Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a whole bunch of phosphor atoms aggravated into incandescence by a stream of electrons to create something that looks vaguely like a rabbit.
While other software companies are busily waving cheque books at each other for ridiculously uncovertable arcade licences, we find British Telecom surprisingly splashing out for the use of cult comic character Usagi Yojimbo. What gives? (Not Ken Dodd's accountants for starters Ed.)
Brainchild of oriental artist Stan Sakai and star of his own increasingly popular comic, Usagi Yojimbo is actually a rabbit from seventeenth century feudal Japan. Please don't worry as that's not as awful as it first sounds. You see Usagi isn't a fluffy wuffy ickle wickle sort of wabbit, he's more the throat-slitting, sword-weilding, never-chicken Samurai sort of Rabbit, who'd punch your lungs out as soon as look at you.
In fact, Usagi is just the sort of rabbit needed to go and free Lord Noriyuki, a young panda who was silly enough to got himself captured by that long-time arch enemy of good and ne'er do well, Lord Hikiji. If Noriyuki isn't liberated soon he's more than likely to end up with an open plan jugular (slashed throat to you) which would severely hamper his chances of appearing centerfold in the WWF newsletter.
So that's the plot: guide the rabbit to the panda and collect a prize, how easy peasy. Yes it would be if Hikiji hadn't alerted he many minions (pig-like things) to Usagi's intentions, or if the roads and trees weren't so casually littered with bandits. On the screen the action looks like this. A sideways scrolling window shows Usagi's movements while the rest of the screen keeps account of our hero's status. As the scenery is scrolled through, various characters, both benign and malign, get in the path of our Samurai rabbit and you should be careful how you make Usagi react to approaching these geezers.
You see there's Karma to take into consideration. Dishonourable conduct (chopping up peasants, not bowing to mates, slicing off the barman's head) attracts a lack of Karma points. A dip below zero and Usagi will be shamed into committing harikari. And since whatever side Usagi slipped out of the duvet this morning was the wrong one, at game start he has absolutely zero (0) karma. Luckily there are plenty of suffering proletariat strolling about who will pay out in the Karma department if you grease their palms with fiscal lubricant.
It's not all love and peace maaann, there's quite a bit of rough and trouble about to con-tend with, so to cope with this Firebird has supplied Mr Yojimbo with two modes of control; peaceful and aggro. The death-dealing swordplay that Usagi needs to dish out to the local miscreants can be achieved with deft joystick manipulation. Though this is somewhat tricky at first, you'll soon be skipping through the countryside lopping off heads with consummate ease. That's quite a lucrative way to pass the time as many of the attacking bandits you will encounter also carry the odd silver coin.
An energy meter keeps account of current rabbit power while just below that is a similar panel for your current assailant. Cut, thrust, dodge and parry the baddies meter to zero and he'll bother you no more. Along the way you can re-boost your bunny back to full energy by buying food at oriental service stations, what's more you can have a flutter with the local tout. Every time I tried, my silver was rapidly dispossessed, but maybe your luck will be better.
And that's it. All in all a very nice game. Though the control mode is, as said before, not an instant charmer you will get the hang of it - but just don't try and read what the accompanying leaflet has to say. Well written, informative and concise are not words that instantly sprang to mind after a quick shufty. Still well worth deflowering your wallet for.
Not so much a rabbit stew, but the steak and chips of combat games.