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Domark Ltd
1991
Arcade: Gang beat-em-up
£9.99
£3.99
English
ZX Spectrum 128K
Multiple schemes (see individual downloads)

9
Philip Kiernan
Chris Bourne

Ar-harr! (Start again. Ed) 'Ello, 'ello, 'ello, what's all this then? Why, it's a skull and two beautifully shaped bones! (Knew I should have cleaned up my bedroom before now.) But think of all the fun we could have with three such simple objects, eh, readers? For starters, here's a trick anyone could master with the minimum of effort. Watching? Place the skull face up on a flat surface like so. Arrange the bones into a cross formation like this and then pull the two structures together. There you have it - a skull and crossbones! Another tweak - and it's become a literary device known as a link!

Yes, Skull And Crossbones, the game, (drum roll) is back. I won't say by popular demand because, well, more about that later. But, yes, the little blighter is upon us again so let's take a gander, shall we? Well, the most striking thing about Skull And Crossbones is that it's a pirate game (me hearties). And in the undying tradition of pirate games, you get to play the part of, and I'll just articulate this part carefully, a pi-rate. He goes by the name of One Eye, and he's a wizard with a cutlass. Not too much of a wizard, obviously, because he's managed to stick himself in the eye along the way. A smidgeon careless, I'd say. Or was it? Knowing pirate folk (well, not personally) I wouldn't put it past the scoundrel to have done it deliberately, in order to look 'ard in the company of his pirate friends. (Actually, I wonder why pirates are obsessed with wearing eye-patches? It seems every last swashbuckling sea farer is Long-Johnning around with one. Where's the variety? You'd have thought that at least one would have dared to be different, and, say, been hard of hearing in one ear. Mind you, this would probably have been a handicap in fights, viz: 'Draw your sword, you scurvy dog!' 'Sorry? Aaarghh.' All that one-leggedness would have caused difficulties as well. Maybe it was all an initiation test, or something. It made quick getaways a bit out of the question, whichever way you look at it.)

Tales from the poopdeck
Skull And Crossbones is similarly unadventurous in dealing out deformities. Your freebooter is merely one-eyed, and has no sense of fear. Armed with naught but a sharp cutlass and bundles of attitude, he has to plod through eight landscapes, attack henchmen, nobble treasure and kill the Evil Sorceror. Yawn. Sorry, but the plot's all so tediously predictable. Actually, in its defence, the more treasure you collect, the tougher you become, which is a welcome twist sort of thing.

Uh-oh. I've just noticed the gameplay. Despite having a wide range of interesting opponents to overcome, there's really little challenge in ploughing through them. Once you've got to grips with the fighting moves, the whole thing is dribblingly easy, especially as the villains arrive in single file. And the actual levels, though nicely laid out and brimming with colour, leave no opportunities for exploring - it's linear, guiding-rein progress all the way. Oh aye, then there's the two-player mode. Would a simultaneous two-player mode have been too much to ask, hmm? Apparently, because what we're given instead is the ancient second player takes over when the first player kicks the bucket lark. Dearie me.

The biggest drawback of the lot is the dratted loading routine. When you move from level to level, you have to go through the rigmarole of feeding in the whole of side two over and over again. You can't help but ask yourself if it's in any way worth it all, and you can't help but answer • yourself, no, it's not. There are lots of impressive graphical bits later on, like the animated distressed damsel and the spinning ninjas (Whatwhatwhat? Ed) but these are hardly enticement enough for you to bear with it. As it is, Skull And Crossbones will appear on St Peter's books as 'Oh, it was a nice idea, but, hey, they didn't quite get it right.' No recommendations unless you've got barrels of patience. Which is an awful pity, really. The pirate theme has so much potential, but to date has been badly served. Skull And Crossbones does nothing to redress the balance. In fact, I think I'll take a cutlass it right now. Ar-harr, take that, you swab! Arrr! (Clash of cutlass on cassette. Cutlass rebounds and impales reviewer.) Shiver me timbers, it got me. Arr, keep the map safe, Jim, and look after me parrot. (Dies.)

Uppers: Pirates! I love 'em. Nice graphics, lots of variety, a couple of smart touches hither and yon. Downers: Opponents with no backbone, a prehistoric two-player mode, repetitive hack 'n' slash gameplay. Average, very average, Mr Bond. Or something.

53%

Screenshot Text

In later life, One Eye worked as a tour guide. Sadly, his penchant for attacking his tour groups, robbing and throwing them over the battlements led to his eventual dismissal.

Fortunately, Tom was able to persuade the monster that it was a 2D sprite badly integrated with a 3D background, and it slipped off, plummetting to a messy death in the border.