I hinted in our ‘Mire Mare‘ retrospective that I would get round to reviewing where the Sabreman series started from.. ..and well here we are. ‘Sabre Wulf‘ was originally an 8-bit computer video game developed and released by Ultimate Play The Game in 1984 for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
It is the first in the Sabreman series and was written by Tim and Chris Stamper; later being ported to many other computer platforms. In 2004 a new ‘Sabre Wulf‘ game, with completely different gameplay, was released for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance. However, in this review I am going to concentrate on the original ZX Spectrum incarnation.
Your character, Sabreman, has fallen down a deep chasm and must fight off all manner of enemies to escape the maze of a jungle he is now trapped in. After your fall you see a message ‘etched deep into the stone‘:
“THY PATH IS LONG SO TREAD WITH CARE, BEWARE THE WULF AND PASS HIS LAIR, SO TAKE YE FROM THIS HIDDEN MOUND, TO FREE THEE FROM THIS SUNKEN GATE, BY WAY OF CAVE OR MEET THY FATE, AN AMULET TO SEEK THY WILL, ‘TWAS SPLIT BY QUAD AND HIDDEN STILL, TO GAIN AN ENTRANCE TO THE GATE, THE PIECES LOST MUST THEE AMAS, FOR IF NO CHARM THEN NON SHALL PASS“
So the point of the game is to escape the maze, which is a wonderfully colourful jungle that makes the absolute most of the ZX Spectrum’s limited colour palette. There are a total 256 screens to navigate in order to find four pieces of a lost amulet, which when brought together depicts the titular Wulf.
Once all four have pieces have been collected and assembled the keeper guarding the exit gate will allow you to safely pass through.
However, between the entrance and exit, Sabreman must fend off a constant army of tropical foes, such as scorpions, snakes, spiders, hippos, rhinos and natives that emerge regularly from the undergrowth with his sabre. The scorpions, snakes and spiders are easily dispatched, but the larger adversaries can only be made to run away by fencing with them first.
If the you remain on a screen for too long, an invincible and lethal bushfire appears and moves around the screen, occupying all space that the player can move in, forcing you to leave the screen. In doing so it prevents you from camping, or placing Sabreman in a corner and amassing points from dispatching the constant stream of jungle creatures that appear.
Towards the bottom of the map is the titular Wulf’s territory.. ..upon encountering the Wulf you must run as, unlike the other enemies, it is totally unaffected by your sabre.
Another item that affects the game play are the colourful orchids that grow in the jungle.. ..each colour represents a different variety and if collected will affect Sabreman in different ways. Some being useful, some not. Useful orchids will give you immunity to the jungle beasts or increase your speed. The more ‘poisonous’ varieties can inflict paralysis or leave you disorientated (i.e. the controls reverse). This introduces a great tactical element to the game as wise use of the orchids can make your progression through the jungle much easier, or not.
The game was universally acclaimed and won the CRASH magazine ‘best maze game’ and ‘best advert’ of the year awards. It was converted to the BBC Model B, Commodore 64 and the Amstrad CPC, but none of these versions retained the ZX Spectrum’s charm (but they weren’t far off).
It was also the first of the Ultimate ‘big box’ games and retailed at £9.95 when released, this was a much higher price than typical releases of the time.. ..but the quality of the game and packaging more than made up for it.
Both ‘Sabre Wulf‘ and the Sabreman character have featured in several Rare Ltd. games since the original game as either cameo or a main character:
- A new ‘Sabre Wulf‘ game was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, featuring both Sabreman & the titular Wulf;
- The ‘Killer Instinct‘ series features a werewolf character named Sabrewulf;
- The Xbox 360 game ‘Viva Piñata‘ features a minor cameo by ‘Sabre Wulf‘ – the creature known as Mallowolf launches broken ‘Sabre Wulf‘ amulets as its attack;
- Sabreman makes a cameo in the game ‘Banjo-Tooie‘ as a frozen explorer who must be revived and returned to his camp;
- The game’s rom is allegedly hidden in the code for ‘GoldenEye 007‘ on the Nintendo 64, along with a ZX Spectrum emulator;
- In the Game Boy Advance version of ‘Donkey Kong Country‘, Sabrewulf’s head has been stuffed and is mounted in Cranky’s hut.
Unfortunately, Ultimate games are still copyrighted, so you need an original copy to play, but they are easy to find on the bay.
UPDATE – you can also now play ‘Sabre Wulf‘ via the fantastic Rare Replay compilation for the Microsoft XBOX ONE – which fortunately keeps the idiosyncrasies of the ZX Spectrum, including colour clash and slow down.
Hell yeah – find it, buy it, load it and have fun in the jungle!
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‘Sabre Wulfe’ ™ & © 1984 Rare Ltd, All Rights Reserved
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