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Wham! Bounce! Help!.. Just three seconds of play and I’m head over heels. Literally. Because the nasties in this game don’t kill you, thay just bounce you around the screen. It’s hilarious. It’s brilliant. And the game itself plays and feels quite different to Sabre Wulf, or indeed to any other game around. You’re sich of hearing it, folks, but it has to be said: Ultimate have done it again.

You could describe Underwurlde as a vast platform adventure game. Vast because there are over 500 locations. Platform because you have to do an awful lot of leaping to get anywhere. Adventure because the game involves exploring in search of weapons to destroy the evil guardians.

The first thing that strikes you is the animation of Sabreman himself. Make him jump and he soars into the air like a bird, arms outstretched, body gracefully angled. Collide with an object or a creature and he spins to the ground in an ungainly sprawl. It’s magnificent programming.

And the creatures are just as good, with winged “harpies”, jellyfish-like creatures, gremlins and, in some locations, eagles which may pick you up and carry you through several screens away from your desired course.

Contact with any other creature will send you flying – sometimes this is just a nuisance, but in many of the screens, it means you get knowcked off the platform you’re standing on, fall just a bit too far and… SPLAT.

If you’re to have any hope of getting anywhere, you must find a weapon to keep those nasties at bay. Fortunately, there’s a catapult available right at the start which can send out a spray of projectiles in the direction you’re facing.

As you painfully bounce your way around you discover that the scenery is of two different kinds. There’s the interior of what could be a castle, decorated with book-shelves, chests, eagles’ crests, torches and other objects all of which double as platforms to leap onto. Then there are screns of underground tunnels and caverns in which lines of bubbles drift gently upwards from numerous small volcanos.

These bubbles are an essential means of transport. Jump onto on, and up you go with it – a refreshing change from platform leaping. Also in the caverns you can use a rope which automatically fastens itself to a cavern roof if you jump close enough to it – a brilliant touch.

Other features include a variety of gems which temporarily make you invulnerable, extra lives to be collected in the shape of mini-Sabremen, and the guardians themselves.

Once you’ve got past the third guardian, you have to try to find an exit from the Underwurlde. There are apparently three different exits, and finding just one won’t be enough! I say no more.

What puts Underwurlde in a class above most other recent arcade-adventures is the way it plays. The action is incredibly hectic, yet wonderfully different. This is something to do with the fact that a single leap can carry Sabreman the entire width of a screen.

It’s one of that tiny elite of games which you fall in love with in seconds, yet keeps you going for weeks.

However four criticisms are worth making:

  • there is no high score table;
  • once the game is solved, interest in it will fall of. This could be avoided to some extent by including a timer, so that one could try to complete it more quickly next time.
  • Ultimate are still pesisting with their strange control key layout. Why not have user-defined keys?
  • some copies of the program appear to contain a bug which causes the ropes to stop working after a while. Ultimate insist only a few are affected and that these will be replaced.

Despite this, the game is another certain number 1 and another glossy chapter in the Ultimate success story.

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