Version tested: Retro
Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? In 1984, almost everybody who owned a Speccy. Ultimate already had a reputation for quality game design, but their Sabreman series would arguably surpass these previous achievements - with Sabre Wulf alone selling a reported 350,000 copies on the eight-coloured wonder.
Opening with a cultured snippet of JS Bach, Sabre Wulf deposited our new companion in a spot of vegetation-based bother. In a nod to earlier Ultimate titles - specifically Atic Atac, which the game resembles most closely - nasties materialise from nowhere and quickly form a lynch mob. Being a jungle setting, antagonists consist mainly of spiders, scorpions and... um... massive, ground-dwelling parrots which can be quickly dispatched with a well-timed sabre swipe, but provide a constant battle against infinite numbers. Larger, more docile creatures also populate the numerous pathways, yet can be just as dangerous as their smaller kin.
Deadliest of all is the majestic Wulf, a vicious foe who won't think twice about pouncing on Sabreman and giving him an on-the-spot lesson about internal biology. This beast's curse must be lifted by locating four ancient amulet pieces hidden within the maze of greenery. Luckily, some help is available in the form of special orchids which periodically sprout from the jungle floor, offering invincibility and speed - but also representing the darker side of drug abuse with brief control reversal and sickness. Players must also contest with a bizarre, unchangeable keyboard configuration and, at times, slightly dicey collision detection.
For a title with precious little back story (mysterious verse aside), it's easy to dive in and become immersed in the claustrophobic atmosphere and wildlife-murdering hijinks. This combination of creative depth and straightforward play would continue in Sabreman's later adventures, and helped to establish his first outing as a much-beloved Spectrum title.
8 / 10