Genre: Hack-‘N-Slash Developer: Innerprise Software Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-2 Released: 1990
The 4-megabit 2D action game, Sword of Sodan was released in 1990 by Electronic Arts for the Genesis and is a translation of the 1989 PC game from Interprise Software. Not much background for me and this game. I had never even heard of it until about two months ago. Just looking through my old November ’92 issue of EGM in its Genesis game directory for insight on what to accumulate from Funcoland on the next trip, I saw this game, and I thought, ”Hey! That guy has a SWORD! I’m going to buy this game!” It’s something about games with sword-wielding protagonists that draw me into buying them. I truly find some classics among them sometimes (like Strider and Actraiser 2) and if not that, I’ll at least get an entertaining two hour diversion (like Saint Sword and or X-kalibre 2097). But this case is unlike any other…
There isn’t much to the plot, and there isn’t much said about it in the game. An evil wizard named Zora is terrorizing and tyrannizing the populace with his evil soldiers, monsters, and magic. It’s up to (one of) two heroes to destroy his empire, using a male barbarian or a female barbarian. In case you’re wondering, there is indeed a difference between them. The female barbarian is strong with a long sword while the male is faster and has more stamina (health), but only has half the power of the female.
Each character has three separate attacks: a brisk, rapid curving slash, a (supposedly) powerful chop with a 90 degree circumference and a quick, long-range stab (that looks more like a poke) that can also be done when crouching. Since this is an action game, you know both characters can jump, but the male’s jumps are longer than the female’s. There are also four different potions you can accumulate from enemies: the blue Hydruium Potion that restores health, the orange Solarium Potion that kills the nearest (non-boss) enemy, the red Vitalium Potion that makes your hits stronger, and the clear Etherium Potion that’s only effective when used in chemistry with the aforementioned. You can hold up to four potions at once.
As I’ve said, the plot is very uninspired and unoriginal. There’s absolutely NO character development- in fact, the protagonists don’t even have names! The only remnants of dialogue in this game are in the six-line poems between stages. They tell what’s to come in the proceeding level. An example is, ”At the city’s gate, as so foretold in ancient lore, here stands the opening test, enter now this deaths door, and thus begin the quest”- that’s in exact words. Despite the slight grammatical/punctuation errors, the poems have a pretty thoughtful and appealing 1-3-2-4 rhyme scheme. That’s what prevents me from giving a 2.
On another note, just why the hell did they call this game Sword of Sodan? There isn’t ANY mention or accumulation of a sword anywhere whatsoever. Unless they’re talking about the swords your character’s have- in which it should’ve been called Swords of Sodan.
While you DO have four different sword attacks, the stab just as fast as the slash and MORE powerful than the chop! On top of that, the stab has longer range than both of them! The absolute ONLY use for the chop is to take out the flying demons only present in three spots of the game. But there isn’t a single use for the chop anywhere in the game. So the strategy for fighting almost every enemy is poke, poke, and poke some more.
The engine is just terrible. You simply walk to the right while stabbing anyone or anything that comes near you. When either side gets poked (you or them), that character will get pushed about one step back. With any other attack they stay in the same place with a chance to counter-attack his/her enemy (even MORE reason not to use the other attacks). That paired with tons of enemies and very slow characters makes for an extremely tedious engine.
As for the control, the jumps are quite possibly the most uncontrollable I’ve EVER seen! Even Simon Belmont and Strider can do better- because at least they turn around or attack in the middle of their jumps! But there are two different kinds of jumps; one that goes about three (game) inches forward and one that flies past a whole screen’s length!
You go through many basic locations (a forest, a castle, etc.) on your quest. As the levels progress, you’ll have to brave a few different kinds of obstacles like spikes that pop out of the ground every few seconds and segments of ceilings that fall down to crush you. You also fight five different kinds of enemies- like zombies, demon bats (or whatever the heck they are), and soldiers with spears and three bosses. That’s a VERY limited amount of enemies to fight. Despite the obstacles and enemies, the levels are as straightforward as they get! There’s absolutely no rugged terrain or ANYTHING on a different elevation other than what you’re on. You could almost call this a 1D action game.
Back to the subject of chemistry however, the potion mixing was a pretty cleaver idea. Between the four types of potions, there are about ten different effects you can achieve by combining them. Certain combinations can give you things ranging from temporary invincibility to a super-powerful flaming sword. One combination even poisons you and takes away a life! I truly abhor when people put brilliant ideas in dismal projects!
The backgrounds are extremely gritty and grainy. They aren’t too colorful either. They’re just plain bland, even the graveyard. The backgrounds also look like there’s a dead bug every two inches since everything from brick walls to the ground has spots of black all over. The characters don’t have any special flair to them either (aside from them all looking like cardboard cut-outs). Both of the protagonists look rather stereotypical, as do the soldiers and zombies. The next-to-last boss , however, doesn’t look stereotypical at all.
Now that I’m on the subject of goofiness, that brings me to the animation. Most of the attacks from both you AND them are done in only one or two frames. That makes for some very sloppy animation. Even WORSE is how all of the human characters walk as if they’d just pissed themselves. On the positive side (I guess), this game has a pretty high amount of blood (though I’m past the point of caring- I guess it takes a bit of appeal out when you’re old enough for your parents to stop trying to ban you from such games). All human characters are left in a bloody mess for a few seconds after defeat and blood comes out of every sword blow on every character (even the statue, as little sense as it makes). If I had played this ten years ago, I would have been quite amused when the characters behead the giants.
The digitized scream of human characters and the separate screams for the bat-demons, the female barbarian, and the mother monster when they respectively perish are all pretty crisp and clears; as are the grunts from characters when they get hit. But there’s such a thing as ”running something into the ground”. You have to hear the ”uhh” and/or ”freeewl!” grunts at least fifty times per level. They get just plain annoying after a little while. There are only a few sounds besides those- like scorching flames running on the ground and the nearly silent sound of sword-slashing, they’re all rather average.
The only *REAL* music of the game is in the intro with a synthesized yet archaic sound to it. It’s decent but too short. As for the levels, the only ”music” is on the first three stages- it simply consists of birds chirping in a few different notes all through the levels. I don’t care if they were trying to make it more realistic that way or not- if someone’s in the middle of a very violent, bloody war with all of their lives on the line, you absolutely do NOT want to hear birds singing sweet little melodies to the carnage!
The male protagonist has enough health to take about 20 normal hits, while the female can take about 16. As much of a difference as that may seem like, power and range are what really counts on this game. That being said, the female is a LOT more useful and effective than the male! If you play as him, the game is almost twice as hard! Despite only having seven rather short levels, it will take quite a few tries to beat it. Too bad most of the challenge stems from cheapness.
Back to the obstacles, some are unacceptably cheap. There’s a certain level where there are pits hidden under the floor (with VERY little indication of where they are). Stepping into one of them means instant death, but the bad guys can just walk right on top of them without falling through at all. If they knock you back once, you’re very likely to fall into a pit. Which brings me to cheap chain hits- if a soldier catches you between a spike and himself, you’re likely to get hit about five times without even being able to MOVE since you don’t flash after getting hit. Worse yet, the screen scrolls way too slowly often making you have to stall and avoid traps. I think there’s not one particular part that you can get past without losing a life! You’ll see it if you play.
The most you can do to try to stay excited (not that anyone’s excited in the first place) about this game is trying to beat it on ”easy”, then ”normal”, the ”normal” with five lives instead of seven (there’s no way in hell someone could beat it with three). There’s absolutely nothing new to see after you beat it and try all combinations of potions. Your only satisfaction is ”I BEAT SWORD OF SODAN!!!”, which is what I said after beating it.
A pitiful game with few ups and far too many downs. But honestly, this game is so pathetic that it’s COMPLETELY WORTH BUYING! This is worth the $2.99 you’re likely to pay for it. If you own a Genesis, you MUST play this game. You’re sure to get plenty of laughs from it.
SCORE: 3 out of 10