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.)
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