Ever fancied your chances when it comes to fighting a man with a pointy stick? Well now you can find out how good you are, courtesy of Mirrorsoft, who have just released the computerised version of yet another venerable martial art Sal Karate which allows you to take up a stick and fight.
The art of Sai Karate evolved in Japan hundreds of years ago as a variant of Karate in which combatants use a stick, or sai, to make attacking and defending moves as well as the more usual kicks and punches. The pointy stick involved in Sai Karate needn't be used for fighting there's a form of gymnastic exercise called Sai Kata practiced by Japanese keep fit fanatics as a solo art form, but Mirrorsoft have stuck with the straightforward beat em up application of the rod of wood, and exercise freaks will have to look elsewhere!
The combat game allows you to work your way up to the coveted status of Sai Master playing against a human opponent or the computer. Before becoming a Black Belt, or First Dan fighter, eight opponents have to be defeated in one on one combat. A further eight Dan levels separate a First Dan Black Belt from mastery of the sport sixteen levels to fight through in all before achieving the exalted status of Sai Master. Each level in the game has its own suitably oriental backdrop against which the action takes place.
Once the game has loaded, the program automatically goes into demo mode and two combatants slug it out on screen, illustrating the sixteen different moves available to a computerised Sai fighter. Pressing the 1 or 2 key allows you to choose the one or two player mode and combat can begin. Using joystick or keyboard the fighter's are controlled in the usual beat em up way involving the use of all eight directions and the fire button to execute moves from the Sai Combat repertoire. If the two fighters cross each other on the screen, each moving into their opponent's half, the controls change and the mirror image of the keyboard layout or joystick directions are used to make the moves until such time as the two guys get back into their rightful halves of the screen.
During bouts the state of play is monitored on the status area at the bottom of the screen which keeps a track of the scores achieved by each fighter 100, 200 or 300 points are awarded for each blow landed, depending on the complexity of the manoeuvre involved, and 600 points are won for a knockdown. Each competitor's Chi, or energy level, is displayed on a dragon's head in the status area which starts off white at the beginning of a bout and gradually fills with colour as hits are taken. When a fighter's Chi level runs out, his dragon head is completely coloured in and the next buff he receives floors him.
In the one player mode the fighter controlled by the computer has to be knocked down three times before you prove your fighting ability and can proceed to the next grade to do battle with a more experienced wielder of the pointy stick. Once you're fighting at Dan level, an extra hazard is introduced in the form of Ninja stars which whizz around the screen from time to time. A clout from a ninja star won't actually result in a knockdown fall being awarded against your man, but the old Chi level takes a battering… They're definitely to be avoided.
The one player game starts at the novice level and you can survive six falls. When the lives run out, the game returns to the demo screen and is it possible to restart at the level you just expired on but you only have three lives when fighting recommences. Two players can chose the level at which they want to do battle from the start screen, and slug it out against their favourite background. Using Interface 2 in the two player mode, both players can use a joystick, otherwise at least one player will have to master the use of keys as well as pointy sticks...
Control keys: 16 per players
Joystick: Kempston, Interface 2, Cursor
Keyboard play: lots of keys to press!
Use of colour: attractive
Graphics: neat animation, no clashes
Sound: biffing noises only
Skill levels: sixteen in all
'Yet another bash and blow game - Sai Combat is quite a neat effort with a massive range of moves that are all very well animated. Animation is very similar to that used in International Karate but with what appears to be more frames of animation per move. I got used to using the many moves quite quickly, but after a few games realised that I could get through most of the stages easily by using only one or two moves. I also found that the computer opponent could be got into certain sequences in which you could simply knock his block off by using the same move over and over. One bad thing is that if you get into very close contact with the computer opponent it is impossible for either of you to get hit. Sai Combat is an improvement over International Karate and at the price, it's not a bad buy, but I think Fist still rules supreme.'
'I must admit I'm getting a little bored of fighting games now; I really enjoyed Fist, but have gradually got a little bit more and more cheesed of with beat em ups. That said, Sai Combat isn't too bad. The instructions give a sufficient run down on what has to be done and how to do it, and the game is quite tough too. After a while though, even with the wide variety of moves available, it gets tedious, and getting onto the next level doesn't seem that important. it's just the same sort of sort of stuff as the rest. Not bad, really, but could have been a good deal better.'
'Since the release of Way of the Exploding Fist, beat em ups have really been big business. Now Mirrorsoft have released their fighting game. The graphics are not the best I have ever seen but the animation of all the characters is marvellous - the way the men jump about the screen is excellently executed. There are few attribute problems because the main playing area is in two colours which is a bit of a relief. The game itself is fun to play and the increasing difficulty of your opponents makes it quite addictive, The two player option is a nice touch. Definitely better then Exploding Fist If you like combat games then take a look at this one!'