Sabre Man's back... and this time he's hell-bent on involving himself in all kinds of unholy goings-on. Ross Holman enters the demonic universe of Underwurlde to find out whether playing games of this nature is good for the soul!
Sabre Man is turning out to be Ultimate's answer to Indiana Jones - and in much the same way as his movie counterpart, Sabre Man looks set to be a standard character in many an Ultimate graphic adventure to come.
In Underwurlde, the sequel to Sabre Wulf, Sabre Man's in all sorts of untold danger in a labyrinth of rooms, caves and passageways. And if you're worrying that Underwurlde's going to be a rip-off of Atic Atac, don't - Ultimate's latest offering is totally different and totally compulsive.
WHERE'S THE SABRE?
Once the game's started, you see the familiar, if somewhat diminished, figure of Sabre Man... but set in very unfamiliar surroundings. The cassette sleeve reveals that Sabre Man begins his adventures in a palace called Underwurlde, and his mission is to escape alive! Sounds pretty simple... The action takes up most of the screen, except for the top two lines that are used to show the score, the number of lives left, your 'gem power', the number of weapons collected, and how deep into Underwurlde you've penetrated.
Perhaps the most notable omission in Underwurlde is Sabre Man's trusty sword. In fact, our hero starts off without a weapon to his name... but there just happens to be a catapult lying on the floor of the first room and with it, an infinite number of stones. The other three weapons, a bow, a firebrand and a knife, lie further afield, but you can hold all four at once.
After Sabre Man's stood around for a while admiring the graphics, the 'nasties' will have come out of the woodwork to annoy him. Note that the larger sprites don't actually kill your character ' they just annoy you to the point that you make some silly mistake. Of course, on the other hand, Sabre Man can be made to kill a few of the 'nasties' - a course of action I can thoroughly recommend.
GIVE 'IM ENOUGH ROPE...
After a while, I was wondering if Sabre Man could possibly die; in most Ultimate adventures I don't usually have time to think about this particular problem! Movement of your character left and right is possible - but since his jungle escapades, Sabre Man has acquired some gymnastic skills and he's now capable of jumping across vertical shafts. Ultimate has also programmed Sabre Man with a useful sense of self-preservation; every time he comes across a huge drop, he'll automatically jump rather than fall.
Getting back to dying... my first experience came when I tried to jump Sabre Man on to a nearby ledge. Of course, I misjudged it, and dropped through to the room below and ended up, legs in the air, stone-cold dead. And what do you know - everything looks different; underneath the castle, the caves are rock-strewn and you'll come across a number of bubbling craters. Having decided to jump across one of the craters, Sabre Man was found to float on the bubbles and head off to the room above. It seems a successful method of getting to the top of the maze, but most of my attempts were thwarted by a squid-like creature that seemed not to be sympathetic to the fact that I was pretty inexperienced at using the volcanic elevators.
Discovering the ropes was also more of an accident than a planned operation. Approaching the edge of a precipice, I allowed Sabre Man to throw himself into the inky blackness and, to my surprise and Sabre Man's relief, the cave ceiling seemed to hold the graphic figure there as if it was smeared with superglue! Closer inspection revealed Sabre Man clinging to a rope, which could be extended by pulling back on the joystick until... yes, you've guessed it, he gets nabbed by another of those tentacled terrors. By this time, you're feeling quite relieved that you're given six lives to complete the adventure!
Once you get the hang of the ropes, they're simplicity itself. As you've gathered from my first experience of using the ropes, though, that's not the problem - it's what you do once you're on the rope. It's essential to move downwards as swiftly as possible and keep firing; be prepared at any time to slow down or pause movement on the ropes, just in case of collisions. You also have to keep one eye out for stalactites - these can fall (at random, as far as I could see) when Sabre man jumps for the rope. Needless to say, stalactites are not the most user-friendly objects in Underwurlde.
Once you've lowered the rope to a level that you can jump off to the ground, you can always use it to climb up - you just have to remember where you left it. Of course, jumping off the rope once Sabre Man's reached the top is not the easiest of tasks but practise makes perfect.
After a few games I found that I could manoeuvre Sabre Man onto the bubbles in the rock pools, and this really was a much better technique for moving up to higher levels. In fact, I found it quite easy to jump from bubble to bubble to avoid the 'nasties', but I wouldn't advocate that technique until you've got a few hours of Underwurlde under your belt.
The only other thing about negotiating shafts that's probably worth knowing is that if you jump Sabre Man on to a gem, he'll build up the amount of energy that's indicated in the top left of the status panel. This figure is a measure of the time Sabre Man can spend falling without dying. So, collect those gems... it's worth it in the long run!
WHAT THE DEVIL?
Underwurlde is split into three regions and each is watched over by a guardian. These comprise of large purple graphics sitting under ominous stalactites. And you should by now have guessed the connection between the fact that you've to find three weapons (after the catapult) and three guardians to kill; each guardian requires a specific weapon to be fired at it before it'll cash in its chips.
Once you've managed to kill a guardian, though, you'll be allowed through to the next section. Trouble is, you've also unleashed the eagles; these winged graphics will swoop down and carry Sabre Man off in their claws - sometimes they take you somewhere useful, but more often than not they don't. If an eagle does scoop you up and start flying off, you do have the ability to struggle which, even if it doesn't lead to you being dropped quickly, will certainly impede the eagle's flight.
Last, but certainly not least, you'll come across the third guardian which just happens to resemble the devil on the front of the cassette box. When I first came across this evil little graphic, I found I couldn't get past him at all - everything I fired at him was useless. Luckily, hairy hacker Dave Nicholls came to my rescue with the tip that the guardians could be jumped past. The trick is to get as close as you can to the guardian and wait ... eventually, a 'nasty' will come up behind you and knock you past the guardian. Not only does this mean you don't have to spend hours searching for weapons, but if you don't kill the guardian, the eagles don't appear - which certainly makes the game that much quicker!
Once you've got the hang of manoeuvering Sable Man through some of the trickiest situations in Underwurlde, you're ready to start mapping out the rooms. This isn't that difficult as the screens are paged rather that scrolled. However, there are 605 rooms... so the task is just a little daunting!
Perhaps the first and most important thing to master is control of Sabre Man. You'll have to be able to judge distances down to the last pixel if you're going to survive through to the end. Also, in a similar way to other Ultimate games, there's a slight delay between your entry to a room and the 'nasties' appearing ' so, if you can move swiftly from screen to screen you can avoid many pointless confrontations. You also have to be careful not to rush blindly into one room from another - if you don't know the terrain that well, you'd be well advised to check out the next room carefully... just in case there's a huge drop as soon as you enter, so you can take the appropriate jumping action.
THE RETURN OF THE SEQUEL
Part of the appeal of Underwurlde must be the way the 'nasties' buffet you around from room to room like on a pinball machine ... without actually killing you. Although there are only three different breeds of 'nasty', all behave in a completely different way. On the whole, I'd advise you to eradicate them as soon as they appear - but then I walked around the whole game with my programmable joystick set to fire continuously.
Those who managed to defeat Sabre Wulf, this next bit's going to give you a feeling of deja vu. Once you've battled your way through all three sections and manoeuvered our hero past the devil, all that's left to explore is a totally unexciting area that leads up to ground level and your final escape. And then you get the message of congratulations and news of the next adventures. Watch this space in a few months' time and maybe you'll be hearing all about Pentagram and Mire-Mare ... who knows!
Personally, I think Underwurdle's a wonderful game combining luck and skill with a very frustrating backdrop of humour and, of course, Ultimate's usual high standard of graphics. I for one can't wait for Pentagram... or MireMare... or whatever it's going to be called!
Ultimate Play The Game
Dropping into the Long Dark Palace on your way to freedom is just about as easy as negotiating a no-strings-attached pact with the devil. It could be well into 1985 before you have developed enough gremlin-zapping skills, a detailed knowledge of Underwurlde's vast labyrinth and tempered all that with a good deal of luck.
Underwurlde is an arcade adventure in the classic Ultimate mould. As in the horror movie The Amityville Horror, your sabreman's house seems to be a bijou residence in need of some modernisation - it's been built over a gateway to hell. Instead of rising damp, your basement is seeping all sorts of nasties, up for a night out from the Well of Evil.
With noisy neighbours like that, you can probably guess that escaping is not easy, especially as you have to go down to the devil's lair in order to climb up again to freedom.
You have a side-on view of the action, unlike Knight Lore's 3D angle or Atic Atac's ceiling perspective. So if you miss your footing you can watch as your man tumbles past gallery after gallery to his death. The correct technique to use if you don't want to squander valuable lives in the early part of the game is to lower yourself down by rope and rise up again on the giant bubbles of inert plasma. Magic gems make you invincible for short periods so they are worth grabbing whenever you can.
Weapons are absolutely indispensable if you want to make any progress at all. The catapult you find at the very start of the journey will only take you so far; you'll need daggers to cut your way past the guardians of the nether reaches of the Underwurlde.
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