Bulging biceps and loose-fitting loon-pants in...

First Samurai logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

IMAGE WORKS * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * joystick * Out now

Deep in the tranquil countryside of ancient Japan, Lord Aura (who by a strange twist of fate has the same name as the teenage cult cartoon movie hero from the same part of the world) and his young Samurai were collecting taxes from the local peasants when they began to believe something was up. Yes, something was definitely up.

Now all you revolutionaries out there may be of the opinion that anybody who collects taxes from the villagers in a crypto-fascist kind of way deserves to die in the most painful way possible. Eaten alive by rats, that kind of thing. But this is no morality tale, no. What was up was this...

The Demon King had come down from the mountain, in a game show kind of way. This was not a nice man and he went on to prove this by by burning the village with his mage powers, killing all the peasants, raping all the pigs and eating all the women, or something. You see? If this guy had been a real socialist revolutionary he wouldn't have wiped out the village.

Having wasted the village completely with one click of his horrendously gnarled fingers he turned his attention to the Warrior Lord. Then he killed him.
The young Samurai could do little against the evil mage of the Demon King - his master had not given him instruction in such things. Perhaps if he had things might be different. Fortunately, the Demon King spared the Samurai's life, realising he could be of use spreading the word about what happened on this black, black day. What a mistake.

The young Samurai knew he had to avenge the death of his master who had been like a father to him. Hearing of the victory of the Demon King, Wizarrd Mage (the good guy) returned from sea and fought a battle for the good people of the area.

Atop the mountain they fought, lightning fire and expletives setting the night alight. The Demon King, being a bad guy and therefore a coward, feared defeat and disappeared into the future.

The people were now safe but the young Samurai knew that his sould could not rest until he had beaten the living crap of the Demon King, but he had to persuade Wizard Mage to help him. Only he could teach him the magic of time travel, and only he could teach him how to catch flies with chopsticks.

After many years of traiing, the young Samurai was ready for the trek to the Japan of the 24th century, to capture the Demon King, and bring him back to this land and time - where he can be sacrificed.

Ten levels of stylish beat-em-'up action ensue, with our hero making the most of the magical energy he can pick up on the way to maximise his potential as a Samurai. The hero has two power indicators shown with other info, at the bottom of the screen. On the left is an arm, which when fully visible shows that physical strength is at maximum. Strength is lost when a hit is taken, and regenerated when food is picked up.

On the right is a sword which when fully shown means that spiritual strength is fully topped up, allowing certain actions to be performed. When spiritual strength is low it means that the player loses the use of his sword until such time as the energy picked up by killing enemies replenishes the meter enough to warrant its return,

Other weapons can be picked up such as daggers, bombs, and grenades all of which have a very limited lifespan. The current one will be displayed just to the right of the physical strength bar.

The control method works extremely well. The usual fire and move is there but it is a side effect of the proper system. This works by the player holding the Fire button and moving the joystick to instigate different moves Either system is just as effective, but the latter is the best. IT gives great scope for fluking together a series of moves in mid-air, knocking out a load of enemies coming from all directions, shaving, picking your nose and landing - in one piece.

All of this came about from a few waggles of the joystick and was completely unintentional, but it looks so smooth and flash that it would be dead easy to convince your mates otherwise.

On top of all this beating, hacking and slashing, certain objects must be collected to make sure the level is completed. These are called specials and are essentially a thanks to Wizard Mage for being such a decent bloke. They are often well hidden and a certain number must be found.

Another item essential to the completion of the levels is the bell. IT can only be picked up if your spiritual energy is up to the required level. It may seem strange but as it is used to summon Wizard Mage, you need a bit of magic to do it. But why, I hear you call, do you need to summon him at all?
Well at certain points in the level an insurmountable obstacle will be encountered. The trick is to ring the bell and Wizard Mage will appear to work his magic so that the obstacle is overcome. If you don't suss that this is what you have to do the first time you come across the problem, every next time you get there Wizard Mage's face will appear in a ghostly apparition kind of manner to hint at what's going on.

As you progress through the 10 levels the enemies become more aggressive and imaginative, until by the end of the game it becomes a real hassle to beat everything up and still fulfill the objectives - just how it should be.

The first thing that hits you about the game though, even before you get to the rather attractive gameplay, are the exceptionally gorgeous graphics. Ace backgrounds - they seem to have found about fifty more scan lines from somewhere - an excellent intro taken straight from Jalapeno porcelain, and detail in the levels and characters that matches anything else on the market. The sound is pretty fab as well. After the upbeat intro disk you come to the game and as soon as you make a move or hit something it becomes clear how super-duper it actually is. As you hit an opponent an orchestral stab is released, with the next hit producing one of a slightly higher pitch. This gives a succession of hits a really epic, Gilette TV advert effect that really drives you on to strike out and be as effective as possible with your sword.

And if you get to the treasure or fod a resounding sample from the Hallelujah Chorus results, giving a real sense of achievement. This does get marred by a rather naff tune that fades in if you don't do anything for a few seconds. Clearly a big incentive to keep moving. Speech plays a part as well. If the hero loses his sword because of a lack of mystical energy he will cry 'Oh no! My Sword!' in a very Bruce Lee manner that befits the atmosphere. All of these aspects combine to make it highly addictive. An early demo was played to death by the advertising staff here, and it's well worth £26 of anyone's money. Especially if it's somebody else's.

Its style is by far more frantic and action based than that of its main Christmas opponent from Psygnosis, whose emphasis is more on exploration and accuracy with movement than violence. That considered, it is probably the best scrolling beat-'em-up to appear on the Amiga - so far.


First Samurai logo

The beat-em-up has finally grown up. But can fists stay the distance in contemporary Amiga entertainment environment?

After years of wandering the gameplay wilderness, this oriental bash is leading the genre into the promised land. It fuses the essential adrenaline of punch outs with the cryptic puzzles and dexterity tests of arcade adventures to produce a game that will make your Amiga cry "Hallelujah"!

Fighting games are normally shallow affairs: heavy on the joystick and light on variation. Either you or your foe scrolls on screen, a brief melee ensues and somebody dies: what comes next is usually a surprise, but there's room for some genuinely tense moments and frantic stick work - which can be thrilling. First Samurai manages to capture that same head-to-head battle feel sustain it for 10 long levels.

Lone wolf
A lone samurai is on the trail of a time-travelling demon that destroyed his village. Now the samurai warrior is planning to return the compliment. Luckily he's being helped by the village wizard and whenever the first samurai wants help, all he has to do is ring a ceremonial bell. That's all you know and this is where you take over. The samurai's been catapulted forward in time, the joystick is in port two, he's unarmed and three bats are winging in from the right.

Run or fight? It's the question that leaps into your mind as the bats close in, and it's a question which permeates the entire game. Can you trash these creatures? Will the gain justify the risk? Do they guard a specific treasure? Every encounter is dogged by these nagging doubts, and the tension they create ensures that Samurai retains its edge-of-the-seat, beat-em-up feel.

The samurai's status area reveals his five key concerns: an arms shows his health and a katana sword shows ho much courage the boy's earned. On either side of the score sit two possession slots, one for bells and one for power-ups. Each has to continually watched if you're to thrive and prosper. Lose your health and it's game over; killing beasts boosts courage but taking hits reduces it. Get the samurai's courage over 50 per cent and a sword flashes in his hand, let it below the magic half and it disappears in a shower of stars. Very pretty, but bad news in a battle.

The power-up slots make bonus management tough, because only a maximum of one bell and one bonus weapon can be held at a time. Is an axe or protective drones more important? What's more useful for the lamp revealing hidden bonuses or the long-range fire-power or daggers? It's important to have a bell on you at all times too, because if you haven't, the wizard can't give you any help.

Firsts of fury
The game's primary motive is to reach the demon who dwells on level 10. Clearing each level to reach him supplies a secondary, more immediate, motive. The obstacles come in many forms: monsters who must die, gaps that have to be jumped, walls that can be climbed and at least once-a-level hazards that only the wizard can clear, so you have to find a ceremonial bell to summon him.

A set of special objects must be collected to destroy any end-of-level obstructions. All these factors must be satisfied while you keep the samurai alive and armed. An impressive set of priorities, these conflicting forces continually jostle for priority during play.

The other driving force, and Samurai's finest gameplay tweak, are the life pots. Littering the landscape of future Japan (or so Vivid Image will have us believe) are urns which can be invested with some of the samurai's courage. This depletes his own supply, making the loss of the sword more likely - but means that the game restarts from that point after dying. They also serve as a return point for teleport potions. This energy trade off is risky, but offers limited control of 'random' events.

The ability to manipulate First Samurai, making it surrender the bonuses you want, gives it a friendly edge. Some beasts regenerate and some stay dead; so if you're in need of a few pints of courage seek a weak regenerative monster. Certain food bonuses reappear every time you leave the screen, so taking a walk can earn you a second basket of food. If you're far from food, then push the score up by 5,500 and a bonus fruit appears. Once you know the game, the rules can be bent, to give the samurai a chance of arriving at level 10 in fighting form.

Enter the dragon
First Samurai starts as a beat-em-up and then adds more style to the mix. It keeps its beat-em-up feel, and the high-tension feel of going in close to kill folk, by virtue of the precise combat controls. Real sword stroking skills can be developed and is encouraged. Certain strokes do more damage, so these have to be learned and used when fighting tougher opponents. First Samurai expects powerful sword moves so if you don't learn quickly your progress will be halted. Fortunately the hero has a weighty feel that makes the Samurai very controllable, especially in jumps and fights. This is where First Samurai's heart lies, a test of joystick speed, thought and skill.

The feel of the game is just right, it's as if it was put together by folk who really play games. The rough edges have been smoothed down and a sense of player justice pervades: each guardian's death is followed by a shower of bonuses, so you always go to the next level at full strength: thrown weapons can be hit back at the thrower. Fires will damage both you and the monsters, again fostering a sense of justice, and as the number of special items collected is often vital, pressing 'B' tallies your progress to date. Most importantly if you try to use a bell and it has no effect, it's returned to you not destroyed.


First Samurai reinvents the beat-em-up by adding deeper gameplay, but retains that tense face-to-face fight feel.

Game of death
First Samurai conducts itself with honour on the effects' battlefield. The lurid, often animated, backgrounds are constructed to catch the eye and imagination. Cosmetic touches have been added, but where they won't affect the game, which plays up the neo-realistic style of the background. When walking for example, the samurai's feet can be hidden behind the lip of a platform. Gloss loses out to gameplay though, whenever the interests conflict: the perfect compromise.

The sprites use their stage well, animating with a human edge. Their composite nature (i.e. the head is a separate sprite to the body) and it allows movement to flow, not flick. The warrior's head snaps as blows are delivered, the head follows the torso.

Orchestral music adds a sense of quality, there's an automatic association. The use of such samples in Samurai is inspired: violin riffs accompany hits, hallelujahs herald liberated treasure and a brief burst of a string concerto signify a bell's been collected. Any classical samples would have been good, but this particular selection adds a wry, satirical tone to the proceedings: an aural reminder not to take life too seriously.

First Samurai's only effect problem is the log jam of samples that follow the death of an end-of-level baddy guy. Down from heaven rains chests, food, bonuses but cutting them all open creates a choral cacophony. But, then you have done something worth shouting about and the brief snatches of 'ha, ha, ha, ha' do rather match any attempts to catch your breath after the battle.

The big boss
It's big, real big. Levels one-to-four concentrate on rural Japan, gradually introducing more core elements to the beat-em-up theme. Teleports, wizards magic, guts and good luck will see you to the train level. This sideways scroller stresses fighting above finesse and sees you into an urban nightmare. Three levels of street thugs and sewers twist the brain further sharpening the gameplay skills learned by level four.

The final two stages take you to the Demon's penthouse and a final showdown, where you're expected to have mastered every trick in the book. Each level is big enough to be daunting and each introduces a new twist, keeping the pace fast and the feeling fresh.

For all its hugeness First Samurai is finishable, at least in the straight ahead Banzai sort of way. If you want to work on collecting every bonus on every stage first time out, it's odds on you'll get stuffed. But once finished speedily, it invites a second play just so that the guy is at his most powerful where it matters - now you know where it matters - and he doesn't stumble headlong into real trouble.

First Samurai reinvents the beat-em-up genre, by adding deeper gameplay, but retaining that tense face-to-face fight feel. It looks stunning, sounds intriguing, plays fair and pushes your stick control to the limits. You want to get to the end, and you have every chance of getting there, eventually. Laden with subtle gameplay tricks and stunning effects it's everything an Amiga game should be - and more besides. Hallelujah!


Rache ist Blutwulst!

First Samurai logo

Wer oder was ist das Gegenteil vom letzten Ninja? Na, der erste Samurai natürlich! Zwar ist Image Works Asienfighter mindestens ebenso ein Raufbold wie der von System 3, doch macht er einen sehr viel unverbrauchteren Eindruck...

... was ja auch kein Wunder ist - der "Last Ninja" prügelt sich nun schon seit Jahren durch die Computer-Szene, während unser First Samurai gerade sein Bildschirm- Debüt gibt. Die Gründe für sein Auftauchen sind auch hier im alten Japan zu suchen: Gerade hat der junge Mann noch zusammen mit seinem Lehrmeister Akira friedlich Steuern eingetrieben, als plötzlich ein Dämonenkönig auftaucht, die gesamte Gegend verwüstet und den altehrwürdigen Meister zu seinen Ahnen schickt.

Schweinerei! Um die schnöde Tat zu sühnen, sind vier futuristische Landschaften zu durchqueren (die für Prügelspiele fast schon obligate U-Bahn-fahrt fehlt natürlich ebensowenig wie mannigfaltige wiedersacher), um an Ende den bösen Obermotz in seinem Wolkenkratzer zu stellen.

Wer jetzt meint daß sich alles nicht gerade waaahnsinnig anhört, der meint natürlich richtig. Aber First Samurai besticht denn auch weniger durch eine innovative Idee als durch technische Brillanz und hervorragendes Gameplay. Das beginnt bereits bei der Steuerung: Der Held läuft, klettert und hüpft in alle Himmelsrichtungen, beherrscht die unterschiedlichsten Schläge bzw. Tritte und ist zudem fit im Umgang mit allerlei herumliegenden Waffen wie Schwert, Messert, Wurfaxt oder Shuriken.

Das ist auch bitter nötig, denn von lästigen Fledermäusen über Riesenratten bis zu gigantischen Steinmonstern wartet das Action-Adventure mit einer ansehnlichen Feindes-schar auf. Dazu gibt es unterwegs massenhaft Boni wie Schatzruhen und Freßkörbe zu finden: auch halten versteckte Extras, ein paar knifflige Puzzles und ein ausgekochtes Leveldesign den Spieler von Anfang bis Ende bei der Stange.

Dabei ist all das erst die halbe Miete, First Samurai ist ein echter Genuß für Auge und Ohr: Die Grafik ist herrlich bunt, steckt voller liebenswerter Details (wie edel z.B. das Schwert funkelt!) und kann mit astreinem Parallaxscrolling phantasievoll animierten Sprites und einer sehr beeindruckenden Explosion, wenn der Held über den Jordan geht, aufwarten. Dazu gesellen sich eine hübsche On-Game-Musik und jede Menge verrückte Effekte (Kampfgeschrei, Fanfaren und und und).

Keine Frage, rein programmier-technisch ist Image Works hier ein echtes Meisterstück geglückt! Wir können daher allen enttäuschten Ninjas und müden Shadow Dancern nur raten, sich an First Samurai schadlos zu halten - den Programmierern ist es gelungen, aus einem überstrapazierten Genre das letzte an Spielspaß heraus zu kitzeln. Wer nach diesem Game noch eine Asien-Klopperei an den Mann bringen will, wird tüchtig ranhalten müssen... (C. Borgmeier)


First Samurai logo

If you're going to do something, you may as well do it properly - that's what we say and (hurrah!) Vivid Image seem to agree!

As the great Jane Austen once wrote - "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal".
Such could well be the philosophy of your average samurai, and it's especially applicable in the case of the unfortunate chap featured in this game. After witnessing the death of his master (Lord Akira, cartoon apocalypse movie fans) and entire village at the hands of an evil wizard and barely surviving the attack himself, the young warrior enlists the aid of the gods and the wizard is banished to the far future.

This isn't enough for the samurai, though, and he follows the murderer to the 21st century, hell-bent on revenge and prepared to slaughter anyone who gets in his way. Hey, did someone say the word 'slaughter' - Sounds like a cue for a computer game...

First Samurai (the title is a dig at System 3's Last Ninja series), sees the player take on the not unfamiliar guise of a musclebound bonehead with a grudge, with a mission to hack and slash his way through (in this case) ten levels of arcade adventure-style violence.

The game structure is distinctly suggestive of Renegade's Gods with a touch of Gremlin's Switchblade 2 thrown in, and isn't really anything to get worked up about, but as you've undoubtedly already looked at the end of the review and noticed the huge mark, you'll be wanting to know what it is that distinguishes this game from the hundreds of bog-standard chop-'em-ups already in existence.

The answer is a simple one, and should be engraved in stone above the door of every software house in the country - "If you're going to do it, do it properly".

I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of some of the half-arsed attempts at full-price professional games certain software houses expect the public to fork out upwards of £26 a time for. The over-riding theme seems to be, far too often, 'oh well, it's good enough', which is a myth perpetuated by sycophants and idiots in the magazine world who are old enough to know better.

Mediocrity has been an accepted standard for too long - there's no such thing as 'good enough'. It's all or nothing as far as I'm concerned - either you've got the pride and integrity to work at a game until it's as near to perfect as it can feasibly be, or you've got no business expecting it to sell a single copy.
We see maybe 500 games a year at AMIGA POWER, and of those perhaps fifteen are truly worth playing the asking price for. First Samurai is one of them. Why? It's been done properly.


Mediocrity has been an accepted standard for too long

DOWN TO BUSINESS
From the opening sequence to the final battle, this game drips quality. Beautiful graphics, huge levels, superb presentation, instinctive control, magnificent sound and above all, attention to detail. There are no sudden unexplained jumps between different worlds, no 'Loading Level Two' messages to wreck the atmosphere (there's practically no loading at all, as it happens but I'll get to that in a minute), no cop-out reliance on invisible dangers, in fact nothing at all to get in the way of the pure enjoyment of the game.

As I've said there's nothing too out-of-the-ordinary in the game's design - it's an adventure platform-leaping extravaganza in the same vein as many others. It's probably closest to Gods, but with the best elements of Switchblade 2 and Turrican thrown into the melting pot it eclipses the Bitmaps' hit effortlessly.

ATHEIST'S ALMANAC
Really, this is the game which makes all those reviewers who went into fits of unrestrained ecstasy over the Renegade title look just a little bit ridiculous. For a start, First Samurai gives you 10 worlds, where Gods gave you four, and each of Samurai's levels is several times bigger than any of those in Gods. What's more, you get the first four levels in the first load, completely eliminating disk accessing for the first week or so of the average gamer's playing.

The other levels come in two blocks of three, each loaded in approximately three seconds while the between-levels bonus is calculated, making the whole business of accessing almost totally invisible.

Each level sets you the task of collecting a certain number of special items, but the levels all contain more of the items than you require, so you don't have to complete any stage in a particular set way. Exploration is encouraged and rewarded, and indeed it's even possible to teleport back from a level to the previous one (with, of course, no penalty in hanging around for disk accesses) to search for yet more hidden points and bonuses, or just for the sheer hell of it.


From the opening sequence to the final battle, First Samurai drips quality

The levels come in three dramatically varying graphical styles, and the different areas are linked by two excellent sub-game-type sections to ensure there's no loss of atmosphere. The graphics themselves are a league beyond Gods, bursting with colour and a distinctly console/arcade look, as opposed to Gods' dull blue/grey predominance and very 'computer game'-y feel.

Where First Samurai really leaves the other game behind, though, is in the field of sound. Hits on enemies are accompanied by dramatic orchestral stabs, the samurai's sword swishes ominously, there's the odd burst of speech, and best of all, when you open a chest or basket full o food or treasure, First Samurai erupts into the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's 'Messiah'! The overall feel created by the soundtrack is a glorious, epic, one, and it gives the game an atmosphere unlike any I've experienced.

Only using effects when something actually happens adds to the dramatic effect greatly, although it does have a small drawback in that when there isn't a lot going on the game is entirely silent. This is especially noticeable in the fifth level, where are the constant rumble on the train journey the city streets feel strangely subdued, but since moments where there isn't much happening are few and far between it's not a significant flaw. Certainly it's a small price to pay for such stunning sonics.

STANDING ON ITS OWN TWO FEET
Okay, so it thrashes its closest competitor to within an inch of its life, but is First Samurai still a great game when taken on its own merits? (That's a rhetorical question, by the way). It isn't quite as technically excellent as, say, F1 Grand Prix, it doesn't have the simple idiot fun factor of Rodland, it lacks the depth of Cruise For A Corpse, it hasn't got - bloody hell, who cares? This game has been so beautifully and lovingly nurtured that it stands head and shoulders above 98 percent of Amiga games of any kind.

It's a joy to play, there's enough of it and enough secrets hidden in it to keep you enthralled for weeks on end, and for once it's been programmed with the games-player and not the trainspotter in mind. It looks gorgeous, it sounds amazing, it calls for strategy, planning and careful thought as well as mindless hacking, and it rewards effort admirably with the aid of a unique code-saving-system similar to that employed in Gods (but once which works better). There now follows a short summary for the benefit of the short-of-attention--span who always read the last line of a review first because they can't stand the tension. I like this game a lot.


THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING THERE TO REMIND ME...
Never mind the clever stuff - deep down, Samurai is still the kind of game that slices little babies down the middle and uses the two halves for slippers. Yes, it's positively awash with meanies trying to do you in - like these, in fact...
First Samurai
Yes, it's top Belgian ex-champion cyclist Eddie Mercx, and he's after your blood!
First Samurai
Oh no, it's those spooky spiders again! (Well, they scare the living daylights out of me, anyway).
First Samurai
I'm not quite sure what these are at all, actually. Bats? Birds? Flying lobsters? Who can tell?
First Samurai
In the future, samurai warriors everywhere will be plagued by malevolent motorbike helmets!
BIKINI GIRLS WITH SUB-MACHINE-GUNS (DON'T EVER CONSIDER THINKING ABOUT APPEARING IN THIS GAME!)
First Samurai
  1. The sky is a different colour for every level - not only good for the atmosphere, but helpful for reference if you're teleporting around eploring between levels.
  2. Any bonus weapon you're carrying appears here - you can have daggers, axes, or heat-seeking maces, but only one at a time.
  3. Your health - as you lose energy the arm disappears from the knuckles down.
  4. This sipace is where the bell for summing the wizard appears - unfortunately, you don't have one at the moment. Wizards, eh? Never around when you need 'em!
  5. Usefully, you can stand on the tree branches - climb up and hide, that's my tip.
  6. The other use of your bushido energy is to charge up these magic pots which are scattered liberally around each level. When you die, you're returned to the last charge up pot along your route.
  7. Bad guys. (Kill them!)
  8. These pill boxes hold a finite number of baddies - but it's a big finite numbers...
  9. The sword indicates your bushido energy which goes up when you kill things in close combat if it drops half, you lose your sword, so be careful!
BUSTIN' MOVES
Our hero is one seriously athletic dude, as this series of top action shots show...
First Samurai
Just your everyday, run-of-the-mill all purpose jumping slash manoeuvre.
First Samurai
But don't forget the long-reaching reverse chop for those rear nasties...
First Samurai
...from either side, of course!
First Samurai
Avoid bird-dropping misery with this classic overhead swat jobbie.
First Samurai
Swords? Who needs 'em anyway?

First Samurai logo

Not many games have the sort of pedigree that comes with First Samurai, Vivid Image's third original product. The creative talents of Mev Dinc, John Twiddy and Raffaele Cecco have accounted for some of the best games ever released on the old Spectrum and C64 microcomputers, including Tau Ceti, Cybernoid and The Last Ninja. The first two Vivid Image productions, Hammerfist and Time Machine, failed to make a mark on the more sophisticated Amiga scene. So, the trio of programming veterans are attempting to make amends.

A brief animated opening sequence details the story behind the game. Lord Akira and his young samurai warrior, are collecting taxes in Feudal Japan when an evil Demon King decides to pay a visit. After murdering the poor peasants and your boss, he makes good his escape using time travel to reach the relative safety of the 24th Century. Thus, with the help of a friendly Wizard, the hero, too, is hurled into the future to avenge your master's death.

Revenge begins in a beautiful countryside setting outside the cyberpunk sprawl of neo-Tokyo. Standing on top of a hill, you serenely survey the surroundings. A stone statue of Buddha sits to the left with mountains and oriental-looking trees lying in the background.

Strangely, there are two moons in the sky and a pulsating pot at your side. These magic pots are handy things, dotted around the playscape at regular intervals, and are used as restart points if any of your five lives are lost. But before, there is time for a rest, a barrage of bats swoop down and attack you.

Your on-screen Samurai is extremely agile with an expert knowledge of the martial arts. Jumping, crouching and climbing up walls are all effected using the joystick, but initially you're unarmed. Unarmed combat is the only means of protection until a weapon is collected. So, with a few nifty joystick combinations, you invoke some well-timed punches and flying kicks to dispatch the first dangers.

Further down the line spiders, thugs, ghosts and fire-breathing Chinese dragons must be dealt with, along with alien-like huggers who cling to you and suck away your energy. Finally, a tough incarnation of the Demon King must be defeated at the end of every section.

Success, depends on two basic elements. The first, physical energy, is depleted every time you're hit by adversaries, although a constant supply of food staves off death. The other form of energy, mystical strength, allows you to access more crucial objects found throughout the game. This is increased by the spirit of all the creatures killed and can be traded for neat items and effects. Once a certain amount of this energy has been amassed, a magical sword materialises out of thin air and flies into your hands.

Instead of relying on leg sweeps and low punches, you're now able to perform all sort of stabs and slashes. This sharp sword glistens with magic, but quickly disappears if you haven't got enough mystical energy to feed it. Additional armaments, such as daggers and axes, are waiting to be picked up. These offer a varying degree of effectiveness and last for a limited amount of time. Only one type of extra weapon can be carried at a time though.

Bits of scenery can be blasted to reveal all sorts of goodies, players who like a helping hand can grab a lamp to reveal where these hidden objects are situated. The bell is perhaps the most useful collectable available. With it, you can summon the Wizard to provide hints if you're having difficulty getting past a particular part of the game.

First Samurai intelligently checks your progress and, if it thinks you're stuck, the Wizard will appear asking you to use the bell so he can perform helpful tricks like stamping out a fire or producing other instantaneous solutions. Finally, each of the ten levels contains special objects which must be added to your inventory. There are four logs hidden in the first stage, for example, which are used to bridge a sparkling waterfall.

First Samurai reminded me of those happy days playing Bruce Lee, a classic C64 game from Datasoft and US Gold. The essential ingredients of negotiating platforms, avoiding pitfalls, collecting objects and beating up bad guys, have all been refined with expert skill. With something in the region of five hundred sizzling smooth-scrolling screens, there's much to explore and hack to bits.

Incorporating just the right balance between challenge and playability, you'll want to come back for more despite initial setbacks. A save option is thoughtfully supplied due to the sheer size of the game. Not that First Samurai is without a high standard of presentation. Teoman Irmak must be complemented on his excellent animation and original graphic design, while Nick Jones has employed some very unusual audio effects to make this game stand out from the crowd. These samples can sound almost orchestral at times, especially the cries of Hallelujah when food is collected. Our hero even complains when he loses his sword! Nice touches include five brief pieces of oriental music associated with key events and spot FX for stuff like fires and waterfalls which increase in volume as you get closer to them.

This Vivid Image epic is a breath of fresh air. The Last Ninja series of arcade adventures form System Three look positively dated by comparison. A rarity amongst its breed. First Samurai is slash 'em up with substance. Ah-TSOO-ee dehs! (* It's hot)


WHO NEEDS NINJAS? Totally loyal to their Feudal Lord, Samurai warriors would have rather committed suicide than be dishounoured by failure or captured during battle. Originally called Sabural, at their height of influence Samurai even protected the mighty Emperor. These hereditary guards were professional soldiers with a strict code of practice. Known as Bushido, 'Way of the Warrior', this harsh regime was based around Confucian and Zen Buddhist principles. The first Samurai school to teach Bushido was established by Yoritomo Minamoto in 1185. Japan's privileged class of Samurai was finally abolished in 1868. For more information on these fascinating cultural icons, try reading Hagakure: Book of the Samurai by Tsunetomo Yamamoto from Kodansha International.


First Samurai logo Zero Hero

David Akiro Ninja Sutsasahi McCandless had a little too much sushi last night, and dishonoured himself by putting salt in the Sumo team's G-strings. Luckily, he redeemed himself by trashing the roly-poly wrestlers at Vivid Image's newie, First Samurai.

The Japanese, eh? They're weird, aren't they? Not content with being incredibly po-faced, ritualised and empirical, they have to be clever at everything they do - inventing CDs, building cars, funny little leisure concepts like karaoke. Even when they're making a cuppa tea they have to go through a 'little' twenty minute ceremony. But when it comes to fighting, being a samurai and doing all that hiding in the fridge and jumping out on Inspector Clouseau lark, the Japs are undoubtedly the best. "Do well at everything or be disemboweled with a big stick". (As the wise old Japanese saying goes).

Right, that's the preliminary spiel over with. At this point, you should be thoroughly indoctrinated by my view of the Japanese, and will want to read on in the hope I get a little more violent and abusive.

In a tiny village in ancient Japan, Lord Akira and his young samurai were collecting taxes from the local peasants (i.e. beating them about the head and shoulders with rice flails until they paid up) when the Demon King descended from the mountain and did a typically Demon King-like thing - slaughtered everybody. Except for...
You, a young samurai with a hang-up about honour and revenge, who vowed not to rest or eat twiglets until he had avenged his murdered Lord. So when the Demon King fled through time, you, with the aid of the 'mystic mage', followed him.

Ten huge, sprawling, scrolling platformed levels stand between you and the Demon K, who, wittily enough, lives in a penthouse in Tokyo. You've got an energy level and 'mystic magic' level. Until you build your magic content, you can't wield the 'mystic' sword. Until then you have to rely on your 'mystic martial arts' skills. Kill a nasty and you can nick its soul and hump up your magic stuff. Pretty straightforward.

The levels get increasingly technological, starting in feudal Japan and ending up in Tokyo 2323 AD. It begins with your typically oriental 'bits'- bonsai trees, statues of Buddha, very low tables, dragon faces - and then gradually mixes with all sorts of modern kit, like bricks, laser-turrets, trains and neat Cyberpunk elements. The nasties change too. From big flies and bats, though fire-spitting dragons and face huggers, to deadly techno-ninjas and robots.

On each level you have a task. You're not sure what it is, but you gradually discover the hows and the shys while ploughing sword-first through the scenery. On the first level it's an awe-inspiring big waterfall tht blocks your path. You only hope is to rely on your wizard chum to help you out. You collect x number of useful objects, in this case 'mystic logs', and Wizzie-Plops uses his 'mystic powers' to make a, ahem, 'mystic bridge'.

The wziard can appear at moments of stress, and doles out advice without saying much. Most of the time, however, you have to blart on the 'mystic bell' to summon him.

Amiga reviewMacca: Well, damn. Another game I set out hate and then fell in love with. Nightmare! How can you be cynical about originality when something like this keep coming out? First Samurai is one of the games you look at and think: "Yeah - nice graphics, but I bet it's crap to play and hasn't got a huge amount of subterranean sections to explore and a huge amount of hidden bonuses and screens to discover through continued play."

"And I bet all those martial arts moves are really tricky to do on the joystick and mostly impractical, so you end up just using the flying kick all the time. I bet the graphics don't get increasingly stunning the further you progress, and I reckon all the unrelenting gameplay really slows down when the screen gets crowded."
And then you play it.

I've really said it all, haven't I? I've really nothing to add, except that samurai has so much to offer, and saying anything more would sound like arch bumlicking. Oh, sod it.

The sound is smart, Chop a nasty and the London Philarmonic go 'daa'; do something 'good' and all the angels in heaven chorus 'hallelujah'; and if there's a fire on the level, you can hear it crackling in the distance and hear it roar as you get nearer.

When things hot up, your character lets out a quaint Japanese 'oath'. It's really atmospheric and has that special 'get up your parents' noses' effect that lots of games these days are sadly lacking.

The graphics match the sound for inventiveness. The screens are packed with brightly-coloured 'bits', working on all sorts of complicated parallax levels, with lovely graduated 'setting sun' sky effects. (You're getting a tad too soppy about this. Ed.)

Like most games these days, Samurai smacks of this and that. It's as huge as Turrican, the gameplay is similar to Torvak, it looks a bit like Stormlord and the screen bounces about in the best Strider fashion.
Samurai would be a pretty good game if it had nothing to add to this, but it does! It does! It does! (You liked it, then,. Ed.) Stop


First Samurai: Programmer Mev Dinc
It is a little known fact that Mev Dink, member of Vivid Image, is in fact a samurai himself. He is descended from a long line of Dinks who were Japanese Feudal Warlords in the 9th century. THey moved their cultural base to Chicago in the mid-seventies, where they worked as stand-ins for David Carradine in Kung Fu (for the 'more complicated kung fu bits'). Here's Mev and his compliant Geisha girls, rediscovering their heritage (i.e. looking very silly).