GIRD UP thy loins and take a trip into the misty past where maidens were modest, kings were crusty and knights were knackered.
Sir Fred takes place in a land where all the good knights are off on quests and the rest are quietly mouldering in castles bought with dragon's gold.
Luckily, when the evil Sir Hugh D'unnyt captures a princess, her father - a sickeningly good king - has to find a white knight who will go to the castle where she is held captive and rescue her. After wading through a bunch of wallies with silly names such as Sir Vival, Sir Prize and Sir Spender, he finds Sir Fred. While not being one of the most competent knights in the kingdom he is keen and that's what counts.
His first problems occur even before he gets to the castle moat. The show opens with Sir Fred standing in his suit of well-oiled armour. To the left is a chasm, and wriggling at the bottom is a snake which drains energy from unsuspecting knights.
You can jump over the pit, using one of the many ropes in the game, or take your chances down below by jumping over the snake, and leaping onto the vine which creeps up the far wall of the chasm.
Rope swinging is an important technique which must be mastered quickly if you are to survive. Most screens involve one or more ropes. Jumping up onto them is the easy bit but shifting your weight between one side of the rope and the other to get it swinging is a skill which will take some time to perfect. Unfortunately, until you have done so, many of the useful objects in the game will remain out of reach.
Once through the initial screen you will encounter the moat and the first stretch of water. Objects such as swords and stones are often placed in water and in order to retrieve them you have to swim.
If you have not come across the inertia effect on the first screen you will when you jump into the moat. Each character is affected by gravity, an attribute easily demonstrated by rushing forward and then stopping abruptly, at which point Fred will skid to a halt and maybe fall over. You should also beware of holding the forward movement key down too long. If you do you may make a dent in a castle wall or slip into a chasm.
In water you are affected by bouyancy. To dive you must hold your finger on the down key while pressing forward. Moving Sir Fred into crevasses under water is consequently pretty difficult.
The moat screen has two objectives. First you should collect an object by climbing the castle wall and swinging onto a cloud, all the while harrassed by lightning bolts. Any misjudgement and you will fall into the water below and the waiting jaws of a fish.
The entrance to the castle is discovered by diving to the left side of the screen and swimming through a tunnel. On the way you might be able to pick up a bundle of stones on the moat floor, useful in David and Goliath situations where the evil knight's henchmen try to get the better of you.
Once through the tunnel you will find yourself on a screen containing two lagoons. Climb out of the first and slip into the second, being careful not to lose power to a giant magenta octopus. Actually, he isn't an octopus as he only seems to have four legs.
If you are lucky Sir Fred's sword will be at the bottom of the lagoon but you can never be sure. There are 58 patterns in which objects are distributed and one of those is selected at the beginning of the game.
The sword is the most important defensive weapon in the game. As with all other objects it can be picked up using the select button, and brought out for action by positioning the select cursor over it and pressing use. All the objects are displayed at the bottom of the screen in icon form.
You can move the sword up and down using three stances, or positions. The left and right movement keys are used for attack and parrying. When you come across an opponent the first one to make a move has the initiative. There are seven levels of opponent skill - judged in attack/response reaction time - and the computer automatically selects those.
To kill an opponent you must hit him three times unless he is trapped against a wall or in a corner. The computer generated characters are pretty hot fighters - even at the seemingly lowest levels. If you sharpen up your sword play you will still find that there are few gaps in the seemingly flawless computer defence.
Other important weapons include the bow and arrows found on a cloud on the moat screen. I found it almost impossible to get at.
Once you are through the moat and into the castle the action speeds up and the tests get tougher. Dodge arrows loosed by medieval archers and avoid the guards who stand at the entrances to new rooms, or bar your passage across the screen.
The game is reminiscent of the Wally epics, though the graphics are not as big, bright or colourful. That, however, is more than made up for by the lack of attribute flicker and realism of movement.
There are some inconsistencies in realism - for instance, you can never drown or lose power in water unless while being attacked. just as well, really, as it would be almost impossible to play with the number of lagoons even within the castle.
You will be hearing a lot from the Spanish authors - Carlos Granados, Fernando Rada, Camilo Cela, and Paco Menendez - in the coming months. They used to work for Quicksilva, for whom they produced Fred, an arcade adventure with a Raiders of the Lost Ark feel. Sir Fred was grabbed by Mikro-Gen, who has already signed the lads to produce more games. They certainly made the right decision.
Joystick: Cursor, Kempston