Hands up those who remember Last Ninja 2 on the Speccy! Good, wasn't it? Well, Hammerfist has nothing to do with that. Well, okay, it does a bit - it's got the same flip-screen sort of design, similar fiendish puzzles to be worked through before you can progress onto the next screen, and the same beat-'em-up element. And it's also rather good. Hmm. Quite a lot in common really. And on a closer inspection it's not hard to see why.
It's been designed by the same people, you see - Mev Dink, Steven Dunn and friends. The boys all used to work at System 3, but now they run their own little programming outfit called Vivid Image, and, at last - here's their first game ready for release. Right, so how's it all work?
Well, the storyline thingie's quite complicated in an arcadey, Cyberpunky sort of way, but in actual fact it all boils down to some fairly simple gameplay. Imagine yourself into a spooky future world, one where giant multinational corporations hold power, and living, solid holograms with superhuman abilities are created to do their dirty work. Two such warriors are Hammerfist (a big beefy bloke with a powerful robot arm) and Metalisis (a sort of futuristic Suzanne Dando) but - yikes! - there's been some sort of bizarre accident in the hologram holding pens and the two of them have got sort of fused together! For reasons best known to itself, Centro-Holographix (their controlling corporation) don't or won't help out, so fearing shutdown (or a life welded together - the scenario doesn't make it too clear) the Hammerfist-Metalisis amalgamation 'goes rogue'!
And this is where you come in. It's your job to guide them across the four loads, taking them from the underwater lab complex and holding pens of the first level, across the sea bed to the city (they're holograms so they don't need to breathe, remember?) and eventually up inside company HQ. Defeat the Master (the evil entity at the head of the corporation), separate the two characters out into different bodies, and everybody can live happily ever after (except The Master of course, because he's dead).
Yes, that's right, you've correctly deduced from the plot that what we're talking about here is a flip-screen adventure, each screen presenting you with a few baddies to beat up and one or two problems to solve before you can progress onto the next one. For many of the probs you'll want to slip between the two characters as suitable - Metalisis is especially useful when you need to leap onto platforms, while Hammerfist is the best option for just about everything else.
Presentation is monochrome and viewed directly from the side without the 3D look of the Last Ninja games and the problems tend to be of the reasonably easy bash-everything-you-can-until-something-interesting-happens school. For instance, your average screen will have you walk on in Hammerfist guise, so no obvious way out, kill a few baddies (normally huma guards or small robots), turn in Metalisis, leap onto an overhead platform, destroy a computer terminal and - lo and behold! - a door opens on the other side of the room. Quick! Nip through it and you're into the next room. Phew!
Okay, so perhaps that didn't sound too taxing, but that's not to suggest it isn't any good - basically Hammerfist is very much an action game, with everything paced at an action game sort of speed. The puzzles are challenging, but not so tricky that things keep grinding to a complete halt (or at least that's the theory anyway).
There's some lovely animation in here (Metalisis' back flip leaps are particularly nifty) and some impressive set pieces (like the room filled with rising and falling platforms which you can only move across by switching from one body to another, using the weight difference to control the floor's movement). The gameplay's got some neat touches too, like the fact you can move back a few screens to collect power ups when faced with a particularly tricky obstacle, and one of a handful of little twists is that you don't just leave the icons you don't need where they fall because their collective negative energy will wake The Master, effectively preventing you from collecting any extra strength for ages.
In conclusion then we were pretty impressed with Hammerfist. It isn't anything radically new, but the well thought-out gameplay and interesting ideas put it streets ahead of most other beat-'em-up adventures you find on the shelves. not quite a Megagame I think, but pretty darn groovy all the same.
A well thought-out and rather thrill-packed beat-'em-up/puzzler. Pretty massive too.