Knight Lore Review

*Review based on Knight Lore’s Release as part of Rare Replay*

The third installment in the Sabreman series, Knight Lore is often considered a technical milestone in gaming for its use of isometric gameplay making for a much broader adventure than gaming had seen up to that point, and it is widely regarded as a defining moment in British video game design.

It’s also really boring.

Now, I can understand the game’s technical leaps for the industry, and can appreciate the impact in had on gaming history. But that doesn’t change that, in terms of playability, Knight Lore is very much a product of its time. Though it may not feel as fundamentally broken as its predecessor Underwurlde, Knight Lore has definitely felt the affect of aging, and without the historical context, provides very little reason for a revisit.

In all fairness, Knight Lore actually has a pretty interesting premise: series’ protagonist Sabreman has been bitten by the Sabre Wulf, and has now become a werewolf himself. To break this curse, Sabreman must traverse an ancient dungeon and seek out special items to brew the cure he seeks. But he only has forty days to do so, or else he will become a wolf forever.

Knight Lore features a day and night cycle, with Sabreman being in human form during the day, and wolf form at night. Each cycle only lasts about thirty seconds, meaning an entire game day takes about a minute. Of course, this means the game can (and must) be beaten very quickly, but in order to do so, you’d really have to know what you’re doing. Sadly, much like its ZX Spectrum predecessors, Knight Lore doesn’t exactly help the player out, as once again everything seems incredibly cryptic.

The game features a total of 128 rooms in the dungeon, with a nice twist being that you’ll start out in a different room in each playthrough. The player may have to solve puzzles to get passed certain rooms (usually by pushing objects and platforms), or they may have to avoid obstacles and enemies. Of course, that’s much easier said than done.

The only real gameplay difference between Sabreman’s forms is that the wolf jumps higher, and that certain enemies will take a particular disliking to the wolf. So if you thought maybe at least the wolf would have some kind of attack…sorry, no dice.

Another problem arises with the control of Sabreman himself. He moves far to radically, and he always has to move forward whenever he jumps. Combine this with the prototypical isometric view, and the platforming sections are nothing short of disastrous. It’s even hard to navigate past traps and enemies, what with Sabreman’s clunky controls and the sheer difficulty in differentiating the space and perspectives of objects.

“This is as far as Sabreman can go. Just ignore the wide, open space. You can’t go around this wall.”

There’s also a pretty notable graphical limitation in that what you see isn’t always what you get. By that I mean you may find in some rooms you can walk through all available space, while other times it looks like you should be able to walk around something, but just can’t. While some might defend the game as simply being limited due to the hardware, it doesn’t change the fact that the inconsistency really throws off the player.

I have to admit I feel guilty. I can understand the impact a game may have had back in the early 1980s, and knowing a game had such influence makes you want to say nice things about it. But if we’re just talking about a gameplay experience to play today, Knight Lore just isn’t fun. It feels downright archaic in not just its graphics and sound, but in its gameplay.

Knight Lore was released on the ZX Spectrum in November of 1984. For the record, Super Mario Bros. was released ten months later, in September of 1985. The latter is, of course, proof that 80s games can still be a lot of fun today. There’s a night and day difference between a timeless classic and a relic from the past. If Super Mario Bros. is the obvious timeless classic, well, you can imagine what that makes Knight Lore.



Sabre Wulf Review

*Review based on Sabre Wulf’s release as part of Rare Replay*

Sabre Wulf is considered one of the classic games from Rare’s early years as Ultimate Play the Game. This 1984 ┬áZX Spectrum title – along with Ultimate Play the Game’s previous title Atic Atac – helped influence many adventure games to come, as well as many of Rare’s own games down the line (Killer Instinct even includes a wolf character who bears the same name as this game). Though when playing Sabre Wulf today, it is obvious that it was a product of its time. While Atic Atic may be outdated in many aspects, it at least had some forward-thinking ideas at play that you can still appreciate today. In contrast, Sabre Wulf shares all the dated elements, without any of the “wow, that was clever” moments.

Sabre Wulf uses the same basic structure as Atic Atac, with players navigating a labyrinthine maze world, and collect pieces of a special artifact to beat the game. In this case, the world is a jungle, and the items are pieces of an ancient amulet, with four pieces needed to bypass the guardian of a cave.

Where Sabre Wulf differs from Atic Atac is in its character. While Atic Atac had three playable characters who could each find their own ways to traverse a haunted castle, here players have to make do with Sabreman, an adventure and treasure hunter. Sabreman doesn’t possess the kind of projectile moves as the characters of Atic Atac, and instead fights wild animals with a trusty sabre. Though this melee weapon is far less reliable than the spells and throwing weapons of Atic Atac, as Sabreman swings his sabre so erratically you have to have pitch-perfect timing in order to hit enemies directly in front of you (and even then, some enemies seem to ignore being struck by it, and good luck guessing which ones).

Sabreman can also collect power-ups in the form of orchids, which can have positive or negative effects depending on their color. Blue orchids will make you zoom past enemies, while a red orchid will make you impervious to their attacks. Then there are purple orchids, which reverse the player’s controls.

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot else to talk about. The maze-like world is incredibly confusing, and provides no hints as to what you need to be doing or where to go, thus leaving things to trial-and-error (trial-and-error which, I might add, you can’t even rely on, since the enemy spawns are random). The combat is unreliable and, frankly, pretty clunky. And in all honesty, the plinky-plonky sound effects (which return from Atic Atac) might drive you nuts after a while.

Essentially, Sabre Wulf is like Atic Atac with a different setting. A different setting, and also the absence of the creative spark that makes Atic Atac worth a look for those curious in gaming’s early history. The different characters and modes of travel, and the survival elements of Atic Atac are gone. But the cryptic level design and objectives remain, and the gameplay’s worse.

Maybe in its day, Sabre Wulf was influential. But there’s very little reason to check it out today other than pure curiosity.