Title		Blade
Game Type	RPG
Publisher       Alive Mediasoft
Compatibility	All (1Mb RAM)
Players		1
HD Installable	Yes (Necessary with AGA)
Submission	Tom Waddington (

So, the evil demon Qaal, who has been trapped for years inside the hilt of
the magic sword Blade and kept inside an impenetrable cage underground,
has been freed (from the cage, at least, the intro isn't very clear about
whether you're up against Qaal or someone else using the sword that Qaal
is trapped in. I doubt it matters though) by the eruption of the volcano
Maetux. Another role playing game, then.

Blade looks a lot like UFO: Enemy Unknown, only the characters are all
even more wooden and the scrolling even more jerky. However, it plays more
like graphics-free public domain classics Rogue and Angband. You have four
unimaginative fantasy heroes (warrior, wizard, thief, empath. And so on)
chosen from seven possibilities, which you move around turn by turn and
hit monsters and things. There are statues, altars and things like that
which have magical effects if you click on them and there are spells and
weapons to collect and use.

And I hate it.

When you've installed Blade (and rebooted because it really does want all
the Chip RAM it can get) you are greeted with a fairly rubbish intro with
some unconvincing stills of 3D models of heroes and monsters and a couple
of Vista landscapes. The text wiffles on about the hideously cliched plot
and various logos pop up, then you get a little poem and finally the
options screen.

Spend a long time on the options screen, it is by far the best thing in
the game. Fair enough, it looks like a close-up of a particularly virulent
mould but there's a stirring tune in the background that you don't get
during the game, and it's worth a listen.

Then it's onwards, into the game, and downwards, as you're beaten into
miserable cynicism by a rampaging gang of evil, glaringly obvious errors
and inadequacies.

For starters, you have to scroll about the isometric landscape. Wouldn't
it be a good idea, then, if you could actually scroll in four easily
selectable directions? Maybe you could use the cursor keys as well, rather
than having to push the mouse in the right direction? Yes, it would be a
good idea. Unfortunately, you have to use the mouse, with which you can
cause the viewpoint to jerk drunkenly in roughly the right direction in
ridiculously large steps. This is the AGA version with `030 accelerator,
by the way. I shudder to think what the ECS version is like.

Still, UFO was jerky before I upgraded so let's not condemn it straight
away. There are some buildings over there, let's go. Hm, I seem to have
run out of action points before reaching the first of them, and they're
only one short section of path away. Hit the turn advance button and try
again, then.

The graphics are quite nice, I suppose. They've obviously been done by
somebody with little talent for 3D modelling (everything is constructed
from primitives) but they quite colourful and the little guys bimble
around swiftly enough.

Inside the shops there are a few buttons to click on. You can't afford
very much at the start and you can't use the "loan" option (even though
this is obviously the time when you need it most) because somebody has
been beaten up, or something. Sod this for a lark, let's go down the

Well, the scrolling still sucks but the author is clearly much better at
walls than at trees, so it all looks much nicer. After a dozen turns
exploring the dungeon, the thief has been killed by clicking on a statue
and the rest of the party has been crumped by "Mars, God of War". This is
ever so slightly discouraging. However, this is the first brand new Amiga
game I've played for ages, so I'll start again.

Don't bother with the shops this time, just straight down into the
dungeon. Ignore the deadly statues and Mars seems to have disappeared,
reassuringly. Lots of things that look like giant bees though. The wizard
gets cornered by two of them and dies.

The difficulty curve in this game is pretty much vertical. The dungeon is
randomly generated, which would be great (just think, you can play it over
and over and never see the same level twice) if it generated them so they
were easy at the start. I mean, giant bees are the first thing you
encounter and they can easily wipe out your entire party. There's no
chance of improving the party until you kill a lot of monsters so you end
up piling all four characters in on top of one bee and still need to save
after every fight.

Three hours of tiresome bee killing and weapon buying later I feel ready
to take on level two. Unfortunately, Mars, God of War, is waiting at the
bottom of the stairs and everyone gets killed again.

The author, veteran Amiga programmer Mark Sheeky, designs and creates
every part of his games on his own. It shows. His artwork isn't at all
bad; the 3D modelling of his humanoid figures is poor, but everything else
looks fine and the 2D graphics are as glossy as you could wish for. The
sound is usually good, save a few dodgy sound effects. The basic mechanics
of the game, having been lifted pretty much complete from games like
NetHack, are okay as well.

The problems are all in the programming. The scrolling is appallingly
poor, the artificial intelligence is extremely simplistic and the dungeon
generator does a good job except for putting monsters like the God of War
(who in a game like Angband wouldn't appear until about level 40) on level
1. Maybe it was bad luck on my part, but the game engine really doesn't
encourage further experimentation at all. Blade is simply a chore to play,
with characters slowly struggling across the map only to be given crap
excuses in the shops or be killed arbitrarily by a magic altar or beaten
to a pulp by a supposedly feeble giant bee.

If you have the patience of a saint, I'm sure there's a lot of gameplay in
there somewhere. There are dozens of levels, spells, weapons and monsters
to find and nobody could complain of a lack of challenge, and there are
two difficulty levels if you do find it too easy. Lots to see, I just
don't think you'll want to persevere.

So it only cost 14.99. Well, no matter what your telephone charges are
like, you could download every single Rogue clone from Aminet for a
fraction of that price, and all of them are more complex, more fun and
much slicker than this offering. No, they don't have isometric 3D graphics
and a great theme tune, but they do have gameplay in buckets, something
you won't find here.

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