Hiro today, gone tomorrow

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EVIL lizard things are swarming all over the place. There's only one way to stop them and there is only one man for the job. Hiro.
Collect the 16 pieces of the ancient fireblade and you can be a real hiro, sorry hero. Avenge the death of the other Bladeknights and save the undercity from Havok's reign of havok. Might as well, there don't be many pubs about.

The whole game is done in the style of those terrible new Japanese cartoons that you might catch a glimpse of if you wake up too early on a Saturday morning. You know the sort of thing, with robots that turn from Cappuccino makers into ICBM's in the flash of a screen refresh.
In the tradition of the Bladeknights, Hiro has had bits of his body chopped off and replaced with velly reriable cybernetics.

Exploring the undercity where the required blade bits are to be found is made harder by the fact that the screen only displays places already visited. This means many passages have to be actively searched for behind the boxes and tubes that litter the underground alleyways, which lends itself more to an adventuring feel than arcade blasting action.
The only arcade elements are the biped alligator things that have to be dispatched incessantly.

Despite having cybernetic limbs, Hiro hasn't got much in the way of arms. He starts off with bare fists and feet, which are effective only against the hedgehogs and minor beasties on the first level.
You will need to pick up some more advanced weaponry, widely available by punching open certain rocks or by taking a quick sortie behind the packing crates. Various devices will be uncovered which may look painful, but they suit Hiro fine.
The philosophy is never to take anything at face value. That might not be a solid brick wall over there. That might not be a vicious alien advancing to savage you - he might want to throw fireballs at you first.

Graphics are smooth and well animated, though not overly imaginative. The shadow effects in the lower digestive tracts of the earth are nice, as are the occasionally flickering lights.
Addictive, if not state of the art, and enough puzzledom to last a good while.



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GREMLIN £19.99 * Joystick

Things had been pretty good on the Cyberworld of Thraxx for the last 10,000 years: the Bladeknights looked after the place well thanks to the power of the Fireblade. Had been good, that is, until the awakening of Havok who then smashed the Fireblade into 16 pieces, ending the Bladeknight's rule, and topped most of the Bladeknights before taking control of the Undercity.

Hiro is the last of the courageous band and it's up to him to save Thraxx and restore order by finding the pieces of the smashed Fireblade and then reassembling it to use against Havok.

The player takes control of Hiro and has to guide him through five levels of the undercity, picking up the pieces of the Fireblade as he goes. There are, however, complications. First of all, there are loads of Havok's guards to overcome. Some are stronger than others, but all of them can biff Hiro reducing his energy and once the meter reaches zero he loses one of his five lives.

Fighting back is the answer and he's got a cyber arm he might as well use it. Holding the fire button down causes a meter at the base of the screen to rise: releasing the button at 1/4 strength causes Hiro to punch, releasing at the 1/2 to 3/4 mark causes him to make a high kick and at full strength he makes a low kick. By using the right move at the right time most opponents can be overcome.

There are power-ups that can be collected to increase the strength of the attack and there are extra weapons that can also be used, including a fire ball shot and darts. Unfortunately, all weapons have a limited ammo supply so they have to be used carefully.

The other main problem is the fact that Hiro doesn't know where he's going and can only see parts of the Undercity that he's actually been in. For example, he could be climbing down a ladder going past several rooms without knowing it because they won't be displayed until he actually goes in them.

That doesn't sound too difficult until you realise that the majority of rooms are hidden behind ordinary wall blocks. The trouble with this is you only know they're there if you punch away at a wall and the blocks break up.

This is also how you collect most of the entire weapons which are hidden inside seemingly ordinary blocks. So, there's lots of exploration to be done in order to find and collect all the pieces; and then the problems really begin.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

It's all viewed in side-on 2D and all the rooms are well drawn and the sprites are well animated. The music in the game is good but you can toggle to effects (good ones too) if you'd rather.

The sprites may be small but they look good and move well (not the best jumping sequence ever seen though). The presentation as a whole manages to stay just the right side of cutesy.

JUDGEMENT

It's the exploring that's the fun, finding new routes that you had no idea were there or seeing a doorway and wondering how on earth you're going to get to it. The combat can be fun too, but get the hang of the meter and it becomes a little easy (thank goodness baddies don't reappear every time you re-enter a certain room).

With only five lives at your disposal this is a toughie, but you'll have lots of fun all the same. It's certainly blessed with loads of the 'I wonder where that leads to' factor making it very addictive. A great arcade adventure that's well polished and well put together.



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Hiro, der letzte Bladeknight, muß im Labyrinth von Undercity die 16 Einzelteile des zertrümmerten Schwertes "Fireblade" finden, um damit dem Schurken Havok den Garaus zu machen. Springend, kletternd und sammelnd macht er sich auf den gefährlichen Weg.

Damit seine Aufgabe auch nicht zu leicht wird, tauchen fortwährend die unangenehmsten Gegner auf, von der Stachel-Laus bis zum Riesen-Seorpoid. Bekämpft werden sie mit Hiro's programmierbarem "Cyber-Arm", der insgesamt sieben verschiedene Waffen abfeuern kann. Leider währt die Freude oft nur kurz: kaum hat man eine der Waffen aufgesammelt, verliert man sie auch schon wieder, zusammen mit einem seiner fünf Leben!

Der gut animierte Held schlägt sich durch gleichmäßig dahinscrollende Landschaften, die meist in düsteren, dunklen Farben gehalten sind. Um den anfänglich etwas knapp bemessenen Aktionsscreen herum sind alle wichtigen Anzeigen, wie Kampfkraft, Vitalität, benützte Waffenart, etc. gruppiert.

Die Suche nach den einzelnen Schwertteilen ist gar nicht so einfach, denn der Labyrinth enthält etliche Geheimräume, die man erst sieht, wenn die verdeckene Mauer beseitigt ist. Ausgesprochen gewöhnungsbedürftig ist die Steuerung: Um die Waffen abzufeuern oder einen Faust/Fußstoß auszuführen, muß man den Feuerknopf loslassen! Das nette Hüpf- und Ballerspiel wird abgerundet durch gut gemachte Sounds, die unseren Hiro durch die Katakomben begleiten. (ur)



Switchblade 1 logo ZERO Hero

Gremlin turning Japanese shock stunna! There's more than a slight hint of the east in Switchblade by Simon Phillips, author of Rick Dangerous. Has Gremlin learned anything about releasing 'fab and groovy' games in its long five month absence from the software market? Sean Kelly and Duncan McDonald find out.

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?

Amiga reviewSean: 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.

Atari ST reviewDunc: 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 - 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.



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Gremlin, Amiga £19.99

After 10,000 years of peace on the cyber world of Thraxx, the magic Fireblade has shattered and the evil Havok has come to power. Only one brave Bladeknight, Hiro, has survived. But before he can take on Havok the sixteen fragments of the Fireblade, scattered throughout five levels of the below-ground Undercity, must be found.

Hostile creatures attack Hiro and can be destroyed by hand-to-hand combat (hold the fire-button down longer for more powerful moves) or various missiles fired from Hiro's cyberarm. Some of the bricks in the walls of each level may be smashed to reveal bonuses.


Phil King I wasn't surprised to discover that this was programmed by Core of Rick Dangerous fame. The platform and ladders gameplay is similarly enjoyable with some good graphics. I particularly like the way the unexplored rooms remain black until visited, so at least you know where you've been. What's missing , though, is any humour or significant graphic variety without which the repetitive action eventually becomes tiresome.
Robin Hogg I really enjoyed this one with an ace tune to get things going and a very slick start-up scene of coin-op quality. The Rick Dangerous influence has rubbed off and as a result it's all highly playable stuff but with more of an arcade adventure feel to it with different directions to go in and a few new areas to explore. There are plenty of new creatures to see, but why there has to be continual use of dull grey backdrops I don't know - pity as otherwise this is a good futuristic romp.