Review by RollingSkull
Reviewed: 03/16/04 | Updated: 03/16/04
A dull and uninspired effort
Sabre Wulf is the latest game we have seen from Rare in quite a while. Your character, Sabreman, if I remember his name correctly, is tasked with saving the land from the dreaded Sabre Wulf. This adventure was hinted at in Rare's Banjo-Tooie, and thus many Rare fanatics have been waiting quite a while for this game. Mixing puzzle and platforming, this title showed promise, but feels more like Rare's lackluster efforts with DK64 and large portions of their recent outings. Where puzzle platformers like Lost Vikings were pulled off with charm, wit, and inspiration, Sabre Wulf is almost completely devoid of any such blessings.
Standard Rare stuff. It has the pseudo-3D look that DKC had, and all the characters are textbook Rare creations. You KNOW you're playing a Rare game. They're very nice looking and colorful, if not a little bizarre. Unlike DKC's port to the GBA, Sabre Wulf is bright enough that the platforming elements won't be rendered too difficult because you can't see where you end and the ground begins or something like that. However, I will say that the pseudo-3D graphics do look forced and unnatural on the GBA. Graphic quality definitely would have been better had they taken a more Mario approach to the graphics rather than the status quo DKC approach. However, I can't complain TOO much.
Nothing particularly stands out in the audio department. Music is hit and miss, and if you stay in a level long enough to hear the entire level song, you've stayed too long and your rewards will suffer. For the most part, the music isn't bad, but it isn't worth writing home about. Same thing with the sounds. The only notable sounds are Sabreman's stereotypical British quips and Sabre Wulf's... wolf noises. They're not bad. But, I do have one major complaint. In the overworld, characters speak with the mumbling they did in Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie. I can only say one thing: WHY?! Those sounds get annoying on the GBA very fast and nothing would have stopped Rare from leaving those out.
Sabre Wulf is, at heart, a platformer with pseudo-puzzle elements. Rather than simply leap over your enemies or hop on their heads, you summon various creatures to get through each level. These creatures are the backbone of the game, making up the sum total of your moveset. Some act as trampolines. Some as platforms. Some attack your enemies. Some even blow wind. You use all these to get to the end of a level where you will acquire some sort of treasure guarded by Sabre Wulf himself, resulting in a chase through the level back to the start, with all creatures, allied and enemy, removed. Separating these platformer levels is a world map through which you can talk to people, go on FedEx quests, find treasure, engage in boring Rare-style dialogue, and buy more creatures. However, overhead view maps serve only as a transition between levels and an excuse to pad percentage completion with mini-quests that are nothing more than ''Take this to this person.'' FedEx quests. You'll want to spend your time in the actual levels, and thankfully there are plenty of them. Early in the game, the levels are suitably easy and difficulty ramps up accordingly.
However, the main failing of this game is the focus on increasing difficulty through drab monsters rather than inspired platforming or at least monsters that require some thought to get around. The platforming in Sabre Wulf is strictly been there done that material. You'd be better off playing nearly any other GBA platformer if you came for the platforming. However, it is solid. The monsters, however, make up most of the game's challenge. Considering how you can take at most 1 hit before dying and that Sabreman has no offensive capability inherently, the monsters are ruthlessly unforgiving. They range from floating spiky thingys and bombs impeding your platforming to all out killing machines. You will find that the only challenge the game has is it's rampant abuse of these monsters in the later levels. Tanks that fire a continuous stream of shells and monsters that are invisible until you stand on the ground that they inhabit are the biggest offenders. 7 out of 10 times, you're using your exploding creatures to kill these monsters. The other 3 out of 10 time, you're using invincibility creatures you get through those monsters, or using platforming based creatures to jump over them. The game has no inspiration and requires no thought to pass. The Sabre Wulf chases barely deserve mention. With patience, you can simply hop over your adversary, causing him to stop and turn around, and then jump back over him to continue on your merry way, with him losing quite a bit of ground on you.
Once you've beaten the game (It has no climax or big bad boss battle to speak of.), you can amuse yourself with a few FedEx quests you might have missed or you can play the game's Challenge Mode, provided you've cleared the main game's levels fast enough. If you have, you are given the opportunity to replay those levels with a limited creature set to attempt to get a good time. However, these challenges still possess the same weak gameplay the main game did, and you're still going to use your creatures to float over or blow up any enemy in your path.
Rare's latest effort falls flat. Attempting to combine platforming with some strategy and/or puzzles, the game fails at both, providing a tepid, dull mess of a game. I would not recommend this game as a rental or a purchase.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
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