There is probably an ancient Japanese proverb that says a man with a big stick can have more fun than a man without a big stick. And that is the philosophy behind Combat, a marriage of the unarmed martial art with broom handles, that Mirrorsoft is using to make a late bow into the arena.
Sai is more like Fighting Warrior than Exploding Fist, owing to the use of weaponry. But while the ancient Egyptian came of clobbering each other with staves (or were they supposed to be swords) boasted a plot - albeit a fairly feeble one - this is much more pure combat. Your aim is to attain the highest dan via three falls.
Control is the pretty well standard eight points of the compass with or without fire, which makes joystick control preferable to keyboard. Some of the moves will be recognisable from kung-fu games, including everybody's favourites, the roundhouse and flying kick. The new dimension comes from the jabs and sweeps with the pole, which gives you extra reach plus an additional form of defence. It always takes a while to learn the capabilities of your fighter but when the controls are sensibly arranged, as these are, it soon becomes second nature.
So far, so good, if a trifle unexceptional. What sets Sai Combat apart from most of its predecessors is the size of the combatants. While not quite so large as the figures in the first of the martial arts games, Bug Byte's Kung Fu, they are bigger than usual. And yet there doesn't seem to be any loss in speed and the animation is excellent. You don't even feel cramped with relatively less horizontal space and I found that involvement was greater.
The finish of the game is superb, with detailed shadows below the figures and a nice oriental tune, plus different backgrounds for different belts. Blows are accompanied by a suitably hard 'thwack' sound and a coloured starburst of pain - well hard. If you lose a series of bouts you don't need to go back to white belt - pressing space starts you again at your previous level. The various dan are well graded, starting easily enough but getting tricky around grey belt. Naturally there are one and two player options - the latter is useful for practice against a static opponent.
Sai Combat is a good, if belated, entry into the genre. Whether you want it will depend on how keen you are on the type of game. If you don't reckon you've had too much already it'll certainly present some welcome variety without risking any unpleasant bruises.