You may not have heard of Frank Welker, but you've almost definitely heard his voice. Frank, y'see, supplies voices for just about every cartoon being made at the moment. Once you've spotted his distinctive timbre and unmistakable way of accenting words (and, some would say, the spooky way every voice he does sounds exactly the same) you can identify a 'Frank' from a Frieda every time.
And the same with Speccy programmers. (A-ha! So there was a point to that initial paragraph after all. Phew. For a moment there I thought we were going to be treated to another discourse on Hanna-Barbera. Ed) Brian Cross (the author of Hands) has been a busy little beaver over the last couple of months, working for both Beyond Belief and Zeppelin (and who knows, maybe a few other people as well). And, as he habitually draws his own sprites as well as coding the game itself, it's easy to spot a 'Brian.' You could even record the games he's written in a little leather book. In fact, you could organise 'Brianspotting' parties, where you and your friends make sandwiches and trek off to the local software emporium in the hope of glimpsing a Brian Cross game in its natural habitat. (Actually, to be honest, I think I would have preferred the Hanna-Barbera anecdotes. Ed)
Hands of Stone is the very latest 'Brian' to be released. It's been inspired by Target; Renegade - you traipse around town bashing people up then stealing their weapons, before moving on and, erm, doing it all over again - but has a cheeky little character all of its own. For a start, the screenshots can't do justice to the lovely scrolling - it's very smooth and rather perky. Scrumptious. The graphics are sweet as well - those 'Brian' sprites really stand out well, even in the most knuckle-flingy of clinches. What a pity the sound isn't up to anything much. But there you are. Or not as the case may be.
Hush now, and extinguish all naked flames as we come to the throbbing heart of Hands of Stone - the gameplay. There are loads of moves to help you defeat your opponents (the elbow jab from Tag Team Wrestling makes a Brianspottery reappearance) and, as I divulged in my previous utterance, you can also make off with a clunked baddy's weapon. (Strangely though you get a weapon completely unconnected with the one you've just been beaten up with - for example, at the start you're attacked by a guy wielding a baseball bat. When you beat him, you gain a knife! Spook city or what?) Fighting is a painless enough affair (if this is the right word). It's nice to see there isn't a 'super move' that defeats everybody - each villain needs a different approach to floor him. The thing is (It's funny, isn't it readers? Every time Jon wibbles on about how good a game is, there's a 'thing is' coming up. You could set your watch by him. Ed) it's far, far too hard. Let's take Level One as an example. First you come across two flour bag-wearing ruffians. Easy peasy. Then a beefy moustache with a tall man behind it strides on and proceeds to beat you into spam, no matter what you do. He hangs around your prone body after knocking you flat, and as you stagger to your feet, helplessly dazed, he knocks you around a bit more. Bah, it's frustrating. Of course, you can do the same thing back to him, but when later on you're faced with Mr Baseball Bat, two flour baggies and a man with a very big gun, things go downhill fast. (Unless you're actually quite good at these games, of course.)
Uppers: Smart presentation, cunning use of the best bits from lots of other fight games.
Downers: Too hard, too hard, much too hard and very hard indeed.
Difficulty level aside, a neat little beat 'em up.
TOP FIVE FIGHTING MOVES
1. The Running Away2. The Sitting Down Around A Table And Talking It Over3. The Slap In The Eye With A Ruler4. The Pretending To Be Someone Else5. The Not Turning Up At All
Contrary to popular belief, Patrick Swayze's career did not begin with Dirty Dancing. In 1972 he had a small role as a slightly soiled can can dancer in Russ Meyer's "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens".
Yes it is a man with a bag over his head. He looks like the bloke with a bag over his head in Tag Team Wrestling. (That's cos he is the bloke in Tag Team Wrestling. Ed) Oh.
Stephen had never forgiven his mother for not letting him take ballet lessons. In later years he got his revenge by pirouetting down Finchley High Street during the rush hour. He was even on the local news once.