Beat'em up from Matt Black. Reviewed by Rob Gibson.
Note: This review was originally written for the Illusions disc magazine well before Acorn Arcade was born, so we make no guarantees that this game will work on more recent machines. Many thanks to Richard Goodwin, Phil Coleman and Rob Gibson for allowing us to reproduce this review on the site.
With the price tag set ridiculously low at £9.99, coupled with foreknowledge of previous attempts at beat-'em-ups on the Arm range, it was not without a little trepidation that I first loaded up Blood Sport, the latest game released under the label of that clip art supremo Matt Black; this was heightened when the title screen (shown above) altered itself to include an icon bar remarkably similar to that of Aggressor, which by a strange coincidence is also being sold for around the same price by the same company. Aggressor, in case you're not familiar with it, was an attempt at a shoot-'em-up loosely based on the film "Aliens", which elicited rather mixed feelings on its original release, and so perhaps not the best of games for the coding duo to refer back to.
The first signs of life came when I explored the iconbar to see what was on offer. Playing around with the 'Options' area I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only were the usual one- and two-player modes supported (with either player one or player two taking control in the one-player games, so you don't even have to swap chairs), there were also options to add an additional computer-controlled character for three-way free-for-alls, giving in total six different ways of playing the game, along with four levels of difficulty. In the 'Keys' section the controls could be redefined in the standard way, and these could be saved to disk; also, the numeric keypad could be used, which always helps when it comes to two player games.
The iconbar. It's a bar with icons on it.
So far, so good. But enough of the preliminaries, on to the action. After choosing from one of five different characters a map screen comes up, and as you're probably going to draw an away match to start off with you travel past various mystical locations and artifacts taken from all over Asia and the Orient accompanied only by a hard rockin' tune sample, and then it's into the arena.
"Don't you just love being in contro... ahr, me 'ands, me 'ands" - Michael Jackson and another abortive attempt at making a Pepsi advert (actually it's Amano blowing off against Conan).
The first thing that struck me was the size of the playing area; a little disappointing, as you can see above. You're restricted to staying within this small strip, and can't even go right up to the edges. This aside, it has to be said that the backdrops, different each time you face a new opponent, are quite striking, if in a slightly depressing (sorry, atmospheric) sort of way. Also, when not hell-bent on the total annihilation of whatever poor unfortunate that happens to get in the way, there's always something going on in the background to look for; birds fly past, rain falls, fish leap, torches flicker, old men wander around (no doubt trying to find the nearest Ladbrookes to place a bet), that sort of thing. The characters are quite well drawn; I didn't realise the hows and whys of someone suddenly drawing some decent characters for a change until I went to a friend's house to try out the two player option and saw Street Fighter II close up for the first time. It has to be said that there was a striking resemblance between the two games, although of course SFII has sprites almost as tall as the screen, and large, parallax-scrolling backgrounds with a hell of a lot more detail. It also has about 16Meg of memory to play around in along with dedicated graphics chips of course, so it's not really surprising that when contemplating putting a game of this type on the Arc a few corners might have to be cut. They weren't, however, cut when it comes to action; with just five buttons you control a host of moves, including punches, kicks, sweeps, blocks, throws, the shooting of magical projectiles, and special moves specific to each character; I thought, cynic that I am, that these would be all the same and only the graphics would change, but there actually seems to be a different 'special' for each character, as Lin goes in for electric leg movements, Amano the flaming arms, Conan a sort of demented helicopter move and so on.
Lin's killer ninja hot wax treatment completely fools this old junkie.
With only five keys to control all these moves, actions aren't carried out exactly intuitively, but you soon pick up a few simply techniques and keep plugging away with these. With the restriction in the number of buttons used I presume it was to make it easier for joystick adaptations; I couldn't get any in-built joystick mode to work, but there's so many different types available these days that's not so surprising, and there was only one crash when using a key emulator which might not have been the game's fault.
The only really disappointing thing about the game was the ending, which, after using my mighty skill (and just a little help from a hacker mod) to vanquish various foes such as a woman with flaming fans, a disappearing ninja and the obligatory old dude in pyjamas (Master Tam) all I got for my troubles was a rather shabby text message in the sort of English that would make my old teacher weep; "This is too easy try level 2 if you think your good enough !" (and if you can't see what's wrong with that, keep it to yourself). However, I had just gone through about ten levels of non-stop action, with each battle bringing some form of victory salute, and a sub-game involving the smashing of various flying jars.
All in all, it's not seriously in contention to knock Street Fighter II from the high street shelves, but that's neither here nor there; this game is fun, well presented apart from a few little niggles, and with just the right complexity/addictiveness ratio to keep you coming back for more. The animation is smooth, even on Arm2 machines, and there are plenty of atmospheric grunts 'n' groans to keep the neighbours wondering. This game could happily sit alongside games that cost £25 or more, and I decided to review it as such; as it is, it costs less than some pieces of shareware, and if that ain't value for money I don't know what is.
The graphics could have been bigger, especially the play area, and the text could have been a lot nicer; however, bearing in mind the price it's a bargain, and any extras would only have added a second disk and a few quid onto the price tag so the mix is probably about right. Easily installed on a hard disk; there's no protection, again probably to keep the price down, so if everyone plays fair there may be more of the same in the future; if not, kiss those bargains goodbye.
The control of actions is quite hard unless you're willing to persevere, and so the addition of an extra key for, say, punching (when not in joystick mode) would have been nice.