NEVER TRUST a man with a red bard, or so the saying goes. But unfortunately for the eponymous star of the latest Kixx game, Blackbeard (their first original game release), that's just what he did when he started a heavy night's boozing with his old mate Captain Redbeard. Old Reddy had the cheek to slip a slimey hand into Blackbeard's pocket and snatch a much-sought after map, detailing the whereabouts of charcoal whisker's treasure.
Filled with rage, and a fair amount of rum no doubt, our fat friend sets after Redbeard - who in the meantime has taken charge of HMS Victory. Travelling Gauntlet-style around the ship of four levels (deck, cabins and two storage levels) Blackbeard must pick up all the ammo he can find. Guns are the most sought after, as it is only with these that you can blow open each of the many chests containing potions, guiding lights and extra lives. Potions allow short-lived invincibility whereas torches can be used to fire the cannons which will destroy the passage through which the marauding pirates attack. Pick up all the extra energy bottles you can find, but beware of Redbeards special brew for the can send you reeling about the screen in a very incapable fashion.
Only when all of Reddy's accomplices have been shot or knifed to the great keg in the sky will you be able to open the final chest containing the mythical map.
Of all the Gauntlet games around at the moment - including the original - Blackbeard is probably the most enjoyable to initially play. The graphics, although not terribly varied, are colourful and detailed, creating a simple sort of addiction that coaxes the player to explore and uncover the accurately-drawn HMS Victory. As with most budget games, Blackbeard's addiction isn't particularly long-lasting but - unlike most cheap offerings - it does create a fun atmosphere that will last at least a few weeks. Great fun at only three quid.
HAAR-HAAARRRR! Shiver timbers! Splice the mainbrace! Hoh-hoh, Wayne lad! And other predictable comments suitable for reviewing a pirate game - only with a Spanish accent! Because Black Beard is by Topsoft, that's why, and quite right too, because lots of 16th century pirates were Spanish.
Anywayup, this is a remarkably pretty game which bears not a little resemblance to Dandy and other Gauntlet clones of yore. The gameplay's a tiny bit repetitious, but then, so is a life on the ocean wave, so at least you can't say it isn't realistic.
You play the jolly savage cut-throat Captain Blackbeard, was SOOOOOOO annoyed to find that Captain Redbeard has stolen a valuable treasure map, that he's sworn to kill his entire crew, get the map back and probably eat his salt-biscuits.
The game takes place on Redbeard's ship, the Victory. The scenes are shown from the top and are admirably detailed, featuring cannon, hatchways, ship's boats, caskets, cannonballs, bulkheads and the like. The design's great, and the use of colour excellent. The screen scrolls smoothly as you move around, to reveal new sections such as the cabins, storage holds and gunnels (those are the gungy bits at the bottom of the ship). If you're interested, the layout of the screen is based on the design of the real HMS Victory, so there's a bit of free education for you.
Around the decks prowl pirates, armed to the underwear. You must kill the lot of them to achieve your goal; to do this you must pick up guns and knives which are scattered around the decks. Guns come with thirty bullets each, while knives stay sharp for ever; the problem is that you need a gun to open treasure chests which contain life restoring potions and lanterns. The lanterns also help fire the cannon, which will slow down the pirates' attacks, though I haven't yet managed to work out how this is done.
Also found scattered around are bottles of RUM! Haa-haaarrrr! Trouble is, while of you a power of good, others are spiked, and make you reel around uncontrollably for a few moments. In these it's pretty likely that you'll collide with a flying knife, bullet, or pirate, thus losing a life.
Another good way of losing a life is to plummet through the canvases cover the stow holds. While this is a quick way to get to the lower decks, the recommended method is to find a ladder, stand over it and press fire. That way you don't break your neck.
While the game area is fairly large, it's not big enough to require making a map, so you probably won't spend months of your life playing Black Beard. You will, though, enjoy the time you spend with it; nice graphics, decent music and FX, and an original setting make this an excellent example of the budget game. Buy it or walk the plank.
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins
Spectrum, Amstrad: £2.99
This is Kixx's first original product, and has been programmed by Spanish software house Toposoft (authors of the US Gold Pepsi Challenge game, Mad Mix).
As suggested by the title, the game follows the efforts of one Blackbeard the Pirate to hunt down his buried treasure map which has been stolen by his arch enemy, Redbeard. The map is secreted inside a chest somewhere on board Redbeard's ship, HMS Victory, and it is Blackbeard's mission in life to get it back.
Viewed from above, the pirate is guided around the deck, cabins and two storage levels of Redbeard's vessel (and, incidentally, the deckplan is an authentic representation of the original Victory, Nelson's flagship), with the separate levels being connected by stairways.
Redbeard's crew are at large, and Blackbeard defends himself by collecting knives and guns with which to fight back against his attackers. Blackbeard is revitalised by picking up bottles of rum from around the ship, but over-imbibing results in a drunken and difficult to control pirate swaggering about the deck.
Entertaining - if a little slow - this explore 'n' shoot-em-up offers nothing new, but is nicely uncomplicated and has enough appeal to warrant further examination. Also of interest to mappers with a nautical bent. Yo ho ho.
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