We've got a bit of a soft spot for old Gremlin here at YS. When other people are concentrating so much on the 16-bitties it's jolly heartening indeed to see a smaller company spreading its games with equal enthusiasm over all the formats. And what games, eh, Spec-chums? Phew-ee! Shadow Of The Beast and Lotus have helped the boys raise their image no end, and there's more to come in the shape of Toyota Celica Rally and Hero Quest (see p66). Bit of a shame really that they've kept us waiting so blimming long for Switchblade then, isn't it?
For those of you who were around for last years May Megapreview - (ahem indeed) you may remember (although the odds are probably against it) that this was an underground platform-and-ladders arcade adventure, a bit along the lines of Rick Dangerous. And spookily enough it still is! Lets have a quick reminder the plot.
You play Hiro, a member of the Switchblade clan. Unfortunately a bloke called Havoc has just come along and smashed up your people's sacred sword, the Fireblade, scattering its 16 pieces across the Undercity. Boo-hoo. Since you're lucky enough to sport a rather spooky cyber-arm it's unanimously decided that you'd be jolly good for the job, so off you tromp 'down under', looking for the bits of the sword to stick back together again.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
The game starts above ground. Once you find a way in, well, you get a bit of a shock - you land in a tiny little room surrounded by pitch-black darkness! Eek! And here's where Switchblade 'spins its twist' - you see, the Undercity is made up of lots (and lots) of separate rooms which you have to find your way into before they show up on the screen! (In this case you move on by climbing down a ladder - in others it's a matter of punching and kicking a hole through the wall and stuff.) It's a bit like a jigsaw really, with you staring at a wodge of black screen trying to a) work out how to get to the hidden bits, and then b) fit them together with the ones you've already got.
Oh, and talking about kicking through walls, you'll often find quite a few pick-up objects while you're at it. These range from protection against baddies to seven different weapons that you can fire out of your cyber-arm! Actually, you may as well wallop just about everything you see - boxes and steps that you bounce upend down on, anything really they can all hide little goody objects to ease your way through the labyrinthine tunnels. And, boy, will you need them! You've only got a pitiful 5 lives to start with and this game is absolutely blimming humongous! If don't start scribbling down a map immediately you're going to get lost pretty pronto!
SO WHAT'S THE GEN?
Absolutely corkeroony mega fantastic! (Basically.) It's not often you get a game as 'monster' as this - Switchblade has to be one of the finest examples of game design, expert programming and good old value-for-money that we've seen on the Speccy for ages. And I'm not just talking about the breadth of play (the number of rooms, and tunnels, and baddies, and weapons, etc etc). Just look at the screenshots! Okay, so it's all in mono, but then if they'd added colour it wouldn't have been half so clear (all that natty detail would've been lost and gone all fuzzy).
Not to say that don't have my one small grumble though (sorry to spoil it, boys!), and that's that it can seem a bit characterless at times. For example, your little Hiro chappy is sort of half-cute but not quite cute enough - a touch of humour would have worked wonders. Plus you don't get an incredible feeling of danger (like you did in Beast for example).
But having said that you tend to notice this a lot more at the beginning of the game than when you've really got hooked (which isn't at all hard to do!) The slightly clinical feel remains, but getting to your next room and finding your next piece of sword begins to fall a little higher on your list of priorities.
Nope there's very little doubt about it. Gremlin have triumphed again. If you're looking for a really, really big (big! Big!) game then Switchblade will more than happily light your candle.
Blimming huge and downright excellent platform arcade adventure. It bites and won't let go.
At the very end of the tunnel (on the right) you'll find rather a groovy little gun. But don't lose a life or it'll disappear.
Wa-hey, it's pick-up bonus time. Collect enough of these letters and you could be the lucky winner of an amazing 10,000 free points!
We're not too deep down in the Undercity yet but you get the idea (each of the separate 'rooms' appear as you climb down the ladder). These blokes (1) crop up all the time but just need two hard kicks to kill, and this (2) is a nice little pick-me-up (to, er, pick up). Funky, non?
The shaft above runs into the tunnel below. Watch out for the spikes that shoot out of the ground (3). And when you get here (4) another passage appears - behind this caption!