte Können wird dann mittels einer Art Levelcode gespeichert.

Bloß sind die entsprechenden Stick-Kombinationen nur für PC-Besitzer dokumentiert, Amiganer müssen anhand von Zwischenscreens mühselig selbst herausknobeln, welche Moves welchem Charakter in welcher Runde zu eigen sind - eine glatte Frechheit!

Leider wurde noch an weiteren Stellen geschlampt; z.B. ist die Anzahl der Runden zwar theoretisch einstellbar, in der Praxis läuft es aber immer auf drei Fights hinaus.

Dann ist aus dem Duo-Modus keine Rückkehr ins Titelhild möglich, die eingedeutschten Screentexte strotzen vor Schreibfehlern, und der in der Anleitung erläuterte Übungskampf mit aktivierten Special-Moves war nirgends aufzutreiben.

Schade außerdem, daß allein die Dauer des Feuerknopf-Drucks über die Wucht eines Hiebes entscheidet - die optionale Unterstützung von zwei oder mehr Buttons am Stick bzw. Pad mit jeweils fest justierter Schlagkraft wäre der bessere, weil spielbarere Weg gewesen.

Um so erstaunlicher, daß sich ein gewisser Unterhaltungswert denoch nicht leugnen läßt: Trotz fehlender Feinheiten und Innovationen im Gameplay macht der Schlagabtausch durchaus Laune, was nicht zuletzt an den witzig bewegten, nur etwas klein geratenen Sprites sowie den mitreißenden House- und Dance-Rhythmen liegt.

Daß die zehn detailarmen Hintergrundmotive keine modernen Parallax- und Animations-Effekte kennen und bloß lustlos nach links und rechts scrollen, fällt im temporeichen, aber ordentlich kontrollierbaren Schlagabtausch zudem nicht weiter auf.

Im Ergebnis kann Paws of Fury der etablierten Konkurrenz daher natürlich nicht die Pfote reichen, aber wo sonst darf Tyson Junior heutzutage noch zulangen, ohne daß sich die BPS ins Fäustchen lacht! (rl)

Brutal: Paws of Fury logo

A game where cuddly cartoon characters behave like furious brutes. Well, try to.

This is how it happened.
"Welcome back, Stuart. Now go and make us some tea." Made the tea (Aha ha ha - Ed). Cam handed me Brutal - Paws Of Fury, which was apparently "a game of humorous cartoon style combat, combined with depth, and philosophy". Became depressed.

Loaded the game. Title screen. Selecting language ("Union Jack"). Inserted Disk Two ("Accessing... Please Wait..."). Second Title screen. Menu screen. Options screen. "Enter Your Name Using the Joystick" screen. Entered my name. Using the joystick. "Choose Your Character" screen. Chose my character. Tai Cheetah ("You are devoted to those who are close to you. Yet, you are cold and unfeeling to those who you regard as enemies").

Status screen featuring picture of character. Near-identical status screen featuring picture of title screen scenery. Auxiliary back up. "Choose Your Character" screen, presumably in case of mistakes. Map screen. "Scene 1: The Landing" screen. The game begins.

Opponent Kung Fu Bunny ("To know fear is courage"). Leap straight in with a flurry of random kicks and punches. Notice that the computer spends almost all its time blocking. Decide to experiment. Get in a couple of hits and retreat to the far edge of the screen and adopt a crouching block position.

The computer spends the remaining 72 seconds of the bout punching the air above my head and leaping around randomly. I win on points when the timer expires. Finished with success.
I try the same strategy for the second round. It works. I win.

Opponent: Foxy Roxy. ("To care for others is the greatest joy"). Try the hiding tactic, but Roxy gets wise fast. Have to mix it. Try combination of roundhouse kick and running away. Win on points when timer runs out. Repeat for the second round. I win.

At this point the game gives me a special move, the Taunt. A special screen first shows me the move (lighting up the relevant joystick movements), then gives me a chance to practice it until I make it work (or until 10 seconds pass). This is good.

Opponent: Kendo Coyote ("I'm BACK!"). Try out exciting new move. It enables me to stand in a fixed position while making "Come on then gestures" with my paw, while Kendo Coyote walks up and smashes my face in. Decide to resort to roundhouse/run away strategy. Win on points when timer runs out. Twice. I win.

Opponent: Prince Leon The Lion ("I have only one judge, the world"). This scene is set on a platform on a mountain, with a drop at either end. I hit with a roundhouse and begin to back away, only to see Prince Leon leap backwards of his own free will and plummet to his death off the side of the mountain. Odd.

In the second round, I spot a tactic and strike with two roundhouses in quick succession, this time knocking Price Leon off the platform myself. Total time elapsed for both rounds: eight seconds. I win.

Another special move. The Fire Punch. Simple to execute and looks good.

Opponent: Rhei Rat ("Quote unavailable"). Try out new move. Works well. Defeat opponent in seven seconds (Round 1) and five seconds (Round 2) without damage. I win.

Opponent: Ivan Bear ("You can rest when you're dead"). Give new move another go. Continues to work, even when opponent avoids thrust of punch, but walks into static first as it lingers in air. Both bouts over in less than 10 seconds, no damage incurred. I win.

A flurry of random kicks and punches

Another special move. Sod that.

Opponent: Tai Cheetah ("To teach someone is to be responsible for them"). How about the Fire Punch? I win.

Opponent: The Pantha ("Inner Strength is a goal above morality"). Fire Punch. I win.

Another special move. The Fire Run. Trickier to pull off, but looks great. Decide to have a go.

Opponent: Karate Croc ("So invitations only, eh?"). Try new move. Rocket across the screen in ball of flame, but Karate Croc leaps easily over and turns round to kick me in the back of the head. Back to Fire Punch. Round 2 over in nine seconds. I win.

Opponent: Dali Llama ("Sometimes the fastest blow is the one delivered fast"). Dali Llama is the final opponent. He is a llama. Sounds like a job for the Fire Punch. I win.

I have won. End sequence includes Tai Cheetah uttering the phrase "It had been nice to see everyone again", although not its logical continuation in the circumstances, "and smash all their faces in".

Opponent: Kung Fu Bunny (Eh?) Inexplicably the game starts again, except I still have all my special moves. Curious. I try the Fire Punch. I win.

Opponents: The same ones as before. Including Prince Leon The Lion, who has clearly painstakingly climbed back up the mountain, only to throw himself off backwards again, this time before I can even move towards him.

More special moves are awarded, but unnecessarily. The Fire Punch still works every time, I continue to win. I reset the machine, plough through the 14 introductory screens and ramp the difficulty level up to Black Belt.

Start the game again. It is, as far as I can tell, exactly the same but faster. Use roundhouse/run away method until Fire Punch is awarded. Once again, I win. Although I can't quite shake the feeling that, having spent the last two house of my life playing Brutal - Paws Of Fury, I also lose.

Brutal: Paws of Fury logo

Price: £29.99 Publisher: GameTek 01753 553 445

As anyone who has ever watched Wildlife on One will tell you, animals are not calm, rational beings who contemplate life before they decide to go out looking for din dins. No, they tear into their prey, teeth bared, saliva dripping from their jaws ready to dismember their unfortunate victim.

Strange then that the animals in this beat 'em up, are cute peace loving souls who prefer to spend their time meditating and perfecting their martial art skills before entering in a bit of one on one combat with each other. OK, it's a novel idea and, hey, it might just work. But sadly it doesn't.

The reason it doesn't work is not really down to the concept behind the game it's to do with the playability. But we'll get back to that later.

It's a shame really. A lot of effort seems to have gone into creating a sense of atmosphere to fit in with the underlying aim of the game which is to achieve the ultimate martial arts status - master.

The background music is sort of Japanesy techno style and the reasonably well drawn stages also have a Japanese slant to them. Perhaps the biggest effort to create a sense of ambience was in creating a personality profile for each of the furry combatants. Each one has their own in-depth personality profile along with their stats.

Once you've decided which character you identify with it's standard beat 'em up options: one-player, two player and a two player 'no frills' option which enables you to jump straight into the ring with all your special moves already acquired rather than having to earn them as in the other two modes.

However, it's the special moves, or really the not so special moves, that let the game down. Although Brutal runs quite quickly, unlike MKII or SSFII, the special moves are nothing to write home about. Pantha's taunting move which involves flashing his spotty boxer shorts at you does not inspire much aggression. So you're left wondering why you need to bother mastering complex joystick moves, when if you just stick to sitting in the corner with the fire button pressed you get the same job done.

Unfortunately this tactic worked time and time again. You can get well into later belt stages without even losing a life.

Brutal is a novel enough idea, with shades of the Hong Kong Phooey cartoons in some of its characters. The graphics, sound and speed are good, it's just let down by the awkward, unspectacular special moves and the fact it is too easy to get by with flailing kicks and punches. Not what you want from a beat 'em up.

A second opinion

Brutal adds a novel twist to the beat 'em up genre, as it uses animals for combatants as opposed to the humans/mutants/aliens we are normally handed. However, this twist is not exploited past the names and appearance of the sprites, none of the special moves or attacks are based around the various animals' characteristics and they are personified to the extent that they are almost human. It is a jokey, passive beat 'em up (if there can be such a thing) with a minimum amount of blood and realism.

The main plus of the game is its speed. It has three speed levels, and moves at quite a pace in the highest. The fighters have been givena lot of character with large colourful sprites, background information and stats and you can find yourself becoming quite attached to them.

The game is fun in two-player mode, as are most beat 'em ups, but the moves can become frustrating and luck can play too much of a part in the battles. Bouts tend to degenerate into constant sweeps and jumping kicks, or both players on either side of the screen wrestling with the controls. It all adds up to disappointment. Good graphics are let down by watery gameplay and there is no excuse for those sort of shenanigans.
Adi Leff