Last year US Gold established themselves as a serious 16-bit software house; a position confirmed at the Indin awards where they won best 16-bit adventure for The Last Crusade. After superb achievements with Strider and Ghouls 'N Ghosts, they're now launching Black Tiger, an arcade conversion that's been poised for release since last September...
Capcom's Black Tiger was one of the lesser-known arcade games, making only a brief appearance in 1986, but thanks to US Gold it's finally found its way onto the ST. The scenario is the usual formulaic nonsense: three evil dragons descending onto a once-peaceful kingdom causing the usual heady mixture of mayhem and massacre. Your character, the oddly-named Black Tiger, is (surprise, surprise) the only one who can defeat them.
Black Tiger is a four-way push-scrolling action game that sets you off on a journey exploring eight levels. The idea is to follow the red arrows leading you either along the ground or upwards. Just negotiating the ladders and leaping across gaps in the grouond can be bad enough, but there are all sorts of monsters after your blood as well - and some of them are completely indestructible.
You don't make the journey alone; you come equipped with an armful of impressive weaponry. Your private arsenal can be built up even further after you visit the shop. To reach it you need to track down an old man who's been turned to stone. If you stand close to him, he slowly comes to life. He's so grateful for your assistance that he offers you as much ammo as you can afford. If you're entertaining ideas of leaving the shop and blasting him, forget it. Once you've raided the ammo stores, the old man disappears, preventing you from returning to him later. Money to pay for your supplies is obtained en route by smashing vases with your weapons. When the vases shatter they spill their contents of much-needed coins or keys.
You'll also come across the occasional treasure chest. Provided you either found or bought a key earlier, you can open the check and reap the rewards. Some contain fire columns, and one breath will send your energy levels plummeting, but the majority hold useful bonuses such as hourglasses, lanterns and gold. The hourglass is the most useful of these, granting you extra time to move through the game.
When you reach the end of a level, you find the customary Bad Guy, for whom all the extra weaponry was designed. End-of-level monsters consist of ugly blocks of stone and various spitting dragons. They aren't spectacular, but they still take some beating.
Black Tiger ends in one of three ways: either you run out of time, you're killed by monsters, or you fall down a chasm and are impaled on the spikes below. Since it's extremely difficult judging your jumps, falling onto the spikes tends to be a depressingly regular experience.
The gameplay may be interesting but the graphics certainly don't live up to expectations. The main character sprite is tiny compared to those in games like Strider and Batman. Play Wild Streets and then switch to Black Tiger and you'll be hunting high and low for a magnifying glass. Nevertheless, the sprites are colourful and the animation is reasonable.
Top of the list of grievances, though, must come the horizontal-scrolling - perhaps horizontal-jerking would be a better description. The ST is renowned for its scrolling problems but programmers have learnt to overcome them. It comes as a disappointing surprise to see the same mistakes repeated all over again in what is tipped as a major release.
Sound effects suffer from the limitations of the ST's sound ship and are uniformly standard.
Black Tiger should have been released before US Gold's Strider and Indy games, but it wasn't. As a result, it looks dated and unoriginal. On the positive side the game's style is similar to Ghouls 'N Ghosts but more colourful and violent. Backdrops are visually exciting and tackling the terrain is challenging.
Black Tiger will appeal to fans of the arcade game and anyone who enjoys a decent Strider-type action game. It has considerable playability but the sub-standard horizontal-scrolling and the small sprites just don't do the game any favours.