Switchblade – a classic game reviewed

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Switchblade [1] is a game that I always liked although it never found a way into my collection back then. This game is a classic because it adds some different concepts while staying a playable platform game. Released in 1989 the game still offers a lot of fun.

Basically Switchblade is a platform action game for Atari ST and other platforms. The player guides the hero called Hiro through a vast underground city on the search of parts for a large sword. Climbing over platforms, crates and ladders Hiro is looking for parts of the sword. Baddies try to keep him from fulfilling his task and he can fight them. In the beginning the player only has his bare hands to fight with but additional weapons can be collected in the progress of the game.

Switchblade on the Atari ST

Switchblade on the Atari ST

The game map is vast and you will soon find yourself drawing a map for your usage. Hidden rooms and passages wait for your discovery and this applies for the whole game map. Although the game does not scroll, you can only see parts of the map that you have visited sofar. If there is a ladder leading down to an unknown area, you cannot see this particular area until you climb down the ladder. However any area that has been visited before stays visible for the player.This adds a nice aspect to the game which makes it different from the ordinary platformer.

Controls are a bit laggy and greasy. The game is definitly not a jumper liker Super Mario and the player has to think about strategies to progress. Brute force will only lead to loss of energy and loss of your precious lives. Even if the controls feel stiff at the start, the game is very predictable in its movements and with only a few couple of tries, control of Hiro feels ok and manageable.

The soundtrack is by Ben Daglish and very moody. However it can get boring and repetitive. So I recommend turning it off and playing with soundeffects instead.

As the game has been developed in the 1987-1988 time frame, it has no support for STE hardware features. regardless of this, the game runs well on the STE and with a proper patch, on Falcon and TT too.

Let’s have a look at the game in comparison to its ports to other platforms beside the Atari ST. As the Commodore Amiga version is more or less identical, it is left out of the comparison. We will focus on the known 8 bit platforms instead.

Gameplay wise there  are not many differences. Controls are laggy and  greasy in the same way on the Commodore C64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum. So judging by playing with your joystick, it is hard to detect the platform you are playing on. On the other hand, this indicates the playability of all versions is about the same.

Enemy and trap patterns are identical and the same applies to the main game map.

Most differences can be found on the ingame graphics and the performance of the game engine.

For comparison there are screenshots taken at the same location in the game.

Switchblade on the Amstrad CPC - reference location

Switchblade on the Amstrad CPC – reference location

On the Amstrad CPC the game runs in MODE 1. Instead of a lot of big blocky colourful pixels in MODE 0, you get a pretty good resolution at the cost of less colours. It is not a show stopper as raster interrupts are used to cleverly colourize the status bars. The music is pretty the same as on the Atari ST and the player feels directly at home. Sound effects are slightly different if music is turned off.

Switchblade on the ZX Spectrum - reference location

Switchblade on the ZX Spectrum – reference location

The ZX Spectrum is pretty himself, rather monochromatic and not very colourful. At this slight expense graphics feel smooth and playable. Only at a screen flip, a slight delay is noticeable. On a+3  with AY soundchip, there is a slightly different sound track in comparison to the ST or CPC. This is quite puzzling as the soundchip is more or less the same as in the Amstrad CPC or the Atari ST.

Switchblade on the Commodore 64 - reference location

Switchblade on the Commodore 64 – reference location

Switchblade on the Commodore 64 is rather blocky and the dull choice of colours makes the C64 Version the ugliest of the reviewed game versions. The game also stops noticeably at a screen flip which makes some jumps awkward and difficult. On the other hand, the soundtrack of the C64 version is very good and an enjoyable port of the original YM soundtrack.

All in all, a  very nice and enjoyable game, even 20 years after its first release. I can recommend playing this game!


Links

  1. Switchblade at Atari Legend
  2. Homepage of Simon Phipps – coder and designer of Switchblade
  3. Game map – from World Of Spectrum
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6 Responses to “Switchblade – a classic game reviewed”

  1. stickhead Says:

    Nice review, SSB! Very interesting to see the 8-bit comparisons, amazing how similar the Amstrad and Speccy games look to the ST version. I saw a review of this in the ‘Screenplay Extra’ section of an ST Format I read the other day, they gave it a bit of a drubbing, to be honest, also citing the laggy controls. I personally feel that the controls don’t take away from the action to much, and the holding down the button for different attacks was very interesting. Switchblade should be merited for trying to steer a staid, tried and tested genre in a new direction.

  2. Matty Says:

    Annoyingly the Spectrum version of ‘Switchblade’ didn’t have to be monochromatic, they just decided to do it that way presumably because it was easy. Since it was a flick-screen, rather than scrolling, game they could have coloured the blocks and various background features in and it could have ended up as gorgeous-looking as something like ‘Dan Dare’

    http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=0001235

  3. Simon Sunnyboy / Paradize Says:

    Actually I think most of the time, colors just get into the way on the Spectrum, instead of helping.

    Looking at the onscreen details, I’d still prefer Switchblade over Dan Dare on the Spectrum. DD has less details and lots of distracting colors while Switchblade has nicely detailed tiles and sprites.

    My opinion of course!

  4. popmilo Says:

    Actually, they didn’t put attributes for a good reason: The tiles are 12×16 pixels – attributes don’t fit those tiles.
    Yes they could made different layouts for rooms, but since game was ported from Atari St to C64, Amstrad and Spectrum it wasn’t practical to modify rooms.
    Great game ! Thank you for review!

  5. Simon Sunnyboy / Paradize Says:

    I don’t see the lack of color attributes as a problem with the ZX Spectrum version. Thanks for the technical detail, I had assumed standard 8×8 tiles.

  6. Vladimir Janković (@popmilo) Says:

    Yeah, lack of colors doesn’t matter at all.
    There is something about SwitchBlades gameplay that makes me want to play it again and again :)

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