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PSYGNOSIS * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick * Out now

Princess Lucanna had nust turned 18. In fact today was her birthday. But today was the day that Thanatos decided to rise from his "pit of anguish", depart his prison of torment and take revenge for whoever had trapped him in this interminable prison. He deserved it though - he was officially classed as evil.

The rulers of Honschu, where Lucanna lived, were the nice chaps who had put him away, and it was them that Thanatos, or Thanny for short, was after. To cut a long story short, one full of needless long words and sentences (see manual). Thanny kidnaps Lucanna and intends to use her life force to feed his own and ultimately destroy Honschu.. Leander is the palace guard who's been bonking Lucanna on the quiet. They both reckon it is undying love, but listen to an old hand, it is pure lust.

The emperor summoned Leander and told him he knew about the illicit trysts in the garden but would forgive him if he rescued her. Better to have a live shotgun wedding than a dead daughter. Assuming, of course, that Leander could manage it.

Well it sure sounds like a beat-'em-up to me, and, gosh, I'd be right. The game is made up of three worlds each consisting of four levels, where a single quest has to be completed. This will usually involve collecting something from one end of the level and trekking back to the exit point at the other end with it.

Well it isn't quite as simple as that. The levels aren't linear, they go in all directions and need a lot of exploration and mapping before they can be conquered with ease on a regular basis.

The game is populated by numerous assorted creatures, from elves to dragons to huge spiders that would put the willies up any self-respecting arachnophobia. These can be slain with a few swipes of the sword but they are cunning little devils, and it takes a lot of care to get away without being hit at least once as you try and kill them.

Fortunately though, as you leap and bound across the graphically superb backgrounds, there will be a load of chests and trunks littered around. A few sword swipes will open these to reveal some kind of bonus, be it money, points or armour improvements.

These armour improvements will take you to the next armour strength level. You begin on purple armour which only takes one hit point - take a hit and you die. Green provides two hit points, with the protection climbing one hit point per level through blue, silver, gold and finally black at six hit points.

The money can be used in the shops that you will occasionally stumble into. You could blow it all on a huge weapon but it is worth thinking about building up your armour first - you stand more chance of getting further the stronger your armour is.

Rune bombs can be bought in the shops too, or collected from the chests. Theses are essential because if you make the mistake of not picking up something that comes out of a chest, after a short period of time it will turn into a skull.
If this is accidentally collected, the ethereal presence of Thanatos will appear, with thunder and lightning all about. Only rune bombs stand a chance of thwarting him, but it will take six hits to get rid of the ugly little bleeder.

It is fairly slow-paced initially with little frantic action - the emphasis is on exploration, and accuracy with the joystick as you try for the fifth time to catch that moving platform. Skill with the sword is crucial though - you won't be able to get away with auto-fire in Leander. A far more thoughtful game than some.

It takes on a medieval atmosphere almost as soon as you enter the first world. The graphics have an almost musty feel about them that puts you right back in the golden age of virgins and dragons.
The background colour-slitting and all that techy stuff is excellent and some of the foreground stuff occasionally beats First Samurai, but there isn't enough variety to do this on a permanent basis.

The sound is by a team led by one Jon Burton (apparently he's quite famous for this kind of thing), with a typically spooky Psygnosis tune, and violent effects that, believe me, go some way to bringing out the armoured aggressor in all of us.

It is definitely a serious beat-'em-up, well implemented, quite gorgeous to look at, and a treat for the ears. Pretty top.