Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, me hearties! Once pirates were the scourge of the Spanish Maine so it was only a matter of time before their adventures popped up in a hacking-away coin-op, which now makes its appearance on the Speccy. We're talking serious swashbuckling here as you, with or without the aid at a pal, become either One Eye or Red Dog and search through eight levels for treasure, stolen by an evil sorcerer. Armed with trusty (and probably rusty) cutlasses, they fight the continuous stream of attacking pirates to regain their booty. Hah har!
The action is spread over eight levels, set aboard galleons, in Spanish castles, in caves and all sorts of locations where Errol Flynn would feel at home. The brightly coloured backdrops scroll from one combat location to another and once you're there you fight until all your attackers are disposed of. Along the way are lots of bonus items to collect, chests full of treasure, golden goblets, pieces of eight and 'X marks the spot ' where buried treasure lies.
The more treasure collected, the stronger you become. And strength is needed because the opposition put up a stiff fight. A swift poke with your sword usually sends your attackers to the great pirate banquet in the sky - that is as long as they don't retaliate and knock a few points on your energy bar.
Food and drink is scattered around and consuming these pushes your energy meter up to an acceptable level, keeping your three lives intact for a while.
At the end of each level, one of the evil sorcerer's huge henchmen tries to hack you to bits, and having overcome him you still have to fight your treacherous crew for it! The sorcerer himself awaits your presence for a final battle at the end of level eight.
Eye strain is the first concern for anyone playing Skull and Crossbones; the small monochrome sprites are almost lost in the garishly coloured backdrops.
Right, the gameplay: what we're looking at here is really a standard beat-'em-up, much in the style of Golden Axe but with a pirate theme. It can be a case of 'seen it all before' if you're a beat-'em-up addict. All you have to do is walk along, wave your sword at the enemy forces and grab the loot. There isn't a great variety of combat moves; our pirate pals can only swipe with their swords.
Skull and Crossbones is a much better than Tengen's last game, Stun Runner, and although I've not seen the arcade game that Skull and Crossbones is taken from, it's a pretty entertainment romp!
MARK ... 70%
'Skull and Crossbones follows in the footsteps of the Renegade games. You go around the landscape swashing and buckling your enemies until they blow up and leave 10p pieces behind (strange!). The funny thing about it is you only have to battle it out against one enemy at a time and the main character only ever seems to face one direction. If you want to go right, for example, but you're facing left, you moonwalk along the screen! Leaving each section of the game is quite peculiar: you jump on a cross and your character flys over to the next stage (not a very piratey thing to do, is it?). Skull and Crossbones's theme spices up the old beat- 'em-up style but doesn't hold many surprises.'
NICK ... 76%
I'd make a really good pirate. I'm dead 'ard, you know Could grow some stubble (or failing that, slap on the shoe polish!) I've already got an eyepatch and some raggedy trousers, so I'd just need a sword and a parrot after that. Yes, indeedy - it certainly beats being a lusty wench and getting tied up by rough sailors!
You probably know all about Skull And Crossbones already 'cos Andy megapreviewed it just a couple of issues back. But in case you were snoozing at the time. let me gently remind you. (And don't drop off again this time!)
OOO-ARRGH, ME LUVVLIES!
Right, matey, you are now a pirate! AS either One Eye or Red Dog you get to slash 'n' thrust your way through 8 ship and land levels picking up food, digging for treasure and crossing swords with pesky pirates, nippy ninjas and sabre-weilding skeletons. These hoodlums are the personal army of the evil Sorcerer who pops up at the end of every other level (the land bits) in disguise - and he's a dab hand with the old dressing up box. Par example, at the end of the 4th level (after getting rid of enough ninjas to fill a bottomless coracle) you come across a cross-legged Contucius look-alike. Don't be fooled, 'cos this peace-loving old gent turns into none other than Mr Master Ninja himself. Give old Conf a good going over with your ol' blade and whaddaya know? Mr Wiz? We meet again.
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
End-of-level baddies aside, most of your adversaries are a bit hopeless, especially in the first 6 levels. You'll get onto the poop deck and suddenly about 7 nasty looking pirates appear. Eek! Time for a swift getaway. But (and it's a big but) only one comes at you - so you get rid of him. And all these rotten scoundrels (instead of going for your throat like any self-respecting vagabond) simply line up, waiting to be stabbed in the stomach and go up in a puff of smoke. This makes the whole game a lot easier than it otherwise might have been and it's all a bit of a let-down. The best of the bunch are the ninjas. Dressed to kill (in black, of course) they come rolling silently behind you curled up into little balls. Then they uncurl and give you quite a bit of grief. How sweet!
TIME FOR A SLASH!
And now for another let-down - the graphics. The scenery is excellent and clear but the sprites, unfortunately, aren't. They blend into the background, as well as each other, so things get really confusing. There were points where everything was corkingly clear but then I'd move forwars a bit and it was more a case of "Eh oop, where am I?"
Skull And Crossbones is addictive fun but it's a touch too easy - especially if you master the backslash early on. (Wah-hey! Bit of a tip there, Spec-chums!) It wasn't until the sixth level that I started to get into trouble, and I'm usually crap. If I got up on Saturday morning, went into twon and spent my hard-earned cash on this then I'd be a bit upset if I'd finished it by the time Beverley Hills 90210 came on. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not a tenner is too much for a day's entertainment? And I think it is. If Skull And Crossbones was £3 I'd recommend it, but it's not.
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.)
Ahoy me hearties! Shiver me timbers, hoist the main sail and break out the rum ha har! Well what would you expect of a game with this title, it leaves no margin for error. A pirate game is what you want and that's what you get.
YOU are One Eye the rootin'est tootin'est, sorry wrong stlye! the most dastardly damnable cur to sail the seven seas although most of the action takes place on what you are led to believe is land.
Various wenches have been kidnapped and trussed up in strategic places (oo-er!). The task ahead is to find out their location whilst battling the oppressive sea dogs that bark at your heels and hinder your progress. Nothing new here. Dice up the bad guys with your cutlass, dodge the bottle throwing imp who takes refuge in a barrel and get to the end of level big boys and cut them down to size.
Some of the sword fighting is quite fun. You can block, parry and thrust to your hearts content and there's some satisfaction in lunging forward for your attack and springing back unharmed, but the variety of gameplay is very limited. When you have slogged your way across the first level you are returned to the beginning to do it all again with the only change being a few more bottles to avoid. There are also some strange characters lurking about. What a ninja school is doing in the middle of a pirate game is beyond me!
To say did not enjoy Skull and Crossbone would be lying, but not to mention the terrible tune would be criminal. This one sent fellow S.U. members running for cover and Garth still can't watch pirate films without covering his ears and humming some Madonna.
The spirit of One Eye will no doubt live on, but he'll turn in his grave when he hears the piper calling his tune.
Price: £9.99 Tape, £14.99 Disk
Reviewer: Steve Keen
There are wide-ranging possibilities for pirate games but the pixel perfect movement that is needed for Skull and Crossbones detracts from the cut and thrust of pirating about.
Ha-harrrr me laddie! Shiver me timbers, etc etc. If you didn't get the idea from that unoriginal and lacking intro, Skull and Crossbones is a scrolling beat 'em up based around pirates. The coin-op, like this conversion, borders on the average, so if I was you, I'd save the eleven quid for something better. Let's hope that future conversions are far superior.
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