Right, now you have recovered from being amazed by the screenshots, let me tell you about the game. Soren Gronbench, Bakager Carsen, Julian Lefay and Rick Ross are the names behind it all, and as you may hare guessed by their names (and the quality of the game), Sodan was not written in England but the U.S. by Danish programmers. Glance over these pages. Well, you don't need to glance, the graphics of Discovery's Sword of Sodan smack you in the eye - or in Amiga parlance, knock your socks off. Games with speedy giant-sized sprites have been promised to Amiga users for ages, but nothing of the sort has appeared, until now that is.
In case you thought these screenshots were deceiving you, take it from me, those characters are enormous! Street Fighter's are big (about 3 inches tall on the average monitor) but Sodan's are not only bigger (up to five inches tall), they have the speed to match. Before you get a look at these, a superb title picture glides onto the screen, followed by an instruction to the foes and features to be found in the game.
A wrinkly old pair of hands present you with a map of your surroundings, your position indicated by a small arrow. You start at the gates of the old city. As you approach, the townfolk come at you, poking and stabbing viciously with their spears. Tour attacks need to be quick and precise to avoid their flesh-piercing points. Each of the guards take a number of hits before falling by the wayside, and a helpful strength meter accompanies them all; so at least you know how far you have to go. Just like an arcade machine, Sodan uses this first level to teach you the basics of the gameplay. A short paragraph fills you in on the story, whilst a sampled "More hits required for each enemy" accompanies your first successful blow.
Once through the gates you find yourself on the wrong side of a booby-trapped bridge. Sets of spikes systematically crank up from the bottom of the screen, fortunately quite predictable and not too hard to dodge. Brilliant sampled creaks and groans add to the atmosphere. Another soldier guards the opposite end of the bridge.
Next it's into the city itself. Some pest starts rolling barrels at you, distracting you from the real business of dealing with the locals. Survive that lot and a massive, really massive - the biggest you've ever seen on a home screen - armoured warrior plies into you with a club. His size is not quite matched by his ferocity (luckily) and with a bit of persistence you'll have his head off in no time. But watch out he's so powerful the slightest thump from his club puts you down and out.
Now you take a stroll through the forest, the least impressive of all the scenes. Thugs with multi-coloured hair and clubs look very out of place, though the big stumpy reptiles are more along the right tracks. The spookiest of all the levels has to be the one set in a graveyard. Zombies climb up through the turf, zapping you with magic beams.
Three overlapping layers of parallax scrolling give the whole scene real depth. All the time, lightning flashes in the sky, werewolves howl and our hero grunts with every injury. Later on you are skewered on yet more spikes (have we discovered one of the programmers' kinky fetishes here?), frazzled by bubbling lava and generally given a hard time. I would love to tell you about all the surprises further into the game, but you can find them out for yourselves.
Throughout the adventure you have three attacking moves and although you carry a shield it never comes into use. Occasionally an enemy will leave behind a magical pot. Collecting these sparks off a dramatic sound effect and gives you an extra life, temporary invulnerability or increased strength. Each of the levels varies enormously, not only in graphics but in the enemies and traps that await you. Outside the city gats, passing the guards is a simple matter of ducking their thrusts and getting in quick little jabs with your sword. However, with each level more and more hazards are thrown at you, flames streak along the ground, walls slam down from the heavens and loads of surprise traps crop up all over the place.
With all that attention paid to the graphics, you might assume the sound would take a back seat. You could hardly be more wrong! Superb music plays along with the visual effects between games. Some levels have a piece of backing music and all have some of the best sound effects ever heard in a computer game, they would be exceptional even by coin-op standards.
Detail is another of Sodan's high points. In many games scrolling backgrounds are often a repetitive patchwork of small features. Those of Sodan are decorated with items such as the statue on the third level, decomposing bodies in the castle and fine details like the animated ants on the anthill found in the forest. One final variation is the choice of play either the macho warrior or a very capable female.
The current going rate for Amiga games is not something I am very satisfied with at the moment, but you get eleven levels of highly atmospheric fighting fantasy that must be the closest thing to a state of the art coin-op on the Amiga. Just how long it keeps you glued to your joystick depends on your sword swinging skills, but however hard or easy you find it to master, Sword of Sodan will not be relegated to the back of the disk-box for a long time to come (if ever!). If you download one Amiga action game this year, this has got to be it.
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