Monday, May 30, 2016

The Abridged History of the Brawler, part 26

Gauntlet had established a market for fantasy-inspired brawling games and Golden Axe shifted the overhead perspective to the side scrolling brawler that most fans came to appreciate. Two years before Golden Axe however Taito had released a side-scrolling hack-and-slash title that was also inspired by the Conan films. Rastan Saga was released in 1987 and featured a barbarian that was not unlike the character from the Schwarzenegger films.

The character made his way through caves, dungeons and castles fighting off all sorts of mythological monsters. Along the way players could swap out the sword for a battle axe, mace or flaming sword. The game was notable among side scrolling hack-and-slash titles because it allowed our hero to jump down onto opponents with his sword drawn. Stabbing bad guys in the head was something that young male gamers could never get enough of.

The game developed a following and a sequel came out a year later Unfortunately Rastan Saga II did not manage to capture any of the atmosphere of the original. It was bright and cartoonish, not unlike the difference between Bad Dudes and Two Crude.

When I first saw and played the game I was wondering if Taito had made a hack-and-slash for kids. It was one of the few arcade games that I didn't have a taste for or even a desire to beat. Thankfully there were many more games at home and in the arcade to keep me occupied.

When Taito came back to their senses they released a game worthy of the legacy. Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga III took advantage of the runaway popularity of the brawler. It was released during 1991, the biggest year for brawlers. The game had the same visual stylings of the original game and added a whole new crew of characters including a thief, sorcerer and bandit. The deluxe version of the game also featured a dual screen display similar to the Ninja Warriors. It was well done but did not really have any groundbreaking elements that were not already covered by Golden Axe.

Gaelco, a Spanish arcade developer had published their own 2D hack-and-slash title in 1991 as well. Big Karnak was a 2-player title that was set in ancient Egypt. The heroes fought within caves and tombs using magic against all sorts of mythical creatures. The sprites were kind of small and the graphics unimpressive when compared to the games that other studios were producing. The setting and theme were about the only memorable things from this title.

If you remember the previous entries to the series I mentioned that the brawler declined steadily year after year following 1991. While there were some amazing titles over the next two decades they would become more and more spaced out. The true spirit of the brawler was actually filled in during those in-between years and not always with the multi-player experiences arcade visitors had grown to love. When developers began incorporating the best elements of the brawler into new console experiences the sheer number of "pure" brawlers fell. In the next entries we'll see how the brawler evolved into some of the most successful titles of the modern era.

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