The most unlikely-named beat 'em up ever is finally ready. So we got a most unlikely-named journalist to check it out. Alan Dykes puts on his plastic Spock ears and gets fighting.
Beautiful, colourful or cute things can often be the most dangerous - they can lull you into a false sense of security and then striking out when least expected, stunning you like a rocket-charged python, Ellmania is such a thing. Who would have thought, after Streetfighter 2, Body Blows and Mortal Kombat, that what's basically a bunch of fighting fairies would inspire an office into aggressive bouts of one-on-one fisticuffs and high-pitched screaming.
I had my doubts when I first saw it. What are all these coins doing bouncing around the screen, eh? And what about those little bits of treasure? I mean, things don't happen like this on the street! However, once the action really started, I was hooked.
For one or two players, Elfmania is 'set' in the mythical land of Muhmulandia, a land of elves. The challenge is to be crowned king of the elves and to do so you have to defeat the current king. Muhmulandia is divided up into 36 counties and you need to (rather undemocraticaily I have to say) defeat fighters from only six consecutive counties to win the crown. But it's not as simple as it sounds.
In single-player mode you start off with cash in the form coins which buy the services of fighters. More experienced ones cost more dosh, so at the beginning you can only choose between one of three characters, who cost $75 each. Beating the hell out of each enemy (in a very nice elf-like fashion, of course) gives you more coins, allowing you to hire tougher fighters for later bouts. Starting at any point on the introductory map you fight either vertically or horizontally in a straight line until you are beaten, then, because you need six counties in a row to beat the king, you'll need to change direction. Until you're beaten again of course. (If this is difficult to get a grip of check out the map screen.)
In two-player mode you can have a quick flick through the fighters and, well, I never knew that elves had such a varied racial culture. There's a sumo wrestling Japanelf, a vicious and con- temptible sword wielding Turkelf and a king equipped with a fiendishly destructive mallet. These three constitute the toughest enemies, but because everyone is yours for a price, if you win enough bouts, you can hire these blighters later on in the game.
This last function is useful because although the initial three fighters will see you through the first round or two, you'll get nowhere with them later on, thus it's a good idea to move around a bit on the map and win as many fights as possible against weaker opponents, gaining cash in the process, and hiring a more advanced fighter before you move onto the next county in your line of conquest. Fighters' strengths are indicated by stars and, of course, by their price tag. Remember, if you're crap enough to lose all your coins (by having the stuffing kicked out of you) then you lose the game.
If all of this sounds unnecessarily complicated, then I'm sure Terramarque will be delighted -Elfmania isn't intended to be just another mindless beat-'em-all-in-the-correct-order game, it involves working out a strategy to win, watching your cash flow and generally being a sharp-witted geezer.
There are no complicated, hidden moves. The standard ones - punching, kicking, stabbing, defending and a host of others (including one of the sumo's that could be best described as 'bumming') are easy to execute, and although each fighter has a special spinning move it doesn't involve amazing feats of joystick jugglery to complete. The coins which are dropped by each fighter when hit add an extra dimension to gameplay. After you've walloped someone, step back, hit their cash and it'll earn you extra points while damaging them even more.
Another welcome addition to the game is its artificial intelligence system. Some players (I'm not mentioning names, but you're bound to know one) tend to find a single move which works consistently. We all know the type: they find out how to make Blanka spin every time they even look at the joystick and so win almost every game. Elfmania has been designed to outsmart to this sort of japery, so tough luck sad single-move players, your time of reckoning has arrived.
But what would all of this be if the blasted thing didn't look and move in a top-class manner. Not only does Elfmania win hands down in the colourful and clear graphics stakes, it also kicks ass in the scrolling department. Example: the fighting area is about two screens wide, so what happens when one of the elven pugilists runs for cover? Does the game go into shake-ooops-disk access-ah-that's-better mode? No! And I mean that emphatically. You can follow him or her immediately and with a minimum of fuss.
The sound is excellent too. Running it through a monitor was okay, but you really do get some nice stereo effects and the full benefit of the music if you link it up to a more powerful stereo system. All of which leads me to believe that, despite its cutesy appearance, Elfmania has won its own six fights, is about to collect a wagon load of real coins of the realm and become king of Amiga beat 'em ups.
Okay, a cute beat 'em up might sound perverse but Elfmania has managed to prove two things: 1) Consoles are not the only place you can find decent beat 'em ups; 2) You don't have to rip anyone's head off, have blood spouting everywhere and have special moves that are about as easy to execute as an American mass murderer to produce a top class, strategic and fun game. Very well done.
Ultimate fantasy beat 'em up game, with funny and nice characters, many beautiful levels and exciting music.
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