The weeks before the release of a new Ultimate game are always exciting. The company's previous two releases: Lunar Jetman and Atic Atac, were not only expertly programmed but brilliantly original - both pushed back the frontiers of what was possible on a Spectrum.
So what would the next game be? Could Ultimate do it again? With hands sweating, you jam the cassette into your recorder and load up while feverishly trying to make sense of mysterious clues in the cassette inlay. It's loaded. You start playing and... disappointment.
It's just a version of Atic Atac.
Those are your first thoughts. But, as you begin to get into the game, begin to understand those subtleties and those visions, your disappointment is replaced by mounting awe, mounting delight. Make no mistake. Sabre Wulf is Ultimate's best entertainment yet.
As is Ultimate's custom, the game's instructions do not spell out exactly what you're supposed to do, nor how the various game features work. Some things quickly become clear. Others don't. If you want to work it all out for yourself, don't bother reading on.
You play the part of a new hero, Sabreman, who finds himself lost in the middle of a mysterious jungle. The jungle is, in fact, a vast maze which, after hours of work, we have mapped out for you in the pages that follow. It's a size of no less than 256 screens, although this has been achieved by repeating many screens in different locations.
Each individual screen shows pathways walled off by rows of extremely colourful plants and trees. When you move Sabreman along the path to the edge of the screen, the picture is replaced by the adjacent screen of the jungle.
As in Atic Atac, no sooner has the explorer moved into a location than vicious creatures materialise all around him: from snakes, scorpions, frogs and parrots, to gorillas, fruit bats and lizards. They're colourful, nicely animated and lethal to the touch.
But our hero is not called Sabreman for nothing. His sabre chops into them, makes them disappear in a puff of smoke. Other animals such as rhinos and hippos are indestructible but are turned away by the sabre.
The way Sabreman uses his sword is a delight. Just press the fire button, and he weaves, flashes and thrusts in fantastic style. Provided he is facing the attacker, he is safe.
Another crucial aid is the use of orchids. These flowers will bloom for a couple of seconds, and if Sabreman is nearby he will be stained the colour of the flower and rendered invulnerable to attack so long as the intoxication lasts.
There are five different types of orchid; one speeds him up, another slows him down and the purple orchids disorientate him so that you must operate the controls in reverse! Despite these complications, it's imperative to make good use of the orchids, because under their protection Sabreman can cover a good deal of ground in safety.
On his travels he will come across a large number of objects which he collects automatically by passing over them. Most of these are simply treasure or spoils to gain extra points. But the small red statues are invaluable as each one of these gives an extra life.
What about the 'Wulf' itself? This impressive-looking creature inhabits a strip at the bottom of the jungle and is invulnerable to Sabreman's sword. But apart from the occasional savage attack, his part in the game is relatively minor.
The task, apart from staying alive, is to escape from the jungle through a cave. The cave is hidden inside a temple, which is two locations above the start. But to reach it, you must travel through almost the entire maze.
What's more, the cave is guarded by a keeper who will only be moved by an amulet which has been broken into four pieces and hidden around the maze. So you must find the pieces, which are hidden in different locations in each game, and then enter the temple.
I can reveal that the only clue to the whereabouts of the amulet pieces is given by the natives. When they are directly in line with a piece horizontally and vertically, they turn slowly and a stern tune is played.
That is just one of the many fine effects that show the incredible attention to detail in this program. Sabre Wulf will get even an expert game-player engrossed for many hours. I'll even stick my neck out and say it's more fun than Atic Atac.