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Nintendo 64 Game
Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate

choose your warrior..

reviewed by Neil Ross

This is a rare opportunity - a chance to indulge in my two obsessions, Xena and fighting games at the same time. Well, it would be a tremendous experience if the game was actually any good - but sadly it isn't.

It's a shame really - such effort has gone into the "Xena" side of the game (much, much more than the poor Playstation Tomb Raider rip-off) in terms of research done and episode/character references but the fighting side really, really lets it down.

Aesthetically it's competent in all areas, but outstanding in none. Ignoring the standard N64 blurring .. erm .. antialiasing .. the graphics are pretty well done. The backgrounds, which are mostly generic castle/forest/olden days places, with a couple, such as the Halls Of War from Sacrifice I and II and Lao Ma's temple (complete with fake tree) from The Debt coming from actual places in the series, are detailed and feature some nice effects, such as transparent sunlight flooding through temple windows and torches illuminating stony corners. The motion blur effects are good too, not too overstated, but not invisible.

That's not to say things are perfect. The programmers (Saffire) have taken the Quake 1 route to graphics - that's to use less polygons and lots of highly detailed textures to try and make up for it. It's very evident with the characters as well as the backgrounds. Limbs are very simplistic and the joints look wrong, details like hair and fingers are just simple blocks and sometimes look very strange. Their budget didn't stretch to motion capture either; some of the win poses look fake and stilted in the extreme, more like marionettes than a bunch of lethal killing machines. That said, all the characters are instantly recognisable and do give off some semblance in terms of attitude to their on-screen alter-egos. They only have one win pose per character, and they're usually a generic stance or animation.

Sonically it's very much a mixed bag too. The music bears more resemblance to Joe LoDuca's work than the Playstation game - there are some pseudo Bulgarian voice choir samples in some tunes, and a few chords of the theme tune crop up occasionally. But because of the N64's limited storage space - the tunes are too short and loop too often. There's not much variation between them either.

As for the voices - I think that almost all of them are recorded inhouse (ie not by the real people) -- but there are a couple of samples that sound like they were taken directly off the television show. Gabrielle's distinctive "UGH!" when she gets hit is real, as is Callisto's victory scream. Autolycus sounds like Bruce Campbell *some* of the time, but not all. Xena's battle cry is most definitely fake. The proceedings are announced by an authoritative-sounding female voice. I still reckon it would have been a real coup to have Lucy herself do the commentary. Come on, all they had to do is get her to say about 20 words down the phone - how hard and time-consuming would that have been? But alas, no.

In-game presentation falls back on the old stone 'n' steel cliché, but it's clean and pleasant enough to look at.

Starting the game presents you with a dull intro, where the camera pans around a green crystal (the titular Talisman of Fate no less) in a rock and a load of text about how the greatest warriors are gathered to Zzzzzzzzzzzz. Sorry, dropped off there. Needless to say it's your standard cut and paste save the world crap - and what better way to save the world than by beating the hell out of your friends and enemies alike?

From then, you are presented with 5 options. "Quest", (sorry, no kiss, just the one player mode:) "Vs", (fight a friend, if you have one) "Practice" (would you kill a mosquito with an axe?) "Roster" (up to four players at once) and "Options" (difficulty, controls)

Most interesting of these is "Roster" mode. I have no idea what the words "Roster mode" have to do with multi-player combat, but this mode allows up to four players to fight at once. Control remains the same except for the addition of a "target" button. Basically speaking you are "locked on" to a particular opponent and the directional controls will move you around in relation to where they are. Pressing the button again will cycle through the other opponents. I think this mode will work best against other human players, and there is of course the chance to try and re-enact some famous scenes from the TV series. Sadly *violin plays* I don't have 3 friends to try this mode out with (sympathy cash and sexual favours welcome) - and in the time I played against the computer I found it tedious and awkward; a problem made worse by the distinctly suspect control system.

The directional-pad controls your motion. Back and forward do just that, but up and down are "in" and "out" of the screen - meaning you have full three-dimensional movement at all times. Which would be nice if it wasn't so unresponsive and so damned inaccurate. The fact that this 3D movement is implemented so poorly is one of my biggest problems with the game. The characters don't automatically face each other all the time. So if one player jumps over the other - this other will be facing the other way and is liable to be stabbed in the back, or you can be slightly out of alignment and your attacks will miss.

Because of this system - you have to (the horror!) use a button to jump and one to crouch. Having been playing fighting games since about 1990 I have to say this just feels unnatural to me in every respect. Plus, to do a sweep or low attack - you have to hold "crouch" and then attack - which takes a second or two to complete and spontaneity goes totally out of the window.

Jumping is what you'd expect from a 3D game - big, slooooow, one-small-step-for-mankind leaps, with no real practical application save creating space between players in a hurry. Jump attacks are hard to land, hard to block and serve no purpose that I can see.

Your offensive controls are a weak punch and kick, and a hard punch and kick. To be honest - I couldn't tell the difference. Instead of the weak attacks being faster, but less damaging and strong attacks being the opposite - they just all seem to be various attacks that look different.

The so-called "special moves" are a real let down too. I always complain about 3D fighters having 40+ moves per character, most of which are superfluous, but here characters have an average of three each, plus four or so "command attacks" (such as Forward + Weak Punch.) The moves are dull - projectiles and body attacks pretty much sum them up. I did like Xena's Hong Kong-style flying bicycle kick and Caesar's (yes, that's right, a fighting game featuring Julius Caesar...LOL) ability to call archers and catapults. The only move that actually impressed me was Gabrielle's "Mehndi attack" - in which the bard floats cross-legged above the ground and fires those glowing shapes that came from the body painting in Between The Lines at her opponent. Neat.

There a couple of other options available in a fight. You can parry by pressing Weak Punch while blocking - this deflects the opponent's strike and allows you to hit back. There is also very limited juggling that is almost random in it's execution and hitting.

But my biggest gripe about the fighting is the chain combos - lengthy button sequences that once the first hit connects, the rest are guaranteed to as well. Individual strikes are pointless, special moves are too slow, but chain combos are easy to do and do good damage. So a typical fight will involve you walking up to your enemy and doing WP, WP, WP, HP. Your opponent will then shuffle around a bit, then hit you off-guard and do HP, HP, HK, HK. And so it goes on and on and on. It just feels so scripted and "on-rails" - it's not a battle of wits and reflexes, more a four-button typewriting course. The CPU is just as guilty as I am of this heinous crime.

There's also the fact that all the characters weigh exactly the same and are all the same size (barring the final boss) - and many seem to be using the same moves. There's little variation in combat techniques (kicks and sword slashes is about it) and it all combines to make it feel deadly boring.

The character roster consists of Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Lao Ma, Caesar, Ares, Callisto, Ephiny, Autolycus, Velasca (plus the end boss, Despair). It's a pretty good selection, though I'd have liked to have seen Alti, firing flaming skulls - Mortal Kombat style, eating souls and making the opponent re-live past pain (plus she's got three outfits straight off) or perhaps Amarice. And even maybe Najara. They're all better contenders for a fighting game than Caesar (snigger) and I have to ask, why bother with Velasca?

There are a couple of nice touches - you can run up the walls and jump to land behind the other character. This is a nice idea and is helpful in getting you out when you're trapped in the corner. Another thing I noticed is that when you defeat a god (Ares, Callisto or Velasca) instead of just slumping to the ground when beaten, they twinkle out of existence, as gods on XWP are wont to do.

Also, if you end up fighting Xena versus Gabrielle, then Gabrielle will instead be Hope, allowing you to batter her senseless without any feelings of remorse.

It's things like this that make it a fun experience for the "Xena" fan, it's nice to see that "outsiders" can sometimes make the effort and actually pay attention to the source material. My favourite example of this is the variety of costumes. Because it's possible to have four of the same character on screen at once, they need to look different, and instead of taking the cowards way out and just having different colours, most characters have four or so different outfits, all taken from various seasons/episodes.

For example, Xena appears in her normal leathers as player one, as the dancing harem girl from Cradle Of Hope as player two, as her The Debt "evil" outfit as player three and her Adventures In The Sin Trade shamaness outfit as player four.

Seeing as Gabrielle has changed outfits at least once per season - there can't have been much trouble creating alternate clothes for her. Player one is her season 3 mini-BGSB, player two is her yellow India outfit (complete with short hair and body art), player 3 is her post-Hooves & Harlots season 1 red Amazon Princess gear and player four is her (*swoon*) season 5 leather bikini (though she still fights with a staff....)

Callisto is a bit of a puzzle. Her player one outfit is her normal leathers. Her player two is the white shroud from Ides Of March, number three is "The Fool" from The Bitter Suite and number four is...erm...well...number four is Xena. I don't get that at all....

Not everyone has four totally different outfits. Lao Ma has the her white, pre-bathing outfit, her outdoors red clothing and two slightly different colour variations on that. It's not the programmers' fault. Lao Ma never wore anything else.

Sadly you can't choose which outfit to wear. Player one gets player one's - and that's it. A real shame.

I have to say that seeing the different outfits and working out where they came from was the most fun I had with this game. Maybe Saffire can release "Xena: Fashion Show" next year, and spare us the dodgy fighting.

I also particularly enjoyed actually controlling Gabrielle, especially after her lack of screen-time in the PSX game. Ah, to have her obeying my every whim, while parading around in her skimpy S5 outfit...mmmm..bliss :)


As I said at the start, all those hours ago, Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman Of Fate not only has TWO (count 'em) colons in the title, but also fails miserably as a "real" fighting game - lacking in strategy and depth and not requiring the usual combination of reflexes and mental agility. But there are two things to consider:

1) It's a TV licence. And 99.9% of TV and Film licences are truly dreadful.

2) It's not aimed at the hard-core fighting game crowd (that I wish I belonged to:) - it's a "beginner" game, aimed more at XWP fans than anything else. And I'm going to be a little more generous than I would if it were a generic fighter because of the subject matter and the professional way that the team have researched this. Not much more, but a bit.

Hmmm. Xena fans: hire it or buy it if you see it cheap. Fighting game fans: Hahahahahaha!


A different version of Neil's Review is available on this gaming site with other game reviews

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