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Carry on Slaughtering should be the sub-title to Deathbringer. It's a camped up, sword-wielding, monster-slaying romp with Karn the Barbie and his magic sword Abaddon. It's awash with swish parallax and evil end-of-level baddies, it's a Michael Moorcock adventure that's just made for Children's BBC: good clean fun with weird overtones. A mixed bag of ideas and images it may be, but there is potential here for one of the best hack and slashers of the season.

Deathbringer has echoes of the Elric tales, so told by the Hawkwind novelist Michael Moorcock. These darker fantasy elements of soul stealing have been taken firmly by the wit and made fun. The game stars Karn, a barbarian of little brain but great reputation, and his soul-stealing sword, Abaddon. Together they form a pokey tag team - most of the time.

Karn is a run-of-the-mill, loincloth-wearing barbarian with a standard energy limit that's whittled down by enemy attacks. Abaddon is another kettle of worms altogether. Abaddon was a demon wizard and he has now turned himself into a blade to steal souls. The sword has retained the intelligence and bad habits of the original Abby. So when Karn uses Abby to kill someone, the sword gets to keep the soul. If the sword is filled to overflowing then he gives Karn the extra souls back as fresh life energy.

This relationship works fine when there are plenty of victims, but if Abby starts to hunger for a soul food-snack, and Karn can't top someone then the sword will start to steal Karn's life power. If the sword gets empty, then it just ups the hilt and impales the barbarian. Not that the lack of soul input is always Karn's fault - undead foes for instance have no soul to steal - and that's where the game lies. Keeping Abby happy and Karn alive. To win, Karn must find the Inner Sanctum of the Society for Creative Armageddon. The road there is a twisted and convoluted one that leads through fire, ice, earth and dungeon levels. Karn must proceed, fighting anyone in sight and then trouncing the guardians at the end of each level.

Guardians live at both ends of each road because Deathbringer introduces a wonderfully weird interconnecting map system. Karn enters each new level somewhere near the centre and therefore has a choice as to which way he goes. There's no right way, just longer and shorter routes, just as there are easier and tougher ones. Each different style of level and each specific level itself, has its own mix of combat intensity and distance to travel.

Combined, the map system, need for souls and avoiding combat damage sets the game's tension. Maintaining a health and sould balance is difficult but essential if you want to see Karn get shot of his sword as well as the wizards at the end of this trial.

Scary monsters?
All the dark trappings used to manufacture the plot are neatly ridiculed by the graphics. The action takes place over a smooth parallax background while silly monsters attack in daft ways. At the end of each level well drawn big guys prove that looks can kill by being as deadly as they are pretty. While Karn himself runs in a high knee, camped-up fashion - Conan he is not! Deathbringer uses sword and sorcery elements to create plot but it doesn't have its gameplay terms dictated by them.

The slickness of the graphics - particularly the smart tiled parallax - do have the unfortunate effect of bringing the game's weakest element into sharp focus. Karn, you see, is an uncontrollable lout. He does what you tell him, eventually, but never immediately. There's a minute delay between the joystick initiation of an action and its enaction on screen. A running Karn has to be stopped a step early for combat, sword strokes in battle have to be anticipated and cannot be reaction based. The time lag is tolerable, and predictable, so it can be built into your game plan. But when the going gets tough it annoys, as the early promise is squandered.

Light relief
Deathbringer is fun as it brings a much needed lighter tone to the hack-and-slash genre - which generally takes itself far too seriously. Graphically, it does the business and the parallax is good enough to be worth mentioning three times in one review. As a game though, the lag between joystick movement and on-screen action takes it out of the major league. Deathbringer revives a flagging genre, it's no classic but the clever balance between sword and warrior, all mixed-up in the weird maps make it worth a hack.


Deathbringer logo

Steht Ihr auf Conan? Geht Ihr regelmäßig zum Bodybuilding, ist der starke Arnold Euer Idol? Kurz und gut, wärt Ihr gerne ein Barbar? Prima, dann seid Ihr hier richtig - Empires schlappe Action-Klopperei wird Euch die Flauen schon austreiben!

Bereits die Vorgeschichte lässt erahnen, wie "gehaltvoll" so ein Barbarenleben sein kann, passt sie doch in vier Sprachen locker auf die Rückseite der Box: Ein halbnackter Muskelmann soll mit seinem Zauberschwert losziehen, um ein paar bösen Magiern bzw. Deren Kreaturen das Fürchten zu lehren. Wie allgemein üblich, werden die Auseinandersetzungen Mann gegen Monster dann vor einer horizontal scrollenden Kulisse ausgefochten.

Der Spielablauf könnte kaum einschlafender sein: Man läuft nach links, man läuft nach rechts, überall stellen sich fiese Gegner zum Kampf. Die kleinen (Gnome, Schlangen, etc.) werden ganz locker übersprungen, die mittleren (Riesen, Vögel, etc.) stellen auch nur dank der hakeligen Stickabfrage eine Herausforderung dar, und selbst die imposant großen Zwischengegner sind mit etwas Herumgehopse bzw. einem gezielten Schwerthieb flott besiegt.

Dank reichlich Lebenssaft und -kraft, drei möglicher Schlagvarianten und unendlich vielen Continues hat man bald alle 30 Abschnitte gesehen.

Bloß gibt's in Deathbringer halt nicht viel sehenswertes - der parallax ruckelnde Hintergrund verliert von Level zu Level an Farbe, lediglich die Animationen der Sprites sind ganz nett ausgefallen. Musik kennt nur das Intro, die Soundeffekte während des Spiels sind von der nervtötenden Sorte. Fazit: "Beast II" in der Sparausführung! (rl)

Deathbringer logo

What did I do wrong this month? First Barbarian II, then Deathbringer, another round of meathead slashing antics set in a fantasy world with a stupid name. The Unique Selling Point of this one is the amazing parallax scrolling - each of the 36 lines of the background scrolls individually, making for the closest thing to a real-life effect yet seen. It's very impressive indeed, but it would seem it didn't leave much memory space for gameplay, because Deathbringer is so thin in that department it makes Barbarian II looks like, I don't know, Sim Earth.

In most of these horizontally-scrolling beat-'em-ups, gameplay is a simple matter of walking for a bit, coming up against a bad guy, fighting to the death with him, walking on a bit more etc. Deathbringer boldly does away with the 'fighting' bit, allowing you to quite happily walk right through any of the enemies who block your way, meaning that you only have to kill the occasional one in order to keep your sword (which lusts for blood and will kill you if it isn't 'fed' regularly) happy. Now and again there are big end-of-level-type baddies to kill or simplistic dodging sequences, but otherwise that's yer lot.

Doesn't sound like a lot of entertainment for a full-price game, does it? And it isn't. It looks nice - and well worth experimenting further with - but let's have a game next time, eh, Empire?

Deathbringer logo

Karn the Barbarian must be destroyed, so a pact has been devised: persuade a demon called Abaddon to transform himself into a magic sword called Deathbringer. In return Abaddon may take the souls of his victims. But, by an uncanny twist of farte, the weapon falls into Karn's own hands as he sets out to rid the world of the wizard's menace.

Looking at the screen shots you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the best game since you paid £45 for Dragon's Lair. However I don't think I've been more frustrated with gameplay since Des Walker scored an own goal in the semi-final of the World Cup.

There are 36 levels of parallax scrolling spread over the 30 interconnecting levels. Karn's adventures take him across icy wastes, underground caverns, dense forests and other extremely detailed backdrops. The idea behind this is to satisfy the sword's ever increasing appetite for souls. The more people killed the more power gained - and if you don't fulfill your quota the sword will take control of you and eventually drain your own life away.

There is more than one route to the wizard's lair, and some paths are longer and loop back on themselves. All levels are linked by animated guardians. They're cunning and attack in an unpredictable manner - so save time and lives and just run for it.

The trouble with the game is that it's very hard to control, particularly Karn. His sword movements are slow, and when he runs he needs a second or more to stop. Most of the monsters can be jumped over or passed without hindrance and, although the screens are great to look at, you won't be too sad if you never have to go through them again. Probably a game that'll fill many a Christmas stocking, so tell your folks to cross it off their list.