Sometimes we don't know why people bother with scenarios. We mean, they're all the same really. Either about a darkness obscuring the land 'cos the light's been nicked by a warped fairy. Or the wizard's magical stethoscope has been smashed into several pieces by an evil daycare nurse and you must travel throughout the huge caverns, collecting all the bits whilst fighting off manifold meanies. Always one or the other.
Switchblade falls into the latter category and this time the hero, Hiro, has to hunt through the Undercity to find the 16 chunks of the Fireblade which have been destroyed by Havok. No mean feat really, as the Undercity consists of huge caverns with loads of hidden passages and seemingly inaccessible pathways. There are even hidden sections behind brick walls which are easy to miss, but often lead to massive areas of the Undercity. This is rather like the Mario games, a genre which is making a bit of a comeback at the moment. Basically, the rotten bricks look slightly different from most of the bricks, and are destroyed by giving them a quick punch or kick. As well as leading to other sections, they often reveal any one of a number of different bonuses to help our Hiro along the way.
LICE TO SEE YOU...
Not surprisingly, as well as numerous labyrinthine passages, Hiro has to face a whole caboodle of enemies. Over 10 different types in all, from mutated lice to robots, not forgetting the nice different 'natural' hazards such as proximity activated floor spikes.
Luckily though, Hiro isn't unarmed and also has three effective bashing methods: a nifty punch, a mean mid kick and a low sweeping kick. To use any one of these, you must hold down the fire button for a varying length of time. Each type of meanie requires a different number of hits to destroy or repel it.
For those of you who think armed combat is strictly for shandy-drinkers, there are also many evil weapons hidden behind bricks, such as shuriken and fireballs. Unfortunately, these aren't infinite so you've got to make sure that you really put them to good use.
As well as useful bonuses, Hiro will also stumble upon others of no practical use, but which provide a boost to the sort of person who thinks the highest score in a game is a reflection of their manliness. Amongst the more common of these are urns and diamonds which give a score bonus. Collecting the letters of the words 'EXTRA' and 'BONUS' will grant an extra life and a 10,000 point bonus respectively.
And that, as they say, is that. A huge 128 screen arcade adventure, with loads of enemies, bonuses and... er... other things. But the question is, has Gremlin's game benefitted from its five month absence from the computer scene?
Sean: I first saw an unfinished version of Switchblade a couple of months ago and suspected then that it would be a brilliant game. I was right. It's a real corker.
Apparently, Switchblade has been Simon Philips' pet project for a couple of years now, and the fact that he has had the opportunity to work at getting it as perfect as possible without the pressure of any deadlines, really does show. It's a very sophisticated game: there's no faffing around with multiloads, and none of the 'show off' type things that a lot of 16-bit programmers tend to throw in to prove how 'fab' they are. Just highly polished playability from the word go.
The graphics are nice and dingy, just like real caverns would be I suppose but not so dark as to make the game dull to look at. The sprites, although fairly tiny, are all beautifully animated and extremely detailed. There's a nice orientally sounding tune and some excellent clangy metallic in-game effects throughout.
Dunc: Here's a little bit of 'games scenario blurb' for you. Terribly sorry and all that but there are only three small sentences to contend with. Here goes...
"For 10,000 years he slept. His mind feeding on the nightmares of the weak. Now he has awakened."
Wasn't too painful, was it? I suppose you'll be wanting to know who 'he' is. Well you'll be wanting for rather a long time because I'm not going to tell you. (He's called Havok and he's the person you have to find and kill actually. Ed.)
Switchblade is an absolutely ginormous flip-screen explore 'em up. It's also a bit of a punch 'n' shoot 'em up as well, containing elements from Super Mario Brothers, Ranarama, Rick Dangerous and, to a certain extent, Spherical. And it's blinkin' good. I'll talk you through a little chunk from the beginning of the game.
"There's my little sprite, Hiro. He's even smaller than David Rappaport. Let's walk him to the left. Hmm. The animation's quite nice for one so tiny. (Sound of screen 'flipping'). Blimey, a little flickering bonfire thin. I'll head back to the way I came. (Several screen-flips and alien encounters later). Ho ho. I dealt with those nasties rather skilfully. A deft kick to certain parts of their 'anatomy' did the tricky nicely. Yaaaarrgghh - I've fallen down a hole. Oh no, some bigger nasties. Kick punch kick punch kick, hee hee hee. But there's no way back up or down either. Looks as if I'm going to have to just sit in this tiny hole..."
"...(a few weeks later), ho hum. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored. I know, I'll commit suicide - but before I do, I'll just go and kick that bottom wall block. Well I'll be... it's disappeared. So has the one above it - and there's an icon for me to collect. Blimey, I've got a weapon to use. Hey, another part of the screen has lit up: it's another room and there's a ladder going down. Corks! It's a really big room full of platforms and aliens. I'm off. "
And that, in a nutshell, is Switchblade (or an extremely miniscule part of it, anyway). It's choc-a-bloc full of surprises and 'how on earth do I get further than this' type dilemmas. The learning curve is brilliant - frustration really does raise its ugly head occasionally but you'll always crack the problem (i.e. discover a new disappearing block to hit which will open a whole new series of passages) long before giving up.
And Switchblade's not lacking on the shoot 'em up front, either. There's everything you could possible want, from the 'R-Type' power bar (where bolding the fire button for varying lengths of times gives you a different amount of punch, kick or weapon intensity) to the icons that increase those things that need, erm, increasing.
Switchblade is a thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable addition to the genre of 'think and kill' games. In fact, it's one of the best. The graphics are great, the sound is great, the action is great. In fact everything is great. And it's big, with well over 100 screens (plus the way that each screen is made up of smaller 'screens' which only light up once they've been entered - á la Ranarama - makes it seem even bigger). All in all, Switchblade is an extremely polished bit of software, so here's some advice: buy it.