DEATH SWORD! That’s the kind of name that would grab any 10-year-old’s attention, and it sure grabbed mine. I saw this colorful game full of bloody decapitations and bikini babes running on an Apple at Electronics Boutique (R.I.P.), memorized the title that had been unceremoniously Scotch-taped to the monitor, and knew I desperately, desperately needed it. But I could not have it, because my family only owned a 4.77 Mhz (with 10 Mhz “turbo” toggle) Epson IBM compatible. My young mind performed the complex logical calculation.
“IBM compatible means . . . Apple games will not work.”
A few months later, I saw the IBM version in a gaudy red-and-blue box — it had been released as part of Epyx’s inexpensive Maxx Out! line-up (which also included “gems” such as Spiderbot and Rad Warrior). Unfortunately, I had blown all my cash on Phantasy Star 2, so I was screwed. I vowed to return another day. I also vowed not to waste money on any more masterful Genesis RPGs, when I could instead spend that money on DEATH SWORD!
To keep a short story short, a full year passed before I encountered Death Sword again, repackaged with grittier, more realistic cover art. Under the misguided assumption that “re-release” correlates to “worth releasing twice”, I bought it and . . . IT WAS HORRIBLE!
Based on the screenshot to the right, you may believe the four-color visuals to be the source of my disgust. Quite the contrary; I was accustomed to CGA graphics, although it’s true that, deep down, I envied the Apple’s glorious color (thank heavens I hadn’t seen the Amiga port).
This one-on-one fighter’s decapitations impressed me; the lopping of heads is accompanied by a dramatic “BLOOP!” and vertical spray of purple blood. In the dungeon, Princess Mariana’s belly button peeked out as she leaned over the high stone wall. In the throne room, Mariana’s bare legs were on full display as she lay at the feet of the diabolical wizard Drax. This was pretty bold stuff for America.
The combat system was also ambitious — eight types of movement supporting eight methods of attack — but flawed by “remote control syndrome”. The lag between button press and onscreen action made it nearly impossible to react to enemies’ telegraphed movements in real-time. In fighting games, there’s nothing more aggravating than reading an opponent’s next attack but being unable to do anything about it. Such situations are usually due to player incompetence; in Death Sword such situations are due to developer inexperience.
Each opponent operates on a fairly consistent algorithm; that is to say, memorizing a particular sequence of attacks for each of the eight clone swordfighters is likely to lead to repeated success. The third opponent is the easiest of all; simply spam the leaping, spinning decapitation blade attack. He’ll step backwards and dodge the first attack. The second swing will catch the hapless foe’s neck before he has a chance to move.
So, even though it’s impossible to succeed by using a modern fighting game’s playing style, Death Sword is not an impossible game for those who are willing to memorize and practice, practice, practice. Until you fight against Drax himself, that is. Once Drax steps down from his throne, the game of swing-and-parry becomes a joke; instead, you must contend with stilted controls to leap above and roll underneath an endless barrage of fireballs. Perish and the entire gauntlet of barbarians must be vanquished for another shot at Drax. Succeed and . . . I don’t know. I gave up. But I’ve been told that the game does not end with a four-color sex scene, so I can’t imagine it’s worth the effort.
Via its more colorful incarnations, Death Sword garnered some measure of success in Europe, where it was released as Barbarian and teased customers with scantily-clad covergirl Maria Whittaker. In the States, the game was drowned by a sea of better, deeper PC titles — including its Maxx Out! siblings. American gamers would have to wait a bit longer for their fighting game hit.