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.