Dear Points of View, I wish to complain about...

Moonstone logo

MINDSCAPE * £25.99 * 1 meg * Joystick * Out now

You know the trouble with beat 'em-ups? They are just not violent enough. Controversial, I know, but true. What is the point of beating the biz out of silly little sprites if they just fall down and go 'peep'? We want blood and guts! We want entrails and schlock horror gore fests! Nurse, nurse, the ointment! And if all this sounds a bit too graphic for you, then I suggest you go and read the Home Alone review. Go on, I think it is best if you leave. You will only end up feeling sick.

On the other hand, if you are the sort of person who can watch Hellraiser while eating beans on toasts, the sort of person who can read Stephen King before going to bed, the sort of person who thinks that The Evil Dead is an important cinematic statement, then you will love this game.

So, only the sturdy ones left eh? All the wimps have gone off to read about Macaulay Smeghead's slapstick antics, so we can get on with the gratuitous bloodletting. Heh heh heh. Evil cackle, crash of lightning, eerie organ music etc, etc.

Ahem. Well, the plot is the usual gubbins about ancient quests for magic stones, druids and monsters - all fairly predictable. Some druid blokes decided to use four knights to get the Moonstones from the valley of the Gods. You, and up to three other "chums", can take control of a knight each and wander around the four territories hacking the resident beasties into a slimey red mush. Hours of family fun? Let us see...

Each knight starts the game in their home village, where they can return for extra lives. Each village is situated in one of the four territories - the Northern Wastelands, the Misty Moors, the Great Forest or the Wetlands. You move your little knight cursor where you want to go, at least as far as your limited time will allow, and then press Fire to enter the location.

If you do not want to enter a location then you can use your turn to move further across the map, thus heading for an easier territory perhaps. Each territory contains six lairs where you fight the monsters, and a more helpful location such as a city where you can replenish energy, buy bigger weapons, gamble your precious money away and other such niceties. The crux of the game, though, is the lairs. Somewhere in each territory there is a key. Only with all four keys you can enter the valley of the Gods and try to win a Moonstone from the Guardian. So to find the keys you must fight through all the lairs, in any order you want and see what goodies they hold.

You might find gold, or some spells, or even a spanking new sword. Or you might find bugger all. Of course, the other knights are doing exactly the same so you have to keep an eye on what your opponents are up to.

For the really brutal player you can turn on your fellow players. If another player has got something you want, then simply attack them and if you win the ensuing battle then you can pilfer any item from they body. Once a player has lost all his or her lives then you can pillage the grave and take everything. Oh, and watch out for black knights - any knight not controlled by a human player falls under computer control and spends the whole game trying to kill you. Youth of today, I do not know...

On top of all this, you also have to contend with a massive dragon that flies around the map and attacks players at random. The chances of beating the dragon without top of the range armour and a magic sword are alarmingly slim, so it is best to avoid him until you are tooled up enough to beat him.

Now, if all this sounds a bit revolved for a beat 'em-up then you would be right. There is more than a little bit of strategy required for this game. Not so much that you spend ages working your way up to a fight, but enough so that the endless hack and slash does not become tiresome. A nice balance, if the truth must be told.

I am sorry. I suppose we cannot put this off any longer. We are going to have to discuss the graphics. So with, a glass of water and a handy bucket in case of spontaneous regurgitation let us take a close look at those crimson-spattered sprites. And they really are quite startling. Blood squirts and gushes all over the place, limbs and heads fly off in huge gouts of scarlet fluid; flesh is ripped open and flung all over the screen. It is just like Casualty. It is so gruesome that Mindscape have given the game a voluntary 12 certificate. So all you responsible parents may want to Tippex over the screenshots on this page, just in case your offspring see them and grow up to be serial killers or something.

The detail is excellent, and not just on the gore - which is optional for you wimps. The still screens and opening animation are good too, proving just why the game is one meg only. But, heh heh heh, let us talk about the gore again. This game reminds me of Battle chess in one respect - it is very tempting to get killed just to see what disgusting animations the programmers have come up with. And there is plenty of variety in both monsters and players. They range from a fairly tame decapitation, to an extremely over-the-top bursting at the seams and squirting bodily fluids sky high. As I said, there is an option to turn all this off, but let us be honest, what is the point? It is the gore that makes the game entertaining to watch.

The sound effects are squishy too. Each body-slicing blow is accompanied by what sounds like a large bag of yoghurt being drop kicked into a dustbin full of beach effluent. A sort of "Ker-splutch" noise. Plus various groans, grunts and roars from the massacred beasties. PLUS!!! some sampled chants and things for the spooky Stonehenge animation at the beginning. PLUS!!!!!!!! some fiddly fiddly dee music. So the sound is not bad either.

If you want a beat-'em-up that is meaty, bloody and slightly strategic, then Moonstone is phun with a capital F. It may not be terribly appealing in the long term because it is pretty easy to get all four keys and finish the game, but you will come back now and again just to let off a bit of steam and purge yourself of all those primeval urges. A welcome addition to the genre.

Moonstone logo

With the spring upon us, the time is right for tales of mystical Stonehenge - but did Mindscape really have to re-enact the Beanfield massacre on your Amiga?

Remember when computer games used to make headlines because of the gore and splatter instead of just the sex? A few years back, the mere sight of a couple of red pixels was enough to bring out the whole 'computers-are-bad-for-you' brigade, decrying all progress as heresy. Palace's Barbarian even got banned in Germany because of the sheer bloody violence, involving lots of splashing claret and bouncing heads.

But Mindscape aren't worried about that sort of thing happening to their new beat-em-up adventure, Moonstone. Featuring some of the most glorious gut spilling action you've ever seen, it could be considered a bit of a 'nasty' by people who don't understand what 'escapism' means. That's why Mindscape have voluntarily rated Moonstone as a 12, using the cinema censorship system. If you like action - but not gore - there's an icon to click on that selects more tasteful, less blood-soaked animation. But for the blood-hungry maniacs, no taste-level is spared in this charmingly visceral videogame.

What? A load of baloks?
The plot (for what it's worth) is nothing particularly innovative. You're a knight, and, working against three other knights, you have to retrieve one of the magic and mystical moonstones. When you've found one, you can offer it up to the gods and become champion of the quest. All this is made more difficult by the fact that the moonstones are locked away (and heavily guarded) in a place called the Valley of the Gods. You can't even get into here until you've found four secret keys and these - yes, you've guessed it - are stashed away in various locations around a huge map.

As if that wasn't enough, the keys are themselves guarded by a variety of disgustingly violent creatures - baloks that crush you in their huge hands, trolls that thump you over the head and mudmen that drag you underwater. Each lair (there are 24 in all) contains a treasure chest, which may, if you're lucky contain one of the four keys. But you need to lay waste to the monsters in that lair before you can find out what your reward is. You have a one-in-six chance of coming up lucky, but it's odds on you'll die for nothing.

To supplement the Barbarian-style action, there are a number of other places to visit. There are cities where you can buy the attentions of a mystic medic, or go gambling when you're greedy. There are also a couple of magic locations where you may end up with a few nice surprises in the form of free cash or extra lives. But you've got to them first.

No, plenty of stick
Moonstone has the potential to be excellent, but doesn't quite make it for a number of reasons. This superb-looking development of the Barbarian theme has a host of pluses: the sound effects are terrifying, thanks to the sampled screams, roars, lightning and squelching flesh sounds. The intro and in-game music is high in atmosphere (even if some of the samples are a bit rough at the edges) and there are many stirring tunes and mystery-filled melodies to make the seemingly endless loading at least partially worthwhile.

The graphics are gory, but gorgeous. Together with the sound, they make Moonstone look like a really polished program. It's not until you start playing that things look different. For a start, the two-player practice mode, which enables you to practice your sword-fighting moves against a friend, is totally flawed. Plug in an extra joystick (so that your opponent can actually dodge your blows) and start fighting. Everything's fine until both players simultaneous hit their fire buttons - then your Amiga resets and you sit there looking blankly at the machine. One potentially brilliant sub-game totally ruined.

Just as annoying is the multi-player mode in the main game (up to four players can play at once). Despite the use of two joysticks in the practice mode, a two-player main game uses only the one, passed from player to player between goes. Except, that is, when your knight happens to bump into another human-controlled knight and starts head-to-head fight. Then there's no warning to plug in the second joystick, and this can give an unscrupulous opponent an unfair advantage. He can hack the hapless knight to bits while the other player's looking for the joystick.

Howling at the moon
Even assuming you're not playing against sly cheats, there are still more problems with the multi-player mode: when one player's turn ends, the control passes immediately to the next player's knight. If the first player is slow to realise his turn has ended, he may move the next knight (unintentionally) before passing the stick. Very poor!

Yet worse is the way the game can lock up completely if you leave it displaying the inventory screen while you're having your tea-break. With no save-game option (an appalling oversight) it's really, really frustrating to lose a four hour, four-players game just because you want a short break.

Moonstone, for all its plush graphics, smooth sonics and enchanting entertainment, rather smacks of cynical rush job. There are some flicky oversights in playability, testing and even the plot. The desperate attempt at creating a suitably 'fantasy-style' scenario even stretches to nicking place-names from other games' mythos: take the city of Waterdeep - this beauty's definitely in the Eye of the Beholder!

A potentially great game gone sour, Moonstone is very close being quite brilliant and abominable at the same time. It's probably more annoying to see a good game wasted than it is to seen an out-and-out crap one. Avoid, unless you're into frustration in a very big way.

Moonstone logo

Könnt Ihr Blut sehen? Ja? Wollt Ihr vielleicht sogar Blut sehen - gaaanz viel Blut sehen? Treibt Ihr Euch gelegentlich in Metzgereien und Schlachthöfen herum nur so zum Spaß? Echt? Na, dann seid Ihr genau die Sorte Leute, an die Mindscape bei diesem Spiel gedacht hat...

Von außen sieht man es dem Game kaum an, ein paar rote Spritzer auf der Packung, mehr nicht. Aber sobald dann die Option "Gore On/Off (Gore: geronnenes Blut) auftaucht, ahnt der Profi-Schlachter bereits, welche Art von Realismus hier angesagt ist - Moonstone ist eine Metzelorgie vom Allergrößten!

Haltet Euren Blutdurst aber bitte noch einen Moment unter Kontrolle, zuerst sollten wir uns doch mal kurz darum kümmern, welche Bewandtnis es überhaupt mit den titelgebenden Mondsteinen hat. Die müssen hier nämlich gefunden werden, dafür braucht man allerdings zuvor die vier Schlüssel zum Tal der Götter. Und um wiederum an den Krempel zu kommen, muss man viele Ritter köpfen, "Troggs" zerfetzen, rattenähnliche Wesen schlachten, "Schlammbeißer" erledigen, Drachen ermorden, "Baloks" aufspießen, Trolle vierteilen und so weiter. Ja, das ist der eigentliche Inhalt dieses Games! Es gibt auch noch eine große Landkarte, die das komplette Betätigungsfeld anzeigt, und allerlei Gegenstände wie Heiltränke, Talismane oder Schriftrollen, die bei der Suche nützlich sein können. Außerdem kann man in den Städten Waffen kaufen, sich heilen oder die Zukunft voraussagen lassen, den Zauberer Math in seinem Turm besuchen oder in Stonehenge vorbeischauen.

Das hört sich fast einen Rollenspiel an, und tatsächlich ist das Schlachtfest auch in Runden organisiert, ja, die ein bis vier Spieler haben sogar so was ähnliches wie Charakterwerte. Aber bei diesem "Rollenspiel" ist der Kampfscreen halt der wichtigste des ganzen Programms...

Nee, Moonstone ist schon richtiges Hack 'n' Slay, wozu brauchte man sonst acht verschiedene Schlag- und Stechvarianten?! Womit wir auch schon beim größten Problem dieses Spiels gelandet wären: Egal, ob man nun gegen ein Monster oder einen anderen Spieler antritt, der Ausgang des Kampfer hängt weitgehend vom Zufall ab! Es läßt sich einfach nicht vernünftig steuern, besser gesagt, es ist fast gleichgültig, wie gut oder wie schlecht man steuert - zum Gewinnen braucht man in erster Linie Glück, kein Können.

Über die Grafiken kann sich in geschmacklicher Hinsicht sicher streiten, rein technisch und mengenmäßig geht die Optik des Blutbads jedenfalls in Ordnung. Nichts anderes gilt für den Sound: Astreine Musik, schön schreckliche Effekte, man muß sie bloß nervlich durchstehen können.

Tja, wer also wird von Moonstone begeistert sein? Normal veranlagte Menschen mit gutem Geschmack sowieso nicht. Bildschirm-vampire, denen "Elvira" zu harmlos war, wegen der mißratenen Steuerung wohl auch nicht so richtig. Einzig die BPS mag sich über den Nachschub freuen - die Leutchen gönnen sich ja sonst nichts...(mm)

Moonstone logo

It may not be the first game to offer a heady mix of hack-'em-up and FRP, but it is the first to include a gore on/off option!

This is an odd one. Not just in the details, though some of these are odd - what other game has a gore on/off option, allowing you to decide whether the fight sequences are to be blood spattered affairs or not? Part fantasy role playing game, part Barbarian-style hack-'em-up, it threatens from the minute you pick it to fall with unerring accuracy right between two stools - just like all those other 'odd' American PC games which never quite look right on the Amiga. Still, let us see how it does, shall we?

The game, originally to have been called Quest For The Moonstone, but now subtitled (ahem) A Hard Day's Knight, puts you (surprisingly enough) on a quest for well, the moonstone. Once in a thousand years does Danu, the moon god, bless the earth with this attention apparently, and a quick glance at the night sky tells you the time is now - word spreads quickly, and the bravest knights of the land join in the quest. You are one of them, of course - the prize is Ultimate Power (for the rest of eternity, no less), which will be granted you once you have located the stone and offered it to Danu at his sacred site of Stonehenge. As you might imagine, though, it is not going to be easy - every knight in the country has been lured to the same goal, and with four huge territories to explore, a weaker soul could well rate his chances so pathetically low that the whole thing is not worth bothering with at all, really.

Of course you are made of sterner stuff. So after deciding which of the four knights you will represent (merely a choice of colours really - red, blue, yellow or green - all characters starting with the same basic stats) and seeing if you can round up any pals to take the other three roles, it is time for the off. You start off with a map screen, icons dotted around it representing the four knights. One 'move' is allowed per day, and so using your joystick you shunt your man to wherever it is you fancy having a little explore of. The other three knights also move and (assuming two or more of you do not end up in the same place at the same time), the day's events unfold.

There are lots of 'place of interest' dotted around the map, and visiting different locations will throw you onto a whole variety of situations. In fact, deciding which place to visit is a bit like picking an envelope at the end of Blind Date - there is always the chance that you might return better off than you arrived, but there is no telling what you will have to endure in the process. Continuing the same analogy, you may also find yourself mortifyingly incompatible with the person you find there. And such personality clashes invariably results in a level of violence that would make Cilla shudder.

Make no mistake - there is a very high chance that you will have to fight for whatever treasure (or anything else really) you find at any of the locations, which brings us to the game's main set piece, the gory beat-'em-up scenes. Other knights, monsters (foul orc-like creatures that come in countless hideous shapes and sizes, just like in Blind Date) and even the odd flying dragon - each will do his (or in some unhappy their) dastardly best to halt your progress. And in many cases they will do pretty well at it too.

As a knight, you come complete with a basic set of weapons: a sword, a canteen of throwing-knives, some armour and eight different combat moves. The hardware can all be upgraded if you manage to find a merchant, but only if you have collected enough money along the way to pay him. It is a vicious circle really - you can only cut a manly swathe through the swarming hoards with the right weapons, and you can only earn money to buy these weapons by killing loads of baddies. Oh dear...

It does not end there though. Forget the number of pints of lager you can drink without falling over - it is a combination of Strength and Constitution that determines your 'ardness in a ruck, and these only come with time. Your Strength determines how hard you hit your foe. Constitution determines how much physical punishment you can take without ending up as a kebab yourself, while another rating - Endurance - determines how far you can travel each day.

All three of these factors can be enhanced through collecting magical items, receiving gifts from the Mystic or wizard and - most effectively - through gaining 'experience' points. It is the usual routine - kill a few baddies, collect a few objects, wander about a bit and before too long you will find that your ratings have been risen a couple of notches. These increases are largely irrelevant however, because - in the time-honoured tradition of the genre - as you get tougher, so do the baddies. Finally, if things are all starting to go horribly wrong, and your energies are almost spent, you can always go home for a bit of R and R. Villages are designated to each knight - return to your home village (none of the other knights are let in) and the local druid will restore some of your energy for free. You can do this three times in every game, so whatever you do - do not forget which village is yours!

Moonstone must be considered as a near miss

Which all, in a roundabout sort of a way, brings us back to the central question of the game - where is this moonstone, this magical pebble of earth-shattering importance, anyway? In the Valley of the God, you are sagely informed. But where, exactly, remains a secret. To gain access to the Valley of the Gods requires the four sacred keys, and there is one key to be found in each of the four territories. The task is simple - collect the keys, put on your grooviest pair of fighting pants and enter the valley for your final challenge. Emerge victorious, and you have won.

And that, my brave warrior, is your lot. Almost. There is not just one moonstone, but several. And each moonstone needs to be presented at Stonehenge at a time related to the cycle of the moon. And if you find yourself as the right person, at the right place, with the right object but at the wrong time - well, tough luck matey. You will have to sit and wait. Except that by this time of course, word is out and everything that moves is after you - you will have to fight off all-comers until each passing day rudges the moon cycle towards parity with the stone. When the time is right - and if you last that long - you will have finally won.

Blimey. So where does that leave us? Well, as has probably become obvious, Moonstone seeks to combine a Golden Axe style beat 'em-up with elements of traditional role-playing adventures. Although the two styles of gameplay work together surprisingly well, neither has quite enough about it to appeal to fans of the individual genres. The hack 'n' slash -sequences are really a bit too fast and furious - you can die almost immediately - and lacking in need of combat skill, while the small playing area, lack of character interaction and minimal amount of big time decision making effectively writes off the RPG elements.

But that does not mean that Moonstone has nothing to offer. Through the use of glorious sound effects and graphics you could frame, the game manages to create a truly absorbing atmosphere. The intro sequence is as good as any I have seen, too, and generally this comes across as a polished, professional product. If the game underneath had a bit more to offer, it would perhaps scrape in as some sort of minor league classic. As it is though, there is just not quite enough here. Although initially entertaining (and visually a delight), Moonstone has to be considered a near miss - it is only with an assortment of players, and perhaps a few beers, that the computerised-board-game-with-fighting nature of the game really comes into its own.


...can leave a guy seriously in the red, as we will see...

The two cities each offer four different services, so take time out and spend some of your hard-earned dosh! Both cities offer a knight to remember. (Oh dear, the knight 'jokes' are flowing thick 'n' fast today).

Moonstone Moonstone
Dice is a popular game in the city's public houses. Gamble however much you want, then let lady luck decide your fortunes. The locals look a bit smug - they would not be into ripping off innocent visitors now, would they? Oh dear, lost again. That is another three gold pieces down the drain. Perhaps it would have been safer out in the wilderness with the monsters?
Moonstone Moonstone
Madame Za-Za's spiritual shop can provide you with all sorts of magical artefacts. These can then be used at any time throughout the rest of the game. (Hurrah!) The healer - cross his palm with silver and you will soon feel a whole lot better. He may be effective, but you can get your war-wounds patched up back at your home village for free.
Moonstone Moonstone
Click on what you want to buy and your supply of gold is directly debited. But can you afford it? If you cannot, just find yourself a monster's lair and (try to) kick some butt. Meet Mythral the Mystic. He is renowned for his ability to lift a knight's soul to a higher cosmic plane. Give him some gold, and then just hope that he chooses to improve your abilities as opposed to levering them (it is a bit of gamble really).

Moonstone logo

Mindcape's aim with Moonstone is to make RPGs more accessible to the masses, and they have certainly succeeded. Although it can't be called a true RPG and lacks the more detailed side of the genre, Moonstone is a fast-paced search with all the mystical creatures that you'd expect to meet on such an excursion, and the usual wealth of miscreants and wise men.

Written and devised by Fiendish Freddy co-creator, Rob Anderson, the game recounts the adventures of four knights as they traverse a massive map in search of the shattered gem of the title. In an atmospheric intro sequence, the scene is set. A mysterious group of monks surround the said stone and a bolt of lightning shatters it into twenty pieces. The monks then set about secreting the fragments, hoping that the power they contain will never be united again and leaving a vile guard to protect each piece. Now, the time has been deemed right for the pieces to be gathered and taken back to the altar to be transformed into one again.

The game is played over two levels, with the player selecting one of the four characters and entering a sprawling map screen. Depending on which knight you have selected - and there is absolutely no difference in their abilities - the game begins from one of the corners of the play area, and the player guides their tiny onscreen persona across the land. Throughout Moonstone, there is a great attention to detail, with the night turning to day and the character actually slowing as he ploughs his way through forests or swampland, but it is during the all-important fight sequences that they become apparent.

Inhabiting the wastelands and mountain ranges that make up Moonstone's lands, are a series of dangerous creatures and guardians who must be tackled before whatever they are hiding can be collected. On encountering one such beast - whether it be a Mudman, a Dragon, or a horde of Ratmen - the view changes to the traditional one of a beat 'em up as the fighters square up against each other.

Graphically, this section is a slight disappointment, though. Although the sprites and backdrops are large and detailed, the actual use of colour and definition is clumsy and makes the game look rather primitive - in fact, I couldn't help but notice a similarity to Paul Norman's age-old Forbidden Forest and Aztec Challenge.

Crudeness aside, though, these stages are a doddle to control, with the joystick and firebutton accessing the eight possible moves, and the game's novel 'Gore' mode ensuring that the events can be bloodied up or toned down (but I doubt whether many people will bother turning it off once they start swinging their swords around!).

All this fighting ties in quite nicely with the main purpose of the game, as indeed do Moonstone's many aspects. Towns punctuate the large map, and entering these unfolds a new series of options. For instance, healing and weapon shops can be entered and health points and extra weapons bought. A visit to a seedy tavern can lead to success (or bankruptcy) at the dice table, or a piece of juicy gossip from the natives.

Despite these many ideas and features, the best things about Moonstone is that it is a doddle to pick up and get into. There is no messing about with icons or food rationing, but by learning from your opponents and mistakes, extra skills, spells and personality points can be accumulated, making the game slightly easier as you encounter the harder and larger guardians.

A perfect entry for someone who wants to get to grips with this tricky genre, and a playable and welcome game in its own right.

With its many decapitations, disembowellings, and blood spurts, Moonstone has revived the lost art of binary bloodshedding. Started by Paul Norman in his famed C64 and 8-bit Atari epic, Forbidden Forest, Paul showed death by scorpion, by spider and by impaling - all in their gory glory. This actually prompted a few complaints, and death sequences were promptly toned down again - until Beyond Forbidden Forest, that is! On its way from Psygnosis (and it's been quite a wait), though, is DMA Design's appropriately named Gore! which, we are promised will feature as much of the red stuff as feasibly possible. What next, The New Zealand Story Massacre, starring Tiki the maniac Kiwi?