Long, long ago in a time of great darkness, a genre of computer game emerged from the bubbling swamp that was like no other.
It was a proud kind of game. It was unrefined, inelegant and some said it was a bad kind of game. It was the sort of game which encouraged violence in young innocent computer owners, we were told.
It was known by many names - The Martial Arts Game, The Kicky-Kicky Game, The Combat Game. Opinion was divided. People either loved them or hated them. But they never went away.
Now here comes Barbarian, new from Palace.
Following very closely in the footsteps of Fist II (the sequel to Melbourne House's ground-breaking Way of the Exploding Fist - the most famous of the genre, Barbarian is easily the best straightforward fighting game to date.
Being based entirely on a broadsword fight Barbarian has been saddled with the inevitably unimaginative storyline of Girl being captured by Evil Madman and having to be won back by Muscular Hero. But when you actually get down to the game, having ignored the genuinely dreadful packaging 'concept' (Maria Whittaker in too-small bikini looking pensive alongside a large muscular bloke with a large sword) the game is very good indeed.
If you kind of imagine Way of the Exploding Fist with swords, you've got the idea behind Barbarian.
The game has a slightly different play method on each side of the tape. Side 1 offers combat practice, allowing you to play against either a friend or the computer, learning moves and facing gradually tougher opponents. Side 2 is the big event - you must fight through ever more intelligent swordsmen before your final confrontation with Drax.
The graphics are great. Your figures are just like cartoon characters and they run and jump and roll around the screen at your command. Some appropriately gruesome moves are available after a bit of working out - Neck Chop, Flying Neck Chop and Head Butt can all be inflicted upon your opponent once you've got yourself in the right position. Obviously, a large proportion of the swordfight involves blocking your opponent's moves. Rolling, crouching and parrying and similar actions are achieved by making similar similar movements with the joystick as if your were attacking, except you leave the Fire button undepressed. One wonderful feature is you can join moves together by selecting them one after another - you can roll, spring out and chop his head off - all in one move.
A successful blow landed on your opponent will be rewarded by a little red flash and a weakening of his constitution. When either warrior's constitution is down to zero (or thereabouts) he will be reduced to a semi-kneeling position, from which the final move should be simply kick him over.
The most satisfying manoeuvre available is the Flying Neck Chop which, if complete, results in the head of the receiver being lopped off and flying through the air. After it stops rolling around, a small gremlin type creature will walk on from the left-hand side of the screen and kick the head before dragging away the rest of the corpse.
As you progress and defeat increasingly tough opponents, the background scenes will cycle through woodland glades, arenas and courtyards. Bearing in mind the restrictions imposed by wishing to avoid attribute problems, the look of the game is very slick.
While essentially being very simple - two people fighting with swords. Barbarian is fast enough to be genuinely exciting to play. Your opponents turn out to be pretty intelligently programmed too.
You'll soon be anticipating the moves of the other warrier, trying to respond. Buy it!
Author: Steve Brown and Shaun Griffiths
Reviewer: Jim Douglas
Top quality combat program meets ropey fantasy plot with surprisingly pleasing results. An essential purchase.