Hot on the heels of Onslaught, the new game from Hewson features man-eating orchids, imprisoned fairies and a hero who walks on thin air. It might sound like an amazing action game but Hewson are billing it as an arcade adventure. Who said adventures couldn't be exciting and action-packed?
There was a time when the only 16-bit games which Hewson could be relied on to produce were silly little challenges like Cybernoid and Custodian. Although testing, these were never about to take the world by storm. But with the Christmas season snapping at our heels, we're seeing some of their best products ever.
Boasting the same high quality-graphics as Onslaught, Stormlord is billed as an action/adventure game with a difference. Just like Onslaught, it consists of a lot more than a saunter through a horizontally-scrolling ancient land, picking up the odd pot of gold and magic spells.
The aim of each level is to release a band of trapped fairies who are scattered elusively between problems. Problems are overcome in one of two ways, either give up a life or find the object to solve them.
To accomplish this task you wander through the level seeking out items which will help you and the fairies. Okay, so the idea sounds a little too twee for comfort but it does make an interesting change from the usual scenarios.
You need only step into an object to pick it up. If you're carrying anything else at the time then it's swapped for the new item. Keys are one of the most useful icons to collect since these let you pass through doors leading to other parts of the level.
The problems you encounter are solved by finding appropriate items. For example, at one point the fairy is trapped by several bees buzzing around her. If you step into this lot then it's instant death. However, you can find a pot of honey and swap it for the key next to her. They'll all swarm off to the honey, leaving you to go back and rescue the fairy.
This brings us to another problem. You can't just drop an item anywhere you want. If you need to put it down then it must be swapped for another item on the ground.
Along the way you meet all sorts of strange beasts ranging from winged dragons to wizards. Some of these take considerable beating if you're going to wipe them out and this is where you really need to be a dabhand with the joystick. Some of them leap up and down across the level so much that your only hope is to dodge them.
At any point in the game you can dispatch a single firebolt which has a limited impact on the aliens in front of you. Alternatively, you can hold down on the fire button to release a mammoth sword that plunges its way through any live flesh in its path.
Aliens aren't the only obstacles which presents themselves. The elfin enemies have also developed a nice line in man-eating orchids and other ferocious wildlife. If you stop looking at the ground in front of you then you'll end up as plant food.
Stormlord has smooth horizontal-scrolling with superb backdrops and definitely some of the best drawn sprites in a long time. The attacking enemies are beautifully animated and Stormlord himself looks and moves well. The main character, though, is an odd creature who can't run particularly fast so escaping is never that easy.
The only real complaint with the graphics is the way your character walks on the wildlife. This looks very contrived, especially when he leaps from toadstools and appears to walk on thin air.
There are some brilliant extra effects adding to the thrills. For example, if you step on a spring, you're catapulted into outer space and fired to another part of the game. This effect is, superbly achieved showing Stormlord hurtling through the stars.
You can choose to play with sound effects or music. The music is brooding and sombre, reflecting the Tolkeinesque atmosphere. Although the sound effects aren't quite as impressive, Stormlord's agonising death screams and the extra explosion sounds are very effective.
The secret of Stormlord's attraction is its unusual combination of adventure and action. You need to discover objects in a horizontally-scrolling scenario, but also defeat monsters and overcome the voracious wildlife - this is where the action side of things steps in for a bow.
Sometimes this combination is just too demanding. The action scenes require some extraordinarily deft moves of the joystick if you're going to keep yourself out of trouble. Even then, some of the problems can seem impossible to overcome without giving up a life, particularly when wild orchids are gobbling at your ankles or swarms of bees are staring you in the face.
This would be acceptable if it was all there was to the game, but things are complicated by having to run back to find pots of honey and keys to progress further through each level.
If you don't find action and adventure combinations a problem, then you have a very challenging, difficult and visually charming game on your hands.