A rival to Exploding Fist? Mirrorsoft enter the world of karate but is it just another chop off the old block?
Martial arts games are clearly one of the in-things at the moment, though any newcomers in this field are going to have to do well to beat Melbourne House's Exploding Fist.
Still, Mirrorsoft's venture into the kung-fu arena could be well worth trying out if you haven't already been pummelled into submission by all the other samurai, ninjas, and leaping lunatics currently on the loose.
For those of you interested in the inscrutable details, Sai karate is an ancient oriental martial art which originated in Okinawa. The purpose of Sai is to allow practitioners to achieve high levels of consciousness by giving their honourable opponents a transcendental poke in the head with a big stick.
One or two players can play, and if you choose to play against the computer you are faced with a series of opponents of increasing skill whom you must defeat in order to progress through the eight bells and reach black belt. Once you've gotten your black belt. Once you've gotten your black belt you are then faced with the further task of going through eight dan levels to achieve thee ultimate status of Sai Master.
The basic format of the game is very similar to that of Exploding Fist, in which you play a series of combat bouts and your success in these determines whether or not you can progress to the next skill level. In Sai Combat you need to score three knockdowns to do this, each knockdown requiring at least 600 points. Landing a successful blow on your opponent is worth one, two or three hundred points, depending on what sort of blow it is.
The options available to you fall into roughly three types; there are various kicks, jabs with the Sai stick, and non-offensive moves which allow you to position yourself for that one knockout blow, or alternatively, to run away.
You have a total sixteen moves available, which is slightly fewer than in Exploding Fist though I didn't find this a weakness at all, since I always have trouble trying to remember the millions of key combinations. In fact, the clear difference between the kicks and Sai movements helped make it a bit easier to remember what all the moves were, whereas in Exploding Fist I found many of the movements so similar that I couldn't always remember what they were.
Your figure is controlled by eight basic keys or movements of the joystick, and a further eight movements are obtained by the use of the fire button. Thankfully it looks as if some thought has gone into the choice of keyboard controls and it only took me a few moments to get the hang of the basic controls.
As with most games of this sort, the action takes place against a series of countryside landscapes. These scenes aren't as finely detailed as they are in some similar games, but let's face it, it's the mayhem in the foreground that we're all interested in, isn't it? The two warriors (yours being in the lighter shaded pyjama bottoms) are both finely drawn and smoothly animated during the execution of their movements.
The twirling of the Sai sticks during some moves is particularly well done (though the flying kicks look a bit cissy), and each successful blow is accompanied by a suitable gritty sound effect and a small visual effect to highlight the impact of the blow.
One thing that I found a little irritating about Exploding Fist was the shortness of the rounds, but here the rounds can last for as long as it takes to build up enough points, which allows you to work up a bit of steam and string together a few satisfying blows.
If Sai Combat had arrived on the scene a little earlier, it would have been good competition for Exploding Fist. Arriving this late in the day there is a slight risk that it could be lost among all the other fighting games, but it's still one of the better ones despite this.