Sequels to shoot-em-ups are generally to be taken with a pinch of salt. While they're often technical improvements over the original, it's a rare event when these games, upon close inspection, contain much more than some different levels and more power-ups. Switchblade 2, though, is a different matter altogether. It certainly scores no points for its plotline, or it's innovative approach; it's a side-on scrolling shoot out. However, the implementation of the gameplay and graphics make it a hit.
The player's aim is to explore and destroy six levels of an alien world, wiping out all in his path using one of six weapons systems. A simple enough premise, and one seen in a hundred other games, but rarely implemented with such finesse.
As is clear from the graphics, the influence of Japanese console games is strong, with the lead character depicted as a wide-eyed Asiatic with raven hair and a bionic arm from which the firepower issues. The backdrops, too, have a strong primary-colour style which work especially well with the excellent scrolling routines. Each level has a different mood; some being intensely populated with robots, others being sparse enough for you to explore and discover secret rooms and bonuses.
Control over the character is excellent. He can run, jump, climb, squat and - by holding the stick down and then flicking it up - superjump his way through the levels. Once airborne, he had turn around to shoot in different directions, land on moving platforms or avoid enemy assaults.
The bad guys come in a number of forms. There are basic flying drone ships which always appear in packs and are the most common foes. Their intelligent homing patterns make them especially difficult to deal with, since they are circling you almost as soon as they have appeared on the screen, and give you little time to turn and fight. Next are the robots who walk upright along flat areas of ground. Slightly easier to deal with, they follow set patterns and can be ambushed with prudent use of the laser.
If that were not enough there are air-raids from supersonic jets which fly overhead dropping deadly sets of bombs. Of all the enemies to combat, it's these jets which cause the most aggravation, hitting you with up to six rockets at one time. Gun emplacement and parachuting bombs add to the volume of the attack, and each source of damage must be shot out swiftly if you are to progress.
Taking a hit from whatever source will deplete your energy and cause your character to jump backwards in pain and surprise. Leaving him in a dangerous situation can be fatal, since he can be forced to jump back into even more incoming fire, and while the safety of a period of invincibility after each hit is welcome, it doesn't last long.
However, despite the fact that Switchblade demands a great deal of the player, and it'll probably take even the toughest gamer a good month to complete, it's frustration factor is incredibly low. It doesn't demand pixel-perfect jumps and leaps. And you can take a lot of damage before you actually peg out. Instead of finishing you off with the first hit, the aliens wear you down with a never-ending barrage of assaults. If you're quick enough to get out of a trouble spot before the bad guys can sink their teeth into you, you'll be alright.
In order to offer some respite from the frenetic pitch of the action, bonus rooms have been included which, on the whole, offer safe haven from the enemy onslaught for a few moments. Here extra power (in the shape of hamburgers and pizzas - sound familiar?) can be collected and bonus points amassed.
Perhaps unlike any other Amiga game to date. Switchblade 2 successfully provides the feel of a console title. It's not quite like playing a coin-op, and again, its distinct from playing any of the other shoot-em-ups on the Amiga. It offers a feeling of easily achieved skill, allowing mastery of the central character to be picked up in a flash. Even without playing with a purpose, there's fun enough to be had just watching the game happen all around you. Incredible!
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