Last year, a small corner of the arcades was dazzlingly lit up by some mind-blowing animation in Dynasty Wars. It was undoubtedly one of the most graphically advanced games of the year, but as Space Ace has shown, good graphics don't always mean an absorbing game. The repetitive levels and tricky firing problems in Dynasty Wars meant that it didn't hold the crowds for long.
US Gold obtained the licence and passed the programming on to Tiertex, the team previously responsible for Thunderblade and Strider. Overcoming the obvious technical difficulties of converting such a graphically superior game onto the ST was only the beginning of their problems. Conversions don't necessarily need to capture the bad points found in their arcade parent, so the important question was whether Tiertex could improve Dynasty Wars' gameplay?
The aim of the game is to control one of four warriors and battle through a series of horizontally-scrolling levels in a bid to reach the gigantic end-of-level warlord. After an interminable wait for the loading sequence to finish, you're presented with four characters from which you select your hero. The game can be played simultaneously by two players, and in this event, each player chooses a different character. Since they all have their own unique characteristics, your choice can be vital.
Your hero has the advantage of charging through the levels on horseback, while all your foes are firmly earth-bound. Hacking them to death can be a nuisance because this isn't an ordinary horizontally-scrolling environment. You have the ability to move forwards and backwards as well as from left to right, essentially moving closer to the screen or further into the background. This primitive 3D movement looks far from realistic, but it's an intriguing variation on the usual style.
The footsoldiers form strong front lines, fire arrows of flame and even shoot cannon balls at you, but they're still relatively easy to defeat. At points in the action, the scrolling ceases and refuses to continue until you've defeated all the foot soldiers on the screen. The real monster comes at the end of the level. Like you, he rides a horse, and boasts some wonderful weaponry which he isn't reluctant to test out on you. Defeat him and you're through to the next action-packed level.
Some of the best graphics in the arcades were to be found on the Dynasty Wars coin-op so there was a lot of scope for impressive visuals in the ST game. Much of the visual excitement is built upon the mis en scene of a mythical China at the beginning of the millennium.
Although no special tricks such as a split colour palette have been used, the visuals are extremely colourful, well-defined and lively. It's a pity that the overall impression is upset by some very slow scrolling.
The music uses the ST sound chip so it definitely won't have you jiving in your chair, but it's atmospheric enough and close to the arcade sounds.
The arcade game was far from perfect - the action was repetitive, the movement of the horses distinctly unrealistic and the scrolling was slow. Unfortunately, the ST conversion is a faithful representation of its coin-op parent. Instead of improving the gameplay, Tiertex have made the graphics less exciting and the scrolling even slower. What you're left with is a tedious, unexciting game. It might still be a paragon of graphic beauty, but in the addiction stakes it's nothing short of catastrophic.