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Haiiiiya! Take that! Dishonourable samurai san. You take my sword, I take your life. It's the way of the warrior, so who am I to argue? I either get my sword back or I've got to kill myself. When it's a choice between beating a few lily-livered ninjas to pulp and slitting my own throat, it's easy to decide whose blood is going to be cascading down the oriental pathways.

That's about as much background as you need in Sword of Honour. The eastern hokus pokus tries to give some meaning to the adventure, but really it's just another excuse to put a Bruce Lee fight-alike through his paces. Your warrior wanders round the paths, past pulchritudinous backdrops, beating some people, bribing other and collecting miniature statues of Buddha from monks. Then it's on to the castle to tackle Damion, the East's most devious miscreant, and he's a notorious swordsnatcher to boot.

Budding game?
The game boils down to being a beautiful beat-em-up that requires only a low level of intelligence to progress from one level to the next. Objects have to be collected during your travels - you wouldn't believe how untidy the Japanese countryside is - and then plied on the appropriate person. Most are used to persuade enemies to give you safe passage from one screen to the next, but to get the Buddha statues, you have to find the right object to give to the right monk.

Weapons can be collected to supllement the powe of your samurai's fists of fury, but it's surprising how many times you have to slash enemies with your huge ninja sword before they lie down and die. You might as well threaten them with a potato peeler for all the damage it does. But when a warrior comes at you with an over-grown chopstick, your character crumples to the floor after the first couple of blows. There is no justice.

A gruesome ball-and-chain type weapon adds some welcome ferocity to the proceedings - you can flying it straight into your opponent's face - but generally the game's too tame and too lame.

Sword of stone
It's all very simple. Sword of Honour is an OK beat-em-up, but this sort of game has been done many times before and this one doesn't break any new ground. Sure, the backdrops look stunning, but the animation is not particularly special, the storyline is inconsequential and you find yourself hankering for something more - a new twist to the routine of hack-and-slash, a decent puzzle to solve (one that is really going to test your intelligence), some humour, something unexpected. Something that means I'm not going to have to wander up and down beating ninja warriors for the rest of my oriental days.

Bruce Lee die-hards will lap up the game's martial machinations, but by now games should have progressed beyond the usual beat, hack and slash-em-up. Something along the lines of Jackie Chan meets Cynthia Rothrock would go down a treat. A beat-em-up with more class, more style, more substance, more humour, more everything.

Plenty of moves are available to the budding ninja. Here's a choice selection.

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The most basic move, a swift smack in the face.

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And a swift one to the goolies for good measure.

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Or how about a kick in the head? That'll do the trick.

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A great move to use against enemies with sensitive toes.

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Whack 'em in the face with the chain. Nice lacerations.

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If you're on the receiving end, just roll out of the way.

Ehre wem Ehre gebührt!

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Was tut ein tapferer Shogun, wenn ihm das Lieblingsschwert geklaut wird? Na, etweder er begeht Harakiri oder er holt den Dolch zurück - letzteres kann er hier schonmal üben...

Wer jetzt nur ein wüste Karate-Klopperei erwartet, wird, je nach Geschmack, enttäuscht oder angenehm überrascht: Sword of Honour ist ein Game für Action-Freaks mit Forscherinstinkt - in über 50 Screens warten zahlreiche Gegenstände auf ihren Entdecker, die Fundsachen können später gegen andere Nützlichkeiten eingetauscht werden.

Geschicklichkeitseinlagen und Unterhaltungen gestalten die Säbel-Suche abwechslungsreich, wenngleich der Schwerpunkt natürlich beim Vertrimmen der Bösewichte liegt. Über 10 verschiedene Tritt- und Schlagvarianten beherrscht der Held, hat er erstmal eine Waffe (Dolch, Shuriken etc.) gefunden, kommen noch ein paar dazu.

Zwar liegen die ersten Gegner relativ schnell auf der Matte, doch geht der Energievorrat im Verlauf des Spiels dann recht flott zur Neige, Macht nix, denn durch Aufsammeln von Nahrung lassen sich die Lebensgeister wieder wecken, außerdem hat man ja fünf davon.

Zu den Stärken des Programms zählt die Steuerung der Held hört auf den Stick genauso wie auf die Maus in Verbindung mit den Icons am unteren Screenrand. Ob man seinen Widersachen nun im Stil von "Barbarian" oder ganz klassisch auf den Leib rückt, immer reagiert das Sprite zuverlässig und flott.

Auch die Animationen sind gelungen, die etwas blaße Grafik schon weniger. Und daß es Musik zwar im Titelbild, im Spiel dann aber bloß noch Soundeffekte gibt, ist wirklich enttäuschend, genau wie der Umfang des Games - 50 Bilder sind halt letztlich weniger, als sich das hier anhören mag... (rl)

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Okay, here's a recipe for you. Take a liberal dash of Last Ninja and peel off the 3D graphics. Add two teaspoonfuls of 2D graphics. Now remove the game ideas from the Last Ninja and add it to the mixture. Stir well and stick it in the oven for 20 minutes. Take it out and leave it to cool. Congratulations, you've just made yourself a Sword of Honour.

So, Sword of Honour is little more than a 2D version of Last Ninja. Sure it's actually quite nice to play for a while, albeit a very short while. It's actually a pleasant game to look at with oriental style graphics, and big, colourful backdrops which set off the large sprites really well but then the programmers go and spoil it all by making the character move.

Alright, the movement is sluggish, but just this once, because I'm in a good mood today, we'll let them off with that seeing as everything else looks tasteful enough. What other elements can we examine instead/

The puzzle element is a contradiction in terms. The puzzles are so easy to figure out it's more like common sense (if you think Shadow Of The Beast III is obvious, this'll blow your mind). You want an example? You come across a monk who says he is ill. On the very next screen is a health potion. Well, I wonder, what should I do? Mmm. It's a wild and crazy idea, but maybe I should give the health potion to the sick guy.

Never mind, maybe the combat could make the game worthwhile. Unfortunately it really isn't a great deal of help in the 'making this a bit of a better game' department. You'll come across several different characters in your quest but they will all fall victim to the same move. The only exception are the ninjas but they all succumb to another move.

So, just two combat moves are all you'll need to hack your merry way through the whole game. When there are so many potential moves to use it is a real shame that you only need to use a couple to finish off anyone you come across.

Just to be a bit different, the programmers have included some icons on screen that you can use to control your ninja by mouse. Unfortunately there are only six of them so your moves are somewhat limited, not that that is much of a loss. It's completely pointless and a waste of screen space.

So let's see what we have. First, Sword of Honour is based extraordinarily closely on Last Ninja. Well, that doesn't necessarily make it a bad game (though it's a bad start). The graphics are very appealing, but then again, looks aren't everything. The music is nauseating and actually had me wishing Stuart would put one of his 'interesting' tapes on the office stereo.

The gameplay is almost non-existent and the combat really is much too easy. As if that wasn't enough, each individual screen is loaded in as you move through the game, which means you can literally spend longer waiting for the screens to load than you do playing them. If all this seems to be the recipe for a bad game, you're right, Sword of Honour sets a low standard, and still fails to reach it.

Sword of Honour logo CU Amiga Screen Star

They have always been popular but, after a bit of respite, could Ninjas be back in fashion? Tony Dillon dusts up on his moves and finds out whether there is still life in the old genre...

There was a time in the heyday of the Commodore 64 when martial arts games were all the rage. Classics of the genre include Way Of The Exploding Fist and International Karate to the more strategic games such as System 3's acclaimed Last Ninja series. Since then, things for the dark vigilantes have been a bit quiet - until now that is.

An Emperor's mighty sword has been stolen by a rival arch-Ninja. With it went his honour and, not surprisingly, he would rather have it returned to its rightful owner rather than lose face in front of his own people. As a result, he has hired you, the best ninja in the land, to get into the enemy temple and do whatever you deem necessary to retrieve it.

However, unlike the many computer game heroes you keep reading about, there is no way you are going in alone.

Help comes in the form of the blessed statues of Buddha. There are four of these beauties to collect - two of which can be found in the first two levels - and they must be placed in strategic places within the temple to open doors, letting you into previously unseen areas and generally helping your progress.

DMI's Sword Of Honour (SOH) is a cross between Fist, Last Ninja and Psygnosis' Barbarian. It has all the arcade elements of the second, and icon control of the Psygnosis game. Not only do you get to fight your way through the game, there are also puzzles to solve, maps to make, and one or two objects to use along the way.

The first things you'll notice upon loading are the controls. Picking up the joystick, a wide variety of directional moves coupled with presses of the firebutton sends the Ninja, leaping, jumping and fighting all over the show. So what are all those arrows in the bottom panel for?

If you think back to the days of Psygnosis titles such as the aforementioned Barbarian, you'll remember that they were mouse-controlled arcade games, with icons replacing joystick moves. SOH lets you play with either simultaneously, with the left button selecting a non-aggressive move and the right button for more violent gestures.

This might seem like an odd thing to do, but it does make for a far more playable game in places where very intricate movement is required, like jumping over a spike, when accidentally selecting the wrong direction could be disastrous.

Walking across the first screen, you come across a door set into the backdrop. Pushing up at this point makes your character walk through the door 'into' the screen - which makes a change from all the 'walk left to go right' games we're constantly bombarded with.

Each of the levels is made up of roughly twenty screens, and laying them out this way adds a mapping element to the game. Now, not only do you have to do all the right moves to get through the exit at the end of the level, you've also got to find the thing.

A couple of screens on, and you find your first fight. This is where the game begins to stand out from the crowd. SOH isn't a joystick pummeller like most games in this genre. Instead, careful thinking is necessary to lay the most blows on your opponent while avoiding his.

Of course, different types of enemy require different strategies. Quick fire, close-up punching works fine on an enemy with a range no longer than your own (i.e. an unarmed fighter), but as most characters carry some sort of weapon (poles, swords, etc.), you have to find the right moment to leap in, attack and then jump out again.

As you can see, the sprites are huge. You may think this won't give you a lot of room to manoeuvre, and you would be right. However, if you are the sort of person who keeps accidentally rolling off screen when the battle is going your way, then don't fear - help is at hand. Tapping the 'return'-key at any point 'locks' the exits meaning that if you're in battle, you can't leave the screen. Tapping it again unlocks them.

Along the top of the screen are ten empty boxes. These gradually fill with the items you collect throughout the game - weapons, the Buddha statues, and various other items. These are used to get past some enemy characters thereby saving your energy.

The rule of thumb, though, is: if a character has something to say to you, then it's an even bet that there is probably an object somewhere that you can give them to gain safe passage. For example, early on you pick up a fan. Using the fan gives you the message 'Yeah, you feel much cooler'.

A little later on a particularly hard-looking Samurai says, 'It's a hot day - beware of the sun'. Bearing in mind that the Samurai is probably roasting underneath all that armour, you give him the fan, which he accepts gracefully. This side of the game adds real atmosphere to an already excellent adventure, and is probably why I'm writing this review after playing the game for five solid hours.

Visually, the game is a scorcher. The attention to detail is astounding, even the way the ninja's jimmy-jams wave when he walks and the way his shadow changes shape depending on his movement. The backdrops are gorgeous from start to finish, going from mysterious paper walls with hints of action shadowed on them, to huge panoramic fractal landscapes complete with trees, waterfalls, and tiny birds flying around in the backdrop.

Sounds are simple but atmospheric. The intro holds the only concession to music in the game, but there are constant background sounds such as leaves rustling, or birds singing that paint a perfect aural contrast to the vicious sounds created in battle. If the Rocky films used a car door slamming to give their punches some impact, then SOH uses samples from the Gulf War.

It's been a hell of along time since we saw a good example of this sort of game, and it takes something as good as Sword Of Honour to make you realise that. It's an excellent combat title, but there is so much more than that in there that you would be a complete fool to miss it.

WEAPONS GALORE To begin with, you have only your hands and feet to fight with, which are more than capable for most nasties. During the game, there are stacks of other weapons you can collect to aid you, such as a ball and chain, a sword, shurikens and throwing knives - all of which are there to make your life a little easier. To make things even easier (Ha!) there's loads of food dotted about too, to top up your energy when things are getting tight.